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Hawks look to continue improvement
Atlanta Hawks' Josh Smith, right, posts up against Charlotte Hornets’ Joe Alexander during an NBA preseason basketball game on Oct. 16 in Johnson City, Tenn. - photo by Dave Boyd

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are all about continuity.

The Hawks’ 53-win finish last season was the fifth straight year the team has improved its record. Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia have been together five years, including the last three with Al Horford and Mike Bibby.

The team again stayed the course in the offseason by re-signing Johnson to a six-year deal worth almost $124 million. All five starters return.

There have been no dramatic additions to the roster.

Even a coaching change only produced more continuity. Mike Woodson was fired after the Hawks were swept in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year. His top assistant, Larry Drew, is the new coach.

Drew is entering his seventh year with the team, so he knows the players’ strengths and weaknesses. He saw a stagnant half-court offense as the Hawks were swept in four games by Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and he is installing a motion offense to fix the problem.

Drew said his focus through a losing preseason schedule was the scheme, not the results.

“I see a lot of positives coming out thus far of the work we’ve put in and I’m starting to see the guys catch on,” Drew said.

The NBA’s big news of the offseason was Miami signing stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who join Dwyane Wade.
There is reason to believe the Hawks will be left behind as the Heat are picked to move up in the Southeast Division and the conference.

Second-year point guard Jeff Teague, who has an opportunity to beat out Bibby for the starting job this season, already has caught on to the Hawks’ rallying cry of continuity as a strength.

“We were really good last year,” Teague said. “Hopefully it can continue. A lot of teams made a lot of moves, but we’re a team. We know each other. This is my second year and most of the guys have been together for five years. I think we’re ready. We’ve got a good nucleus and they’re just now building theirs.”

Bibby said the Hawks remain confident.

“I think we’re set,” Bibby said. “The last two years we’ve won 50 games. I think we’re going to be OK. We’ve been playing together and I think we’re close off the court as well as on, and I think that makes it better for everybody.”

The most notable newcomer is rookie Jordan Crawford, who has been the top scorer in the preseason.

The Hawks hit bottom at the start of their rebuilding plan with a 13-win finish in 2004-05. They were the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference last season.

The Hawks don’t have the big stars to match Miami, Boston and Orlando in the conference, but slowly their steady climb has earned some rewards.

Johnson has made four straight All-Star teams and has led the team in scoring and assists five straight years.

Jamal Crawford won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award after averaging 18.0 points per game.

Josh “Smoove” Smith, only 24, is starring in his first national TV shoe commercial. He was runner-up for NBA defensive player of the year and had impressive averages of 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 blocks.

Drew predicts Smith will flourish in the motion offense.

“The thing I’m really excited about, I think it will click with Josh in low-post situations,” Drew said. “Josh is a very effective low-post player when he has the ball down there. I plan to utilize that and put him in that position a lot more than he has had in the past.”

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