Season breakdown: Detroit Pistons vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Detroit Pistons season breakdown will now head out of the Central Division and into the Atlantic against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons were able to snag Josh Smith from the Hawks this offseason in a move that could catapult the Pistons up the Eastern Conference standings this upcoming season.

(Photo Credit: Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Smith left his hometown of Atlanta to join the Detroit Pistons this offseason (Photo Credit: Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Hawks are coming off a season where they went 44-38 and finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. They were ousted in the first round by the Indiana Pacers in six games.

Over the past five seasons, the Hawks have been the stalwart of consistency in the East. They’ve been a middle of the pack team that just hasn’t seemed to crack the upper echelon of talent in the conference.

The Hawks took two of three matchups a year ago and the two teams will play each other four times this season.

The Pistons will be looking to make a splash in the East this season after their busy offseason. The Hawks have to be a major target and grab their attention because of the four regular season meetings. The Hawks are a team they need to jump and should jump to find themselves in playoff contention at season’s end.

After breaking down the Pistons against all their Central Division foes for this upcoming season, I came to a final prediction of a 9-7 record (one game improvement from their 8-8 record last season).

How will the Pistons compete against other teams in the East, and in particular the Atlanta Hawks?

Let’s break it down.

Projected starting lineups:

Point Guard:

Detroit- Brandon Jennings

Atlanta- Jeff Teague

Teague is coming off a career year after averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists. He also garnered other interest around the league, and in particular from the Milwaukee Bucks who offered him a 4-year, $32 million deal that the Hawks wisely matched. It seems like a pretty hefty contract for a young guy lacking a whole lot of starting experience, but the overall improvement he showed last year was worth the risk.

Jennings signed a similar deal with the Pistons this offseason in terms of salary per season. I’ve gone on record saying that the Jennings signing was one of the biggest steals of the 2013 NBA offseason and I believe it will pay dividends for the Pistons. They’ll either have a player who will shine in his new surroundings or an All-Star caliber point guard that could be used in a (dream) deal for Rajon Rondo later in the season because of his trade-able contract.

Regardless of contracts, rumors or other speculation, each team feels they have signed a floor general that can lead them to a brighter future. This particular point guard battle is one that carries a lot of importance in the two team’s head-to-head showdown’s this upcoming season.

Both have a lot of similarities in terms of their athletic prowess. I would even go as far to say that Teague holds more of an edge because of his undeniable explosiveness off the dribble that could give Jennings, who likes to gamble, fits.

They can both dish the rock at a high rate and Jennings will finally have a roster around him that will truly showcase his playmaking ability.

The facet of this matchup that can hurt the Pistons and help the Hawks is Jennings questionable decision-making and hankering to take bad shots. Teague last year proved he doesn’t take a whole lot of contested jumpers and showcased a very heady and controlled game. If Jennings doesn’t control himself, the Pistons could really get hurt in a lot of games this season and particularly in this matchup.

But, I believe Jennings will turn a new corner this season in a new situation and he will play a more matured overall game.

Advantage: Pistons

Shooting Guard:

Detroit- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups?

Atlanta- Louis Williams

Louis Williams is coming off surgery for a torn ACL. The timetable for his comeback, like all ACL surgeries, is unknown, but all signs are pointing to an early return. Williams is an undersized, yet very talented shooting guard. As a player that head straight to the big leagues after high school, he has shown a lot of inconsistency over his career.

Over the years, though, Williams has found his role in the league as a solid scorer who will average around 15 points per game.  But, it’s always hard to tell how a player will come back from an ACL injury. Williams, as an undersized two-guard, will have to re-find his scoring touch and will struggle defensively against bigger players at that position.

The Pistons will come at Williams with bigger and stronger players at that position and will give him a major challenge. For that reason and the fact Williams is coming off of surgery, the Pistons should really take advantage of this matchup.

Advantage: Pistons

Small Forward:

Detroit- Josh Smith

Atlanta- Kyle Korver

Josh Smith was Atlanta’s most talented player a year ago, and he was for many years.

Smith is now a Piston and the Hawks decided to replace him with Kyle Korver. 

I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on this matchup. Three-point shooting is obviously an advantage to Korver.  Everything else is obviously an advantage to Smith.

Advantage: Pistons

Power Forward:

Detroit- Greg Monroe

Atlanta- Paul Millsap

Monroe and Millsap are both consistent commodities at the power forward position for their teams. Millsap, entering his first year with the Hawks after spending his first seven in Utah, will further establish the Hawks frontcourt with another strong, big body forward. Millsap was in need of a change of scenery and should thrive in newly appointed head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system.

Monroe, in a contract year, will need to show the Pistons an improved ability to defend in the post. Monroe has struggled defensively throughout his career and this is an individual matchup against Millsap that could hurt the Pistons if he doesn’t sure up.

Advantage: Push

Detroit- Andre Drummond

Atlanta- Al Horford

Drummond will have his reign as the Eastern Conference’s best big man someday (unless his social-media flirtation techniques take over top priority), but the 20-year-old will have to wait his turn.

I’m not saying Horford is the best big in the East, but he is one of the most consistent and absurdly underrated performers in the league at the center position. Horford is always good for his 15 points and 9 rebounds per game and that consistency isn’t easy to match.

Horford isn’t overly impressive in any phase of the game, but he does everything pretty darn well, something that big’s across the league struggle with. Drummond will need to learn this consistency stepping into his second year as a pro and learn to add different phases to his game (free-throw shooting is a start).

Drummond has a frame and ceiling unmatched at the center position and if his overall game/consistency follows, watch out NBA, watch out.

Advantage: Hawks

Bench:

The Hawks added some nice bench pieces this offseason in veteran Elton Brand and a slew of international players that include Macedonian forward Pero Antic and first round pick German point guard Dennis Schroeder.

The Pistons added some international flavor of their own with the signing of the Italian sharp-shooter Luigi Datome.

But, the Pistons overall bench depth will be one of the best in the league.

Advantage: Pistons

Coaching:

Detroit- Maurice Cheeks

Atlanta- Mike Budenholzer

Both Budenholzer and Cheeks are entering their first season with their respective teams. Like I’ve said before, Cheeks will have his hands full with this deep Pistons roster and the pressure will be on immediately to drastically improve from a season ago.

This will be Budenholzer’s first head coaching job in the NBA. He previously was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich, arguably one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, from 1996 until this past season.

All these years under the tutelage of Popovich and all the championship success will be immensely important to Budenholzer’s future with the Hawks.

Budzenholzer is currently in a bit of legal trouble after his arrest for a DUI this past August and he has an impending Oct. 15 court date. It will be interesting to see if his legal trouble will add any extra pressure this upcoming season after doing something that so greatly hurts his reputation.

Even with added pressure, I like Budzenholzer to make a nice splash in his first year at the Hawks helm.

Advantage: Hawks

Projected Outlook:

The Pistons will take three of four meetings against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons taking Smith away from the Hawks is a major swing in the head-to-head matchup. Not only is that a major factor, the Pistons will be improved at every position this upcoming season, as well. The Hawks frontcourt will be one of the best in the league with Horford and Millsap, but the overall Pistons depth should see them jumping the Hawks in the Eastern Conference standings.

  • Cory

    I can’t take you seriously if you’re going contradict yourself by writing up how Jeff Teague is obviously the better player but still give the advantage to the pistons. Everything you wrote about each player would point to advantage-hawks. Overall, based on what you’ve written, the hawks would take this matchup 3x out of 4. I’m just using Teague as an example because it stood out first.

    • Cal Sawyer

      I understand where it may seem contradicting and I appreciate your feedback. On the other hand, having written many of these on the Pistons it can get repetitive hammering into what each of the Pistons starters can do. I try to focus more on the strengths/weaknesses of the opposing players. I also never said Teague was ‘obviously’ the better player. I believe his ‘more controlled’ game can hurt Jennings if Jennings doesn’t improve his own shortcomings (consistency, bad shots, maturity).