The Atlanta Hawks are like........
..........an underrated but not great artist.
I was racking my brain trying to compare something that was underrated to the Atlanta Hawks. In my opinion, what you get when you assemble a team of underrated players together is --- an underrated team. This is similar to what you get when assemble a group of underrated musicians/artists together, what you have is an underrated band. This does not mean that the team or the band is great. It just means that they are underrated. When someone mention the Hawks, I think of the Traveling Wilburys. The band consist of two underrated musicians, George "the Quiet Beatle" Harrison and Jeff Lynne. I remember thinking to myself as a ten year old, "Who the hell is Jeff Lynne?" I did not know what an Electric Light Orchestra was. Along with these two underrated songwriter-producers, the Wilburys consists of past their primes Roy Orbison (for the first album) and Bob Dylan. Tom Petty was the one member that has not quite hit his commercial zenith. This was the pre-Full Moon Fever/Into The Great Wide Open/Wildflowers Petty. Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, the debut album, went 3 times Platinum probably due to nostalgia. I don't remember too many songs on it with the exception of "Handle with Care," and nobody have ever told me, "You really got to check out those Traveling Wilburys albums, they're incredible." (Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, their second album, went Platinum in 1990. George Harrison thought it was really clever to call it "Vol. 3," maybe this was why Lennon/McCartney did not include more of his songs on the Beatles' albums.) While not too many people remember much about the Traveling Wilburys, there are some people who swear that they are underrated.
Comparatively, the Hawks are similar in that they include three underrated players in Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford. This edition of the Hawks are pleasant and pleasing to the basketball viewer, but at the end of their time, may not be memorable simply because the Hawks are underrated, but not great or even "very good." Elton Brand is the Roy Orbison/Bob Dylan member of the Hawks. Clearly, past his prime and a shell of himself, FElton is simply collecting checks and playing basketball for kicks, which is probably what Orbison and Dylan were doing with the Wilburys.
The Hawk's head coach, Mike Budenholzer, is a Gregg Popovich disciple and brought some of the Spurs' ball movement and emphasis on shooting with him to Atlanta. Comparing the current Hawks to the Spurs is like comparing the plethora of R&B/Soul artists in the new millennium and the oughts to D'Angelo. I appreciate the Hawks' talent but will only watch them when the real thing, the Spurs, are not on available.
D'Angelo took 15 years between the release of his second and third albums; and five years between his debut album and the follow up. In between these gaps, soul artists have come and gone. Some such as Van Hunt and Bilal are unnoticed and underrated because their sound cannot be categorize and their music is definitely not radio friendly. I could bring up ten different artists, but let's focus on three -- Musiq Soulchild, Chico DeBarge, and Anthony Hamilton that are comparable to the Hawks. Musiq Soulchild is probably last year's version of the Hawks. His musiq is largely an unmemorable mirage due to his lacking vocals. Musiq's sound is one dimensional and at times repetitive. However, there are a few of his songs that I really like. Last year's Hawks got by on smoke and mirrors and eeked into the 8th seed that no team wanted in the Eastern Conference. They had a few amazing plays such as the Kyle Korver block on Roy Hibbert and great games when they hit almost every three pointer they took. Last year's very flawed Hawks team nearly hit enough threes and played just enough defense to get by the imploding Indiana Pacers.
Chico DeBarge's Long Time No See and The Game were released during D'Angelo's five year gap between Brown Sugar and Voodoo. Between 1997 and 1999, everyone who listened to soul music swore by these two Chico DeBarge albums. Kedar Massenburg oversaw the production of DeBarge's albums. Massenburg was also the executive producer of Brown Sugar. I have not listened to either of Chico DeBarge's albums since 1999, and even after writing about it, I have no desire to. DeBarge's albums sounds great, but they seemed like Brown Sugar knockoffs. The instrumentation and production are soulful and his vocals sounds clear and strong, but it lacks an enduring quality or an intangible lasting appeal of a D'Angelo record, which has a sound that is at the same time -- original, fresh, and classic. The level of the musicianship on Brown Sugar and Voodoo (and the new Black Messiah) is on a level that no other soul artist has reached in the new millennium. The Hawks are like the Chico DeBarge late 1990s albums. They are pleasant and fun to watch, and they execute well on both sides of the ball. They are in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive ratings. But they are not elite in terms of eye test watchability or star power and right now, they are simply doing their San Antonio Spurs impersonation.
Lacking in star power or an intangible charisma is what Anthony Hamilton's music represents. Hamilton is soulful. He sounds like what a soul singer supposed to sound like. However, his music is simply a tiring listen after awhile. It is often hitting me over the head and yelling at me, reminding me, that I am listening to soul music. Hamilton's new millennium and oughts work tries too hard to scream "soul music." In my opinion, the best soul albums ranging from Songs In The Key of Life to Voodoo are effortlessly soulful. It is only year two of the Mike Budenholzer regime in Atlanta, so we cannot expect the Hawk's offense to be at Spurs' level. The Hawks' second unit can struggle with the hallmark ball movement and player movement. Hamilton's music did fulfill the 15 year void between Voodoo and Black Messiah, but you cannot really compare the quality of Hamilton's output to the three D'Angelo albums. Interestingly, Anthony Hamilton sang background vocals on D'Angelo's Voodoo tour. Just like Chico DeBarge and to a lesser extent Anthony Hamilton, the Hawks are an approximation of the Spurs and will fill a void if the dinosaurs, balding, and grey haired crew are not available. I enjoy the Hawks and I hope they find a superstar or a star to add to their collection of underrated players to give them an identity of their own.
Hawks Watchability Essay
Gone are the iso-Joe days led by current Clippers assistant Mike Woodson. The Hawks had a history of isolation, dribble around and shoot players such as Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, and Joe Johnson. Now, head coach Mike Budenholzer has brought passing and movement with him from San Antonio. The motion offense and ball sharing are a joy to watch. The Hawks have subtly entertaining players as well, just no superstars or human highlight films. Kyle Korver's shooting, movement and gravity are basketball purist's dream. Paul Millsap can shoot, pass, and rebound at a very high level. He does everything so well and effectively that it largely goes unnoticed because he usually will not have insane top level athletic plays. Dennis Schroder is an interesting athlete who can't shoot, but is somehow effective. Mike Scott is an entertaining wild card, that's not too wild. The Hawks have two mostly defense oriented players in Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. And keep monitoring Al Horford to see if he can get back to pre-injury effectiveness. For the basketball fan that appreciate nuance, the superstar-less Hawks are an entertaining watch.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
Coming into this season, the Hawks have made the Playoffs for the last seven years. The Hawks will continue this streak probably until it hit fifteen years. I predict that the Hawks will make an Eastern Conference finals during this continuous playoff run. I know the Hawks have lost in the first round in four of the seven preceding Playoffs campaign, but the system is there for a consistent run of winning basketball. The Hawks' system is quite good that they may only need one transcendent or a near transcendent Dirk level superstar to get them into the Conference Finals. Perhaps when a new ownership group buys the team, they can come up with a creative pitch to lure superstars to Atlanta. It has always baffled me why superstars do not choose to play in Atlanta. It is probably a football town. But Atlanta is a big enough market with a low cost of living and there is the challenge of taking over the city like no other basketball player has except maybe Dominique Wilkins. The Hawks are a well balanced but no superstar team with a few very good all around players, good role players, and two very good defenders. The Bullsare a Derrick Rose injury and losing Jimmy Butler to another team in free agency away from slipping into the next tier. The Wizards have an archaic offense. The Raptors are somewhat unconvincing as Championship contenders. Only the Cavaliers will be there consistently once they figure things out, and they are too good not to. I am rooting for the Hawks to get one superstar and maybe a secondary star to join their set of underrated guys. I would love to see the Pac Man logo in the NBA Finals.