Sunday, June 26, 2011

Q&A with Peachtree Hoops on Keith Benson and the Atlanta Hawks

The Gameplan returns from its summer-long hiatus for a one-off post on Keith Benson and his role with the Atlanta Hawks.

Last week Keith Benson became the first ever Oakland University men's basketball player to hear his name called at the NBA Draft. The two-time Summit League Player of the Year went 48th overall to the Atlanta Hawks. He was the only pick by the Hawks organization in the 2011 NBA Draft.
To learn a bit more about the Hawks as a team and a franchise, I reached out to Peachtree Hoops of the network. Jason, a manager of the site, was kind enough to answer.

What positions were the Hawks looking to strengthen or add depth to through the draft this year? Does Keith Benson, a power forward/center, help fill a need?

Jason: They're always looking for productive front court depth, maybe a shooter at small forward or defender, and point guard help. Benson helps potentially fill those minutes in the front court, but he has to be able to continue his fine defensive rebound rate from college to fill the "productive" part.

I always hear rumblings about how Al Horford is forced to play center when he’d rather be leaned on more as a power forward. In your view, what kind of player would be the perfect complement to Al Horford in the post?

J: A legit seven footer to play center. Someone who will draw the opposition's center so that Al doesn't have to continue to try and back down and post folks who are 2-4 inches and 30-50 pounds more than he is.

(Ed. note: Well, that description doesn't really sound like Benson. It will be interesting to monitor how the Hawks approach Benson's position.)

Tell us a bit about the team chemistry of the Hawks. I remember a lot of talk during last year’s playoffs about how unreal it was that the Hawks were contending even though some had thought Larry Drew had “lost the team.” How do you think the playoff run helped this team and its view of the coach?

J: Larry Drew didn't lose the team down the stretch. They were worn out from having to play all the minutes due to the profound lack of depth after Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia off the bench. Jeff Teague doesn't count because he was relegated to spot status for no good reason other than being young, from what we all could tell.

This is a team that has grown up together, but a couple of the known blind spots to their main players--like Josh Smith and his jump shots and Joe Johnson and his ball holding--are starting to wear on the team as they fail to advance past the second round.

Jeff Teague wowed a lot of folks in the playoffs, particularly in the Bulls series. He was a high draft pick, but it still took some time for him to see lengthy court time. Is it fairly uncommon for the Hawks to play rookies in anything more than garbage minutes? Or has that been more a result of the team not having too many rookies lately?

J: In this last era of Hawks players, I would say that there is no cut and dry answer here. Yes, Acie Law, Salim Stoudamire, and Jeff Teague have struggled to break through whatever roadblocks continue to confound them and provoke the coaches to keep them on the bench. Time has proven out the coaches on Stoudamire and Law, but Teague pushed through when no other options were there, and maybe something has clicked with both Larry Drew and Teague that will see Jeff get regular rotational minutes next year.

As a diehard Hawks fan, what would you like to see out of a second round draft pick like Keith Benson? What would be your realistic expectations for him over the next three seasons?

J: Understanding where the Hawks got him, all I really would like to see is for Benson to be able to:

A. Understand and execute all defensive assignments.
B. Be able to capture and maintain defensive position in order to grab defensive rebounds.
C. Any additional defensive presence like shot blocking would be great as long as it doesn't impact (B).
D. Don't be a Captain Stonehands offensively. He should finish strong around the basket.

Finally, there will be many Oakland Golden Grizzlies fans who will now have at least a passing interest in the Atlanta Hawks. Give us a couple of good reasons why we should be excited to watch the Hawks other than to see our favorite former OU baller.

J: The Hawks are a playoff caliber team with three All-Star caliber players in Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Joe Johnson. When they are going, they can really create a lot of exciting basketball--after all their home court, Philips Arena, isn't called "The Highlight Factory" because they show a lot of clips on the jumbotron--and if Jeff Teague gets regular minutes, he can create a lot of excitement as well.

Thanks a lot to Jason and Peachtree Hoops for helping out!