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All-Time Starting 5: Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks franchise has possessed more talent through their history than you might think.

The team only has one NBA championship in its 66-year history (in 1958, while the team was located in St. Louis), but the Hawks uniform has been worn by countless above-average teams and players.

Much like it did during the 2014-2015 season, Atlanta’s teams have often lacked the star power of their rivals and instead relied on excellent balance. As a result, the Hawks could compete better if they were able to field a full 15-man roster out of their past and present players rather than just one five-man unit.

That said, 66 years of mostly decent teams is going to result in a solid top lineup.

So let’s walk through the Hawks’ long history and find which group of five players does the franchise the most justice.

Point guard: Mookie Blaylock (1992-99)

Career stats with team: 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.4 PER, 0.146 win shares per 48 minutes

Unfortunately, Mookie Blaylock’s history of terrible off-court decisions both during and after his playing days has marred a great NBA career. He’s now serving three years in prison.

On the court, however, Blaylock was a total baller, and an underrated one at that.

He did make one All-Star game, but he’d be valued even higher in today’s NBA. Point guard has become the league’s deepest position, and Blaylock’s elite on-ball defense on those floor generals would be a huge asset to any team.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Greg Hanlon, “Blaylock used his quick hands and precise hand-eye coordination to poke the ball from unsuspecting dribblers or big men whose concentration wandered. His defensive stance was practically a crouch, from which he’d spring, cat-like, to attack the ball.”

His three-point shooting would also make him a hot commodity today—in two consecutive seasons (1995-96 and 1996-97,), Mookie led all point guards in shots made behind the arc.

Don’t sleep on Blaylock’s distributing ability, either. He had a career-high 9.7 assists against 2.4 turnovers per game in the 1993-94 season.

Jeff Teague and especially Doc Rivers and Lenny Wilkens got consideration here.

But Teague needed several years to find his mojo in the NBA, Rivers was very good but not quite the defender Blaylock was and Wilkens was surprisingly average statistically (14.9 player efficiency rating during his Hawks tenure) in a much weaker era.

Shooting guard: Lou Hudson (1966-1977)

Career stats with team: 22.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.0 PER, 0.137 win shares per 48 minutes

“Sweet Lou” was really the only choice here.

Pete Maravich played only four years in Atlanta and had his best days with the New Orleans Jazz. Joe Johnson did play seven years for the Hawks, but his level of play wasn’t good enough to surpass Hudson’s excellence over 11 years in St. Louis and Atlanta.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZiI4GVttpk

Fellow Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins said the following about the 6’5″, 209-pound Sweet Lou: “Young people today don’t know how good Lou Hudson really was. He was a hell of a player. The guy could score with the best in history. He was a phenomenal basketball player. He should be a Hall of Famer and it’s amazing to me he’s not. He was one of the best (shooting) guards and that’s a fact.”

Hudson passed away a year ago, but he’ll always be remembered by older fans of the Hawks (and NBA) fans.

Small forward: Dominique Wilkins (1982-1994)

Career stats with team: 26.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 22.1 PER, 0.158 win shares per 48 minutes

With Blaylock and Hudson scoring mainly from the outside, the Hawks need a wing to attack the rim.

Enter Wilkins, one of my top five in-game dunk artists in NBA history (Julius Erving, Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Blake Griffin, in case you were wondering).

Wilkins wasn’t just a one-dimensional dunker, however. He scored at least 25 points per game during nine consecutive seasons in Atlanta, reaching the 30 mark twice. ‘Nique’s mid-range game and touch inside became huge strengths as his career progressed. 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists aren’t bad at all for a small forward, either.

And although he’s been mocked for his defense by Larry Bird, Wilkins wasn’t terrible on that end. According to former teammate Kevin Willis, “When Nique wanted to play defense, he could play defense. Everybody didn’t want to give him credit on that end but Nique could play some defense for sure.”

The Hawks have both outside and inside scoring in spades from their perimeter players,

Power forward: Bob Pettit (1954-1965)

Career stats with team: 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 25.3 PER, 0.213 win shares per 48 minutes (steals and blocks not available)

Very few NBA fans have had the honor of watching Bob Pettit during his career, and online highlights of him are sparse. However, one video is particularly enlightening.

Pettit, at 6’9″ and 205 pounds, was a giant in his era, but also had the outside-shooting and ball-handling skills of many guards in his generation to go with amazing inside-scoring and rebounding abilities. He played 11 seasons and was an All-Star 11 times.

It’s really hard to compare eras, because modern players are obviously more athletic and better overall. History has taught today’s players more things about the game, and they also have the benefit of advanced technology in a variety of aspects.

However, you have to think Pettit would have possessed the skills and work ethic to succeed in any era.

Center: Dikembe Mutombo (1996-2001)

Career stats with team: 11.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 3.2 blocks, 18.9 PER, 0.171 win shares per 48 minutes

Center is the toughest choice of any of the positions.

Tree Rollins got a long look for the excellent shot-blocking and low-maintenance offensive game he provided during 11 solid seasons in Atlanta. Al Horford might have the best Hawks tenure of any center in franchise history, with three All-Star appearances in eight excellent seasons.

However, Mutombo brings the best combination of skill and fit with the rest of the Hawks lineup.

Dikembe played parts of five seasons in Atlanta and made four All-Star games. He also won three (!) Defensive Player of the Year awards during his Hawks tenure, although the last honor he received came in a season split between the Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdi68nTkn7o

Speaking of defense, I don’t feel great about this team’s players at 2 through 4 on that end. Blaylock can lock down opposing floor generals, but Hudson, Wilkins and Pettit won’t do quite the same to their matchups.

This lineup would be truly complete with an all-world rim protector like Mutombo manning the middle. He could cover up his teammates’ defensive shortcomings by deterring any and all potential rim attackers.

Honorable mentions: Cliff Hagan, Pete Maravich, Joe Johnson, John Drew, Tree Rollins, Al Horford, Lenny Wilkens, Zelmo Beaty, Kevin Willis, Josh Smith, Bill Bridges, Doc Rivers, Jeff Teague

Note: All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

Previous all-time starting fives: Bulls, Pistons, Thunder-Sonics, Magic, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans-Hornets-Jazz, Clippers, Jazz, Spurs, Suns, Kings, Cavaliers

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