Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Game Report: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta 103 Milwaukee 80

What better way to enjoy my first live basketball game of the season (hardly a
100 games project that I have going here) than one which featured as many as three (3) legitimate NBA starters. A panoply of disappointing lottery picks (Joe Smith #1 overall, 1995; Kenny Anderson #2 overall, 1991; Keith Van Horn #2 overall, 1997; Marcus Fizer #4 overall, 2000; Antoine Walker #6 overall, 1996) should give pause to the few Hawks eagerly anticipating Billy Knight building a contender via the draft.

The play was worse than I anticipated. The Bucks should be embarrassed by their effort. Michael Redd could barely look his teammates in the eye. They, in turn, tended to throw the ball into the stands rather than his hands on the rare instances he was open.

Tyronn Lue and Royal Ivey blew (27 pts., 11 ast., 6 reb., 2 TOs, 11-17 FG in a combined 48 minutes) past Mo Williams all night and the Bucks big men (Smith, Zaza Pachulia, Fizer, and Daniel Santiago) allowed them unfettered access to the front of the rim. Ivey, in particular showed surprisingly useful Earl Watson-type skills. By last night's evidence, Lue might benefit from all the attention Walker and Harrington draw due to their unceasing shooting with another undeserved contract (the first coming after he showed the unquestioned ability to maintain a grip on Iverson's jersey without being called for a foul in the 2001 Finals).

It's been established that Antoine Walker is, at this point, hideously unpleasant to watch play basketball. He acts put out if forced to run even at a trot from foul line to foul line. If he receives the ball on the offensive end he either shoots or turns the ball over. He stunted Paul Pierce's growth in Boston with his bad example and it looks like he's doing the same to Al Harrington who calls a caucus anytime his teammates don't give him the ball immediately upon crossing midcourt.

Harrington, one of three players the Hawks intend to keep for the near future, is an interesting case. He has a nice game, but I fail to see how he could be the best or even the second-best player on a good team. He needs to get better or accept his place in the NBA pecking order to turn talent into wins. He might be good enough to put decent numbers for the next couple of barren years in Atlanta before being shipped out as part of a future fine-tuning.

Josh Childress appears to project as the sort of complimentary player good teams covet. He's a good shooter and aggressive rebounder, making good use of his long arms. He needs to get stronger, but that should come with time.

The crowd (and pundit) favorite is Josh Smith. I can't say I've ever seen anyone like him. He blocked three of Pachulia's shots on a single second-quarter possession. Smith is like Kirilenko stripped of all his basketball skills. He cannot dribble or shoot at all but he can run and jump. He's undeniably exciting and could be extremely valuable in right situation as a defensive stopper and rebounder appreciated by teammates who got him the ball at the rim or in transition and let him get the ball in the basket the only way he's capable
(.189 eFG% on jump shots). Smith will either become a completely unique cog on a good team or hopelessly overrated due to the gap between his ability to make highlights and his ability to make simple plays.

I've had no NBA affiliation since the Kings left Kansas City in my youth. I have no doubt that an interesting Hawks team could electrify Atlanta and I'm open to being part of that. First, though, Billy Knight must move further along in the rebuilding process, stripping the team of its unpleasant elements (Walker, Lue, Jason Collier), figuring out which of Ivey, Donta Smith, Boris Diaw, and Peja Drobnjak will be useful players off the bench or potential folk heroes (the Hawks have recently been both bad and bland), drafting a franchise point guard or big man, and then trading one of Smith, Harrington, or Childress for the type not drafted.

Barring the developments of any deadline deals, they should have a couple of extra second round picks this year (from San Antonio and New York) to take a chance on an extra young guard or big man (Turiaf, Diener, Nate Robinson, Coppenrath, Schenscher, Danelius) who might develop into a useful bench player. I can't see them escaping the lottery in 2006 (even in the East) which should allow them an opportunity to get someone to go with whomever of Chris Paul/Tiago Splitter/Andrew Bogut they take this year.

Were I Billy Knight, I'd either take Paul, or better yet, trade down to take Jarrett Jack (adding a pick or player in the process) this year and take advantage of the glut of big men likely to be available in 2006 (Boone, Oden, Andriuskevicius, maybe Aldridge, Randolph Morris, and Villanueva). Even better, Knight could trade some of those assets for young veterans closer to achieving their potential and available as they move from their first to their second contracts.

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