Thursday, January 31, 2008

Clippers 95 Hawks 88



Let me get this straight. If the Hawks are down 20 with less than six minutes left in the game they can attack off missed shots and attempt to get easy shots in transition. When they're desperate they don't have Joe Johnson play 1-on-5 in the half-court. Would that be because it's not a very good way to score points?

Had they spread across three or four of the games in which they have blown late leads the five or six minutes of scrambling, aggressive fourth quarter basketball they played last night, the Hawks would have a record to match their quality: average, maybe a bit better than average. Instead, they sit 18-24 because they approach a lead of their own as something to lose, choosing to play tentatively and slowly in the hopes that the game would just end already.

They put in a good effort to make the margin respectable in the end but if this team was serious about winning the game they wouldn't have opened the fourth quarter with Zaza Pachulia attempting to guard Al Thornton on consecutive possessions which turned an implausible but possible to overcome 13-point deficit with 12 minutes to play into an insurmountable 18-point deficit with less than 11 minutes to play.

Furthermore, I contend that Atlanta's recent road record is even worse than it looks on its surface. They have had a decent chance to win six of the seven games. Five of the seven teams played short-handed. Milwaukee didn't have Mo Williams when Atlanta visited. Toronto didn't have TJ Ford. Denver didn't have Carmelo Anthony. Portland was down 14 with 9:27 left. The Clippers (already just a 13-28 team in Elton Brand's absence) didn't have Corey Maggette or Chris Kaman. That should not result in one win and six losses.

Still watching them every night, one can lose perspective. The Hawks are home for the next four and the estimable Kevin Arnovitz at ClipperBlog wrote this sentence this morning after watching last night's game: "Atlanta is pretty good, but they need to learn how to find open looks for each other."

The Hawks are poorly managed and profligate but the season isn't over yet. I hope.

Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
January 30, 2008 @ Clippers

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Al Horford Named to Rookie Team for All-Star Weekend

Horford joins Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Jr., Jeff Green, Jamario Moon, Luis Scola, Juan Carlos Navarro, Yi Jianlian, and Sean Williams on the rookie team.

For NBA press release and Sophomore roster (7/9ths of which consists of players who could have been drafted instead of Shelden Williams and (an overlapping) 2/9ths of which consists of players who could have been drafted instead of Solomon Jones) click here.

The game takes place on Friday, February 15th in New Orleans and will be televised on TNT.

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A Peek Inside the Mind of Mike Woodson

Courtesy Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
As the minutes continue to pile up for his starters, Hawks coach Mike Woodson said Tuesday that it's time to start watching more closely how that in-game wear-and-tear impacts his team. Joe Johnson is averaging 41.1 minutes, Marvin Williams 36.1, Josh Smith 36.0, Al Horford 31.0 and Anthony Johnson 28.0. "You have to look at guys and see what they're doing out there late in games and figure it has to be fatigue," Woodson said. "Because we're making so many mental mistakes right now."
The majority of the mental mistakes I see being made late in games are by the guy who's averaging 48 minutes a night as head coach. If Josh Smith's too fatigued to get back on defense against Portland, take him out of the damn game. That's the one part of the roster where the Hawks have some depth.

It isn't a fatigued player that calls "Joe Johnson dribbles around the perimeter against five defenders while his four teammates (at least two of whom can't make jump shots should they ever receive the ball here) stand around watching" ever chance he gets in the last four minutes of games until the Hawks finally lose.

To this point I've cut Woodson some slack about this team's lack of depth. (Not that he can sort through the relatively few useful options he has and deploy them optimally.) If he starts using that as an excuse for his own limitations and failings as a head coach, I'll stop being so fair.

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Suns a lot Hawks very little



I, too, decided to save myself for the second game of the Phoenix/Los Angeles back-to-back after it became clear in the third quarter that the Hawks were going to continue to switch on every single pick-and-roll despite Acie Law IV being in the game. It's a testament to their team spirit that the Suns frontcourt players didn't get into a single argument over who would get to set the pick and post up Acie Law this time down the court.


But, hey, in a complete blowout Woodson was able to give Acie Law stretches of (almost) 2 and 4 minutes at point guard before saddling him with Tyronn Lue.

I kept watching to the bitter end in the hopes that a Salim Stoudamire/Eric Piatkowski shootout would break out but ended the night disappointed on that front as well.

Forget about last night's game. You can't expect a plodding team like the Hawks to compete on the road against the shot-blocking, ball-hawking Phoenix Suns.



Go read this instead.

Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
January 29, 2008 @Phoenix
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The Mario West Defensive Stopper Scorecard will not appear today as Mr. West was inactive last night.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who's the Best Rookie?

Bradford Doolittle attempts to answer that question over at Basketball Prospectus.
The Al Horford vs. Kevin Durant debate harkens back to a fundamental problem with any rookie-of-the-year designation. We generally award the guy who was best in that season. That's pretty much what the award is for. But in this case, the award is likely to go to the guy who is the best prospect simply because voters will see that 19+ scoring average and think, "That's great...for a 19-year old."
The most interesting table in the article is the list of all rookies who have played at least 200 minutes ranked by their usage rate [The number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes. Usage Rate = {[FGA + (FT Att. x 0.44) + (Ast x 0.33) + TO] x 40 x League Pace} divided by (Minutes x Team Pace)] compared to the league average. Horford's fourth from the bottom which is partially a testament to his tendency not to take bad shots and partially a testament to the Hawks not getting him the ball often enough.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Small Ways Mike Woodson Sacrifices His Team's Margin For Error

There were two examples in last night's game that went beyond his on-going (and oft-chronicled here) indulgence of Josh Smith's worst characteristics (petulance and taking jump shots), his complete inability to design and/or call a useful play in the half-court in the final minutes of a game, not playing Al Horford enough in the fourth quarter, and using Acie Law as an off guard.

1) His mistaken perception that Mario West is some sort of defensive stopper. Putting Mario West in the game to guard Brandon Roy for the final 17 seconds of the first half succeeded only in making West (accurately) look over-matched as Brandon Roy beat him with a cross-over, made a lay-up, and converted the free throw earned by the pointless desperation foul West committed after he'd been beaten.

Look for the Mario West Defensive Stopper Scorecard to join the Josh Smith Jump Shot Log at the bottom of future game recaps.

2) Leaving players in a position to fail. Zaza Pachulia had another decent game off the bench last night. Woodson undermined the value of Pachulia's four made field goals and four defensive rebounds last night by leaving him on the floor for more than half of the fourth quarter allowing Portland to spread the floor with five shooters and be assured that one of them would be open because Pachulia lacks the foot speed to close out on the perimeter. Zaza gave as good an effort as he could but he's simply incapable of doing what was required of an Atlanta defender in that situation.

Opposing teams are going to try to create favorable match-ups for themselves. Sometimes they will succeed in doing so. A good team counters that. The Atlanta Hawks generally do not.

Playing as they are now, giving away every third or fourth game but staying within shouting distance of .500, is still probably enough to make the play-offs which would be a legitimate accomplishment. But a first-round series against either Boston or Detroit is only going to shine a spotlight on this team's weaknesses. To participate in a realistically competitive first-round playoff series, the Hawks need to get into the East's top 6. Today they sit four games behind Washington in that race. Despite the team's obvious limitations, they could make up that ground were they to stop giving away points for no good reason.

Decisions that do not work will be made and forgiven every game. Making the same decisions that do not work game after game is simply evidence of incompetence and can be solved not through forgiveness but by replacing the incompetent decision maker.

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Trail Blazers 94 Hawks 93



Josh Smith is talented enough to help the Hawks win basketball games. His performance in the final three minutes last night makes me question whether he is capable of making a conscious effort to help the team win basketball games. He plays very well (most of the time) but he just plays.

With 2:55 left in the game and the Hawks up 91-84, Anthony Johnson missed a three-pointer from the corner late in the shot clock. LaMarcus Aldridge blocked out Josh Smith and grabed the rebound. Smith made little effort to get back on defense, trailing even Aldridge after he has made the outlet pass. Smith had been guarding assigned to guard Travis Outlaw.

Outlaw sprints to the corner. Aldridge runs down the center of the court. Anthony Johnson, Joe Johnson, and Marvin Williams pick up their men. Al Horford is left with two Blazers to cover. Outlaw is set up in the corner, Aldridge is headed straight down the lane. Smith is in the general vicinity of the trailing Aldridge so Horford heads to Outlaw in the corner under the assumption that Josh Smith is cognizant of the situation and interested in playing team defense. Horford turns out to be mistaken. Just inside the the three-point line, Smith peels off Aldridge and jogs toward Outlaw. Horford attempts to recover while Brandon Roy uses the unguarded Aldridge to get free at the top of the key and head toward the hoop. Roy makes his layup and the late arriving Horford fouls him. Roy makes the free throw and the game is 91-87.

On the Atlanta possession beginning at 1:45 in the fourth quarter with the Hawks leading 93-89, Smith attacks the basket. He draws two defenders, the second of whom is LaMarcus Aldridge who has left Al Horford unguarded at the basket, approximately three feet away from Smith. Smith either never sees or chooses to ignore Horford in order to attempt a heavily contested, contorted shot that Brandon Roy blocks.

While his teammates get back on defense Smith takes a moment to strike his familiar, petulant, arms-raised pose to the baseline official. Smith's protest delays him in getting back on defense and throws Atlanta's defensive assignments out of whack. With his teammates covering for his absence, Smith takes the Portland player farthest from the basket as the Blazers set up their half-court offense. That Blazer is Brandon Roy. Less than 10 seconds run off the shot clock before Roy blows past Smith and makes another layup, pulling Portland within two.

The Blazers win because Atlanta won't score again. The Hawks scored two points on their final eight possessions most of which consisted of Joe Johnson dribbling, unable to penetrate the Portland defense before the shot clock forces him either to take a horrible shot or turn the ball over. Atlanta built a lead of as many as 19 points out of transition offense, ball, and player movement. When they really needed a basket they abandoned each of those elements.

There was one exception to that in the final 3:42...

With 2:03 left Al Horford saved Josh Smith after Outlaw (for the umpteenth time last week) beat him off the dribble. Horford contested Outlaw's shot in the lane, grabbed the rebound, and immediately fired an outlet pass to Anthony Johnson. To his credit, Smith sprinted toward the offensive end and received an alley-oop pass from Johnson.

That would be Atlanta's only made basket in the final 3:42. It was the only possession in the final 3:42 where Joe Johnson did not touch the ball and Mike Woodson did not call a play.

Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
January 27, 2008 @Portland

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hawks 99 Sonics 90



Atlanta played one good defensive half. Not that Seattle’s 31 first half points were purely down to Atlanta’s defense. The Sonics missed a number of open jump shots. But jump shots are never quite as open after you get (or watch a teammate get) a couple of them blocked. Josh Smith blocked two jump shots early in the game. There’s little I enjoy more than a blocked jump shot. My irrational exuberance for them balanced my rational frustration with the four jump shots Smith attempted in the opening quarter.

With Seattle unable to put pressure on the Hawks’ offense, Atlanta cruised to 21-point first half lead. Marvin Williams had little trouble getting open and knocking down those open looks. A relatively lively Zaza Pachulia helped the cause as well. He didn’t provide anywhere near the production typical of his first two seasons with the Hawks but even grabbing his share of defensive rebounds puts him well ahead of what Shelden Williams, Solomon Jones, and Lorenzen Wright have managed recently.

In the second half it appeared as if someone on the Seattle bench remembered that Atlanta can’t stop opposing point guards off the dribble. Both Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour created easy shots for themselves (13 points on 6-10 FGA and 1-2 FTA) and their teammates (4 assists and 1 turnover). That's not a massive performance but it did go most of the way toward equaling the entire Seattle team's first half output.

The Hawks were never really (despite Steve Smith’s worries) in danger of blowing the 19-point lead with which they opened the fourth quarter. Still, the offense was again half-court bound and horrible. At the point Seattle committed their first intentional foul, down 9 with 49.4 seconds left, Atlanta had scored but 15 points in the fourth quarter.

It was the same thing we’ve seen so many times before. The team was inexplicably reluctant to attack off of Seattle’s missed shots. The offense compounds this tactical error (Is this a conscious decision not to push the ball up the court in the fourth quarter?) by walking the ball up the court, taking their sweet time to initiate a half-court offense which seems to this viewer to feature ball and player movement which is even less frequent and synchronized than normal.

If this team is going to win consistently they will have to build insurmountable leads through the first three quarters to prevent them from beating themselves in the final quarter.

In deference to the victory, brevity, and pity, I choose to not discuss Mike Woodson’s inability to decide which five players he wanted on the court for a defensive possession up 9 with 90 seconds left in the game and his petulance upon being compelled to follow the league’s rules regarding substitutions.

Below, I add a new feature to the game recap, one that I hope will disguise my inability (most times) to write a stirring concluding paragraph. Thus presenting, the Josh Smith Jump Shot Log.

Josh Smith Jump Shot Log
January 25, 2008 @ Seattle

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nuggets 107 Hawks 100



With 5:27 remaining in the game Josh Smith made a layup to pull the Hawks within eight points. In a vacuum, not the most exciting moment ever described, but Atlanta had spotted Denver a 17-point lead in the first half (for details on that debacle, keep reading) and looked likely to contest the game to the horn.

Smith was almost certainly fouled on the play. Smith almost certainly would have gotten the foul call had he not fumbled the pass, dribbled the ball underneath his feet thus throwing himself off balance, and then struggled to control the ball on the way up. The play looked bad long before there was contact. Had Smith been in full control of his own limbs, the foul would have been easier for the official to see and call. It was a missed call but it's understandable why it was missed.

Smith's reaction to the no-call was demonstrative (and not the first time last night that he took time to complain to an official before running back on defense) and he received a technical foul. Counter-productive behavior to be sure, but forgivable. This Hawks team must rely on effort to paper over the areas in which they lack skill.

Truly damaging (even if one were reasonably to argue that it didn't influence the outcome of the game last night) and unforgivable was Mike Woodson receiving a technical foul while the free throw for Smith's technical was being administrated. Woodson co-signed Smith's rash behavior, a decision which could well go beyond the extra point he chose to give Denver in the fourth quarter.

Woodson's petulance is of a piece to his reaction to the Miami Heat's protest being upheld: that decision is unfair to the Hawks nevermind that the Hawks' scorers unfairly fouled Shaquille O'Neal out of that game. Granted, there is likely a significant amount of stress from being a (probably) lame duck head coach of an NBA team. Woodson just doesn't deal with it very well. That can't help the team. Especially considering he doesn't coach the team very well to begin with.

The Hawks fell so far behind in part because Al Horford sat for 7:38 across the first and second quarters during which time Denver outscored Atlanta 20-6. Horford sat for another 6:59 in the second half after picking up his fourth foul. The Hawks were outscored 22-18 during that stretch. Horford had a great game when Woodson thought to include him: 14 points (6-8 FGA, 2-5 FTA), 11 rebounds (5 offensive), 5 steals, 2 assists, 1 block, and 0 turnovers. He only played 29:07. He did not foul out. He never picked up a fifth foul.

The other rookie, Acie Law IV, was rewarded for his good game against Portland on Monday with two two-minute stretches of playing time. Law didn't play well but how can he be expected to with such a short leash. Jerking him around like that may be worse for his confidence than sticking him next to Mario West and indulging in one's veteran point guard fetish. To be fair, Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue both played decent games by their standards. Ultimately, it makes little sense to try and play three point guards in an injury- and ejection-free regulation NBA game.

Atlanta's offense was dreadful in the first half, especially late in the first quarter. The Hawks opened the game with a Josh Smith dunk, a Smith layup, and an Anthony Johnson transition dunk in their first five shot attempts. They made only 4 of their remaining 21 field goal attempts in the quarter. Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Josh Childress combined to miss 9 of those 21 attempts. That would make it difficult for the Hawks to score in the best of circumstances. When Josh Smith chips in by missing 3 jump shots in the quarter (To recap, in the first quarter, Smith on dunks and layup: 2-2 from the field, fouled twice, 3-3 from the line; Smith shooting jump shots: 0-3.) and Shelden Williams and Solomon Jones combine for three missed jump shots (None of which were emergency end of shot clock shots, they just felt like shooting some jumpers.), it's damn near impossible.

But giving away all those potential points isn't enough get Woodson as worked up as the opportunity to give Allen Iverson two free throws to put Denver up 10 as a protest of the absence of the seven-tenths chance that Josh Smith made a free throw to cut Denver's lead to seven.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MLK Roundup

Sekou Smith has a good blog post up at this morning. The highlights:
I’ll admit, it was stunning to see Portland’s reliance on their reserves to bail them out. But a closer review of things reveals a team that routinely plays that way. And please believe, the Blazers embody the TEAM (Trust Each and All Men) ideal as well any group I’ve seen all season...The Hawks are still trying to get to that level. Whether or not they can as currently constituted remains to be seen. We’ll find out a lot more about these Hawks over the next nine days. How the handle themselves under duress, on this upcoming road trip, will shed a better light on what this team is made of - call it whatever you want, but we find out between now and the end of this month if these Hawks have the intestinal fortitude to fight for their playoff lives or if they just a figment of our collective imagination all the these months.
...Zaza Pachulia, who is a good bet to be in the doghouse by this afternoon. His emotional reactions to being snatched in and out of the game (however justified they appear to be to some of you) have almost certainly landed him a one-way ticket to Suspensionville.
Joe Johnson made the second team of freedarko's MLK Day All-Stars. Sergio Rodriguez got robbed.

Dave at Blazers Edge has a good recap from the Portland perspective.

Braves & Birds takes stock of the team as they prepare to hit the road.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Same Day Delay Blogging the MLK Day Matinee

Trail Blazers 11 Hawks 109 (OT)


Gameflow (coming soon)

Quick thoughts...
  • Sergio Rodriguez es magnifico. If Nate McMillan lets him play more than 16:21 I doubt the Trail Blazers need overtime to win the game.
  • The point guard combination I expected to see most of the season had a very effective afternoon offensively. Acie Law IV and Tyronn Lue combined for 25 points on 11 shots, 8 assists, no turnovers, and seven rebounds in 44:36.
  • When not scoring early and often, Lue still didn't look like he was moving very well. I can't say I'd be shocked if he all of a sudden missed another month.
  • It ended up mattering naught, but Mike Woodson's timeout immediately following Josh Smith's steal which negated a Joe Johnson breakaway that would have tied the game was every bit a microcosm as to why this is (at best) a .500 as the previous offensive possession where four Atlanta offensive rebounds (down 2 in the final minute of overtime, mind you) resulted in a Josh Smith three-point attempts (and miss, natch) with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Counter-productive, adamant coaching decisions, great effort, and poor shot selection does not have the zip of Welcome to the Highlight Factory but is perhaps more accurately descriptive.
  • If Travis Outlaw makes a 21-footer to beat you, so be it. That's a shot you can live with Portland taking on their final possession. The game was lost elsewhere, primarily due to Josh Smith and Marvin Williams combining to miss 20 of their 28 field goal attempts.
  • Marvin needs either to finish better in the paint or commit himself to the defensive glass. Both of those weaknesses were on display this afternoon.
  • Travis Outlaw exposed Josh Smith's poor lateral movement in overtime. Usually, Josh can recover and contest if not block the shot from behind. Outlaw's too quick for that.
  • Joe Johnson (37 points, 7 assists, 0 turnovers, and a little defense on Brandon Roy down the stretch) gets the most out of his ability and circumstances more often than not. Today I think he's both overmatched and underrated.
If I have more in the morning, I'll re-visit the game then. If not, I'll begin to look West.

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Anthony Johnson Suspended for Today's Matinee

Jose Calderon made the most of it but you can't be elbowing people in the back of the head. Honestly.

The NBA press release:
ATLANTA, Jan. 20 (AP) -- Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Anthony Johnson was suspended for Monday's game against Portland without pay for committing a flagrant foul against Toronto's Jose Calderon.

Johnson was assessed the flagrant foul and ejected for hitting Calderon's head with his forearm in the second quarter of the Raptors' 89-78 win Friday. Besides the suspension, Johnson was assessed a flagrant foul, penalty two, NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson said in a press release Sunday.

Calderon clutched the back of his head after taking the hit but remained in the game and made both technical free throws.
Acie Law IV can get into the lane. Tyronn Lue can make spot-up jump shots. Mr. Woodson, please mix those particular skills sensibly with those of your five best players this afternoon. If I see Joe Johnson passing out of a double-team to Acie Law 25 feet from the basket as the shot clock runs down I will be disappointed (though, sadly, not surprised).

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Raptors 89 Hawks 78


Gameflow (not available)

I would not have guessed that the first minute and thirty-nine seconds which saw the Hawks fall behind 6-0 and made Mike Woodson feel the need to re-visit the game plan over the course of a timeout would be far from the most dispiriting stretch of Atlanta Hawks basketball I would witness last night.

I don’t have words to describe the Hawks’ offense in the fourth quarter. Which is fine. All I need is one.


There was no dribble penetration. There was no movement once Joe Johnson caught the ball and drew a double-team in the post. There was little effort to post up any other Hawk so as to place an extra shooter (Johnson) on the perimeter.

To his credit, Josh Smith noticed that last variety of incompetence (as did whoever asked the question that prompted the following):
"You just have to go with what the coach calls and the calls weren't for me. It's nothing for me to be mad at. I just have to get it somewhere else, whether it's off the rebound or running the lanes."
The Hawks just stood around. Johnson stood in the post. The entry pass was usually delivered to him several seconds after the passer had picked up his dribble. Johnson caught the ball, waited for the double-team, and then waited for someone to move to an open space on the floor before forcing a difficult shot or passing the ball to someone who should not be receiving a pass 20 feet from the basket as the shot clock is winding down.

Not being bound by the strictures of the shot clock, I consider myself still to be waiting for someone to move without the ball. I am not, however, holding my breath.

With 8:10 left in the third quarter, Joe Johnson made a fall-away three-pointer in the corner at (or slightly after) the shot clock expired to cap a 13-2 Atlanta run and put the Hawks ahead 52-46. Atlanta scored 26 points over the final 20:10.

As bad as the offensive play was, and it was awful, the inability or unwillingness to try different things in the half-court offense is more upsetting. It’s not a case of a team not wanting to stray from its strengths. It’s a case of a team not wanting to admit that what it’s trying and trying (and trying and trying, ad nauseum) does not work very well. Is posting up Josh Smith or Al Horford or running the pick-and-roll with Acie Law IV going to make the half-court offense worse?

Portland Monday then the first trip out West. I’m not optimistic.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bucks 87 Hawks 80



Atlanta's fourth quarter offense reached what I hope to be its nadir: 5 missed free throws, 5 turnovers, 2-16 shooting from the floor. Still, despite all that ineptitude and Royal Ivey's made 22-footer as the shot clock expired to put Milwaukee up 7 with 2:16 left in the game the Hawks remained in with a shout until Josh Smith left Andrew Bogut unguarded for a gimme dunk on Milwaukee's in-bounds play with 21 seconds left in the game.

Smith flirted with a points/rebounds/blocks triple double but he didn't play a particularly good game. Credited with only two turnovers because of the good efforts of Anthony Johnson to chase down two poor lob passes and one bad outlet pass, Smith failed to keep Yi Jianlian (5 offensive rebounds) off the offensive glass and took six jump shots making (predictably) just one. Smith wasn't much better converting the sorts of shots he should be taking, going just 6-14 from in and around the paint.

Not to single out Smith because everybody played poorly offensively with the exception of Marvin Williams. Smith was simply the most diversely poor performer last night.

Despite their awful offensive performance against a poor defensive team (Can any team play like a poor defensive if they get to face the Hawks half-court offense?) the Hawks could have won the game had they rebounded better defensively. Atlanta played good defense on Milwaukee's initial offense. The Bucks shot just 40.8% (eFG%) from the field and made but 16 of 23 free throw attempts. They made up for their poor shooting by grabbing 37.5% of the available offensive rebounds. (In comparison the best offensive rebounding team in the league this year, Philadelphia, grabs, on average, 31.5% of available offensive rebounds.) Lorenzen Wright, Shelden Williams, and Solomon Jones combined to play over 17 minutes off the bench while grabbing just one defensive rebound. That's abysmal even by the standard those three have established for themselves.

You can't run if you don't force turnovers (Milwaukee had but 10, half of those courtesy of Royal Ivey masquerading as a point guard for 37 minutes) and don't control the defensive glass. Atlanta can't score when they don't run. When they don't run they can lose to anybody.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blog Night Thanks, Acknowledgments, and Links

Last night was blog night at Philips Arena. I had a great time. It didn't feel nearly like the field trip I feared. We were treated with the semi-professionalism polite amateurism we deserved and more. I figured the highlight of my night to be overhearing John Hollinger talk about Nene's tumor in the press room on the way to witnessing (but not participating) in Mike Woodson's post-game press conference. (I think that's for the best. My criticisms are likely better served being published in this space rather than presented as a line of questioning.)

I was wrong. Our night culminated with a trip into the locker room to speak briefly with Al Horford and generally soak in the post-game atmosphere (Interviews were conducted, players got dressed, they watched the end of the Wizards-Knicks game; it was pleasantly mundane.). If they noticed us in their space the players were generous enough not to take offense at our presence.

The good time was due primarily to the efforts of one Mr. Micah Hart though it would be impolite not to thank the Hawks organization (especially Al Horford) for subsidizing the event and providing far more access than I anticipated..

There's a fine bunch of bloggers writing about the Hawks and it was good to meet them. Which makes sense as it's been difficult to be a casual Hawks fan for along time. Their thoughts on the night are linked below.

Braves & Birds
Atlanta Sports Fan
Hawks, Dawgs, and Jesus
The Crafty Veteran
Right Down Peachtree (liveblog of the game at Sports Gone South)
The Vent

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Hawks 104 Nuggets 93



One of the reasons I rarely write game previews is that when I am invariably wrong about things, I tend to write the game recap in terms of my misguided assumptions about the game I watched rather than simply in terms of the game I watched.

Yesterday, though, I was right. The pace at which the Nuggets played made it easier for Atlanta to get the transition opportunities they need to increase their offensive efficiency. Atlanta was so successful playing at Denver's preferred pace that Denver made a concerted effort to slow the game down in the second half.

HalfPossDen OEAtl OE

(NOTE: Possessions are estimated. OE = Offensive Efficiency = Points per 100 posssessions)

Slowing the game down helped Denver significantly but they were too far behind for it to make a difference in the game's outcome.

Denver fell so far behind in no small part due to Anthony Johnson's fine defense on Allen Iverson. Iverson still had a productive game (before getting tossed) but Johnson, for the most part, forced Iverson into scoring with his jumper. For a team that has had terrible problems keeping opposing guards from breaking them down off the dribble, I think this is as significant a lesson to take from this game as yet another example of how much more successful the Hawks are in transition as opposed to their half-court offense.

He didn't shoot much better but Acie Law IV had an encouraging night. Mike Woodson used the Law/Tyronn Lue backcourt for a long stretch in the first half. To his credit, it worked. The Hawks were +6 over 7 minutes and 22 seconds. Woodson tried it again in the second half and it didn't work: -4 over 5 minutes and 2 seconds.

Being at the game really helped highlight how uncomfortable Acie Law is playing off the ball. On the (too many) possessions where Lue was the primary ball-handler in the half-court, Law would follow him around the perimeter asking for the ball. Law doesn't know how to play off the ball. I still fail to see what advantage Lue (who could convert some of the open jump shots Law's dribble penetration would create for him) possesses over Law as a primary ball-handler when they share the court.

Law was +7 in the 9 minutes and 31 seconds he was the sole point guard on the court for the Hawks.

The Hawks get a very different challenge in the second-half of their back-to-back tonight in Milwaukee. If the Hawks feel the effects of last night's game and the trip to Milwaukee it could easily degenerate into a half-court game. The Bucks don't want to run and they don't want to let the Hawks run. The saving grace should that scenario come to pass is that even if they fail to play to their strengths, Atlanta has the ability to grind out a win in Milwaukee. Granted, that has much to do with the Bucks who are just as inefficient offensively as the Hawks but nowhere near as good defensively.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Preview: Nuggets at Hawks

I'm extremely interested in the game tonight because the Nuggets, in addition to providing the sternest test Atlanta's faced since their trip to Dallas back in 2007, might force the Hawks to play to their strengths.

The Hawks have two modes of offense which work fairly well: 1) intermittent stretches of transition buckets earned off of forced turnovers and defensive rebounds and 2) intermittent stretches when Joe Johnson cannot miss no matter the difficulty of the shot or the number of defenders guarding him.

It's obvious that the Hawks are incapable (or unwilling to make a priority) of pushing the ball up the court after every forced turnover or defensive rebound. That's where Denver provides me with hope. The Nuggets average 98.4 possessions per game. They play at a pace a full 10% faster than do the Hawks.

Even if the Hawks drag the pace half-way down to their usual 89 possession pace they will have several more opportunities to play to their offensive strengths: scoring before the defense gets set, offensive rebounding, and getting to the foul line.

It's not a new request of mine that Mike Woodson take advantage of every opportunity he has to play Josh Childress (in lieu of one of the point guards) alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford. I think tonight is an opportunity to lean heavily on that lineup. No one on Atlanta's roster is capable of staying in front of Allen Iverson. The one thing Denver does not do well defensively is rebound. That lone weakness should be magnified in Nene's absence. In a game that should feature a lot of Alanta Hawks shot attempts, it's imperative they use their best percentage shooter and second-best offensive rebounder as much as possible. It would also be a fortuitous night to act as if Al Horford has a six rather than five foul limit.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hawks 105 Bulls 84



One day after I bemoan the Hawks' offensive inefficiency they go and score 69 points in the first half against the Bulls. Of course, the 36 points they scored in the second half combined both to restore faith in my own judgment and restore my long-term doubts about this team's potential. (Again, not to diminish the very real progress they have made.) Plus, it's not like the Bulls pushed the Hawks much in the second half. Unless my waning interest fouled the integrity of my notes, Chicago never got closer than 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Thus, the only notes I took that turned out to mean much at the conclusion of the rout concern Mr. Acie Law IV.
  • I am not adamantly opposed to the Acie Law/Tyronn Lue backcourt (though I am convinced that over enough minutes it would prove disastrous defensively) but Tyronn Lue cannot be the primary ball-handler of that tandem. Acie Law can penetrate off the dribble. Tyronn Lue can make (at least he has made in the past) open jump shots. Let's try that combination of skills rather than vice versa.
  • Law has to start converting his shot attempts at the basket. Like most any rookie, he's going to make mistakes, turn the ball over, and take bad shots. He can't also get nothing of value from the good plays he creates by failing to finish them.
Other than that, I think there's little to do but savor a rare Hawks blowout win, forget that I picked the Bulls to reach the NBA Finals a couple of months ago, and speculate as to how the Hawks will perform when presented with a real test by Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wizards 102 Hawks 98 (OT)



The Hawks woke up Friday morning at 16-16. By midnight they were 15-17. The win was (at least temporarily) taken away due to organizational incompetence. The added loss was due to...organizational incompetence. Put simply, the Hawks cannot consistently create good shots in the half-court due to a combination of poor roster construction and sub-optimal utilization of the useful players at Mike Woodson’s disposal. Until the Hawks figure out a way either to create more transition opportunities or re-vamp their half-court attack, their very real competence defensively and on the offensive and defensive glass won’t raise the team above mediocrity.

Atlanta’s coaching staff could learn a lot from Washington’s. The Gilbert Arenas-less Wizards don’t have anyone you’d want to be your team’s primary ball-handler and only Antawn Jamison as a threat in the low post but Eddie Jordan has constructed a better offensive team out of a bunch of athletic wings and big guards than has Mike Woodson. Atlanta has three viable options to run the offense through in the post but Woodson chooses to use only Joe Johnson in that role with any regularity.

I take no pleasure in writing the following yet again but it continues to make no sense that the Hawks force the ball to Johnson in the post rather than using Josh Smith and Al Horford there, good passers both; awful and average jump shooters respectively. Johnson has a disconcerting habit of missing open jump shots his teammates create for him but over time I’d rather take my chances with him catching and shooting than watch opposing defenders run away from Josh Smith as he launches another 20-foot jump shot toward a nervous backboard.

Last night was also a great opportunity for Woodson to paper over the roster deficiencies at point guard and play Atlanta’s five best players (Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford) together for long stretches. He chose not to do so.

There’s no one reason a team loses by 4 points in a 53-minutes contest. There are a number of small things the Hawks consistently choose to do which make winning each game more difficult. The roster is unlikely to be improved significantly during the season. I think it’s even more unlikely that the Hawks replace Woodson during the season with a coach capable of deploying the players at his disposal more optimally. That’s a significant mistake. It appears it will take no more than a handful of wins more than the team currently appears capable of achieving to secure (at least) the 6th seed in the East thus avoiding Boston and Detroit and getting playoff experience in a potentially competitive series.

The Hawks should catch (and must take advantage of) a break on Sunday when the Bulls should start their best point guard out of position and their best scorer on the bench. The west coast road trips still lie ahead. Atlanta can’t lose anymore home games against their fellow Eastern Conference mediocrities.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Programming Note

Due to the great internet outage of '08 (which I discovered gradually lugging my lap-top from neighborhood to neighborhood, from neighbors to coffee shops to bars) Hoopinion is a couple of days behind in posting but not writing new material. My eyewitness account of Friday night's loss to the Wizards should appear post haste. Notes on the easy victory over the Bulls yesterday will follow with other matters taken up as the day progresses.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hawks and Heat to Re-Play Final 51.9 Seconds of December 19th Game

In that game, Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 51.9 second left in overtime. Except he'd only committed five fouls. (NOTE: Insert Mike Woodson treatment of Al Horford here.) Pat Riley protested the game and David Stern upheld a protest for the first time since...David Stern had never upheld a protest until today.

The NBA's press release:
NEW YORK, Jan. 11, 2008 – The NBA today granted a game protest filed by the Miami Heat after its 117-111 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on December 19 at Philips Arena, which will result in the replay of the final 51.9 seconds of the game’s overtime period with the Hawks leading 114-111. The replay will occur immediately prior to the next scheduled game between the two teams -- on March 8, 2008, also at Philips Arena.

The Heat protested the game because, with 51.9 seconds remaining in overtime, the Hawks' scoring table personnel incorrectly disqualified the Heat's Shaquille O'Neal – asserting that a foul committed by O'Neal was his sixth foul of the game, when in fact it was only his fifth. The error occurred because the Hawks’ Official Scorer mistakenly attributed to O’Neal a foul at 3:24 remaining in the fourth period that was actually called against the Heat’s Udonis Haslem.

NBA Commissioner David Stern found that the Hawks were grossly negligent in committing this scoring error, since they failed to follow league-mandated scoring procedures and failed to respond effectively when the members of the statisticians' crew noticed the mistake. Because of this conduct by Atlanta's personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as O’Neal – the Heat’s second leading scorer and rebounder that night – was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining. Under this unprecedented set of circumstances, the Commissioner granted the Heat's protest, and fined the Hawks $50,000 for their violation of league rules.

The protest is the first granted by the NBA since December 14, 1982 when then-NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien upheld a protest by the San Antonio Spurs concerning their 137-132 double overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 30. The Spurs and Lakers finished the game on April 13 with San Antonio collecting a 117-114 win.
I'm guessing that this (inaccurate) description from the game recap that night contributed both to upholding the protest and levying the fine:
The first postgame statistics showed O'Neal with only five fouls, prompting Riley to suggest he would protest the game. A review of the play-by-play sheet showed one of O'Neal's fouls was credited to Haslem, and the error was corrected.
That the Hawks' official scorer(s) failed to credit the Toronto Raptors with a made basket in a game last season couldn't have helped matters either.

And with that, I'm off to watch the 16-16 15-16 Atlanta Hawks host the Washington Wizards tonight.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hawks 90 Cavaliers 81



I'm not especially disappointed that Cleveland's one of the (non-Southeast Division) Eastern Conference teams Atlanta plays three rather than four times. This is not a matchup that engenders good basketball.

Cleveland should, though, serve as an object lesson for the Hawks' management. They are what you get when you play defense, rebound, have no point guard, and LeBron James. If everything falls into place, you can make the NBA Finals and get swept by a good team. If anything disrupts your best case scenario, you're fighting for a playoff spot against a team that plays defense, rebounds, has no point guard, and Joe Johnson.

Were the Hawks consistently to play as they did in the third quarter and use their defensive and rebounding abilities to create easy shots in transition, I'd be far more confident of their chances of making the playoffs this year. That they spent the fourth quarter walking the ball up the court in order to run brief, ineffective half-court sets before Joe Johnson attempted a difficult shot returns one to reality.

It's little wonder the Cavaliers got back in the game. For a four minute, twenty-three second stretch of the fourth quarter, Mike Woodson put this lineup on the court: Anthony Johnson, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Lorenzen Wright. Shockingly, Cleveland could afford to give Joe Johnson extra attention what with three of the other four Hawks players on the court incapable of making a jump shot. On three consecutive possessions in the final 3:30, Atlanta managed a Josh Smith three-pointer (missed), a Josh Smith jump shot (missed--and created of off Lorenzen Wright dribble penetration!), and an Anthony Johnson runner in the lane as the shot clock expired (missed).

All too predictably, part of the impetus for playing this offensively inept five came from Mike Woodson overreacting to Al Horford picking up his fifth foul. Horford sat for the last 3:58 of the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. He picked up his fifth foul with 6:26 left in the game and was replaced by Wright. He returned with 2:01 left in the game but only played 51 seconds before Woodson (sensibly) replaced him with Josh Childress for tactical reasons. Sitting Horford for that long when he is unlikely to feature in the end game (due to his free throw shooting and/or the small lineup Cleveland favored once Varejao left the game) is indefensible.

If Mike Woodson were ever to be a good game coach (imagine it if you can) it would have to be in a situation where he was given tremendous depth. The man can't recognize the difference in ability, production, and probability of winning the game between playing Al Horford as much as possible and playing Lorenzen Wright because Horford might foul out.

Good win, though. Back to .500 and still 8th in the East. A half-game out of 4th in the East for that matter. Washington in Philips on Friday for another game in which the Hawks need to grind out a win.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One Need Not Watch the Hawks Constantly To Question (Legitimately) Mike Woodson

David Thorpe co-signs one of my season-long complaints in this week's Rookie 50. Noting of Al Horford on January 8th:
Whether it's the right move or not, Mike Woodson sits Horford for long stretches when he picks up early fouls, rather than letting him play through foul trouble. This has cost Horford playing time -- he was on the floor for 38 minutes total in his last two games -- and the Hawks need Big Al if they want to recapture some of their early season magic. So either Horford must learn to let a few plays go where he doesn't risk fouling, or Woodson needs to let his talented big man learn how to figure it out on the court.
The last two sentences make it fairly clear on which side of his opening clause Thorpe stands. I concur. A neurotic Al Horford figures to be more productive than Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, or Zaza Pachulia ca. 2008.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, January 07, 2008


Pacers 113 Hawks 91



For a quarter-and-a-half it was an Atlanta Hawks game fueled by defense and rebounding redolent of effort more than execution. Then the Pacers started making shots and the Hawks were incapable of matching that.

Danny Granger has a great future in this league. Fair play for failing to contain him on a given night. A playoff contender, however, can't let Mikey Dunleavy and Kareem Rush play their best basketball games since they were juniors in college.

Nets 113 Hawks 107


Gameflow (not available)

Joe Johnson may not be a good enough basketball player to do everything the Hawks need him to do every single night.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

38.6: One Awful Possession

Cavaliers 98 Hawks 94



LeBron James made (yet another) jump shot with 38.6 seconds left to put the Cavaliers up 91-86. The Hawks called timeout. Mike Woodson sent Tyronn Lue, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford out on the court. The Hawks passed the ball around the three-point line until Josh Smith got Drew Gooden (bless him) to bite on a jump fake before stepping aside to take an uncontested three-pointer. Smith missed, natch.

The Hawks converted on their next three possessions, getting within two points before James made two free throws to ice the game with 2+ seconds remaining but the team's (and I mean players and coaches) inability to create anything like a useful possession with 38.6 seconds left rendered Smith's subsequent layup and Joe Johnson's two three-pointers worthless barring a Cleveland disaster at the free throw line.

Josh Smith shooting a three-pointer in a desperation situation is of little value. Josh Smith shooting a three-pointer ten seconds into a key possession is inexcusable. Someone must help him figure out what he can and cannot do to help the team win games. Someone must take the ball away from him if he might attempt a jump shot in a key situation. Failing that, someone must keep Smith on the bench where he can't damage the team's chances of winning.

Smith is a career 26.7% shooter from behind the three-point line. Still he averages one-and-a-half three-point attempts per game. His feet should never be set behind the arc. Get him the ball in the high post and the low post. Get him the ball there a lot. Do not tempt him with the opportunity to take jump shots, the opportunity to make his rebounding, passing, and shot blocking come at a cost.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Looking Ahead to 2008, Or, Predicting the Record With Little to No Certainty

Barring errors in calculation...

Have Played.500
Will Play.490

The Hawks have played 16 home games and 12 road games against teams collectively at .500. The Hawks must play 25 more home games and 29 more road games against teams with a collective record of .490.

Let's prognosticate semi-objectively.

Thirteen remaining games (Washington, @Milwaukee, Detroit, @Boston, Miami, @Orlando, @Washington, @New Jersey, @Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto, @Philadelphia, @Miami) duplicate 2007 fixtures. Atlanta was 6-7 in the original fixtures.

Projected: 21-20

Of the remaining 43 games, Atlanta has home-and-homes with seven Western Conference teams: Portland, Denver, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston, Sacramento, and Golden State. The Hawks should be expected to win between four (Portland, Clippers, Houston, Sacramento) and six (@Clippers, @Sacramento) of those games.

Projected: 26-29 (+/- 2 games)

The Hawks return games @San Antonio, @New Orleans, @Phoenix, @Seattle, @Utah and @Memphis. The Hawks went 3-3 in their home games against those six teams. Winning two out of six on the road seems a reasonable expectation to me.

Projected: between 28-33 (+/- 2 games)

Among Eastern Conference teams, Atlanta has yet to play Cleveland or the Knicks. The Hawks get the Cavs twice in Atlanta. Tonight's game is Atlanta's only trip to Cleveland. The Hawks play two home and two road games against the Knicks. If the Hawks are as good as I think they are (and Cleveland doesn't acquire a guard who can do two things well between and now and February 8th) they win five of those seven games.

Projected: 33-35 (+/- 2 games)

The Hawks play @Indiana and @Charlotte twice with no home games remaining against either team. Expecting to split those four would be optimistic but not unreasonable.

Projected: 34-38 (+/- 3 games)

The Hawks get New Jersey, Philadelphia, Orlando, and Chicago twice each at home (The one road game Atlanta plays against each of the teams is a duplicate fixture and accounted for above.) and should win at least five of those eight games.

Projected: 39-41 (+/- 3 games)

The Hawks play a single game @Toronto. I don't expect them to win there.

Projected: 39-42 (+/- 3 games)

The 80th game of Atlanta's season is home against Boston. That's the 80th game of Boston's schedule as well. If the Celtics are locked into their play-off fate, then Pierce, Garnett, and Allen won't play.

Projected: 40-42 (+/- 3 games)

That projected 40-42 comes via 26 home and 14 road wins which would necessitate a slight improvement in their home winning percentage (from .625 to .634) and a sharp decline in their road form. With four separate road trips of at least three games remaining I'm afraid that's extremely possible..

Ballhype: hype it up!