Thursday, May 29, 2008

Season Review: Marvin Williams

Marvin Williams can do one thing relatively well: shoot spot-up 18’ jump shots though even that skill deserves a caveat: when he’s stationary and balanced. Early in the season, Williams was almost always stationary and balanced when receiving the ball in a position to shoot. His spacing in the half-court was excellent and he was nearly as valuable to the Hawks’ offense as Joe Johnson. Through December 31st, Marvin averaged 16.7 points per game, shot 50.5 eFG% from the floor, 78.9% from the line, and had a FT Rate of 44.5. Even without much value as a defender, passer, or rebounder, that’s a useful line.

Unfortunately, something changed. He began to try other things offensively, things he wasn’t very good at and he became far more prone to shooting his spot-up jumpers off-balance or while floating to the right or left. Why these things came to pass I do not know. From January 1st through the end of the year, Marvin averaged 13.8 points per game, shot 44.1% from the floor, 84.6% from the line, and had a FT Rate of 32.5.

Williams’ struggles with balance are a key reason (another being his lack of upper-body strength) he’s ineffective when posting up (and he got a mind-boggling number of attempts to demonstrate this last season), attempting to break down a defender off the dribble (To be fair, his awkwardness in these instances does cause officials to call a defender for a foul fairly often.), or finishing in transition. (Marvin had to lead the team in missed dunks caused by awkward take-offs.) Williams gives you a glimpse of what Josh Smith would look like without the freakish athleticism to compensate for a tendency to relax and an inability to anticipate what’s going to happen on the court.

Williams isn’t nearly as bad a jump shooter as Smith but you’d have to make an awful lot of long two-point jump shots to make it a worthwhile primary skill. Williams attempted a jumper on 69% of his field goal attempts and shot 40.8 eFG% on his jumpers. There’s certainly some number of made free throws that should be allocated to the value of each possession that resulted in a Marvin Williams jump shot, but we’re starting from a position of 0.816 points per possession. As is the case with Josh Smith (-3.4%), the Hawks offensive rebound percentage dropped precipitously (-4.4%) when Marvin was on the floor so the vast majority of those misses ended with the ball in the opposition’s hands.

Marvin capped off his disastrous 2008 with a truly miserable performance in the playoff series against Boston. Atlanta averaged 1 point per possession against Boston over the course of the series. During the 199 minutes Marvin played, Atlanta averaged 0.92 points per possession. Atlanta allowed Boston 1.14 points per possession in the series. During the 199 minutes Marvin played Boston scored 1.20 points per possession. Atlanta was outscored by 27.6 points per 100 possessions when Marvin was on the court (Atlanta was outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions when Josh Childress was on the court.) despite Marvin’s missing the final 21 minutes of the Game 7 beatdown having, mercifully, been ejected. Mike Woodson sure as hell wasn’t going to stop playing him. It wasn’t until a little more than 4 minutes into the fourth quarter of Game 7 that Childress passed Williams in minutes played for the series.

The Hawks essentially control Marvin Williams for two more seasons. Either he’ll develop into a valuable NBA player (One cannot question his effort. Watching Williams awkwardly get himself into an untenable position on the court leaves me feeling far more sad than maddened.) or the Hawks will have to let him go for little or no compensation. I cannot imagine Marvin Williams, at his current level of play, having any significant trade value. A poor first half of the 2008-09 season may see him leave as his salary is used as a make weight in the inevitable trade of Mike Bibby’s expiring contract.

Up Next: Mike Bibby

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Official Announcement of Rick Sund Hiring

Quotes from the press release...

Michael Gearon:
"Rick has an enormous amount of experience, and an outstanding reputation around the league. During this process, as we spoke with basketball people that we respect around the NBA, everyone had glowing things to say about Rick and his work. Our objective was to add an individual who would help us take the momentum we gained last season, and move to the next level. We feel we’ve done that, and we’re thrilled to add someone of Rick’s caliber to our franchise."
Rick Sund:
"I’m very excited and impressed with what the Hawks have currently developed and I look forward to continuing that process. They captivated the attention of fans locally and nationally with their play during the playoffs, and I too, was impressed with the effort they displayed throughout that series. We have a great nucleus of players, and while we have some work ahead of us, there’s tremendous potential and continued growth with the guys on this roster. I look forward to getting more familiar with the coaching staff and players as we look to build on the success this franchise has enjoyed this postseason."
The man can already refer to a first-round playoff loss during which the Hawks were outscored by 12 points per game as postseason success. He'll fit right in.

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Rick Sund To Be Named New GM


Sund was the GM of the Seattle Supersonics from the 2001-02 to 2006-07 seasons. Seattle won 45, 40, 37, 52, 35, and 31 games (.488 winning percentage in total) in those seasons. They made the playoffs twice, losing to the Spurs in five games (3-2) in the first round of the 2001-02 playoffs and to the Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals (having beaten the Kings 4-1 in the first round) of the 2004-05 season.

A summary of the transactions (Signed Calvin Booth! Signed Jerome James! Drafted Robert Swift! Drafted Johan Petro! Drafted Saer Sene!) Sund made as GM of the Sonics is at HoopsHype.

UPDATE: Slightly more information about Sund.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Season Review: Josh Childress

Josh Childress appears to be someone on whom the entire population of Hawks fans can agree. As far as I'm aware, there is no argument as to whether the Hawks should re-sign Childress, just whether or not the organization recognizes how much this excellent complementary player would be missed were they not to match the offer sheet(s) this restricted free agent is sure to receive.

It's a fair question and (another) one that pushes the question of who will be the next head coach to the fore. Marvin Williams played almost 500 more minutes than Childress last season. Williams did play four more games than Childress so the difference in playing time isn't as vast as my cheap shock tactic above implied. Still, Childress is the better interior scorer, three-point shooter, offensive rebounder, ball-handler, and defender of the two. There would be few things better for this franchise (now that hiring Mike D'Antoni is impractical) than Marvin Williams deserving to play more minutes than Josh Childress but that time has not yet come to pass. Giving Williams more playing time probably didn't cost the Hawks more than a win over the course of the season but even in a best-case, non-damaging scenario it still strikes me as perverse.

I am sympathetic to the notion that Childress is more valuable coming off the bench--that his ability to create scoring chances for himself out of nothing more than offensive rebounding and moving without the ball helps shore up an especially weak bench. It's the sort of idea that seems like it should make sense. Maybe it does, I haven't formulated a good way to judge this and I would guess that over the course of an NBA season (especially on a team with more significant and persistent weaknesses) it doesn't make much difference anyway.

On the other hand, wouldn't a good offensive rebounder who moves well without the ball and can hit the corner three-pointer complement Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Mike Bibby awfully nicely? Even if the Hawks choose to continue to start Marvin Williams every half Childress must play the majority of the minutes that call for Atlanta to put its best five players on the floor.

Williams is too important to the future of the franchise to give up on yet. (However, he should be trying to develop and diversify his game in practice rather than a competitive setting.) Childress is unlikely to become much better than he is now and Williams, should he live up to the promise he engendered coming out of North Carolina, would do things Childress can't. Williams' development (or the addition of a better player to the roster) shouldn't diminish Childress's usefulness. There will always be playing time for a guy who doesn't waste possessions offensively and can adequately defend two positions.

My confidence in Childress's decision-making is such that I'm even reluctant to criticize his sharp drop in defensive rebounding. Childress's defensive rebound percentage has fallen each of his four years in the league but in 2007-08 it dropped a further 28% from his previous career low. Anyone else and I'd lay a significant portion of the blame for the team's horrible defensive rebounding at his feet. Instead, with Childress I wonder if he's forgoing defensive rebounding opportunities for the chance to run out and get a rare easy bucket for the Hawks and whether this decision could be break-even or a net positive. Again, I haven't figured out how to complement this curiosity with some evidence that might provide an educated conclusion one way or the other, but I'll lean toward giving the benefit of the doubt to the guy who takes 75% of his field goal attempts from the inside (making 65%), makes a decent percentage of the few three-pointers he takes, rarely turns the ball over, and mitigates his relative lack of a mid-range game by making more free throws per field goal attempt than anyone else on the team.

I contend that Josh Childress could make any team better. It's incumbent upon the Atlanta Hawks not to allow another team to prove me right.

Up next: Marvin Williams

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Season Review: Al Horford

Previously: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith

Al Horford had an excellent rookie season, one that was as good as could have been realistically expected, but it’s still very difficult for me to imagine (barring injury) him not improving in his second season. WARNING: Optimism to follow.

His raw numbers would increase if the head coach next season simply refrains from overreacting to (in the first half) Horford’s second foul, (in the third quarter) Horford’s fourth foul, and (in the fourth quarter) Horford’s fifth foul. The only quality, healthy big man available to the Hawks throughout the year, Al fouled out of but one game last year. Despite both of those factors (his availability and his necessity) Horford was fifth on the team (if you include Mike Bibby, fourth if you do not) in minutes per game. (Josh Childress averaged even fewer minutes than Horford, but that’s a subject to be addressed in the next entry.)

I expect Horford's rate numbers to increase next season as well because of the variety of ways it makes sense to use Horford more centrally in the offense next season (Only Childress and Anthony Johnson had a lower usage rate* than Horford among Hawks who played significant minutes last season.) and to put him in more advantageous situations in general on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

*The percentage of a team’s possessions an individual player uses. Essentially individual (FGA + FTA + TO) divided by total team (FGA + FTA + TO) and adjusted for playing time.

Horford played center almost exclusively last year. The presence of either a healthy Zaza Pachulia or a newly acquired quality backup center on the roster would allow Horford to play the 4 when it would be advantageous for the Hawks to go with a bigger frontcourt tandem than Smith/Horford. When Dwight Howard's in town, for example. This flexibility/willingness to create mis-matches that challenge the opposition would presumably aid Horford defensively both in terms of limiting the number of fouls he commits and making the Hawks a better defensive rebounding* team (25th in the league last season), improving the latter would also increase the team's opportunities to run and thus improve the offense in general.

*Defensive rebounding is the early favorite in the category of "Things I'll Harp on During the 08-09 Season."

I contend that the poor design of the Hawks' offense (I refer to both the odd reluctance to push the ball up the court quickly and the half-court sets that did not seem to be designed in the full knowledge that the illegal defense rules were changed in 2001.) hampered Horford more than any other Hawk. Horford’s a good passer. Too often he got to demonstrate this skill only after grabbing an offensive rebound or in another non-structured segment of a possession. Good passing isn’t just about the passer. Useful, purposeful movement off the ball is also necessary and was in distressingly short supply last season. Horford himself rarely got the ball in a dangerous position on the move. A new offense and improved defensive rebounding would likely combine to increase the number and frequency of quality looks he receives in both half-court and transition situations.

Not that there aren't areas in which Horford can improve on his own. A fair number of the turnovers he committed were due to setting illegal screens. More often than that even, he set a screen in a manner that was certain to draw a referee's notice. His energy often outpaced his technique in that circumstance. When receiving the ball in the post however, thoughts of technique seemed to override his ability to make a move quickly. If he improves these weakness as successfully as he did his free throw shooting* his field goal attempts (certainly) and his field goal percentage (possibly) should increase as his turnovers decrease.

*Horford struggled to make free throws at Florida and early in his rookie season. I don’t think it was widely recognized (It certainly escaped my notice until the writing of this post.) that he finished the year as 73.1% free throw shooter. Horford’s free throw rate (FTM/FGA) was slightly above the league median. Improved footwork and a more dangerous team offense could give him more opportunities to draw foul shots he’s now more likely to convert.

I think it's two sides of the coin to argue whether Horford would more benefit from a new head coach than certain of his teammates or that's he has an established developmental advantage over Josh Smith and Marvin Williams because Horford spent most of the last four years playing for Billy Donovan rather than Mike Woodson. Either way, Al Horford has the ability to improve on his impressive rookie season should he be given the opportunity to do so.

Up Next: Josh Childress

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

GM Search Update

Marc Stein has been all over the Hawks search for a new (and, fingers-crossed, competent) GM. This morning he reports that Spurs assistant general manager Dennis Lindsey has withdrawn his name from consideration for the job:
"Mr. Gearon has been terrific throughout the whole process and I greatly appreciate the Hawks' interest," Lindsey said Monday, referring to Hawks part-owner Michael Gearon Jr.

"Because of family considerations and professional considerations, I've decided to stay in San Antonio."
That leaves three names remaining from the initial list of candidates:
Portland Trail Blazers personnel scout John Gabriel, Washington Wizards vice president of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard and Boston Celtics assistant general manager Dave Wohl
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Season Review: Josh Smith

I believe that Josh Smith holds the future of this franchise in his (metaphorical) hands. I also believe there is something abnormal about Smith’s (literal) hands that is the root cause of his obvious weaknesses: jump shooting, dribbling, and favoring awkward finger rolls and flips over dunk attempts. I don’t know whether his hands are abnormal in shape, size, or strength or whether he simply lacks the degree of touch typical to almost all (non-tall stiff) NBA players but Smith’s hands are central to how Smith is different.

Despite the weaknesses this difference manifests, Smith should still possess an advantage over his defender in either the high- or low-post almost every time he touches the ball. (Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, and Shane Battier would be expected to negate much, if not all, of Smith’s typical matchup advantage.) Running the offense through Smith would, I presume, result in more turnovers (though his turnover rate has not increased as his assist rate and shot volume have both increased during his career) in the form of bad passes or the irregular bounce borne of wild, rogue dribbles. It would also engage Smith emotionally and mentally in the game more consistently (one hopes) while reducing the opportunity for Smith to attempt jump shots outside of 15’ and increasing his free throw attempts.

Here is where I would attempt to quantify the damage Smith's terrible jump shooting does to the Hawks offense. But's Hotspots has no data for any Hawks players right now. Smith did limit himself to 99 three-point attempts last year, making 25, and just failing to match his career average of 26.3% shooting from behind the arc. has Smith taking 48% of his field goal attempts as jump shots, for a 30.7 eFG%. As best as I can figure, that makes Smith 130-446 (29.1%) on his two-point jump shots. Even though the Hawks are a good offensive rebounding team (5th in the NBA) that volume of poor shooting can't be mitigated. Especially frustrating is that Smith set a career high in free throw attempts (5.8 per game) despite using almost half his field goal attempts on jump shots he wasn't making and gave him no real chance of drawing a foul.

While I hope that increasing Smith’s responsibilities offensively (and requiring him to play within the team concept defensively) would generate a positive response from Smith it remains but a hope based just on Smith’s typically perceptive post-game quotes and glimpses of Smith as a dominating basketball player during the stretches of games where he seems completely invested in the proceedings. I don’t know the man and, of course, that Mike Woodson can’t communicate successfully with Josh Smith isn’t entirely Woodson’s fault.

The potential of Josh Smith to become a franchise player, a potential that rests with Smith alone amongst members of the current roster, is worth sufficient reward to take the risk that Smith is simply an enigmatic talent that can’t or won’t maximize his talents, refuse to do things on the court that hurt his team’s chances of winning, and take primary responsibility of whether the team tops out at 40 or 50 wins in a season.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Season Review: Joe Johnson

In some respects, Joe Johnson is a microcosm for the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a franchise player only for a franchise of extremely limited ambition or exceedingly poor judgment. This is what you get for spending $50M+ and two first-round draft picks for the opportunity to build your team around the fourth-best player on a legitimately good NBA team: a season that consists of 37 wins and a first-round playoff loss by average of 12 points a game is considering (within the organization if nowhere else) a resounding success.

When Johnson left Phoenix for Atlanta he spurned a chance at a championship in favor of money and field goal attempts. He doesn’t appear to regret that decision. Which is fine. There’s nothing immoral about creating a life of extremely well-paid above averageness in your chosen endeavor. Were I particularly skilled in a specific, highly valued manner, I’d probably take a similar course.

Joe Johnson’s comfort level appears vast. Unlike the more efficient Joshes Smith and Childress or the more promising Al Horford, Johnson looks comfortable playing at a modest pace, methodically milking the shot clock, and hoisting a guarded jumper before the buzzer sounds.

Unfortunately, in the leadership vacuum that engulfs the Atlanta Hawks, Joe Johnson takes on the outsized importance of a franchise player and the guy who’s happy shooting a lot of difficult shots, barely making then losing in the playoffs, and not being challenged by his head coach or younger teammates gets a serious voice in one of the two most important decisions this franchise will make in the next five years. Joe Johnson’s opinion of Mike Woodson differs from my own:
"He's done a great job this season. I'd love for him and the coaching staff to come back. Hopefully we can really, really make that happen. They have done so many good things for us this season. I've learned so much from him and he's the main reason that attracted me to come here. Hopefully, we'll keep him and all of the other guys around.”
It’s possible that Joe Johnson is simply a really nice, polite guy who doesn’t really believe any of that except, one would hope, his final thought that presumably refers to re-signing Smith and Childress.

None of this diminishes the fact likelihood that Joe Johnson could be an extremely useful player on a good team. He does a number of things well and, at times, can bail out a team that’s struggling to create good shots in the half-court. Were he to prove to be comfortable abdicating the low block (not entirely, but for the most part) to Josh Smith and Al Horford and reap the benefit of the open looks they would create for him (Which, unlike the open shots he creates from the low post for Smith in particular, Johnson stands a decent shot of making.) the Hawks could be that good team that makes appropriate use of Johnson’s skills. If he’s not comfortable taking a different role (And a sensibly reduced one: Johnson has been in the top 4 of the NBA in minutes played in four of the last five years.) he still would have value as a trading chit for the next Hawks GM who will take over a franchise no longer reaping the benefit of Josh Smith and Josh Childress providing value far beyond the cost of their rookie contracts and obvious holes to fill in the areas of perimeter shooting, perimeter defending, and post depth.

Whatever my reservations about him in the grand, hypothetical scheme of things, Johnson is clearly the best player on the Atlanta Hawks as currently constructed. According to*, the Hawks were almost a break even team (-0.9 pts/100 possessions) when Johnson was on the court and a dreadful team (-8.3 pts/100 possessions) when he was off the court. Two caveats: 1) Johnson played 84% of Atlanta’s minutes and they weren’t many important minutes that he sat out. 2) When Johnson was off the court, some combination of Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, an out of position point guard, Salim Stoudamire, Mario West, and Jeremy Richardson played the 2 and the 3. More than any other Hawk, Joe Johnson was better than the alternative(s) but that was not enitrely due to how much better than average he was. Even on a thoroughly thin bench, Billy Knight’s inability to acquire an NBA-quality backup for Joe Johnson stood out.

*According to the slightly more accurate (all possessions accounted for rather than estimated), the Hawks were -0.86 pts/100 poss with Johnson on the court and -8.05 pts/100 poss with him off the court. I’ll be using’s numbers as a baseline for this series because they break down the on/off data so that one can look just at the Atlanta numbers for those involved in the Mike Bibby trade.

What other people thought...

Sekou Smith:
No player carried a bigger load for his team this season. Johnson played 41 minutes a night, usually defended by two and sometimes three players, yet still managed to lead the Hawks in scoring and made his second consecutive All-Star Game. After a summer filled with some much-needed rest, Johnson will have to be ready to lead the charge again next season.
Micah Hart credits Johnson with the Best Individual Offensive Performance, Regular Season Shot of the Year, and Post-Season Shot of the Year.

Next up: Josh Smith

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dear God, NO

Today's also includes the feeblest meeting of the minds one could conjure: Terence Moore and Michael Gearon, Jr. on the subject of the wonderful job Mike Woodson has done coaching the Hawks.

Moore, quoting Gearon:
"We’ve got a lot of momentum as a franchise right now, and what’s important to us is that we do not disrupt that.”

Makes sense to me. The same goes for Gearon saying, “I cannot see a situation where Woodson is not here.”
You know what I can't see? A situation where Woodson wins 40 (regular season) games as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Those even worse teams in the Eastern Conference that the Hawks barely outlasted for the eighth seed in the playoffs? They're hiring Larry Brown or Scott Skiles to coach their teams. They're barring Isiah Thomas from having any contact with their players. They have draft picks. They are actively trying to get better, or, at least, they recognize that they are not good.

Moore takes this idiocy one step further:
All this Woodson bashing, stretching from the past to the present, is ridiculous. He didn’t put together a bunch of dysfunctional rosters. He just had to coach them, and he did so well, despite having one of those eight owners suing the others, a player’s death before the start of a season, the NBA’s youngest team for most of those years and no decent point guard until Bibby arrived in February.
Moore lays all the blame at Billy Knight's door:
Billy Knight was the problem, but he isn’t anymore. Thankfully, he announced Wednesday that he’ll resign when his contract as general manager expires at the end of June. He’s the one who was obsessed with giving Woodson a bunch of “long and athletic” players to the detriment of common sense.
I have consistently absolved Woodson of responsibility for not having a lot of options. What's so damning about Woodson's performance as the head coach is that he can't adequately sort through the few options he has had and deploy them sensibly or successfully.
Woodson had zero say in personnel decisions, by the way. He just kept his mouth shut and did the best he could with a starter out of high school (Josh Smith), another just a year out of college (Marvin Williams), a power forward playing center (Al Horford), no point guard worth mentioning before Bibby, no depth on the bench beyond Josh Childress and a dearth of shooters.
Smith and (to a far lesser extent) Williams are still raw talents despite playing four and three years respectively under Woodson. He has failed to make good use of their existing talents or aid them in developing new talents. Mike Woodson has allowed Josh Smith to shoot 361 three-pointers over the last three seasons, making 26.8% of those. (379 attempts, making 26.4% if you include his 3-18 shooting in the wildly successful playoff series the Hawks just lost) Mike Woodson calls plays for Marvin Williams to post people up. Smith and Williams aren't (collectively) a bad hand Woodson was dealt; they're examples of why he can't be brought back.*

*Does anyone else wonder that Chris Paul is just as ecstatic he wasn't drafted by the Hawks and forced to play under Mike Woodson as Hawks fans are upset that Billy Knight didn't draft Paul?

There is a center on the roster. He's evidence of one of Billy Knight's few shrewd moves. It's not Woodson's fault that Pachulia was hurt this year. It is partly Woodson's fault that Pachulia has no respect for his head coach. (Furthermore, outside of Dwight Howard, how often was Al Horford physically overmatched playing center. It's not ideal that he play there all the time but it's far from the biggest problem this team dealt with on a nightly basis.)

There may have been a point guard worth mentioning before (the decidedly average) Mike Bibby arrived but Woodson did everything possible not to play Acie Law IV. And, going back a couple of years, not having a good point guard on the roster is not a sufficient excuse for inflicting Royal Ivey on the people of this town.

Finally, a dearth of shooters? Salim Stoudamire and I aren't even going to dignify that with a response.

The last three weeks have taught me that the degree to which someone thinks Mike Woodson is unqualified to coach the Atlanta Hawks is directly proportional to the number of Hawks games he or she watches. So, Terence Moore: how many Hawks games did you watch this year? And how many are going to watch next year to see Joe Johnson pass out of the post when double-teamed with less than five seconds left on the shot clock to a wide-open Josh Smith 20' from the basket while Al Horford is sitting on the bench for an entire quarter because he's four fouls away from fouling out?

Furthermore, should I be surprised that ownership would be willing to alienate their few serious fans to create the illusion for those recently caught up in the excitement of losing a first-round playoff series and who don't know any better that the Hawks as currently constructed are building toward something?

UPDATE: Chad Ford's chatting this afternoon:
Tim (Toledo): Lindsey to Atlanta? Woodson out? Avery in?

SportsNation Chad Ford: (1:21 PM ET ) I think Billy King has the inside track on the Hawks job from what I'm told. If he's the guy, I think he'll keep Woodson. All three are Larry Brown disciples. If it's Dennis Lindsey ... I'd say Avery is a possibility.

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Consider This the GM Candidate Discussion Thread

Sekou Smith lists six potential candidates to replace Billy Knight. To me it's clear that the best choice on the list is Milt "Alfreaka" Newton, who, though I doubt he uses that nickname much anymore, was, like successful NBA GMs RC Buford and Kevin Pritchard, part of the 1988 NCAA National Champion Kansas Jayhawks.

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Marvin Williams Suspended For First Game of 2008-09 Season

This was announced yesterday and no additional information has been published since. Thus, the press release in full and we'll call it a post:
NEW YORK, May 7, 2008 – Marvin Williams of the Atlanta Hawks has been suspended one game without pay for committing a Flagrant Foul, Penalty Two for knocking Boston’s Rajon Rondo to the floor, it was announced today by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred with 9:09 remaining in the third period of the Hawks’ 99-65 loss to the Celtics on Sunday, May 4, at TD Banknorth Garden.

Williams will serve his suspension during Atlanta’s first game of the 2008-09 season.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Billy Knight's Last, Best Decision

The only link I can find as of right now is to a story labeled "press release" at RealGM but Billy Knight is resigning effective July 1st when his current contract ends. Whether he was asked to resign or is clever enough to realize his option was unlikely to be picked up by the owners who wouldn't let him fire the incompetent coach he once hired is anyone's guess. I think we should all be grateful that someone made a quick decision. This should (could?) accelerate the pace of installing a new management team who can, in turn, hire a new coach.

I'm still assuming that re-signing Joshes Smith and Childress is a foregone conclusion regardless of who is in charge.

UPDATE: Braves & Birds has beaten me to the punch in assessing the best and worst moves of Billy Knight's tenure. I'd only the following footnotes of my own to Michael's post: 1) Knight deserves credit for drafting Josh Childress as well. Picking Smith and Childress in the 2004 draft was terribly valuable. 2) On the flip side, turning the 5th and 33rd picks of the 2006 draft into Shelden Williams and Solomon Jones was about the worst possible use of resources. 2b) If they didn't take Brandon Roy because they already had Joe Johnson then I think that the Joe Johnson deal (about which I'm more ambivalent than almost everyone else to begin with) becomes a rather mixed blessing. 3) The damage done in drafting Marvin Williams cannot be overstated. Any other decision: drafting Chris Paul, drafting Deron Williams, trading down and getting a second first-round pick, hell, drafting Raymond Felton, would have been better for the franchise.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Call For Suggestions

The off-season's here, the Hawks have no draft picks, and I have a sneaking suspicion that decisions about the future of the franchise (personnel, the makeup of the front office staff, and the identity of the head coach) will be made at a maddeningly slow pace.

One thing is on tap: I'm working on a series examining the 2007-08 season for each player which should premier sometime next week, starting with Joe Johnson and working down the roster in a rough order of importance.

Please share any ideas or requests you have for other subjects to be discussed here this summer in the comments.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Celtics 99 Hawks 65



And so it ends in a manner that makes a fool of anyone who allowed themselves some morsel of hope or put some measure of faith in this team's ability to compete in a road game against a good, motivated opponent. Had the Hawks converted some of their interior field goals attempts (or if Josh Smith had picked an opportune moment to renounce the complicated layup and found religion in terms of dunking on people) and grabbed a reasonable percentage of defensive rebounds in the first quarter the result would have remained in doubt later into the afternoon.

The evidence of the second and third quarter does not suggest that a better start would have given the Hawks a chance to win the game as the surpassed any fan's most outrageous, frustrated hyperbole in appearing rudderless: five disparate individuals rather than a team, sharing the court but no philosophy. In that respect, Game 7 should provide a fitting conclusion to the Mike Woodson era.

The Billy Knight era could have concluded yesterday as well though its impact will linger through this pick-less NBA Draft and in Marvin Williams' suspension that will surely delay his 2008-09 debut. Williams committed a frightening and thankfully not destructive foul. Bizarrely Williams body-slammed Rajon Rondo without a hint of malice. Williams simply didn't know what he was doing (the lack of instruction young players have received as employees of this franchise is not limited to offense and defense), thus ending his season, a season that began with such promise, with a sadly appropriate aimless and awkward act.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Game 6 Links

Micah Hart, Hawks BasketBlog:
No, there is only one reason the Hawks won on Friday night - heart. No, make that Heart. It deserves to be capitalized for this team, because what they did tonight was will themselves to a Game 7 showdown in Boston on Sunday. In Game 3, the Hawks were the better team. In Game 4, it took a performance of the ages from Joe Johnson to get a win. The Celtics can look at those two games and make excuses.

But not tonight. The Celtics had this game. There was no reason for them to lose this one, not after leading almost the entirety of the first three quarters and forcing the Hawks to play the kind of offensive basketball that played into their hands. But once again, the Hawks stepped up when it counted in the fourth quarter, and because of that a series most people assumed would be over in four is now the only one in the first round to go the distance.
John Hollinger,
Of the five arenas I've been to in this postseason, this was easily the loudest -- a shocking turn of events for a place that could have doubled as a mausoleum for much of the regular season.

Where all these people came from, nobody knows -- it was an arena record 20,425 of them, to be precise -- but the newfound fanatics carried the team. They quite possibly intimidated the refs too: The Hawks enjoyed a 47-25 free throw advantage and took 41 in the final three quarters.
Kevin Garnett:
"I've played in the league 13 years now and I've been coming to Atlanta for all 13, and this is the first time I've seen the atmosphere like this."
Steve Weinman, CelticsBlog:
This team hasn't lost simply because it has slacked off and allowed the Hawks to take three games out of pure fortune. This series has clearly no longer been about the Celtics giving, and plenty of it has become about the Hawks taking.
Bob Ryan, Boston Globe:
The only Atlanta leads in the three games in Boston were 2-0, 7-5, 7-6, and 8-7. It's a different game in Boston. But it wasn't supposed to be this hard. There wasn't supposed to be a Game 7 in this series because if the Celtics really were the legitimate heirs to a throne, they would have ended this thing in Philips Arena last night. They would not have lost Game 6, 103-100, to the Atlanta Hawks.

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Hawks 100 Celtics 97



I didn't see anything last night that leads me to believe that Atlanta stands much of a chance Sunday of doing the once-unthinkable and beating the Boston Celtics in a seven-game playoff series but there's plenty to honor and celebrate in the wake of witnessing the Hawks beat the Celtics three times in the last week. I don't recall a sensible, serious person predicting anything more optimistic for the Hawks than "maybe they could sneak a victory at home if Boston loses all interest in the series before it's over." The Celtics haven't appeared disinterested or distracted in any of the six games thus far, the Hawks have simply raised their collective game in the playoffs. At least when they've received the support of their home crowd.

While I may not be optimistic about Sunday's game, I'm struggling to restrain my optimism for next year. The Hawks beat the Celtics last night without a lot going right. Outside of Marvin Williams consistently knocking down open jumpers, the referees fouling out Paul Pierce on a play that's a non-call on the approximately one-third of all possessions in which it generally occurs, and Ray Allen going 1-8 from the floor in the fourth quarter, I can't think of anything significant and/or unusual that benefited Atlanta.

On the other hand...
  • Al Horford sat out the entire second quarter with two fouls.
  • Josh Smith committed a hideously dumb fourth foul 4:10 into the third quarter and spent all but 5 of the remaining 20 minutes of the game on the bench.
  • Josh Smith turned the ball over 6 times.
  • Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby combined to shoot 10-30 from the floor.
  • Mike Woodson picked up a technical foul less than a minute into the second half that, rather than firing up his team or the crowd, seemed to confuse the former and deflate the latter and lead to a 7-0 Celtics run over the next two minutes.
  • Atlanta made two field goals over the last eight minutes of the game, neither of them the result of a good offensive possession. There weren't any missed shots that came off of good looks created by the offense, either. It was an awful display of half-court offense best exemplified by Woodson calling a timeout with 2:46 left in the game following which the Hawks came out and ran absolutely nothing before getting bailed out by Ray Allen tripping Mike Bibby with (at most) :01 left on the shot clock.
  • Mike Woodson chose to use an obviously hobbled and possibly injured Marvin Williams as a defensive replacement for the last 20 seconds. One can never question Marvin's effort but even without the distraction of physical pain he's not an exemplar of good decision making.
Give this core a couple more decent bench players, a well-designed offensive system, a head coach whose behavior doesn't sap their energy, and a consistently engaged home crowd next season and I think there's a reasonable chance something special happens.

Of course, we may not have to wait that long.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Though I Want a New Coach... doesn't follow that I want the coaching change to come following the current coach suffering a psychotic episode.
Hawks coach Mike Woodson was irate Wednesday that center Al Horford wasn't given at least a share of the NBA Rookie of the Year award with Seattle SuperSonics forward Kevin Durant.

"It's a travesty and it's not right," Woodson said Wednesday night before Atlanta's Game 5 loss to Boston, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He should have shared it, if not gotten it outright. And I don't want to hear about us not being on TV or anything like that. It doesn't matter. It's what this kid has done for this team.

Horford averaged 10.1 points and 9.7 rebounds, helping the Hawks back to the NBA playoffs for the first time in nine years.

"We haven't had a power forward/center come in our league and do what he's done [average a double-double] in I don't know how many years," Woodson said. "I mean, come on, man."
Another 80 minutes or so, less than one minute per game for the "kid" who fouled out but one time all year, and Horford likely would have gotten the additional twenty-five rebounds necessary to average (you know, actually, in reality) a double-double.

Minutes played by Al Horford: 2540 or 31.4 per game.
Minutes played by Kevin Durant: 2768 or 34.6 per game.

Treat him like he's a key to your team's success and he might be perceived as such, coach.

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A Raucous Home Crowd Is Not Guaranteed

This morning's AJC does not fill one with confidence that a rabid mob of Hawks die-hards will fill Philips Arena tonight. Between this article full of quotes from people unapologetic in their ignorance (This trait befuddles me regardless of topic and led to, while watching Game 3 at a party, a serious, silly argument between me and a guy I'd never met before who took the position that Woodson isn't to blame for the Hawks' borderline mediocrity. Well, that and alcohol led to the argument.) and this fan's guide to attending a Hawks game, I suspect we'll have a lot of first-timers in the building. Pray that it's not a sell-out primarily because the game represents a thing to do rather than the unalloyed fact that it's the biggest Atlanta Hawks basketball game in damn near a generation.

I am confident that, if necessary to capture the attention of those attending what they think is a social event, Zaza Pachulia will be willing again to almost set off a scrap during the second quarter. As to whether he'll choose an opponent, a referee, or his head coach as a sparring partner I make no prediction.

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The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

Media both old and new remind those who weren't paying attention prior to Saturday night (and, perhaps, part of the ownership demographic) the folly of signing Mike Woodson to a new contract this summer to continue as the head coach of this basketball team.

First, Drew wrote yesterday:
Mike Woodson ain't coming back as the coach of the Hawks...Simply put, I think i have a better chance of growing a mustache (author's note: i cannot grow a mustache).
Then, in today's AJC, Jeff Schulz helped bring Woodson's inability to communicate with seemingly anyone to the attention of his mainstream audience:
The problem is the undercurrent. Mike Woodson can be a nice enough guy. He just hasn't been a particularly smart guy of late, in large part because of speculation on his job security.
The current GM doesn't want Woodson to coach the team. Should the Hawks hire a new GM, he would surely not make his first order of business to tie himself to one of his predecessor's unsuccessful efforts. The players don't seem to want Woodson to be the coach. All we know for sure about ownership is that they didn't want to fire Woodson before his contract expired.
Woodson's not going to earn a new contract from the Hawks tonight. A win to force a Game 7 back in Boston will only serve to make Atlanta a more attractive destination for an unemployed, competent NBA head coach.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Durant Wins Rookie of the Year; Horford 2nd

90 first place votes for Durant, 30 first place votes for Horford. I was initially shocked that 3 people left Horford off their ballot but upon further review there appear to be 86 votes (125 votes x 3 places on ballot = 375 votes but only 289 votes are recorded) unaccounted for. I guess the vast majority of voters don't fill all possible lines on their ballot. Still, what's the argument for Al 1) Not being one of the three best rookies in the league, or 2) Being one of the three best rookies in the league but not being worthy of you, the sportswriter or broadcaster, writing his name on your ballot?

The NBA press release. Scroll down for the results.

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Day After Links

It's difficult to reconcile to the guy who frustratingly played to his weaknesses last night with the perceptive young man who said the following after the game:
"The bottom line is we're not going to beat the Boston Celtics playing half-court basketball. We're young and we're athletic and we have to use that to our advantage. Their advantage on the defensive end is for us to walk the ball across the half-court line and run half-court sets. And we're just not going to beat this team doing that. We have to push the ball and exploit transition points and then pull the ball back out if there's nothing there and run offense.

"We never did that and we got out-toughed on the offensive boards early on, by guys like Leon Powe and [Glen] Big Baby [Davis] early on, and those were key rebounds we needed when we got stops."
but that's Josh Smith for you.

And this is Mike Woodson in a nutshell:
"We play so well at home and on the road it's like two totally different teams. I don't know what it is. It might be the focus or the crowd might be getting to us."
Unfair of me? Perhaps. But I'd hate to miss out on one of the (god willing) few remaining opportunities to point out the various ways the man demonstrates himself unfit for the job he holds. Which simply makes me an unappealing and petty character.

Once again Al Horford played pretty damn well on night when the rest of team (Joe Johnson excepted) was flailing about aimlessly. It's nice to see that Al's getting good press in Boston.

After Henry Abbott put a scare into me on Tuesday, it's comforting to read someone at criticizing Mike Woodson's tactics. John Hollinger writes first of Leon Powe's importance to the result:
The Celtics led by 15 at the half thanks largely to the inspired play of reserve Leon Powe, who scored seven points, was responsible for six offensive boards (one officially went down as a team rebound) and took two charges in a 14-minute stint. Boston was a +10 with Powe on the floor in the half.

"I thought offensively and his rebounding was great," said Doc Rivers. "Individually he was great on defense. Team defense he still has a way to go but he's getting it and he's getting better."

I'll say. Powe's positive plays included the game's most crucial one. At 4:26 of the first quarter, he stepped in front of a driving Joe Johnson to draw his second foul, sending Johnson to the bench.
Hollinger goes on to analyze the impact of that foul:
That foul became huge because of an unnecessarily conservative reaction by Hawks' coach Mike Woodson. Johnson only played 13:16 in the first half even though he has one of the lowest foul rates in basketball -- he averaged only 2.01 fouls per 40 minutes in the regular season. Johnson didn't pick up another foul the rest of the night and finished with two.

After the charge, Johnson sat out for a stretch of 9:25, during which the Celtics extended a three-point lead to 13 points...This is straight out of the Larry Brown school of foul-trouble conservatism -- not surprising since Woodson was Brown's assistant in Detroit and has been proudly wearing his championship ring all series. Indeed, Al Horford and Josh Smith also sat out the final minute of the first half with two fouls, just as they had done for the final three and a half minutes of the first half in Game 4.
John Hollinger, Hoopinion reader?

Drew at Hawks, Dawgs, and Jesus summed things up succinctly:
This game was lost because of Boston's first half defense and offensive rebounds. I am no basketball expert but if one team has better players, plays a game at home, brings the hammer on defense, and gets an offensive rebound two out of every three possessions is tough to beat. That is the facts. That is not just me saying that. Look it up.
That's all for now. There's a lot less of interest written when the expected, rather than amazing, happens.

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Celtics 110 Hawks 85



In order of the damage each did to the Hawks' (admittedly slim) chances of winning last night:

1) The impossible to overcome combination of dreadful defensive rebounding (Boston got 39.4% (13 of 33) of all possible offensive rebounds.) and poor field goal defense (Boston made 56% of their two-point shots and 45% of their three-point shots). There aren't enough more free throws to attempt in the world to make up for that degree of deficit in the baskets that count two or three at a time.

2) Josh Smith's shot selection. Smith was 4-13 from the field on the night. That breaks down to 3-3 on layups and dunks, 1-2 on non-dunks inside of 10', 0-4 on two-point shots outside of 15', 0-3 on three-pointers, and 0-1 on a heave at the end of the third quarter. Factor in that none of the 10 free throws Smiths shot came on fouls drawn outside of the paint and the national audience sat through a session of Josh Smith Doesn't Get It.

Or, as Bronn put it in the game thread:
I'll say this for him. He never lets the fact that he's missed every jump shot he's attempted discourage him from taking another.
3) Josh Childress had a bad game. Three-quarters of his field goal attempts were missed. Half of his field goal attempts were blocked. He made but a single free throw. He was -19 in 26 minutes and didn't provide a useful alternative to Marvin Williams (-22 in 37 minutes).

4) Sam Cassell makes shots in Boston and Mike Bibby does not. For the series, Cassell is 13-23 from the floor, 3-6 from beyond the arc in Boston and 1-7 from the floor without a three-point attempt in Atlanta. Bibby is 6-25 from the floor, 3-12 from beyond the arc in Boston and 9-20 from the floor, 4-8 from beyond the arc in Atlanta. This is a key reason why Atlanta won both home games but it's really only affected the margin of victory in Boston.

Game links and the commentary of others to follow in a subsequent post.

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