Monday, June 30, 2008

Season Review: Acie Law IV

It's my recollection that expectations for Acie Law IV's rookie season were realistically modest. Law dominated the ball at Texas A&M to a degree that he could/should not be realistically expected to match on an NBA team. He did not take great advantage of the college three-point line (though his relatively few attempts could be devastatingly effective). There were legitimate questions about his ability to defend NBA point guards.

Despite the frustrating fact that none of these concerns were addressed during his rookie season, it would be difficult to blame Law for these concerns lingering. The lack of developments (either a positive or negative) in his rookie season is due more to the injury he suffered on November 14th as a result of a pointless, dangerous display of empty, false hustle by Ryan Hollins and Mike Woodson's complete disinterest in giving Law a chance to learn how to be an NBA point guard should doing so in any way risk Woodson's tenuous prospects of future employment as an NBA head coach.

Given three below-average options at point guard to start the season (Law, Anthony Johnson, and Tyronn Lue), Woodson decided not to make a decision and just play three point guards. Sometimes even all in the first quarter. Lest even this depth chart-less approach seem to be the result of a coach trying to make the best of a bad situation rather than another example of Woodson's inability to think ahead thus causing him to do nothing other than react to every occurrence, keep in mind that Woodson managed to get Law and Lue on the court at the same time for almost 74 minutes (further keeping in mind that Law and Lue were both healthy for only 22 games) of game play. That's two small point guards, both poor defenders, one of whom has no off-the-ball skills, (Seriously, Law would trace an arc around the perimeter following Lue's dribbling while asking for the ball. Law had no idea what to do or how to move without the basketball.) and the other who has little interest in letting his teammates touch the ball outside of an offensive rebounding context. Those were completely wasted minutes for Law.

After the Hawks acquired Mike Bibby, Law struggled to get minutes (when healthy) as Woodson rode his starters (at least those who weren't in danger of potentially getting into foul trouble) nightly in an effort to make what is shaping up to be an extremely counterproductive playoff appearance. The silver lining there might be that the Bibby/Law backcourt was avoided for all but 3 minutes of game time.

Not that Law deserved to be handed minutes. The quality of his play was inconsistent and cumulatively it was quite poor. Only Zaza Pachulia and Solomon Jones (among his teammates) turned the ball over more frequently. Law's assist rate was closer to Josh Smith's and Tyronn Lue's than it was to Joe or Anthony Johnson's and nowhere near Mike Bibby's. Law's jump shooting resembled Smith's as well. Law made just 7 of 34 three-point attempts (20.6%) and 33 of 99 jump shots from inside the arc. Unfortunately, though, Law would get a few minutes at the end of the first- or start of the second-quarter during which he would play good, bad, or indifferent basketball which wouldn't matter because he wouldn't get off the bench at any point in the second half anyway.

I still don't know if Acie Law will develop into a league-average starting point guard (though I suspect that's the most optimistic scenario for him). I do believe that the brief flashes of good play we saw from him last season and his outstanding college career make it a reasonable expectation that he play 15 minutes a game backing up Mike Bibby and run a lot of pick-and-roll with Zaza Pachulia, David Andersen, or Al Horford. If Law plays well, we'll know that the Hawks have at least a quality backup point guard on the roster. If he plays poorly when given a fair chance to succeed, the Hawks can move forward knowing that Law was simply Billy Knight's last bad draft pick.

I'm rooting for Law to succeed.

Up next: Zaza Pachulia

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Horford on USA Select Team and Hoopinion's Draft List

Here I was thinking I'd have no reason to link to DraftExpress this pick-free draft season:
Being the patriotic website we are, we will start with an exclusive look at the USA Select Team, courtesy of a “piece of paper we found on the floor,” which just happens to have the entire roster, plus the alternates. This is the group of players which could possibly graduate onto the next crop of invites to the USA Men’s Senior National Team, after the Olympics. The players will scrimmage against the senior team this summer to help them prepare for the Olympics in Beijing.

Point Guard: Rodney Stuckey, Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin
Small Forward: Andre Iguodala, Jeff Green
Power Forward: Al Horford, Kevin Durant
Center: LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson

Alternates: O.J. Mayo, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris

Also invited were Brandon Roy, who will be resting this summer and finishing up his degree at the University of Washington, and David West, who wants to rest after an extremely long season. They will still be in the mix for the future.
Should anyone care what I think (or, should any of these opinions look prescient and thus be something I would like to link to in the future) about tonight's draft class...

Point Guards
1) Derrick Rose
2) Jerryd Bayless
3) OJ Mayo
---1st ROUND---
T4) Mario Chalmers
T4) Eric Gordon
6) DJ Augustin

Shooting Guards
---1st ROUND---
1) Russell Westbrook
2) Brandon Rush
---2nd ROUND---
3) Courtney Lee
T4) Kyle Weaver
T4) Jamont Gordon

Small Forwards (excluding Gallinari as I'm not adequately knowledgeable about him)
---1st ROUND---
1) Chris Douglas-Roberts
2) Donte Green
3) Pat Calathes
---2nd ROUND---
4) Bill Walker
5) Joe Alexander
6) Malik Hairston

Power Forwards
1) Michael Beasley
2) Kevin Love
3) Ryan Anderson
---1st ROUND---
4) Marreese Speights
5) Darrell Arthur
6) JJ Hickson
7) Richard Hendrix
---2nd ROUND---
8) Anthony Randolph
T9) Joey Dorsey
T9) DJ White
11) Darnell Jackson

1) Kosta Koufos
---1st ROUND---
2) Roy Hibbert
3) DeAndre Jordan
4) Brook Lopez
---2nd ROUND---
5) Javale McGee
T6) Sasha Kaun
T6) Robin Lopez
8) Jason Thompson
9) Aleks Maric
10) Brian Butch

Those are very rough categories I've put them into seeing as I've got just 7 players graded in the lottery and 15 more graded as 1st Round picks.

If he goes in the lottery, Joe Alexander will almost certainly be the worst pick in this draft though someone taking Brook Lopez ahead of Kevin Love will look awfully foolish quite soon. Unless Jerryd Bayless falls to the end of the lottery, whichever of Ryan Anderson or Kosta Koufos gets drafted last will provide the most value in the second half of the first round. There's a decent chance that, as with PJ Tucker and possibly Nick Fazekas, I'll never get to know how wrong I may be about Pat Calathes.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mike Woodson Interview

I assume everybody who cares has already seen this but there were a couple of interesting items I noticed in Sekou Smith's interview of Mike Woodson.

First, Woodson dares us to hope modestly:
"I think as a coaching staff to go back to our offensive system and tweak some things is extremely important."
Really, though, that'll just be something I use as a callback a week into the season, won't it?

Second, the usually reliable Mr. Smith asks a bizarre question:
Q. Guys who had sporadic roles or production during the regular season seemed to come to life in the playoff for you. Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams both played crucial roles in the playoffs, as did rookie point guard Acie Law IV, albeit in limited action. How do you build on what they did in the postseason going forward?
Zaza Pachulia had a nice playoff series but Marvin Williams? As covered here earlier, Atlanta was outscored by 27.6 points per 100 possessions while Marvin was on the court in the playoff loss to the Celtics. To be generous, Marvin did play an important role in Boston winning the series.

Woodson's answer to the above question brings up all my mixed feelings about Marvin (not to mention the head coach's unique syntax):
Marvin building on his last two years and maybe taking that next big leap in terms of getting where Joe [Johnson] and Josh Smith and Bibby are in terms of being a consistent scorer has to take place. Marvin has to step into that role where he can be that third guy or even that second guy some nights that we rely on night in and night out.
I contend that the Hawks can't give up hope w/r/t Marvin Williams turning into a useful offensive player. However, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Josh Childress, and Mike Bibby are each already useful offensive players. Smith and Horford need more touches. Childress needs more playing time. Hell, Acie Law IV, who himself needs to turn into a useful offensive player, needs more playing time and more touches with the second unit.

I'm all for Marvin working to improve his offensive game. I'm not for wasting more offensive possessions in the 2008-09 season on Williams awkwardly posting up or attempting futile, clumsy moves off the dribble just because the organization wishes he were a different player. In general, though, were this organization to begin to make decisions based on an honest assessment of the reality of its situation that would be a significant step forward.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rick Sund's Honeymoon Is Over

It's official.
“We are happy to have reached agreement with Mike on a new deal that signals his return to the Hawks bench,” said Sund. “Even though I came to my new position after their exciting playoff run, I have spent a great deal of time familiarizing myself with Mike’s philosophy, direction and strategies since taking the job, and I’m comfortable he will help this team reach its potential and build upon the success they enjoyed this past season.
That's really all I need to know. Mike's philosophy and strategies mostly consist of posting up his best jump shooter while keeping his worst jump shooter 20 feet from the basket, playing Marvin Williams more than Josh Childress, and an inability to count to six.

Oh, and 37 wins and a first-round playoff loss wherein you're outscored by 12 points per game counts as a successful season. Thanks for making my season ticket purchasing decision for me.

Mike Woodson's public reaction to his extension demonstrates why those of us who follow the team closely consider his shocking lack of insight/inability to utter a coherent thought to be his signature characteristic:
"I want to thank Rick for this opportunity, and to express my gratitude to the fans for the unbelievable support they’ve shown during my time here. I’ve watched these players grow individually and collectively..."
Ballhype: hype it up!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Hawks Franchise Doesn't Care About Winning, Should We?

The nightmare scenario appears likely to become reality:
A two-year contract for Hawks coach Mike Woodson has been extended and awaits only his signature to be completed, according to two people familiar with the situation.
This franchise is of the opinion that a man with a career record of 106-222, a man who does not hold the respect of the franchise's best player (who is, by the by, a free agent of sorts), a man who cannot figure out how to deploy the few good players he's been given to coach so as to utilize their strengths and hide their weaknesses, a man whose offensive system does not appear to take into account the legality of zone defenses, a man whose least unsuccessful team had chronic problems (problems they spoke about publicly and repeatedly) with game preparation and consistently playing hard, a man who has demonstrated little to no interest in playing the 11th overall pick, a man who has failed to develop the skills of players who came to the NBA less than fully formed, a man who consistently struggles to express a coherent thought to the media deserves a new contract. This franchise believes that this man needs more time to demonstrate that he is unsuited for the job of NBA head coach. This franchise believes that it is better off with two more years of Mike Woodson than with Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders, Dwane Casey, or anyone else who has proven himself to be a competent NBA coach.

I'm setting the over/under on Mike Woodson's firing as January 28th. Sam Vincent's not coaching in the Eastern Conference anymore. Isiah Thomas isn't running the Knicks into the ground anymore. Miami won't be tanking the 2008-09 season. Chicago has the #1 pick in the draft. 37 wins won't provide an illusion of success next year. Reality will set in too late. Prepare yourself for a wasted season.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Season Review: Mike Bibby

Mike Bibby's arrival improved the Hawks' offense.

M. BibbyOffensive Efficiency
On Court
Off Court

Mike Bibby's arrival did not improve the Hawks' defense.

M. BibbyDefensive Efficiency
On Court
Off Court

Considering that Bibby took over the minutes that were going to Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, and Acie Law IV who were not, collectively, effective defenders, I think it's safe to say that Mike Bibby was an awful defensive point guard during his time with the Hawks.

Injuries didn't help him defensively but Bibby is a 30-year-old point guard of below average size who is on the downside of his career in every aspect of his game. His PER (Despite my dislike of "single number" attempts at capturing a player's value, PER is a decent catch-all measure of the value of a player who's contributions are primarily of the offensive variety.) has declined each of the last four years. He's due $15.2M this year. It's the final year of his contract. Atlanta spent the 11th pick of the 2007 Draft on a 22-year-old point guard who has shown glimpses of offensive ability but struggles defensively.

Mike Bibby can't be long for Atlanta but his short time here has to be viewed as a relatively positive experience. He may have been worth the extra win that got the Hawks into the playoffs. His play in the playoffs should disabuse anyone of wanting to keep Bibby around for any length of time beyond the expiration of his current contract. He can be expected to provide league-average production until Acie Law is able to play sufficient minutes at a competent level and Bibby's expiring contract will either draw welcome attention from other NBA teams or give the Hawks the opportunity to acquire one or two useful, younger free agents in the summer of 2009. That's a pretty good return on Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, and a 2nd-round draft pick.

Up next: Acie Law IV

Ballhype: hype it up!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pistons Have Asked Permission To Speak With Woodson

Let's not set the baseline of Joe Dumars' decisions as a GM at drafting Darko Milicic 2nd overall just yet, reports Sekou Smith:
According to my spy the Detroit Pistons have asked for permission to speak with Hawks coach Mike Woodson (that’s his title for at least the next 26 days or so unless something breaks before the end of the month) about their vacant coaching position.

Solid reports out of Detroit have Pistons assistant Michael Curry lined up for the job. But the Pistons have apparently covered their bases if that doesn’t work out by contacting the representative of Woodson, who was the lead assistant on Larry Brown’s staff when the Pistons won the NBA title in 2004.
Smith mentions another possible destination for Woodson should Rick Sund do the right thing:
Another twist, if you will, just popped into my email inbox. The Bobcats just announced a “portion” of Brown’s staff, with the lead assistant’s position clearly not one of them. That means there is another opening out there for Woodson if things don’t pan out either in Detroit or with the Hawks.
Ballhype: hype it up!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rick Sund Could Replace Mike Woodson With Flip Saunders

Detroit fired Flip Saunders today. Saunders coached the team for three seasons, winning 176 of 246 regular season games, but losing in the conference finals each season.

Before going to Detroit, Saunders spent parts of ten seasons coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves. He compiled a 411-326 (.558) record and Minnesota reached the playoffs in each of the eight full seasons he coached the team. The Minnesota franchise has never won more than 33 games or reached the playoffs under any other coach.

I think there are legitimate reasons not to employ Flip Saunders to coach an NBA title contender. I can't think of any for not employing to coach a team that considers 37 wins and a first-round playoff loss a successful year. Such a result would constitute the worst season of Saunders' career.

Rick Sund doesn't have to make a perfect head coaching hire to improve this team. The simple, safe choice to install a competent head coach will derive greater value from the existing personnel and improve the usefulness of whoever is acquired to fill out the roster. Good coaches are available (Saunders, Avery Johnson, Dwane Casey). They may not be available after the Hawks open the season 6-15, the players revolt, and even the ownership recognizes that Mike Woodson is bad at his job.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Rick Sund Answers Micah Hart's Questions

Good questions, reasonable answers. The playoff run was exciting, but many fans felt the team underachieved in the regular season. When you look at this team going forward, how much do you weigh the team’s postseason run against its regular season performance?

RS: The Hawks were a young team. If you ask any basketball person in the NBA what to expect from a team with young players, if they ready to blossom, they will say they will probably be better later in the season as the chemistry improves. That’s what you saw from the Hawks over the last 20-25 games of this past season.

When the season starts, the first goal for any team is to make the playoffs, irrespective of record. As your team matures and your standards are raised then you set your sights higher, say for home court advantage in the playoffs. But making the playoffs is an impressive feat for any team, and now you take last season and you say, let’s improve on our 37 wins and get into the 40s and get back to the playoffs. I think last season was a positive sign for the Hawks and allows us to set some goals for next season that are achievable.
Micah earns extra credit for working David Andersen into two (2) of the questions.

Ballhype: hype it up!