Friday, May 29, 2009

A Few Off-Season Links

*Said style exhibiting both an impressive amount of tracking down quotes and a complete credulity with regard to what he's told.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Al Horford

Al Horford's season is fairly straightforward to recap: He's a delight to watch on both ends of the floor, he's not a big enough part of the offense, and that fact combined with the time he missed due to injury might have obscured the encouraging and, one hopes, significant improvements he made in his second year in the league.

While essentially repeating his rookie production in terms of FT%, DR%, and S%, Horford improved his production in the following areas...

Scoring: 12.4 Pts/36 minutes, up from 11.6 Pts/36 minutes

FG%: 52.5%, up from 49.9%

FT Rate: 25.1, up from 23.2

A%: 11.9%, up from 7.9%

TO%: 13.1%, down from 15.3%

BS%: 3.3%, up from 2.2%

stats courtesy

I think the increase in scoring is most impressive as his usage rate didn't increase much: up from 16% to 16.4% and using 16.4% of the team's possessions puts Horford in line with Zaza Pachulia and Acie Law IV (both had 2008-09 usage rates of 16.3%). Yes, Al Horford is, relatively speaking, an equal part of the team's offense as his backup and the team's third string point guard. Unless he shared the court with Maurice Evans or, on very rare instances (138 minutes over the course of the season), Solomon Jones, Al Horford was clearly the Hawks' fifth offensive option.

Usage Rate, 2008-09 Atlanta Hawks


Al Horford didn't improve his numbers because his team made better or more frequent use* of him. Al Horford improved because he improved his skills and decision-making. I'm worried about the long-term production of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and (if they return) Mike Bibby and Flip Murray, but I'm confident that Al Horford gives the Hawks a fairly untapped offensive resource which could build upon his solid rebounding and defensive play to create an excellent NBA player. He's the closest thing to an untouchable player on the roster and the most likely member of the current roster to be on a Hawks team that reaches the Eastern Conference finals should that accomplishment ever come to pass.

*Were I sufficiently resourced and productive, I'd love to attempt to figure out how many of those possessions Horford did get to use came as a result of grabbing an offensive rebound or other manner of loose ball rather than as a result of a set play. There was more than one night that the Hawks' offense looked best for five-second stretches where Horford got the ball unexpectedly and hap, in that unscripted moment, the opportunity to use his skills either to get to the basket or find a wide open teammate. I suspect it's not a significant amount over the course of 82 games, not least of which because he got to significantly fewer offensive rebounds in his sophomore season (2008-09 OR%: 7.6%, 2007-08 OR%: 11.4%) but anecdotally it stokes one's desire to see Horford take on a greater offensive role both as a scorer and a passer.

Hawks Blogging Awards

The Human Highlight Blog, in a naked appeal for links, honors the best of the Hawks blogosphere. Ribbing and false humility aside, I genuinely enjoy everyone with the gumption and invention to write about this team on a consistent basis. Not a poser in the group.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Josh Smith

Josh Smith is a player of non-integrated* parts. Similarly non-integrated is this post which may, in its very structure, reveal more about my conflicted feelings about Smith than do its words.

*A different (better?) season review would explore the issue of whether his failure to integrate his skills into a cohesive whole is itself a fool's errand and this effort to normalize himself under the rubric of NBA power forward is, in fact, the root cause of his continued limitations.

Part 1: How Josh Smith, the shooter, hurts Josh Smith, the offensive player.

Josh Smith has two problems as a field goal shooter: shot selection and small hands. The latter, which limits his effectiveness when attempting to finish around the rim, compounds the eminently correctable damage of the former.

Scroll to the bottom of this link to to see that Josh Smith made a lower percentage of his two-point jump shots than any other player in the NBA (with at least 100 attempts). Despite this, Smith took 305 two-point jump shots. The uncomfortable fact of the matter is that this was, overall, a good jump shooting season for Josh Smith, both in terms of abstinence and success. He took fewer jump shots as a percentage of his field goal attempts than any other season in his career and posted the second-best eFG% (boosted by an near-career high 29.9 3PTFG%) on jump shots of his career.

TeamJump Shots/FGAeFG%


Though Smith should bear the brunt of the criticism for his shot selection he cannot bear it all. The Hawks play at a pace suited for their slower, older guards rather than their faster, younger frontcourt trio. Al Horford and Marvin Williams both have skills more adaptable to halfcourt game than does Smith who is unquestionably the most diminished of the trio when forced to face a set defense.

Furthermore, Mike Woodson runs the halfcourt offense through his older, slower guards most often by attempting to isolate them. This creates cascading problems for the halfcourt offense. First, keeping Josh Smith 20 feet from the basket, though it nominally spaces the floor, really just allows the opposing team to use Smith's defender to run at or hedge toward the ball without repercussion. This stymies the initial offense and, too often, results in Smith receiving the ball outside his range with little time left on the shot clock, staring two bad options (shoot or penetrate into traffic) in the face.

Part 2: How Josh Smith largely forfeits the benefit of the doubt.

Now, all that being said, one must also account for Smith's unwillingness to cut into space/toward the basket as the initial offensive set stalls and his diminishing impact on the offensive glass as contributing factors in his offensive struggles.


The league average OR% for teams last season was 26.7%. Not adjusting for position, that makes the league average OR% for a player 5.3%. A player as athletic and unguarded as Smith certainly ought to make a greater impact on the offensive glass.

This is where excuses for Smith break down. One, at times, wishes to be sympathetic to Smith for the circumstances of his mis-use and, perhaps, some of his terrible shot attempts do come as a result of frustration from not being used in a way that maximizes* his physical gifts but, at the same time, Smith does not make the necessary effort to maximize his gifts in ways under his complete control.

*Though, if he were a better defensive rebounder that would help create more transition opportunities for the Hawks.

This lack of effort manifests itself even more obviously during his incessant whining to officials over slights both real and perceived which has evolved from an irritant into a fixation that costs his teams the equity of five-on-five possessions on an increasingly regular basis.

Part 3: How Josh Smith plays above average defense from behind the beat.

Josh Smith opened the season by playing three brilliant defensive games. He consistently played good position defense without sacrificing the wonderful help defense for which he is popularly known. In the first quarter of the fourth game he severely sprained his ankle and missed the next month.

Upon his return, we got (if possible) a fuller understanding of how much his athleticism masked poor fundamental defensive skills, both physical and mental. It wasn't just that he couldn't block shots at his usual, excellent rate. Nor was it any secret that he's always been incapable of getting in a good defensive stance when isolated on the perimeter or that, off the ball, he tends to lose track of his responsibility while paying too much attention to the ball or that he prefers to chase the defensive rebound rather than blocking out a potential offensive rebounder. It was a revelation to see just how often and how easily Smith, temporarily robbed of the ability to recover from lazy footwork or a fruitless steal attempt, gets beat when defending a player with the ball in either mid-range or post position.

At full strength, Josh Smith can get away with getting beat as his ability to recover to block or alter a shot from behind creates a very real consideration for an offensive player. Watching him at less than full strength, one begins to believe that he's unprepared for, if not outright surprised by, almost every action on the court. This limitation both tempers one's hopes for him ever to become a franchise player and increases one's appreciation for his physical gifts. Josh Smith is so supremely athletic that playing against the best athletes in the world his athleticism stands out despite his inability to anticipate what's coming.

Part 4: How Josh Smith leaves a nagging doubt.

The nagging doubt that accompanies this renewed appreciation is that Josh Smith will struggle mightily to age gracefully thus bringing to three the number of 2008-09 Hawks' starters Rick Sund might be prudent to look to divest himself of sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Mike Bibby

Mike Bibby has improved the Hawks during his season-and-a-half in Atlanta. Considering his defensive limitations and giving further consideration to the team's inability to minimize the damage caused by those limitations one must conclude, even after accounting for the established level of his predecessors, that Mike Bibby is, 11 years into his NBA career, still a skilled and intelligent offensive player.

Mike Bibby at

Bibby's shooting percentages last season were right in line with his age 24 through age 27 seasons in Sacramento. Likely due to a combination of playing alongside Joe Johnson and the aging process, both his assist and usage rates were down from those years, but, with his ball-handling responsibilities lessened, he posted a career low turnover rate. Now, it's fair to be skeptical about repeating those rates. His age 30 season was an improvement over both his age 28 and 29* seasons and it was a contract year.

*He put up better numbers playing for the Hawks than for the Kings last season though that may have more to do with his health than the relative merits of his skills suiting the respective offenses and teammates.

On the latter point, Atlanta's biggest off-season decision, in terms of cost as well as short- and long-term roster construction is what to do with Mike Bibby? Give him a firm handshake, a hearty clap on the back, thank him for his help, and let him leave in search of the best contract for his immediate and long-term future? Or do you make the effort to find a mutually beneficial contract length and price, cling to Bibby as a security blanket for the offense, and acquire a useful and complementary backup to use on the nights where Bibby's offensive ability can't make up for his defensive limitations?

Like I said, it's a narrow decision either way and probably the deciding factors will be the price and length of the contract that Bibby feels he needs and/or deserves. But, in making the decision, one can't ignore Mike Woodson's prejudice against young point guards*, his prejudice against point guards who aren't best served by hanging around the perimeter shooting long jumpers, Acie Law IV's apparent lack of future with the organization, Flip Murray's unrestricted free agency, the depth of point guards in the draft class, the chance that DeJuan Blair is available at 19, ownership's financial restrictions, and the organization's generally risk-averse** nature. None of those complicating issues are truly absolute and Rick Sund can exercise no control over some of them. but, pressed to answer, I, while acknowledging the impracticality*** of this preference, advocate letting Bibby leave, acquiring one proven yet affordable point guard in free agency, and drafting a point guard whose skill set tends toward defense and three-point shooting (Eric Maynor or Darren Collison being most likely at 19). Acquiring a potential long-term solution at the point before the draft should give the Hawks greater flexibility in the draft either at the 19th spot (especially if Blair or Jrue Holiday are available), trading up (most likely by using Childress's rights), or by trading down and still getting a solid, polished point guard (Collison) while acquiring some additional asset(s).

*Royal Ivey sort of but not really serving as an exception to this rule since he was to real point guards what Mario West is to real defensive specialists.

**Not that I'm automatically agreeing with the organization's risk assessment in this or many other (re-signing Mike Woodson, saving money on extensions for Joshes Childress and Smith, saving money on the end of the bench, burying Acie Law IV and running Joe Johnson into the ground to win a couple more games) cases. I think re-signing Bibby at whatever is arguably more risky than using greater resources to attempt to acquire one of Ramon Sessions, Raymond Felton, Jarrett Jack in free agency or trade for, say, Mike Conley, Jr. or one of Portland's surplus point guards.

***I advocated the Hawks draft a point guard (either at their original slot or after trading down) in the 2005 and 2006 drafts, both of which had multiple useful point guards available at various stages of the first round. Obviously that didn't happen either year as Billy Knight waited for a relatively weak class of point guards to address (though ultimately, it was not addressed at all) the team's long-standing weakness.

Resuming Normal Office Hours

Thanks to everyone for the typically strong and well-reasoned responses to last week's open thread regarding the draft. All comments have been duly noted and will be incorporated into what are sure to be myriad draft preview posts.

First, though, the season review posts resume this afternoon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

19th Pick Prospect Analysis: Call For Candidates

The season review posts will be on hiatus through the holiday weekend, but I'll attempt to keep content at a low hum by starting an open thread for suggestions/requests about who all I should prepare to analyze thoroughly in anticipation of the draft.

I'm already working/planning to work on the following players:

PG: Nick Calathes, Darren Collison, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Eric Maynor, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague

SG: Toney Douglas, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Thornton

SF: Chase Budinger, Austin Daye, Sam Young

PF: Tyler Hansbrough, James Johnson, Gani Lawal

C: BJ Mullens

The above assumes that Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair, Terrence Williams, and Earl Clark will all be long gone by the time the Hawks pick. Let me know if you disagree with any or all of those assumptions.

Post-Lottery Mock Draft Links
Please point me to any other decent mocks you come across.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Joe Johnson

Another All-Star Game appearance, another top four finish in total minutes played, another year Joe Johnson was simultaneously overused while being the team's best and most productive player, and, most importantly for the franchise, another year closer to free agency.

It's the second item above that leads me to worry about the final item. I think Joe Johnson has peaked, I think that at his peak he was a fringe All-Star, and I think that the Hawks, by signing him to a contract extension, would only compound the error of acquiring him at great cost in the belief that he could be a franchise player. Then I'll take a moment to think about Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Brandon Roy each of whose potential value was marginalized in the minds of the Atlanta front office because they already had Joe Johnson.

Contrary to popular belief, Joe Johnson didn't come to Atlanta for the money. The Phoenix Suns would have paid handsomely to retain his services. Joe Johnson came to Atlanta for the shots and he has no interest in giving those shots up to the younger players who will need to take on greater responsibility if the Hawks are going to make any progress toward contending for the Eastern Conference title.

Allow me to again piggyback Mark Bradley's reporting:
Johnson isn’t a ball hog – he led the team in assists, ahead of Bibby – but he’s the focal point. You can be a focal point if you’re LeBron or Kobe or D-Wade, but Johnson isn’t quite. The Hawks would be better served if he played fewer minutes – he led the NBA in those – and took fewer shots.

Would Johnson be amenable? “I would,” he said Tuesday. “But I don’t know if that’s going to be the case. I have a passion and love for the game. Sometimes the coach tries to take me out, and I tell him to leave me in. It’s not that I’m selfish – it’s just my passion for the game.
(NOTE (4:52pm): I may have mis-interpreted this quote. If Johnson's responding simply to the first part of Bradley's supposition ("fewer minutes") rather than implying that he's going to be on the court and if he's on the court he's going to take the majority of the shots the meaning changes.)

Over the course of his four seasons in Atlanta, Johnson has increased his reliance on shooting the three-pointer as his ability to make two-point baskets has slipped significantly. Considering Johnson's inability to get to the free throw line (Despite making 82.6% of his foul shots last season his free throw rate was 10% below the league average.) the numbers confirm the eye's suspicion: Johnson (In addition to his below average FT Rate, both his 2PTFG% and 3PTFG% were below the league average last season.) is not a viable first option for an NBA team with ambition.


Which isn't to say that Johnson is an average player. He's averaged over five assists per 36 minutes over four seasons with the Hawks and his turnover percentage has decreased every season in Atlanta, mitigating some of the cost of him missing more shots.

So, what to do with Joe Johnson? Trade him? That option shouldn't be ruled out categorically (nor should it for any player on the roster) but I'm far less intrigued by that idea than I was at this time last season. My preferred option is for the Hawks to retain Johnson and use his skill as a passer and shooter to ease the transition to an offense built, for next season at least, around any of Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams depending on matchups. None of those four are legitimate number one options circumstances be damned, but each can pose problems for defenses in the right circumstances, and, were they to work in concert rather than as master and apprentices, the Hawks might could make the leap from a slightly above average offense to a good offense.

There's great risk to all of this, the greatest being that there's no evidence that either Mike Woodson or Joe Johnson think there's any reason to change the team's offensive philosophy. Even were Woodson to make a significant course correction with the offense Johnson might bristle at the efforts to diversify the attack, perhaps scuttling some of the trade value he and his expiring contract might possess. But, if the worst case scenario involves another season of above average production from Joe Johnson and $15 million of cap room again next summer, the likelihood that the Hawks can build a championship contender without taking a significant step backward increases.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Mike Woodson

After five full seasons and three playoff series what is there left to say about Mike Woodson?

First of all, he unequivocally deserves to return as the head coach. The Hawks won as many games this past season as could reasonably be expected considering the talent on hand. They won (as they should have) their first-round playoff series.

Yet even after five full seasons and three playoff series Woodson remains something of an enigma. The success of 2008-09 season seemed not to make an impact on him. At times he gave the distinct impression that he wasn't central to those accomplishments. Consider the volume of quotes from him regarding the Hawks winning games because half the rotation were setting career highs shooting the ball versus the volume of quotes from him stating that the Hawks were winning games because of vaguely defined lessons learned from getting beat by the Boston Celtics in the 2007-08 playoffs. It was as if keeping his job the summer prior outweighed the importance of the team's improvement. Frankly, I don't know what to make of him, or, at least, I lack confidence in my suppositions about the man. Perhaps the absence of personality (beyond stubborn reticence) he shares with and through the media and his insistence on sticking with tactics that seem less than ideal mask some very real, positive traits that help the team win games.

For the three or four weeks the national media* considered the Atlanta Hawks this season, much credit was given to the organization for employing Mike Woodson for five seasons and to Woodson himself for improving the team from 13 to 47 wins** over that period.

*I admit that the speed with which pundits ran out of things to say about this team pleased me in a petty way. With little to no variation from the basic gameplan ever made evident on either offense (isolate Joe Johnson) or defense (switch every screen) the Hawks are what they are to an astounding degree. Try working with that for 82 games a year, professional commentators.

**Why does Woodson get credit for coaching a 13-win team? It certainly wasn't his decision to make the team that bad but it's still odd that he gets to set his own baseline. Had he done a masterful job of coaching and squeezed 20 or more wins out of that group would the Hawks' overall improvement really be less impressive?

Now, the Hawks have improved in general* and made consistent progress defensively in particular during Woodson's tenure as head coach.

SeasonOff Eff (Rank)Def Eff (Rank)Margin
2004-05100.6 (29)111.1 (29)-10.5
2005-06106.4 (12)111.6 (27)-5.2
2006-07103.0 (29)108.3 (23)-5.3
2007-08106.9 (16)108.9 (18)-2
2008-09109.3 (10)107.6 (11)+1.7

Despite the progress the end result is only a slightly above average team despite the significant resources** expended since the summer of 2005. Given the head coach's long-standing difficulty with regard to making adjustments, exploiting matchups, and motivating or disciplining players I think it's a fair question as to whether the team's growth the last two years has as much to do with him as with the acquisition of both a point guard and a center who arrived as polished players in need of relatively little coaching.

*Though it is a bit disturbing that, relative to the league, the offense wasn't much better last year than in 2005-06 despite Marvin Williams' improvement and replacing Zaza Pachulia and Royal Ivey/Tyronn Lue with Al Horford and Mike Bibby. The Woodson/Joe Johnson offensive axis can really flatten the difference in quality between quite different players.

**Since the end of 04-05, the Hawks invested two first round picks and the rights to Boris Diaw to acquire Joe Johnson, picked 2nd and 31st in the 2005 NBA Draft, 5th and 33rd in the 2006 NBA Draft, and 3rd and 11th in the 2007 NBA Draft, spent $16 million over four years on Zaza Pachulia, and $15 million per pro-rated annum for a year-and-a-half of Mike Bibby.

Woodson's greatest visible weakness remains his unwillingness or inability to adjust. The team's defense faced an uphill battle due to Mike Bibby's inability to stay in front of anyone. Switching every screen as part of a sagging man-to-man defense worked fairly well against teams with at least one non-scorer against whom the Hawks could hide Bibby but allowed better offensive teams to isolate whomever they wanted against Bibby by virtue of using a single ball-screen. Despite this downside the Hawks failed to develop an alternative defensive strategy.

Four years ago, it made sense for the team's offense to be built around and over-reliant upon Joe Johnson. Today that makes sense to no one other than Mike Woodson and Joe Johnson yet the strategy persists and suppresses the talents of Horford, Marvin Williams, and Josh Smith.

This lack of strategic flexibility extends to the use of players themselves. Once Woodson decides on a role for a player, that role does not change. His rigid hierarchy for players is most often evidenced by the starter/reserve distinction on which spurred Josh Childress's flight to Greece, sees Maurice Evans pulled from a game if the Hawks give up a basket due to poor pick-and-roll defense from Mike Bibby or Josh Smith, leaves Smith in a game the Hawks are losing on the defensive glass because Smith is a starter and Pachulia is a reserve. It also reveals itself in favoring players regardless of their basketball ability by refusing to develop Acie Law IV even as a backup point guard while persisting in using Mario West as if he were a special defensive player. The only real change one saw with Mike Woodson last season was a greater willingness to play players after they picked up their second foul in the first half.

I struggle to envision how this team, as currently constructed and deployed can improve upon the 2008-09 season. To progress beyond the second round of the playoffs I suspect that the team needs to make personnel changes, the players who remain need to change their approach in some ways, and the head coach either needs to evolve to take advantage of all the talent at his disposal or find a job better suited to his skills.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Rick Sund

Considering both the ownership situation and his brief tenure I'm going to give Rick Sund the benefit of the doubt for the time being. I don't believe that's simply a matter of being fair. By signing Flip Murray and Maurice Evans for a combined $4 million he earned the benefit of the doubt. The veteran pair combined to ably back up three positions while helping to accelerate the team's transformation, one which started following last season's trade for Mike Bibby, from an offense incapable of making three-point shots into a more diverse and dangerous team to guard.

07-08 (less Bibby)35.314.5

While Evans was predictably solid on both ends of the court, Murray surpassed all reasonable expectations in posting, at the age of 29, career highs in every manner of shooting percentage and a career low turnover percentage. Murray deserves the bulk of the credit for his performance this season but it's worth mentioning that Murray's only two good seasons out of six in his career came five years apart for two different teams run by Rick Sund. Even if there is some element of fluke in the degree to which Murray succeeded, the fact remains that Rick Sund signed a player no other NBA team wanted and, in that single act, partially redeemed (for one season, at least) Mike Woodson's handling of both Josh Childress an Acie Law IV.

It's Woodson's philosophy regarding young reserves (both the ones on his roster and those that presumably choose to sign somewhere else in the hopes of playing) that makes evaluating the rest of Sund's transactions difficult. In the abstract, signing Randolph Morris to a two-year, $1.65 million contract is a small price to pay to see if the former High School All-American can hack it as a backup center. In reality, the signing is pointless if Morris is going to spend the season sitting on the bench behind the himself rarely used, limited in skill, but slightly more familiar and veteran-y Solomon Jones.

Unlike Morris (or Jones, for that matter), both Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter were eligible for assignment to the D-League but instead spent the vast majority of the year not playing in Atlanta. Gardner, like Jones and Mario West, was a not especially good college basketball player on a not especially good college basketball team, so I'm skeptical as to the degree of development possible with him but Hunter could be a useful fifth man for an organization that needs every cheap asset on which it can get its hands and could, perhaps, have used the opportunity to play regular minutes to augment and/or consolidate his existing skills.

One can't make the argument that having a D-League affiliate in Anaheim is convenient for the Hawks but it's curious that a team with such a shallow rotation and a head coach with a poor record of developing and/or utilizing young talent would choose to keep players with the team but inactive when another option exists.

In the grand scheme of things, it's probably a good sign if the end of the bench is essentially the extent of one's concerns regarding a GM that took over a sub-.500 team less than a year ago so I'll wait until Sund acts to re-sign or replace Bibby, Murray, and Zaza Pachulia, makes a couple of draft picks, makes use of the rights to Childress, Law, and David Andersen, and populates (or doesn't) the end of the bench with real, live NBA basketball players (or at least real prospects) to make more forceful pronouncements regarding his stewardship of the Atlanta Hawks.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Draft Prep

These aren't new, so the most informed of you may find this post redundant but I've re-read all five of the Situational Statistics posts at Draft Express now that the draft is more prominent in my thoughts.

Point guards
Shooting guards
Small forwards
Power forwards

I'm strongly leaning toward advocating that the Hawks take a point guard in the first round. It's a long-term need for the team and the glut of first round-caliber point guards makes it likely they can get good value relatively late in the first round. I believe either Darren Collison or Eric Maynor would complement Mike Bibby nicely if the Hawks re-sign him. Jrue Holiday would be very tempting at 19 as well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Off-Season Plans/Call For Ideas Open Thread

Mark Bradley and Sekou Smith have great pieces* up and my diversified fandom calls my attention away from the Hawks in preparation for its latest installment of serial frustration this afternoon so today's a good day for this open thread.

Here's what I have planned for the immediate off-season:
  1. Player, coach, and GM review posts. (Examples from last off-season)
  2. NBA Draft stuff (format and particular content TBD)
  3. A review of The Breaks of the Game
Please add any ideas, suggestions, or requests about or beyond those (hint, hint publishers and publicists) in the comments.

*I've got no issue with anything either of them wrote save some minor differences of opinion that have already been belabored here and will likely be finely dissected again in the season review posts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bradley: Johnson needs to step back for the Hawks to step forward

I'm not necessarily in agreement with Mark Bradley that the Hawks need to sign Mike Bibby nor that the best use of Marvin Williams is in a sign-and-trade*, but I am amenable to the idea of the Hawks using their first round pick on a point guard** even though I know that, practically, giving Mike Woodson two young point guards to run the team is a recipe for disaster***, and there's no doubt that the following is true:
The Hawks must wean themselves from their reliance on Joe Johnson.

Almost every bit of the Hawks’ offense since 2005 has run through Johnson, and it’s past time for an adjustment. It’s not that he isn’t a fine player; it’s that this team has two younger players who require room to grow.

Come 2011, Josh Smith and Al Horford should be the Hawks’ best players. (And this assumes Johnson re-ups next summer.) Together, Smith and Horford took 1,443 shots this regular season. By himself, Johnson took 1,420. Save the occasional lob, the team doesn’t run many plays for Smith. It runs almost none for Horford.
One who's not so amenable to the idea, Joe Johnson:
"I don’t know if that’s going to be the case. I have a passion and love for the game. Sometimes the coach tries to take me out, and I tell him to leave me in. It’s not that I’m selfish – it’s just my passion for the game."
Passion and selfishness are not mutually exclusive.

*I'm still most curious about Joe Johnson's trade value. I think he'd be exceptionally useful to a better team in a role appropriate for his abilities and it chills me to think that the Hawks will be trading players based on their value in Mike Woodson's system rather than their ability level. Let us not forget Marvin's two games as the first option in Joe Johnson's absence: 52 points on 28 shots and two road wins.

**Be it Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Patty Mills, or Jrue Holiday depending on who's available. I like Nick Calathes a lot too, but I don't think the Hawks can afford to draft a defensive liability in the first round.

***Not that I'm necessarily convinced that Acie Law IV will be back next year. If Woodson returns, as he surely will, it would probably be best for all if Acie were sent somewhere else. He'd get a chance to play and we could find out if his time in Atlanta was Billy Knight or Mike Woodson's mistake.

More off-season speculation in the days to come.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cavaliers 84 Hawks 74




Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CLE 82.9 1.01
50 20
ATL 82.9
0.89 32.9

Two things kept last night's game competitive. For the first time in the series the Atlanta Hawks got to the free throw line more often than the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cavaliers missed almost half of the free throws they took. Had Cleveland made free throws at the same rate they did through the first three games of the series (which was roughly their season average as well), they would have made another five of their 26 attempts and pushed the margin of victory into more familiar territory for everything else was the same in Game 4. Cleveland made a higher percentage of their field goals than the Hawks and rebounded far more of their misses than did Atlanta. The Hawks fouled a lot, too, which further negated their sole advantage: forcing more turnovers than they committed.

Being able to play Marvin Williams for 29:53 improved the Hawks defense as did Mike Woodson's decision to sit an offensively ineffective Mike Bibby for much of the second half. Flip Murray (14 points on 15 FGA plus 5 FTA, 2 assists, 2 turnovers) wasn't especially productive but he was less of a defensive liability. Of Atlanta's other seven rotation players, only Marvin Williams and Al Horford finished the night with a negative plus/minus for their time on the court without Mike Bibby. Josh Smith (without Bibby) was +9. Murray, Joe Johnson, and Mo Evans were all +6 without Bibby on the floor. Zaza Pachulia was +5.

This lesson may have been lost on the participants in the heat of the moment. Or, they're just being nice in public. Either way, I hope Rick Sund is looking more forward than backward when thinking about re-signing the aging point guard.

"If I do anything more than what I did tonight, we win this game. I didn’t shoot the ball well. I do anything and there is a good chance we come out on top."
Mike Woodson fears the unknown:
"I would love to have him back next year. Mike Bibby is a big part of what we did this season. He came over last year and we don’t make the playoffs without Mike. We don’t win 47 games this year and sew up the fourth spot and host the first round at Philips Arena without Mike. I would love to have Mike back."
Joe Johnson thinks it's "very important" to bring Bibby back. He and Woodson are simpatico in a lot of ways:
"We went to the playoffs two years in a row together. We won a series. I’m looking forward to having him back."
Josh Smith's night was a mixed blessing. He was far and away the Hawks' best offensive player, scoring 26 points on 16 FGA and 12 FTA while turning the ball over just twice. He also chose to use half of his field goal attempts on jump shots* (2-8), grabbed just eight rebounds (two offensive) in 45:04, picked up another technical foul, and played hard only intermittently. Smith provided the season's final hint of how good he could be were he to commit himself to excelling while, at the same time, sowing the season's final seeds of doubt that he'll ever feel like doing that.

*Smith attempted 68 jump shots in 11 playoff games. He made 15 of them.

Maurice Evans:
"You show up to the fight like that and who knows, this series goes six or seven games. It’s going to be hard not to wonder what might have been."
I disagree with Evans in that I've come to believe that talking about lack of effort has almost entirely precluded talking about lack of talent and lack of tactical acumen. Josh Smith is the only player who visibly dogs it from time to time. I don't believe for a second that it's a lack of effort that keeps Joe Johnson from beating guys off the dribble or Mike Bibby from playing good defense. They simply aren't capable of doing those things. Combine that with a refusal or inability to put the talented young players in positions to succeed (keeping Josh Smith in the low- or high-post, using Al Horford's quickness against bigger, slower centers, taking full advantage of Marvin Williams' inside/outside offensive game, letting Acie Law IV play pick-and-roll for 12 minutes a night, etc.) and you're asking effort to make up for a lot of failings which take place before anyone sets foot on the court.

The Human Highlight Blog:
Game Four once again showed that a team can not live by jump shots and one-on-one moves. Inside presence is needed, in the post, on the drive/penetration, and then back out. Breaking down your opponents on the majority of possession works when you face lesser competition---but playing that way in the playoffs makes you the inferior team.

We will hear about the injuries, but as we have shown, even when healthy this pattern has held true, resonating in both the road record and the record against the top teams in the league.

Losing Al Horford hurts on the defensive glass, but that argument doesn't hold even a drop of water on the offensive end, where the Hawks routinely chose to avoid Horford in favor of the isolation game--and as such have relegated the former #3 pick in the draft to towel boy status on that end in most games. There wasn't even a consistent effort this season to zip the ball up the court to the often sprinting Horford when healthy, so we're not optimistic the spinner would have landed on The Godfather's number at all even if he had been (100) percent for Game Four.
Cavs: The Blog:
Defense will always be there. When the jumpers aren’t falling, the whistles aren’t making a symphony, and the ball isn’t moving and the bench isn’t stepping up, defense will always be there. Give effort and make rotations, and if you have the talent defense will be there. And in what was, in a lot of ways, a let-down game for the team, the defense was there, keeping all penetration out, not giving up open looks from three, absolutely suffocating Joe Johnson every time he put the ball on the floor, and destroying every Hawk except for Josh Smith.
Of course, the opposite of that first sentence is true as well.

Brian Windhorst:
The Cavs had periods of terrible offense, turned the ball over way too much, and missed way too many free throws. But they defended relentlessly and put the game in the hands of their star and his well-armed teammates. Or exactly the way the team was drawn up.

The Hawks got almost nothing easy and were held to just 32 percent shooting, which set a franchise record for lowest field goal percentage allowed in a playoff game. It permitted the Cavs to overcome the subpar offense as LeBron James scored 27 points with eight rebounds and eight assists.

"My belief is you have to defend to win on the road, especially in the playoffs," coach Mike Brown said. "Our group understands that and respects it and embraces it."
John Hollinger:
This went in the books as a double-figure win, too, but it wasn't decided until Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer with 52.1 seconds left to put the Cavs up by eight.

That shot ended a fateful 63-second Cleveland trip that featured two of the defining elements of this series -- the Cavs owning the boards, and Cleveland attacking the defense of Atlanta's Mike Bibby. The possession began with 1:55 left and the home crowd in full lather after the Hawks cut the deficit to 79-74, but Anderson Varejao and Ilgauskas each rebounded James misses to keep the possession alive for more than a minute.

Then, after a foul on Joe Johnson created a dead ball, the Hawks failed to go offense-defense and take Bibby out of the game. Cleveland created a switch that left Bibby guarding James in the post, Atlanta doubled, and when the next-closest defender, Josh Smith, turned his head to call out a rotation behind him, James snapped a pass out top to Williams -- who took advantage of the extra split second it took Smith to react to nail a backbreaking triple.

Game Thread #2.4: Cleveland (3-0) @ Atlanta (0-3)

TIP-OFF: 7pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Marvin Williams and Al Horford are expected to play to whatever extent they are capable.

: JJ Hickson and Lorenzen Wright are out.


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Cavs: The Blog, Fear the Sword

This is it. I've put Henry V (3.1) on the masthead which surely equals big game.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts. In-game thoughts in 140 character increments @hoopinion.

Quote of the Day

Mike Woodson, as reported by Sekou Smith:
"Do we throw in the towel for Game 4? Hell, no, we shouldn’t do that. I’m going to push our guys to make sure they don’t throw in the towel."
I prefer to believe that Woodson's true feelings are not nearly as meek as a literal reading of these three sentences would suggest. With the caveat that we don't know what's said behind closed doors (But also with the competing caveat that the Hawks sure don't tend to emerge from the locker room fired up to begin either the first or third quarters.) this doesn't encourage one's faith that Woodson has the capability to say what needs to be said. The reasons for that (general lack of self-confidence, the specific fear of losing the locker room if he openly challenges the players, the simple inability to communicate (or not communicate) a thought clearly, etc.) I suspect we'll have plenty of time to speculate upon in the coming days.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cavaliers 97 Hawks 82



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CLE 80.3 1.21
55.1 30.4
ATL 80.3
1.02 49.3

The Hawks were down one point, 66-65, when Zaza Pachulia attempted to take a Joe Smith charge. Both of Pachulia's feet were in the restricted area. He was called for a block. Then he flipped out to the point that Josh Smith tried to calm him down. Yes, Josh Smith counseled someone to dial down the complaints directed toward an NBA referee. It didn't work. Pachulia was lived on the ground, flailed in making himself upright, and looked on the precipice of rampage once he got to his feet. This earned Pachulia two technical fouls to augment his personal foul.

Cleveland only made two of the four foul shots Pachulia's play plus outburst granted them but the consequences of his ejection were felt beyond that lone possession. Al Horford had to return to the game after resting for just two minutes of game time. Even hampered (and he clearly was) by his ankle injury, Horford, up to that point, had been a marked improvement over the limited and inexperienced Solomon Jones. In Pachulia's absence, Horford wilted under the increased workload. In the subsequent 11:47 he played, Al Horford committed five fouls, missed a jump shot, and launched a desperation 27-footer to stave off a shot clock violation. He didn't grab a single rebound or register a single assist during that stretch as the Hawks were outscored 28-14.

Pachulia's ejection and Horford's limited mobility aren't the sole reasons the Hawks lost. LeBron James certainly looms large in that respect. Nor were they the sole reasons the Hawks squandered a good effort with inconsistent execution.
  • Mike Bibby's eight points and five assists weren't enough to offset his defensive limitations.
  • Josh Smith made three of his first four jump shots. Rather than count his blessings for that statistical anomaly, he attempted four more jump shots, making just one. He also grabbed just two defensive rebounds in 37 minutes as the Hawks continued to fail by any reasonable standard to rebound Cleveland's missed shots adequately.
  • Maurice Evans still can't guard LeBron James by himself. Nor should he be expected to.
  • Marvin Williams missed three of his five field goal attempts, but that he could attempt five shots is a small victory.
  • Joe Johnson looked far healthier than I feared but he's incapable of breaking down a defense of Cleveland's caliber or match a LeBron James score for score much less accomplish both things on the same night on a sore ankle.
  • Flip Murray gave Johnson great support in both the second and third quarters but didn't attempt a shot after his layup that gave Atlanta a 63-62 lead with 4:18 left in the third.
I suspect last night was Atlanta's best chance to win a game in this series. They kept Cleveland off the offensive glass for a half. Cavaliers not named LeBron James made just 1-12 three-point attempts. Ben Wallace's eight-minute stint in the first half aided the Hawks' cause greatly. The Hawks didn't turn the ball over very often and they were healthier than they've been in several games.

Unfortunately the last of those is the element I'm most confident the Hawks can replicate in Game 4. At this writing, none of the Hawks' starters are thought to have aggravated their respective injuries. Any improvement to their health may boost the team's spirits but it won't make up for both the fundamental defensive weaknesses repeatedly mentioned in this space which Cleveland has proven capable of exploiting and the Cavaliers' penchant for shutting Atlanta's offense down for long stretches of each of the three games. The better team is winning and the injuries may be all that are sparing the Hawks' blushes.

Zaza Pachulia:
"I tried to do my best to help the team. Maybe I overreacted."
Mike Woodson:
"I haven’t had a chance to look at the tape, but from what I’ve heard, it was clearly a [foul on Pachulia], and Zaza just overreacted. We just have to keep playing in that situation, and we didn’t do that."
The foul occurred in front of the Hawks' bench. Whether it was the right call or not Pachulia's reaction was completely uncalled for. Saying the right things after the game does not have anywhere near the equivalent value of doing those things during the game. Failing to "keep playing" after a referee calls a foul on of one your guys and ejects him when he, while in the wrong, flips out is a rather fundamental and inexcusable error. There's little credit earned for recognizing this after the fact. You get credit for keeping a calm, firm hand on proceedings in the heat of the moment but that's hard to do when you spend the game constantly reacting to events.

Joe Johnson:
"There’s no way you can tell me this team is 20 points better than we are. There’s no way."
Later, in the same story, Johnson reveals the way the Hawks are 20 points worse than the Cavaliers:
"You just never know what Hawks team is going to show up. We’ll see Monday night."
Mike Woodson on planning how to defend LeBron:
"There’s just not a whole lot you can do with him. Everyone says to double him, but he hit about eight or nine shots where we couldn’t even get double-teams to him; they were way beyond the 3-point line."
Brian Windhorst on Pachulia's ejection:
Joe Smith crashed into him with force but Pachulia was in the no-charge zone, which made the call automatic. But Pachulia, who has broken Sasha Pavlovic's nose and taken Delonte West out of the game with a smack to the eye, went after official Monty McCutchen for making the call.

McCutchen had made several questionable calls in the quarter but they had benefited both sides, once hitting James with an out-of-flow offensive foul call. Still the reaction seemed out of place.

As Pachulia stormed toward McCutchen, he ran right into Anderson Varejao and screamed obscenities at McCutchen. Official Bill Spooner stepped in to protect his fellow official and gave Pachulia a technical but it didn't calm the big man down. A few seconds later he earned a second and was ejected.

The Human Highlight Blog:
A player like James is like a very bright light---they expose every one of the flaws on the face of your team. He takes advantage of not being able to keep him outside by driving to the hoop. Once he beats you off the dribble, he makes you pay by over-committing to him by making great passes. Don't want to over-commit? Then he finishes strong or gets to the line. Make him shoot the "3"? He made 5-10 on the Hawks in Game Three---how many of those would you like him to take?

In this series James has has exposed the Hawks lack of defensive rotation, their lack of strong perimeter D, and Mike Woodson's stubborn reluctance to force someone else to shoot the last shots of quarters for the Cavs.
John Hollinger:
No, the Cavs weren't surprised by what LeBron James did. So accustomed are they to his exploits that they barely batted an eyelash at his 47-point, 12-rebound explosion in a 97-82 cakewalk that put them up 3-0 on the Hawks in their best-of-seven series.

But the rebounding margin? Yes, that raised a few eyebrows. The Cavs outrebounded Atlanta 46-23, providing ample support for James en route to a seventh consecutive playoff rout.

"Is that what it was?" said Cavs forward Joe Smith. "Wow."

And on a night where Atlanta's walking wounded summoned enough strength to all take the court and play reasonably well, the Cavs' dirty work on the boards proved just as important as James's 3-point shooting exploits to the victory.

Cleveland regained position 16 times off its missed shots, which is pretty amazing when you consider they hardly missed any shots -- the Cavs shot 50.7 percent. The Hawks finished with a piddling 20 defensive rebounds, including five team boards, while at the other end the Cavs grabbed 34 of the 43 Hawks' misses.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Game Thread #2.3: Cleveland (2-0) @ Atlanta (0-2)

TIP-OFF: 8pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford are, at the time of this writing, all game-time decisions.

: JJ Hickson and Lorenzen Wright are out. Delonte West will start.


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Cavs: The Blog, Fear the Sword

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts. In-game thoughts in 140 character increments @hoopinion.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Josh Smith Shot Selection Through Nine Playoff Games

Layups/dunks/tips: 34-46 (73.9%)
Intermediate*: 8-28 (28.6%)
Two-point jump shots: 7-37 (18.9%)
Three-point field goals: 2-14 (14.3%, eFG: 17.8%)

*Hook shots, turnaround jumpers in the post, non-layup runners...essentially shots neither taken at the rim nor as a spot-up jumper.

David Andersen Update

I missed this blog post by Jonathan Givony from the Euroleague Final Four a couple of days ago, but better late than never.
After the game, we managed to catch up with Andersen in the VIP area, which gave us an opportunity to pick his brain on where he stands in terms of the NBA.

Andersen didn’t hesitate to indicate his interest in playing for the Atlanta Hawks, or any other team that might be interested in his services. He did seem a bit frustrated by the predicament he’s in, thought, with his NBA rights essentially being held hostage by the Atlanta Hawks.

I just wish they would give me a straight answer either way. Every year it’s the same thing. If they want me, great, but if not, I would like to go play somewhere else. I can’t force the tender and go play on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, but I don’t think I’m asking for crazy money either.”

Andersen has another year on his deal with Barcelona, but has a clear NBA escape clause in his contract that that he can exercise until July 15th. That is a difficult situation for Barcelona, as they will be in serious limbo until that point—essentially the very tail end of the signing period for elite European clubs, where there will likely be few if any big men of Andersen’s caliber on the market. Barcelona has an option to buy out Andersen’s contract, and may be forced to do so if they feel like they cannot wait on the NBA to act.

What’s most unfortunate for Andersen is that he had already received assurances from former Hawks GM Billy Knight that they would bring him over to the NBA last summer, but that plan went to naught once he was fired and replaced by Rick Sund, who said he needed another year to evaluate him. The Hawks have apparently had multiple teams try to acquire Andersen in a trade, but have been reluctant to deal him for fear that he may make them look foolish in another team’s uniform. Based on the way Andersen has looked here in Berlin, that’s a legitimate possibility.
One of these days I'll get to quote something that encourages optimism.

Cavaliers 105 Hawks 85




Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 88.8 0.95
39.8 22.9
CLE 88.8
1.19 57.7

Once more, you can start with the Daily Dime where I had to lean on Shakespeare to fill my allotted space with something marginally interesting about the Hawks' fifth blowout loss of this post-season. After that, you could peruse a thought that begins with Wally Szczerbiak.

It's sort of amazing/completely horrifying that the above boxscore supplement, breaking down pace, efficiency, and the four factors flatters the Hawks. Here's what the above looked like through three quarters of last night's game:

TeamPossOff EffeFG%FT RateOR%TO%


Or maybe the Hawks need to figure out away to make this series about Acie Law IV and Thomas Gardner vs. Boobie Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic. They seemed to have an advantage there in the fourth quarter.

Joe Johnson's ankle may push that scenario closer to reality:
While the reserves were on the court finishing the Hawks’ fifth consecutive blowout loss in this postseason — the Cavaliers’ biggest lead was 36 points — Johnson was in a wheelchair being pushed by one of the team’s doctors. They were leaving the Cavaliers’ locker room, where Johnson’s right ankle was being X-rayed.

The results were negative. And Johnson was upbeat on his way out of the building in a walking boot.

“I’ve got a boot on, but I ain’t walking out of here on crutches,” Johnson said. “I can’t see me not playing in Game 3 [Saturday at Philips Arena]. I’m looking forward to getting back out there with guys. And we’ve got 48 hours to get some treatment and try and get better, and we’ll see what happens.”
Mike Woodson takes comfort guessed it:
"We were in the same situation last year with the blowouts in Boston and we were able to go home and make a series out of it. Sure, we’re a little banged up right now. But we have a couple of days to try to regroup physically and get ready for Saturday’s game. But we do have to go back and nurse some injuries and see if we can get some guys ready to go on Saturday."
Josh Smith:
"Any time you let a team shoot 60 percent on you throughout an entire game, you’re just not giving yourself a chance to win."
So true.

A JOSH SMITH FUN FACT: The Hawks lead both games against Cleveland until the moment Josh Smith attempted his first jump shot.

Okay, his first jump shot last night came 54 seconds into the game with the Hawks up 2-0, but still...I'm grasping at straws, aren't I? On to more useful analysis...

The Human Highlight Blog breaks down everything in two excellent paragraphs:
After promising a more ball-movement friendly after Game One, the Hawks employed the same offense we have seen for the majority of the season--and by majority, we mean landslide. This is a flawed offensive approach that preaches individualism and lends itself suspect to teams that play good halfcourt defense (see Celtics, Boston). We have said and the Hawks have shown that they will only travel as far through the playoffs as this style will allow, and we are seeing the signs of the end of the road.

The defensive end is just as exposed by good teams and is less defendable--as this is based on trust and effort. Too often opponents execute anything they want. Sure, part of the problem is a point guard that can't be hidden unless benched, but there are other issues as well. Josh Smith freelancing, rebounds not being procured, defense late in rotating, and loose balls going to the other team as their 7'3 center with creaky everythings outhustles the team for possession.
That whole post is excellent. Consider it officially recommended.

As is Mark Bradley's take:
Two sequences told the grim tale: At the end of the first quarter, LeBron somehow got isolated against poor Solomon Jones. On cue, LeBron whirled past Jones and dunked behind his head.

Flash forward to the shank of the second quarter: The Hawks sought to hold for one shot, though there was a four-second difference between the clocks. They wound up being whistled for a 24-second violation. And LeBron took the ball in backcourt and, from 40 feet away, rose above Mario West and flipped the ball through the hoop.

A Thought That Begins With Wally Szczerbiak

Who scored 17 points on nine shots without making a single three-pointer. There are fundamental defensive problems for the Hawks in this series. Beyond missing Al Horford and Marvin Williams. And it's not like the offensive system is going to make up for that.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Game Thread #2.2 Atlanta (0-1) @ Cleveland (1-0)

TIP-OFF: 8pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Marvin Williams and Al Horford are, at the time of this writing, both game-time decisions.

: JJ Hickson and Lorenzen Wright are out.


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Cavs: The Blog, Fear the Sword

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Gameday Links: Game 2 vs. Cavs Edition

Mike Woodson on Al Horford's status:
"I’d rather give him a couple of days of rest and have him healthy for Game 3 rather than pushing him now and making it worse."
Sekou Smith, in his latest blog post:

The first thing you hear in the Hawks’ locker room after a bad loss is, “We didn’t play together. We didn’t help each other out. We’ve got to blah, blah, blah.”

If you think I’m making this stuff up, here’s a sampling (edited ever so slightly to omit the verbal offender’s specific identity) of what’s come out of the mouths of your Hawks after playoff losses the past few weeks:

“We just have to play with a sense of urgency like we did in Game 1. We have to get after them defensively. And as long as we share the ball offensively, I think everything else on the floor clicks.”

“We’re up against it now. And we’ve got look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that we can’t get out of this mess without doing it together.”

“We’ve just got to pick up our intensity. We’ve got to do a lot of things. But it all stems from our effort. We have to play hard as a unit. That’s the key for us. And we have to bring that [today]. Because our backs are against the wall now, really against the wall. We’re going to see what this team is made of.”

“We came out and talked about hitting them first and not letting things get out of hand early like they did in Game 2. But we let them hit us first again.”

“We lost our composure, no doubt. Things weren’t going our way, calls weren’t going our way and we lost it. We let them build that big lead and it got to us. We were never in sync defensively and we just didn’t handle ourselves well.”

“In the second half we just didn’t get into any offensive sets. We were careless with the ball. We had too many turnovers. Any time we have 17 turnovers it’s never a good night for us.”

“It was very disappointing, knowing that we’ve come this far. Looking back on the first series that we had (with Miami), that was very tough, and I thought we would come into this game a little more enthused and come ready to play. I thought we had a pretty good first half, but the second half wasn’t so great.”

It never fails.

Mark Bradley:
These Hawks said they wanted to improve their record, have the home court edge in Round 1 and advance to Round 2. They managed all of the above. To lose now to the top-seeded Cavaliers in a competitive series would be no disgrace. But they don’t want to be embarrassed four games running. That would cheapen them and their accomplishments. That would leave what has been a most palatable season with a sour aftertaste.
I'd like to offer a theory that appeals to me, in part, because it partially, retroactively redeems my 34-win prediction. What if this team over-achieved during the regular season? What if they maxed out their abilities and their bodies covering for the loss of their sixth man before the season and for injuries to all three of their frontcourt starters during the season and still winning ten more games than last year to secure home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs? Would it not make sense under that premise for the team to look, at times, woefully inferior to playoff opposition when missing two starters who are vital to both the team's spacing on offense and the team's defensive concept?

As I said, there's a self-serving element to that so I'm open to criticism but perhaps the primary lesson the organization should be taking from these blowout playoff losses is not one of effort, teamwork, or pride but that this roster needs more talent. I'd love to see Acie Law IV develop into a solid NBA point guard but if the head coach isn't going to play him he's not worth as much to this franchise as a point guard* that the head coach will play.

*And there has to be a competent point guard somewhere in the world that Mike Woodson would trust to use as a back up.

The good news, with regard to those even further down the depth chart than Law, is that it would be difficult to assemble a less useful collection of players to fill the end of the bench. The Hawks should be better, cumulatively, from players 10 through 15 next year. On a clear day I can even see a team taking Speedy Claxton's expiring contract.

Of course they could just as easily decide to bring back Mike Bibby and Pachulia* and try and repeat the trick. Should be an interesting summer.

*With Solomon Jones's "potential" as insurance.