Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hawks 91 Heat 83



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
MIA 91.5 0.91
44.1 9.4
19.6 13.1
ATL 91.5 0.99 44.9

Unlike the Utah Jazz, the Miami Heat are a team the Hawks can guard. The Heat don't push the ball up the court very often, the offense is run by a rookie point guard whose primary offensive weapon is not quickness, and they don't have enough shooters to adequately spread the floor around their lone post up target. Even the great, unstoppable Dwyane Wade shouldn't worry Hawks fans too much (Especially on a night such as last night when his teammates fail to knock down their open threes, or, in the case of Diawara and Moon, choose to take their open threes.) because the lack of other offensive threats allows Atlanta to put Joe Johnson (for the most part) on Wade and do as best he can to force Wade into the help either Josh Smith or Al Horford can provide around the rim. Wade is still going to get his (21 points on 17 shots, 10 assists last night) but he's (probably) not going to be able to do enough to consistently beat the Hawks by himself if the Hawks do anything on offense.

It was a delightfully diversified offensive attack for the Hawks last night even though Mike Bibby was largely absent. Johnson, Marvin Williams, Smith, and Horford each took between 13 and 17 shots and combined to get to the line 19 times.

Smith took three bad shots in the first quarter but, as the game wore on, complemented his fine defensive performance with good shot selection. Williams struggled to convert all of his good looks but played very aggressively. Horford followed up his fine game in Denver with a the first 20/20 from a Hawks player since 2001. I don't know whether it's his rebounding that's created his offensive confidence the last two games or getting more touches is fueling his effort on the glass but he's given a reminder of what a special (not solid, special) player he can be. Johnson showed the kind of leadership that the Hawks will need to keep the fourth seed in the East: He controlled the offense without forcing anything and trusted his younger teammates to carry their weight. It was a low scoring, inefficient game but the Hawks offense rarely, if ever, got stagnant.

Al Horford on his big night:
"They were all coming my way. I just grabbed them.

I just realized I had to be a little more aggressive on offense. I've kind of been coasting throughout the year."
Mike Woodson on Horford:
"From the Denver game we went to him more and utilized him a little bit more. And coming down the stretch that’s something I think we’re going to have to continue to do."
Don't point out that this something many observers had figured out by this time last year. Be thankful the words came out of his mouth and move on.

Erik Spoelstra auditioned for the role of Mike Woodson following the game:
"We did not really play with a real sense of urgency until the fourth quarter. We did not give our best effort."
The Hawks will need a similar effort (their good effort, not the poor effort of which Spoelstra spoke) and better shooting (a healthy Bibby would help there) Sunday night when the Cavaliers, led by the one player clearly better than Dwyane Wade, visit.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 27th Open Thread: Miami (30-26) @ Atlanta (32-35)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass



If you know of a good Heat blog, let me know.

PREVIOUSLY, THE MIAMI HEAT...Have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games. Should that pattern hold, they're scheduled to lose tonight following Tuesday's 103-91 win over the Pistons.

Both previous meetings this season were in Miami. Atlanta won 87-73 on December 12th. Miami won 95-79 on January 26th.

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

Flip Murray Offensive Graphs

Here are the Flip Murray graphs I mentioned in yesterday's game recap.

First, the positive, upward movement of his shooting percentages since the loss in Houston on December 9th. After that game he sat at 43.7/41.9/32 (eFG%/2PTFG%/3PTFG%). Today he's at 51.8/50.3/36.8.

It took me a while to recognize that Flip was on an offensive upswing. His minutes decreased throughout December, hitting a low of 40.3% of the team's minutes* after the January 2nd game in New Jersey. The decreasing minutes hid a gradual, consistent increase in his scoring rate (and efficiency) coupled with a decreasing turnover rate. After that game in Houston, Flip was at 22.98 Pts/100, 4.27 A/100, 5.4 TO/100. As of today he's at 25.55 Pts/100, 4.1 A/100, 3.64 TO/100.

*He's played 46.1% of the team's minutes on the year even after missing two games on the most recent West Coast road trip.

It's difficult to see in the above graph that Murray's plunge in turnovers coincided with a less sever, but still noticeable decline in assists (the assists have gone back up in Mike Bibby's absence during the last two games). Here's just a graph of just his assist and turnover rates.

I was highly critical of signing Murray but he's been a useful (or better) player for most of the season. Credit should go to Rick Sund for acquiring Flip Murray for both good seasons of Murray's career. Most impressive to me is that Murray remains no one's idea of a point guard but someone, be it player or coach, has figured that out and shifted Murray's responsibilities as the season has progressed and allowed him to play to his strengths. Long time Hawks watchers know how unusual it is to see a player of limited, specific skills put in a position to use those skills rather than be asked to be a player he is not.

So here's to Flip Murray, the coaching staff, and the organization as a whole for this unexpected, welcome, and valuable success story.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joe Johnson Offensive Graphs

Here's Joe Johnson's rolling, game-by-game, year-to-date field goal shooting percentages.

This next graph may be of questionable value, so I'll explain (excuse?) how it came to be. Even though I'm glad to have sorted out and debugged my 2008-09 Hawks spreadsheet, it's still built on the old spreadsheet I created when writing primarily about college basketball several years ago. Working under the influence of John Gasaway, I measured the individual stats in terms of possessions. It's a necessary thing to do in college basketball because of the wild disparities in pace of play from team-to-team.

No one calculates NBA box score stats at a per possession rate. The disparity between the fastest and slowest NBA teams isn't significant enough that any added accuracy* gained by normalizing points, assists, or turnovers (to use the examples from the graph below) to 100 team possessions rather than 36 minutes** isn't worth the extra effort.

*And since I'm estimating possessions, there's probably not any added accuracy anyway.

**If you care, the league average pace (as of today) is 91.8. Pts/68.85 team possessions would be equivalent to Pts/36 Minutes.

But per 100 team possessions was the framework of the spreadsheet I've built upon and it's all I've got right now. I understand that it makes comparisons with other players in the league difficult. These graphs are a first step toward providing useful information (or, information usefully presented), not the last.

As always, please add any questions, suggestions, or additional compliments in the comments.

Nuggets 110 Hawks 109



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 89.7 1.22
53.1 30 31.6 15.6
DEN 89.7 1.23 57.1 39

Two interesting things happened in last night's game. Working backward chronologically, the first occurred after Marvin Williams scored an and one at 9:49 to pull the Hawks within 6 (86-92), George Karl switched JR Smith off Williams (9-12 FGA, 1-2 3PTA, 10-10 FTA in 28:50 to that point) and onto Joe Johnson, putting Carmelo Anthony on Williams. I cannot remember the last time* an opposing coach decided to focus on stopping a Hawk other than Joe Johnson. Now, Karl's decision was made by easier by continuing to have the Nuggets double-team Joe Johnson when he got the ball below the free throw line.

*There may not be a last time.

Even though this decision succeeded in slowing down Williams (1-5 FGA, 0-1 3PTA, 0-0 FTA for the remainder of the game), I can't say it had a great impact on the final result as Johnson picked up the slack scoring 10 of Atlanta's final 23 points (3-3 FGA, 2-2 3PTA, 2-2 FTA) and assisting on Al Horford's bucket that cut the Denver lead to 1 (109-110). Putting a priority on stopping Marvin Williams didn't limit the Nuggets* to two made free throws in the final 3 minutes of the game. It simply serves as another example that Marvin Williams may be developing into the kind of offensive player his potential suggested four years ago.

*Karl's decision to put Anthony Carter back in the game for most of the final two minutes may have. Carter was as bad as Chauncey Billups was good last night.

The other interesting thing occurred in the first half and also involved Marvin Williams, albeit more indirectly. Williams committed his second foul with 7:18 left in the second quarter. The Hawks held a 43-39 lead. Mike Woodson replaced Williams with Mario West, putting a Murray/Johnson/Evans/West/Horford lineup on the floor. One minute and 25 seconds later, Woodson replaced Horford, who had played just 8:31 of the first quarter and, to that point, the entire second quarter, with Pachulia. Williams sat for the rest of the first half and he finished the game with three personal fouls. Horford sat for four minutes and 53 seconds before returning for the final minute of the first half.

Mario West played power forward for six minutes and 17 seconds of the second quarter. I repeat, Mario West played power forward for six minutes and 17 seconds of the second quarter. Compounding that bit of madness he was assigned to guard Chauncey Billups (12 points on 2-3 FGA, 2-2 3PTA, 6-7 FTA plus 2 assists in the second quarter) for much of that time. When he left the game (mercifully), the Hawks trailed 53-57.

West plays hard, yes, but he did not have sufficient offensive skill to play even half of his team's minutes for a mediocre ACC team two years ago. He has not developed any offensive skills in the interregnum. There's no rational argument for an NBA team having him on their roster. Furthermore, unless I greatly underestimate the value of jumping so high in the pursuit of offensive rebounds that you can't land on your feet*, he has no business stepping on the court outside of garbage time.

*Apparently this is "daredevil"-ness. I'm worried Sekou's going stir crazy from the paper not allowing him to do his job.

Yet he played almost seven straight minutes in the second quarter, out of position and charged with guarding the opposition's second-best player, for a team with (one hopes) ambitions to host a first-round playoff series, a team missing two starters thus shrinking their margin of error in a road game against a superior opponent. Why? Because Marvin Williams committed two fouls in the first 17 minutes of the game.

The irrationality of this knee-jerk, reactive, and compulsive behavior is magnified the more you think about it. Woodson doesn't pull a guy for committing two fouls in any 17 minute stretch of game time unless it occurs in the game's first 17 minute stretch. Hell, he doesn't pull his reserves in the first half until they commit their third foul. Williams played 14:37 before committing his second foul. At that rate, he'd play 43:51 before committing his sixth foul. He did play another 24:22 and committed only one foul. He was never in foul trouble.

That's just Williams. Woodson also had Al Horford at his disposal* and chose to play Mario West instead.

*Truly at his disposal, even in Woodson's rigid world; Horford only committed one first half foul.

The mind boggles.

Flip Murray on missing the potential game-winner:
"It was a shot I should have made. I had a chance to win the game with my last shot and I short-armed it. But it was a shot I should have made. Other than that it was a good game."
He shouldn't be faulted for being surprised that putative franchise player Joe Johnson passed up a game-winning shot attempt to flip the ball back to Murray. I think that caught everyone off guard. Murray gave a decent impersonation of a point guard in Mike Bibby's absence.

I've learned in the last few days* that Murray's resurgence has coincided with a significant drop in his assist rate and a concurrent, even more significant, drop in his turnover rate. Whether conscious or not, whether by instruction or not, Flip's been so useful recently because he's not tried to play like a point guard. He struggles with the pass or shoot decision. Eliminate that decision and (at least in the short term) the turnovers have gone down and the quality of his shot attempts have gone up.

*Teasing an upcoming pair of graphs.

Jeremy at Roundabll Mining Company has a typically thorough recap from the Nugget perspective. Here are a couple of gems regarding the fourth quarter:
Denver’s offense ground to a halt in the fourth quarter and due to a combination of the aforementioned turnovers and stagnant uninspired play they only made four field goals in the quarter. All four were jumpers. The Nuggets did not score a point in the paint over the final 13 minutes. Now that is somewhat misleading as Chauncey did get to the line for six free throws on plays where he drove into, or at least in the vicinity of, the lane and was fouled and J.R. earned a pair of free throws, but apart from those four instances the Nuggets were seemingly always scrambling to fire off a jumper with the shot clock winding down. The key to the Hawks fourth quarter comeback was their 14 points in the paint. Fortunately for Denver the Hawks needed 16 in order to pull off the win.


In the fourth quarter, the Hawks ran more isolation sets and had some success early with Marvin Williams. The key to the fourth quarter though was the Hawks desire to have Joe Johnson take the game over contrasted with the Nuggets fear of Johnson taking over. Denver doubled Johnson almost immediately when he caught the ball. The result was they were left scrambling trying to cover either an open shooter or to collapse on the drive. Atlanta did a pretty good job of moving the ball and getting good shots. They had several attempts just rim out and the Nuggets should feel pretty fortunate for that. There were a couple of possessions where the Nuggets chose not to double Johnson and he made them pay with five easy points.
The Hawks are still a game-and-a-half up on the Heat for the fourth seed and play 13 of their next 17 at home. This isn't going to be a 50-win team but they still have an excellent shot at hosting a first-round playoff series.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 25th Open Thread: Atlanta (32-24) @ Denver (37-20)

TIP-OFF: 9pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Josh Smith is out. Mike Bibby will be a game-time decision.

INJURY REPORT: Nene and Steven Hunter are out. Kenyon Martin is probable.


Roundball Mining Company

PREVIOUSLY, THE DENVER NUGGETS...were beaten comprehensively (114-76) at home by the Boston Celtics on Monday. It was the third straight loss for the Nuggets, the other two occurring at the end of a successful (5W 3L) eight-game road trip.

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

Josh Smith Not Suspended, Still Won't Play

Mike Bibby might not play, either. Sekou Smith reports:
Josh Smith will not be suspended by the NBA for the flagrant-2 foul called against him in Monday’s loss in Utah.

However, Smith will miss tonight’s game in Denver, having returned to Atlanta to attend to a personal matter.

Hawks point guard Mike Bibby did not attend shoot-around practice Wednesday and will be a game-time decision tonight. He is suffering from the flu and played 15 scoreless minutes Monday against the Jazz.
Smith has been maddening recently but if his absence means more Solomon Jones and Othello Hunter rather than more Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, and Maurice Evans he'll be missed shortly.

Attention Basketball Junkies: Euroleague on ESPN360

Before joining the True Hoop Network, I was unaware that ESPN360 broadcasts live Euroleague basketball.

There are two kinds of people: those who think this is very cool and those who don't care at all. If you're the former (like me) and can access ESPN360 through your service provider (unlike me) today's game (2:45 EST tip) pits Unijaca (offical site, in Spanish) against Partizan Belgrade (wikipedia, best I could do with my limited grasp of Serbian).

Players of possible interest: Omar Cook (about whom much would have been written had Hoopinion been around when the Hawks were running Royal Ivey, Tyronn Lue, and Kenny Anderson's corpse out there at the point earlier this decade), Jiri Welsch, and Marcus Haislip play for Unijaca. Intriguing, undersized shot-blocker extraordinaire Stephane Lasme plays for Partizan Belgrade.

NBA Teams To Control Digital Rights To Live Broadcasts of Their Games Next Season

From (HT: Detroit Bad Boys):
Beginning next season, the league, along with its media partner, Turner Sports, plans to put digital rights for live games into the hands of its 30 teams, according to Commissioner David Stern. That would make the NBA the first major sports league to largely de-centralize its Web operation.

Details on possible terms, like fees and minimum advertising guarantees, are still being discussed. But league and team officials figure that local access, while cannibalizing pay products on, will add more total viewers for basketball as a whole.


It's also an acknowledgment of fans' growing appetite for consuming games on multiple screens. With television, a typical club is allotted roughly 70 games in an 82-game season for which it can sell local cable rights, the balance held back for national telecasts. Now, as online viewership increases, individual teams naturally want a piece of that action.
Next season, the dream of watching all 82 Hawks regular season games may become a reality for more people.

Josh Smith's FT% By Game, 2008-09

Another simple one I made while working out the kinks. Had I to do it over again, I might have kept the X-axis at team games rather than games played so as to better see the time Smith missed due to injury.

The upper boundary of this graph is set at 70.3, Smith's career FT% entering the season.

Please add any questions, suggestions, or additional compliments in the comments.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2008-09 Efficiency Graph

I believe that I've sorted out my 2008-09 Hawks' spreadsheet and can, from now until the end of the season, go graph crazy.

I start with a simple one: year-to-date Offensive and Defensive Efficiency after games 1-56.

Once I make sure this is legible, I'll begin to tackle more advanced issues.

Jazz 108 Hawks 89



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 92.7 0.96
54.3 18.6 21.6 21.6
UTAH 92.7 1.16 53.4 15.9

In a micro-tactical sense Mike Woodson coached fairly well last night. Things weren't transpiring according to plan so he deviated from the plan. He stayed with the Murray/Johnson/Evans/Smith/Horford lineup for the better part of the second quarter. That group played the only stretch of passable defense any combination of Hawks managed last night and pulled the game back from 29-48 to 52-61. A questionable goaltend call* against Josh Smith and a Ronnie Brewer halfcourt heave at the second quarter buzzer undermined their good work but they kept the game from being over at halftime.

*And, really, I'm reluctant to acknowledge it as a questionable call given Smith's overreaction to every foul called against him, against a teammate, or not called against an opposing defender. One would think that a player struggling in so many areas might have sufficient internal issues to prevent him from focusing on his perceived persecution by the referees. One would be mistaken in Smith's case.

Woodson gave Bibby (-20 in 12:12 during the first half) another chance to start the second half. Two minutes, 55 seconds, and three (Mike Bibby defended) CJ Miles buckets later. Bibby was done* for the night. At that point the Utah lead was 22, they'd scored 76 points in just under 27 minutes and the game was essentially decided** because, in a macro-tactical sense, Mike Woodson seriously diminished the Hawks' chances of winning in Utah when he decided that, defensively, this team would spend the season switching on every screen. It's a functional strategy against teams with a limited number of offensive options and/or little off-the-ball movement. Against Utah it essentially rendered the Atlanta defenders stationary, calling out switches but never moving their feet as the Jazz players ran their offense without interference.

*Having read the AP recap this morning and learned that Woodson sat Bibby because Bibby was sick, I've decided both to leave the above as written last night and delete the aside here about the positive sign that the Hawks might accurately value Bibby's strengths and weaknesses as a player at this point in his career and not commit cap suicide by re-signing him to a ridiculous contract this summer. Seriously, Bibby was sick? Sure didn't effect his defense. Zing!

**Even the resulting 6-0 Hawks run made little impact as it took over 2-and-a-half minutes, included a couple of missed free throws, and neither energized the visitors nor worried the hosts.

It's an odd, passive choice for a team that has an admitted problem with playing hard. Certainly, in general, some ground must be ceded in deference to Bibby's defensive limitations in order to reap the benefit of his offensive talents. I don't believe this to be any sort of platonic ideal of a defensive basketball team but they haven't been challenged to become a better defensive team. In the terrible home loss to the Clippers, Acie Law IV got chewed out by Woodson and Marvin Williams for screwing up a defensive possession by having the temerity to try and fight through a ball screen. A blown assignment? Yes. An example of a young player trying to earn more playing time by giving extra effort? Yes, also, but his effort was viewed primarily as disruptive rather than positive. A small moment, to be sure, but one that has obviously stayed with me for more than two weeks.

Utah's end-of-game offensive numbers should be damning enough but do not forget or overlook that they are dampened by a 15-point, 5-25 FGA, 0-3 3PTA fourth quarter. Jazz players not named Matt Harpring* went 1-19 from the floor and scored 4 points in the final quarter. Through three quarters, the Jazz scored 1.34 points per possession, shot 66.7 eFG%, and grabbed 42.1% of possible offensive rebounds.

*I suppose I should write something about Smith's flagrant foul. I don't think he made much of a play for the ball. I certainly don't think he made as impassioned a play for the ball as he made a play for Harpring. Harpring fell badly (but not intentionally so) but thankfully was not seriously hurt. I'm not proud of this, but, in the moment, I wanted Harpring to get to Smith so I could see how Smith would react to being confronted. Five years into his NBA career and we still don't know, do we? What would happen if someone said (and acted upon the following premise) to Smith, "You can't shoot. Work on your post-up game and you'll get some touches. Until then, focus on defending and rebounding if you want to play." It's hard to avoid (but impossible to do anything about) the fact that the root cause of Smith's current funk is that no one within the organization figured out four years ago that Smith was destined to be a power forward and should be tutored as such. So much wasted time and now he plays as if he has no idea who he is or what he can do to help the team win.

Last word to the head coach:
"The results of this game were an embarrassment."

Monday, February 23, 2009

February 23rd Open Thread: Atlanta (32--22) @ Utah

TIP-OFF: 9pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Speedy Claxton is out. Othello Hunter and Thomas Gardner are presumed still to be with the Anaheim Arsenal. Never mind.

INJURY REPORT: Carlos Boozer is expected to return tonight.


SLC Dunk

PREVIOUSLY, THE UTAH JAZZ...have won four straight games (wins over the Lakers, Celtics, and Hornets included), seven of eight, and 14 of their last 16 at home.

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

Retrodicting the 2008-09 Season With Statistical Plus/Minus

What follows is not an excuse for this but part of examination of why I was so wrong about a team I watch and think about so, so much.

Neil Paine's post on the blog (HT: True Hoop) may be of interest primarily to those with interest in and/or tolerance for math-intensive advanced stats. I'm not that strong on the math, myself, but I find this stuff fascinating and not just because the Hawks, with 28 games remaining, are 2 wins away from matching my predicted win total for the season.

As the tables at the bottom of the post show, even if you knew before the season started the exact year-to-date minutes played for the Hawks and were using what appears to be a fairly useful prediction tool, you might predict the Hawks to have the opposite of their record (22-32) through 54 games.


Well, further down, Paine lists (by team) each players' actual vs. expected Statistical Plus/Minus Score (SPM). Of the eight players in the Hawks' primary rotation, Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, and Flip Murray are all outperforming their projections; Zaza Pachulia is matching his projection almost exactly; Josh Smith and Mo Evans are underperforming* their projections.

*Both Bibby and Horford are outperforming their projections by a greater margin than Evans and Smith's combined underperformance.

I don't think it's news that the Hawks are playing well because a majority of their players are having better than average years by their various individual standards. For Williams and Horford there's reason to believe this season will serve more to raise their established standards rather than live forever as a career year.

For Bibby and Murray, who will both be free agents at season's end, I maintain my hope that the Hawks don't pay for or expect to see a season this good from either player in 2009-10 or any year thereafter. I don't envy Rick Sund at all.

D-League Roundup

Othello Hunter
  • Scored 12 points (6-16 FGA, 0-4 FTA) and grabbed 11 rebounds (5 offensive) on 2/18.
  • Scored 3 points (1-9 FGA, 1-2 FTA) and grabbed 8 rebounds (3 offensive) on 2/20.
  • Scored 10 points (5-12 FGA) and grabbed 11 rebounds (6 offensive) on 2/21.
Thomas Gardner
  • Scored 21 points (8-16 FGA, 3-7 3PTA, 2-2 FTA) in 26:13. Added 1 assist and turned the ball over three times on 2/20.
  • Scored 26 points (9-16, 1-6 3PTA, 7-9 FTA) in 31:06. Grabbed 7 rebounds, had an assist, and just one turnover.
I'll total up their lines and calculate the advanced stats once it's confirmed that they're rejoining the Hawks. Anaheim doesn't play again until the 27th, so it may be a couple of days before we know for sure.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Trail Blazers 108 Hawks 98



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 89.4 1.10 51.9 21.8 23.5 14.5
POR 89.4 1.21 52.2 13

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I quite enjoyed Josh Smith's defensive rebound last night. 9:07 of the third quarter will live in my memory for a long time. The other 39 minutes he played, the defensive rebound-less minutes, the jump shot missing minutes, the proving himself incapable of guarding Travis Outlaw or Brandon Roy minutes, and the blowing defensive assignments minutes (Of course, the resultant points from either of those last two scenarios are not Josh Smith's fault. These were petulant minutes, as well.) won't soon be forgotten, either.

It wasn't Mike Woodson's finest night, leaving Smith out there to undermine the team on both ends of the floor rather than using either of the hard-working, assignment-sound, and offensively productive frontcourt players available to him.

It began all too familiarly. Marvin Williams sat the for the final 9:14 and Al Horford the final 8:11 of the first half because they had the temerity to commit two personal fouls each. Thus limiting his options for no good reason (Williams finished the game with 4 fouls, Horford with 2), Woodson played Smith the entire time he sat Williams and Horford. Smith produced the following stat line over those 8+ minutes:

0-1 FGA

Even more inexplicably, Woodson, after removing Smith from the game halfway through the fourth quarter (presumably for some combination of poor defense, repeated fouling, and the increasingly intolerable (to this viewer, at least) complaining about being called for the fouls he commits after getting beat), Woodson put Smith back in two minutes later rather than use Al Horford to close out the game. Smith's stat line for the final four minutes:

(this space left intentionally blank)

It really shouldn't be so difficult to figure out your fourth quarter rotation on a night when only five guys (Bibby, Johnson, Murray, Williams, Horford) are playing well. That unit was on the court for two fourth quarter stints, one lasting 1:45, the other 1:48. In contrast, Nate MacMillan played his best lineup (Blake, Roy, Fernandez, Outlaw, Aldridge) for a single stint lasting 9:23 of the fourth quarter during which time Portland was +6 even after accounting for Flip Murray's productive garbage time cutting a 16-point Portland lead down to the 10-point margin of victory. The longest the Hawks played a single unit in the fourth quarter was 3:39 and that didn't occur until after they'd fallen behind by 16 points.

Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20th Open Thread: Atlanta (32-22) @ Portland (33-20)

TIP-OFF: 10pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Othello Hunter has been assigned to the D-League and will be with the Anaheim Arsenal through Saturday. Thomas Gardner's been assigned to the Arsenal also.

INJURY REPORT: Greg Oden and Martell Webster are out.


Blazer's Edge (game preview), The Rip City Project

PREVIOUSLY, THE PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS...beat Memphis 94-90 on Wednesday playing without Greg Oden. Kevin Pritchard didn't make any deadline deals.

MAKE IT A DOUBLEHEADER WITH NBA ON ESPN360: NBA Shootaround (7:30pm), Dallas @ Houston (8pm)

WANT TO DVR ALL OR PART OF THE GAME AND WATCH IT SATURDAY MORNING? Friends of the blog, Second Shift are playing a reunion show at the Star Bar tonight with Y-O-U, Lowry, and Hot Pipes.

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

A New Set of Playoff Probabilities

At Basketball-Reference (HT: True Hoop), Justin Kubatko has the Hawks 0.6% more likely to make the playoffs than they are in John Hollinger's probable future but Hollinger has the Hawks almost three times more likely to win both the East (2% v. 0.7%) and five times as likely to win the NBA Championship (0.5% v. 0.1%).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Trade Deadline Links

Manny (statesboro ga) [via mobile]: Any news of the hawks in trade talks.

SportsNation Chad Ford: No ... they're still the Hawks
I'll keep this brief, but think about it: Only a few years ago, time barely existed in the Association. Market value for players was relative, and set each summer. GM's threw out huge deals, rarely considering how they'd hog-tie the team down the road. Max extensions created the illusion of franchise guys, though it was never quite clear who feted whom. Then came the mini-max, which urged teams to win now, and at the same time, opened the door for players to be free of a huge deal sooner rather than later (who knows, we might yet see that side of the coin). 2010 had everyone thinking about cap space two years down the road. And now, with money dearer than ever, suddenly dumping Brad Miller's contract—which expires in 2010—is worth it just for one year of savings.
Unless something unexpected happens, this will be the Hoopinion trade deadline post.

Hawks 105 Kings 100



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 98.6 1.06 47.2 25 28.8 12.2
SAC 98.6 1.01 48.8 22.9 19 16.2

Mike Bibby's defense gets criticized frequently in this space but the Hawks (probably) don't win last night* without him making two** good defensive plays in the game's final minute.

*They probably don't win without his 29 points on 19 shots with an eFG% of 63.1, either (eFG% for rest of team: 42.7), but that's a little more expected.

**Three if you extend the time frame back to 2:13 of the fourth and give him credit for conning the referee with a flop that drew Jason Thompson's fifth foul. I'm not entirely convinced there was contact on the play. A second camera angle might have cleared that up but the game was broadcast on SportSouth, and thus brought to us by a single, low-definition camera.
  1. Up 102-100 (thanks to a nifty clutch bucket from Joe Johnson) with 19 seconds left, Beno Udrih (who, frankly, had his way with Bibby most of the night) threatened to beat Bibby off the dribble and get free in the lane but Bibby stripped the ball which was recovered by Josh Smith who threw ahead to Joe Johnson who was fouled.
  2. Johnson only made one of his two free throws (This team does nothing to simplify matters for themselves.) so Bobby Jackson had a shot to tie the game with 9 seconds left. Jackson missed. Bibby boxed out Jason Thompson sufficiently well to draw Thompson's sixth foul as the rookie tried to grab the rebound.
The second play tantalizes. Sure, it might be a one-off play, a veteran getting the better of a rookie for a split second but couldn't it also be a first glimpse of the team making a concerted effort to improve their pitiful defensive rebounding? When was the last time Mike Bibby boxed someone out on the low block? Especially in his 45th minute of game action.

Al Horford (13 defensive rebounds) and Marvin Williams (7 defensive rebounds) led the improved effort ont he defensive glass. Sure Sacramento's only 24th in the league in offensive rebounding but the Hawks played without Josh Smith* and Zaza Pachulia for long stretches due to foul trouble that never materialized. Smith sat with two fouls for the final 19:32 of the first half (which ended with the Hawks down 4). He played the entire second half (during which the Hawks outscored the Kings by 9 points) and finished the game with three personal fouls. Pachulia was +10 in 9:47 in the first half. While he sat (and Solomon Jones played and played and fouled Kevin Martin on a made three-pointer and played some more) for the final 9:44 of the first half, the Hawks were outscored by 10 points.

*Who is apparently trying to stop wasting possessions on three-point attempts (just four in his last 17 games) without becoming a better basketball player. He doesn't make those long two-point jumpers appreciably more often than three-pointers, and, on the infrequent occasions they go in they're only worth, you know, two points. Factor in career lows in FT%, blocks (both in volume and rate), and rebound rate (both offensive and total) and Smith's season is, to date, a massive disappointment.

Horford complemented his rebounding effort with a strong offensive game, scoring 18 points on 12 shots, grabbing 5 offensive rebounds, and dishing 4 assists against a single turnover. Williams continued his offensive struggles since Joe Johnson returned to the lineup. In Johnson's absence, Williams, serving as a primary option on offense, scored 52 points in two games, 29 of those points at the free throw line. In the five games since Johnson has returned, Williams has scored just 49 points and attempted only 17 free throws.

Perhaps, if the Hawks were to integrate all of their offensive talent into the offense they wouldn't have to struggle to beat an 11-win team that was without 40% of their starting lineup. Maybe not, though, as there would still be the defensive mediocrity to overcome.

But, hey, the Hawks are 10 games over .500 and have a three-and-a-half game cushion for the fourth seed in the East. Things could be, nay, things have been much worse. I'll try and keep the gnawing concern that there's no good way to get this collection of players (and contracts) from 45 to 55 wins at bay until the off-season.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 18th Open Thread: Atlanta (31-22) @ Sacramento (11-43)

TIP-OFF: 10pm


RADIO: Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Flip Murray is out. Othello Hunter has been assigned to the D-League and will be with the Anaheim Arsenal through Saturday.

INJURY/TRANSACTION REPORT: Bobby Brown is out tonight. Brad Miller and John Salmons are on their way to Chicago.


Sactown Royalty

PREVIOUSLY, THE SACRAMENTO KINGS...lost their final five games prior to the All-Star Break, 13 of their last 14, and 25 of their last 29.

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

Lakers 96 Hawks 83



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 93.6 0.89 38.1 22.6 27.8 16
LAL 93.6 1.03 47.4 5.2 53.8 24.6

I find halftime of the West Coast games to be something a gauntlet so I try and reserve a few small tasks* to complete around 11:45 EST so I don't fall asleep and miss the second half. Before last night's game I hadn't considered that this might be an issue for the traveling party.

*Procrastination with a purpose.

Not that the first half offered much to indicate that the Hawks were an especially energized bunch to begin with. Atlanta couldn't do anything against the Laker defense, struggling both to create shots (17-45 FGA, 1-7 3PTA: 38.9 eFG%) and get to the free throw line (just 3 FTA) throughout the first half. Defensively, the Hawks kept themselves in touch by forcing nine turnovers and played decent defense on the Lakers' initial shot but allowed Los Angeles to grab 15 of 29 offensive rebound opportunities.

Most of their struggles carried over into (or became even more pronounced in) the third quarter (Lakers offensive rebounds: 7, Hawks defensive rebounds: 1) and, when augmented by the Lakers beginning to make shots, put the game out of hand early. I made the note "BALLGAME" with 9:58 left in third when, down 36-51 and coming out of a timeout the Hawks created nothing better than a Josh Smith 22-foot jump shot.

With a (presumably) winnable game in Sacramento tonight, Mike Woodson chose not to contest the fourth quarter. Mario West contests everything, however, and provided some cosmetic repair to the final score. I don't think his 7 point, 4 rebound, 5 steal performance (in 6:42!) will mean much in the long run but if it suggests to the head coach that his energy guy should maybe play more than 10 seconds at a clip we may have reason to look back on this game fondly. If not, we'll simply recall this as a night when the Hawks were put in their place.

Mike Woodson sounds a familiar lament:
"We played a quarter and a half and then they hit us in the mouth and they shut us down. Coming out in the third quarter, we were just flat, so flat, to the point where, when they hit us we didn't respond."
Woodson on rebounding:
"Just starting with the forwards. They played almost 30 minutes a game and get just three rebounds between them. That’s a problem."
Joe Johnson:
"Our rebounding attitude is obviously not sufficient. It was their will against our will and they wanted it more. We watched rebounds come off. We’re not trying to pursue it and get it. We don’t get it unless it comes right to us … that just kills me."
Johnson played 30 minutes and grabbed one defensive rebound.

Peachtree Hoops:
Josh Smith going through an entire game without a rebound is just horrible effort. I can't think of any other excuse. But it was not just him. The whole team was bad. An example from the second quarter that I will try to type through my tears. A Laker shoots a long jumper. No one boxes out Pau Gasol. A problem of course, but Joe leaves Kobe and stands directly behind Pau either planning to out tap the 7 footer for the ball or to get an over the back foul. Instead of doing either, the ball simply goes to a now unboxed out Kobe on a long rebound for an easy score. This is more than bad effort; it is bad basketball and bad basketball leads to triple doubles in the third quarter.
Hawks Str8Talk:
Blowouts happen to teams who rely completely and solely on perimeter scoring (and the Joe Johnson isolation play) to spur their offense.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17th Open Thread: Atlanta (31-21) @ Los Angeles Lakers (42-10)

TIP-OFF: 10:30pm


Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Flip Murray is out. Othello Hunter has been assigned to the D-League and will be with the Anaheim Arsenal through Saturday.

LAKERS INJURY REPORT: Andrew Bynum is out.


Forum Blue and Gold

PREVIOUSLY, THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS...lost their final pre All-Star Break game 113-109 in Utah but still entered (and exited, for that matter) the break with the league's best record.

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

Owners Back In Court Today

Far less (at least on a moment-to-moment basis) interesting to watch than the Hawks' West Coast road trip, events perhaps more important to the franchise's future are set to transpire in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County (MD) beginning today.

Kristi E. Swartz will cover the trial for the AJC. From her long piece on Saturday:
A court document from Hawks and Thrashers co-owner Steve Belkin probably says it best:

“At this time, the parties dispute all issues in this case.”

Belkin is suing his seven business partners — four who live in Atlanta and three who are in the Washington, D.C., area — over how much his 30 percent stake in the teams and Philips Arena’s operating rights are worth. The owners want to buy out Belkin, who lives in Boston, but the contract that spells out that process is so vague that they haven’t been able to agree on a process or a price.

The dispute will come to a head Tuesday in Montgomery County, Md., Circuit Court. It will be up to Judge Durke Thompson to make sense out of the contract and decide whether it’s Belkin or the seven other partners who can select the next appraiser to place a value on the teams and arena operating rights.

The trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, is in Maryland because the owners previously agreed to litigate there. Each side has the right to appeal the judge’s decision, which could drag the already protracted legal process on for another nine months to a year, leaving the ownership of the teams in limbo yet again.
Resolution still does not appear imminent but any progress toward the time when someone owns the team outright and must take responsibility for the direction of the franchise is welcome.

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Flip Murray in Los Angeles or Sacramento

Sekou Smith reports:
The Hawks will have to play the first two games without sixth man Flip Murray, who will not be with the team due to a family emergency.
Mike Woodson speaks:
"That’s going to make things tougher because Flip is a big part of what we do and a huge factor for us off the bench. But we’ve had to play without guys all year in some capacity and we’ve always found a way to dig in and compete. So that’s what we’ll have to do now."
Acie Law's two-night audition begins in a little more than 31 hours.

The Most Important* NBA News of All-Star Weekend

*Unless you're a Miami or Toronto fan.

It didn't involve Joe Johnson finishing third in the HORSE competition, playing 21 scoreless minutes (with 5 turnovers) in the All-Star Game, or Mike Bibby barely tripping over the first hurdle in the Three-Point Shootout.

In New York Times Magazine Michael Lewis profiles Shane Battier and Daryl Morey to survey the current state of advanced stats (Or at least as much as Morey and the Rockets were willing to reveal about how they evaluate players.) in the NBA:
Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

There are other things Morey has noticed too, but declines to discuss as there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things. The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the Rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the team’s elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasn’t historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game. (“Someone created the box score,” Morey says, “and he should be shot.”) How many points a player scores, for example, is no true indication of how much he has helped his team. Another example: if you want to know a player’s value as a ­rebounder, you need to know not whether he got a rebound but the likelihood of the team getting the rebound when a missed shot enters that player’s zone.
This is a must-read.

March 1st Game Against Cavaliers Picked Up By ESPN

Official press release:
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has announced that the March 1 Atlanta Hawks home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will move to 8 p.m. eastern and televised nationally on ESPN.

“We are extremely pleased that Hawks fans nationwide will get an opportunity to see our team next month,” said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, “and while we’ve enjoyed a great deal of success during the season’s first half, we expect to continue delivering that same type of effort as we prepare for the stretch run to the playoffs.”

This will be the third meeting of the year between these two teams, as Cleveland beat Atlanta 110-96 at Quicken Loans Arena on November 22, with the Hawks returning the favor a month later at Philips Arena (December 13), 97-92.

The broadcast will also air locally on SportSouth and on the radio at 790 the Zone (WQXI Sportsradio 790 AM).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All-Star Weekend Open Thread

  • UPDATED 2/14 @ 8:28am CST
Here's the Hawks-centric All-Star schedule:

Friday, February 13th, 9pm: Rookie Challenge
  • Al Horford scored 10 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, and was a team best +12 in just 18:54 as the Sophomores beat the Rookies 122-116.
Saturday, February 14th, 8pm: Three-Point Shootout, HORSE
Sunday, February 15th, 8pm: All-Star Game
My All-Star Weekend viewing will be catch-as-catch-can but I'll be on alert for any news out of Phoenix and will strive to provide relevant commentary.

Until such news occurs, consider this an open thread for all your All-Star Weekend thoughts, Hawks-centric or not.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hawks 99 Pistons 95



Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 84.3 1.17 54 25.7 17.1 8.3
DET 84.3 1.13 52.5 15.2 27.5 11.9

I think it's nice* to end the first half of the season with a rather typical 2008-09 Hawks performance.

*That's just me practicing for my return to the Midwest this weekend.

With the exception of Mike Bibby's quiet night, most everything went according to plan.
  • Joe Johnson converted his shot opportunities both easy and difficult.
  • Josh Smith took some terrible shots but did enough else (7 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) to negate his attempt at self-negation.
  • Marvin Williams and Al Horford got fewer chances than their offensive talent deserves but were efficient when given the chance.
  • Flip Murray took over the game for both good (the third quarter) and ill (his last three shot attempts) but mostly for good.
And thus the Hawks enter the All-Star break with 31 wins and a three-and-a-half game lead for the fourth seed in the East (plus the tiebreaker over the Pistons should it come to that).

Mike Woodson:
"That shows that we've got a lot of guys that are hungry last year after getting a taste of success in the first round against the world champs."
Joe Johnson:
"We just came out with a lot of intensity, and we tried to sustain it and give ourselves a chance down the stretch. This is a statement, but we still have a long way to go. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We want to stay humble, keep working hard and try to have a great second half."
Al Horford:
"This was just a huge game for us, and I think we all understood the importance of this game and finishing strong going into the All-Star break. For me, each game I feel better. Tonight I finally felt like I was back to myself, and now hopefully we can get a little momentum going into the break and beyond."

Peachtree Hoops
Hawks Str8talk
Piston Powered

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11th Open Thread: Atlanta (30-21) @ Detroit (27-23)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm


Hawks Radio Network, Audio League Pass


Speedy Claxton blah blah blah rah-tah-tee-tah.

DETROIT INJURY REPORT: Allen Iverson (flu) and Rodney Stuckey (sprained right ankle) are game-time decisions.


Piston Powered, Detroit Bad Boys, Need4Sheed

PREVIOUSLY, THE DETROIT PISTONS...played without Allen Iverson and blew a 15-point fourth quarter lead to lose 107-102 in Chicago last night despite 30 points from their (now firmly entrenched) sixth-man Rip Hamilton.

The Hawks won the lone meeting between the teams earlier this season, 85-78 on December 21st in Atlanta.

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