Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why the Hawks Have Lost So Badly Every Time They've Played the Magic This Season

With all due respect, it has less to do with defensive game plans* than Atlanta's complete and utter inability to score against the Magic.

*Though, as Milwaukee showed in the fourth quarter Monday night, playing four-out/one-in seriously limits Josh Smith's effectiveness as help defender while also exposing his limitations as an on-the-ball defender and his disinclination to close out on shooters.

Atlanta's offense vs. Orlando and the rest of the league...

Opp Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ORL 88.1
43 13.5
18.4 14.5
Rest of League
89.2 1.145 50.9

Despite there being fewer offensive rebounds and fewer turnovers in the games against the Magic than those against the rest of the league there's also one fewer possession per game. Combine that fact with both observation and Atlanta's eFG% against Orlando* and it's clear that the Hawks get neither quick nor easy shots against the Magic.

*it breaks down to 41.7 2PTFG% and 31.6 3PTFG%

As I wrote after the overtime win against Charlotte Friday night, without a second manner of attack, the Hawks remain susceptible to good defensive teams that prevent the creation of advantageous one-on-one matchups leaving isolated individual Hawk players attacking a defense at a numerical disadvantage. This applies not just to Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford. When the Hawks make an effort to get the ball to Al Horford on the left block he remains just as isolated* from his immobile teammates as does Johnson when the Hawks clear out the left side for him.

*Perhaps more so when matched up against a superior post defender.

Not that Atlanta hasn't struggled defensively against Orlando as well. you don't lose three games by a combined 67 points by being especially solid in any facet of the game. But bad defense* isn't nearly as unusual for this team as bad offense.

*You'll notice every story like this relies on quotes rather than evidence to make the case the Hawks have ever shown any ability of playing consistently good defense.

Atlanta's defense vs. Orlando and the rest of the league...

Opp Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ORL 88.1
56.2 28.6
26.1 13.9
Rest of League
89.2 1.081 49.7

It's not Orlando's three-point shooting that's killed Atlanta in the first three meetings. They've made 35.4% of their threes against Atlanta. Their season average is 36.8%. It's not especially Dwight Howard (though his occupation of Al Horford's attention has some value not represented in Howard's box score line) who has scored slightly above his season average (21.7 vs. 18.5) against the Hawks but while shooting slightly worse from the field (60.5 vs. 61.2) and the line (57.6 vs. 60).

It's been the Hawks inability to guard Anthony Johnson (17 points on 10 shots in Jameer Nelson's absence on Thanksgiving night), JJ Redick (9 points on 6 shots (4-4 2PTFGA) on Thanksgiving, 17 points on 12 shots in the first game in Orlando), Ryan Anderson (32 points on 21 shots in the two games in Orlando), Matt Barnes (18 points on 11 shots in the first game in Orlando), Jason Williams (14 points on 9 shots in the first game in Orlando), and Jameer Nelson (5 of 6 on 2PTFGA and 4-4 from the line in the second game in Orlando) due to their inability either to stop dribble penetration or protect the rim with Al Horford occupied by Howard and Josh Smith 20+ feet from the basket with Lewis or Anderson that has made them look even worse than normal defensively. With Horford and Smith unable to defend multiple spots on the floor, Orlando has made at least 51% of their two-point attempts in each of the three games and 57.9% of their two-point attempts over the three games.

Through excellent spacing, complementary skill sets, and multiple points of attack (especially now that Vince Carter appears both healthy and settled) Orlando makes their opponents guard all five players at all times. The Hawks never have five good defensive players on the court at the same time. Nor is it a realistic option for them to put five good defensive players on the court without further weakening their offensive attack.

It's certainly possible the Hawks can beat the Magic tonight. It's probable that they'll be more competitive than they've been in the three previous meetings. It's unlikely either will be accomplished in a sustainable manner should this be a preview of a second-round playoff series. The Magic are both better than the Hawks (in absolute terms) and a bad matchup given Atlanta's tactical inflexibility and defensive limitations.

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