Tuesday, August 31, 2010

D-League Digest: Grading Teams' Use of the D-League

Part four of a six-part series grading each NBA team on their use of the D-League, from Matt Hubert of D-League Digest.
Atlanta Hawks: 0.92 GPA
High Grade: D (RU)
Low Grade: F (THN)
Players Assigned: 3 (2 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 15 (1 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Bret LaGree, Hoopinion): The Hawks get an F. They assigned Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter to Anaheim for 1 and 3 games respectively in 2008. That’s the sum total of their recent involvement unless you count signing Mario West last season, which had more to do with his previous work with the Hawks than anything he did in his intervening time in the D-League.

Based on their actions I assume the Hawks have no interest in the league as a source of free agents or as a means to develop their own players.

Final Assessment: The Hawks’ usage of the D-League has been trending in the wrong direction. They had four call-ups in the 2002-03 season and three in 2003-04, but after two apiece during the 2004-05, 05-06, and 06-07 seasons, they’ve had just one in the past two seasons and haven’t been particularly active in terms of assignments either. The decision to call-up of Mario West shows the Hawks’ lack of investment in the D-League as most people believe there were better prospects available at the time.

Hey, at least the Hawks didn't get an incomplete.

Jamal Crawford, Al Horford Contract Extension Roundup

At Ball Don't Lie, Kelly Dwyer aptly explains why Jamal Crawford should want a new deal or a new team and why the Hawks shouldn't offer an extension:
You see, the Hawks have declined to offer last year's Sixth Man Award winner a contract extension, which I think they're right to do. Assuming they pass on trading Jamal, the Hawks would have traded for the best two years of Crawford's prime, while admittedly paying a hefty price (right at $20 million, over two years) for the rights to it. Extending this guy beyond 2010-11 at anything more than half of what he's making now would be a bit daft.

But Crawford, assuming he and his representatives start to do a better job of keeping their wishes under wraps, is well within his rights to try and push for a deal (or new deal, with the extension) before training camp hits. A full season with a new team would allow for that new team - provided some approximation of the current salary cap rules carry over to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement - to go over the salary cap limit to re-sign him after this deal expires. And Crawford - a one-dimensional player who would be 31 at the time of his free agency - doesn't want to be seeking out a new deal amongst what few teams have salary cap space next summer.
Mark Bradley sees Crawford's demand as a microcosm of a franchise in competitive and financial limbo:
There was a time when the Hawks seemed a rousing success story: A team of young guys growing up together and learning to win. What we’re seeing is that NBA success carries a higher and higher price. A franchise cannot hold its core together for years on end without paying dearly, and paying dearly essentially means overpaying. The Hawks overpaid Johnson because they had no real alternative: To lose him would have meant losing much of the credibility they’ve spent the past decade trying to re-establish.

The price for credibility, alas, was flexibility. The Hawks have almost none. To give Jamal Crawford what he wants would be throwing more big money at a shooting guard already past 30 in the same offseason that has seen them lavish a six-year contract on a 29-year-old who plays the same position. To trade Crawford would be to weaken the team he helped lift from 47 victories to 53. There might be a happy ending to this latest Hawks tempest, but I’ll be darned if I see it.
Sekou Smith concentrates on how Jamal Crawford and Al Horford are linked in terms of the Hawks' financial future and how the team's actions show they're already planning to be without Crawford by the start of the 2011-12 season:
Muddying matters even more for the Hawks is the status of All-Star center Al Horford, who is eligible for an extension of his rookie deal (and according to HT sources will receive a near-max extension offer before the Oct. 31 deadline).

If the Hawks are forced to choose between Crawford and Horford, Crawford might as well pack his bags and be prepared to move on for the fourth time in four years (and there is no indication that the Hawks intend to hand out lucrative extensions to both players, especially after they spent $124 million to keep Johnson this summer).

No one can dispute the impact he had on the Hawks and the fact that with him they remain a dangerous team in a stacked Eastern Conference playoff chase. But making extension/trade demands surely won’t endear him to the fans or to an organization that is extremely sensitive about its already fragile public image. It’d also be a terrible welcome-to-the-job gift for Hawks coach Larry Drew, whose relationship with Crawford was rock solid last season.

But the first sign that his idea of his value and the Hawks’ perception of his value didn’t jive is when second-year point guard Jeff Teague became the first option to replace Mike Bibby as the starting point guard instead of Crawford.

If Crawford backs down from his stance and shows up to training camp with the Hawks, he’s tossed whatever leverage he might have had in the trash can and basically accepted the fact that he’s the most expendable person in the organization. Truth be told, the Hawks already have his replacement under contract. Rookie guard Jordan Crawford would just have to be rushed into duty a little sooner than perhaps expected.
Smith's solution? Crawford and Josh Smith for Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith.

It's an interesting hypothetical, one which, were it to come to pass would certainly challenge the idea that defense wins championships.

At Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt Helin underlines Al Horford's importance to the Hawks and how the league's economic structure works to his advantage:
The question is how much to pay him -- Smith reports a near max deal is coming. Is that fair market value? Depends on how you look at the market. If Rudy Gay is worth max money in Memphis, then Horford is in that ballpark. If you are of the opinion that only the Kobe/LeBron one-named guys who can fill a building are max guys, than no. But then you hate the whole economic structure of the NBA (and probably are an owner). Either way, Horford is in for a big payday.

Horford averaged 14 points a game last season on a team that barely ever runs a play for him. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith get all the shots, Horford shoots a good 55 percent but can't get a touch for long stretches. Maybe the motion offense new coach Larry Drew is bringing in will change that.

Horford can also defend. People that only saw him try to stick with Dwight Howard in the playoffs may dispute that, but that's unfair. First, nobody defends Dwight Howard well. Second, Horford is charged with protecting the rim on a team where the defensively challenged Mike Bibby and Johnson are your starting guards. There are guys slashing into the lane with impunity. Horford does a lot to keep order down there, as much as you could hope for.

Horford may really be a four, in the sense that you can put a Pau Gasol or Chris Bosh at the five but they are really fours, too. Not that Horford is quite on the level of those two, but the step down isn't as far as people think. He's good, just in a place where his skills have not been well utilized. Maybe that will change.
Kelly Dwyer advises the Hawks that they have options when it comes to extending Horford:
Unless you feel as if Al Horford(notes) is some tempestuous cry baby who couldn't handle the perceived shame of not being handed a barely bargained-on contract before the Halloween deadline, why bid against absolutely nobody else for his services? Why not let the market - those who have money, those who are willing to blink first and offer money knowing you could match the offer - do the work for you? And, better yet, why not wait until the NBA's salary structure is more to your liking, Atlanta, with revenue sharing likely tilting more in the league's direction, and with a lowered salary cap?

(Because, come on, the league is just too far down this road to try and shoe-horn a hard cap in. Owners might talk a big game about wanting it, but beyond all else, they also want to win, and stroke that ego. Which is why they overpay players in the first place.)

Al Horford is not a tempestuous cry baby. He's an exemplary worker who I have ranked in the top five at his position, despite the probability that this man is playing out of position. He's about as professional as professionals get, and he's only entering his fourth season. And with the idea that the Hawks could actually deign to feature him offensively this season, he can only get better. Which would, in turn, drive up his price, I know.

But if you're due to sign him to a "near-max" deal, that's about the most another team can sign him to next summer. And that's even if the NBA's salary limits stay in the same range (which they won't). Even if he was an unrestricted free agent this summer, the most another team could sign him to would be a "near-max" deal, a deal that you would no doubt match. So why force it now, when you can sign him to something that, I don't know, could allow you some freedom financially in the wake of the nuttiest NBA contract extension since ... well, wait a week.
Lang Greene thoroughly summarizes the situation at Hoops World and concludes that the Hawks hold all the leverage with Crawford:
The Hawks hold all the leverage at this point. The organization has until June 30, 2011 to extend Crawford to a new deal.

Taking their time allows the franchise the opportunity to analyze Jordan Crawford's long term potential and allow next season's trading block to fully materialize. Patience also allows the team's performance and whether it has peaked to be assessed and lastly a slow approach allows the squad to square away Horford's contract situation --- which is the biggest priority currently on the agenda.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jamal Crawford Wants To Be Traded

A month ago, ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported that Jamal Crawford wanted a contract extension. For obvious reasons (the Joe Johnson contract, the pending extension for Al Horford, the pending CBA negotiations, Crawford's age and game) that extension hasn't materialized. So Crawford has issued an ultimatum: pay me or trade me.

Broussard, tonight:
Crawford, the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, told the Hawks that if they don't want to extend his contract, they should trade him, sources said.

The Hawks offered Joe Johnson an extension last year, but Sund does not typically give extensions, preferring instead to let players complete their contracts. Crawford is expecting Sund to take that approach in their meeting, sources said.

But with a potential lockout looming and the next Collective Bargaining Agreement expected to be less favorable to the players, the 30-year-old Crawford, who averaged 18 points last season, wants security.

Crawford is the latest in a growing chorus of top players this summer to express a desire to be traded. In July, Chris Paul was looking to leave New Orleans, and more recently, Carmelo Anthony has reportedly told the Denver Nuggets that he wants out.
Unfortunately for the 30-year-old Crawford, he woefully lacks the leverage with his current employer that either the 25-year-old premier point guard in the league or the demonstrably younger and better scorer possesses.

The Hawks aren't in a much better position. Extending Crawford would be the lone
(non-injury) way to make the Joe Johnson contract seem worse and, given their overall financial situation, appears wildly unlikely to occur. Furthermore, unlike the Hornets or Nuggets, the Hawks can't expect to get much in a trade for Crawford. 14 months ago, with 2 years and $19 million owed him, Crawford brought Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton's expiring contract in a trade.

Coming off a career year, and with just 1 year and $10 million owed him, Crawford's trade value is likely higher than that now but it's difficult to envision another team both being able to take advantage of Crawford's skill and to live with his weaknesses as the Hawks, under Mike Woodson did last season. Most teams expect their guards to play some semblance of defense and, if they already have an All-Star shooting guard and one or more All-Star caliber big men, tend not to have a need for a sixth man with a usage rate over 25%. The better part of the past decade gave plenty of evidence as to what happens to teams that don't have at least three players clearly better than Crawford.

There's no reason to begrudge Crawford's personal financial motives but, from the team's perspective, I suspect it doesn't make him more attractive to the rest of the league. That Al Horford, Marvin Williams, and (to a lesser extent) Josh Smith are underutilized in the offense might mean that the Hawks could survive a trade made through clenched teeth for the expressed purpose of getting rid of Crawford lest he poison the team atmosphere. Given the team's lack of a proven point guard, a backup small forward, and a fourth big man, it's far from implausible that trading Crawford could better balance a team that spent $123.7 million and a first-round draft pick on shooting guards this summer.

Long-term, whether Crawford plays out the final year of his deal in Atlanta or gets traded, it's unlikely to make much difference for the Hawks in terms of the salary cap as Michael Cunningham explains:
Atlanta has about $50 million in salaries committed to 2011-12, including $18 million for Johnson and $12.4 million for forward Josh Smith.

In addition to those committed salaries, the Hawks might need to maintain flexibility to retain All-Star center Al Horford. Atlanta can work out a contract extension with Horford by November; if not, he would become a restricted free agent next season and could sign an offer sheet with another team that the Hawks would have the right to match.
Crawford shouldn't be expected to duplicate his production from last season even in the best of circumstances. Having spent freely on role players whose tenure with the team preceded Crawford, the Hawks don't appear to have the luxury of gambling on Crawford being a pleasant surprise again.

This Week's Link Roundup

  • Wyn Douglas has created a player movement flow chart for every NBA team. Take a look at how Jason Terry, Alan Henderson, Lorenzen Wright, and the 3rd pick of the 2001 Draft lead to Joe Johnson.
  • At ESPN.com (Insider) Chris Broussard ranks the Hawks 15th in the NBA:
    For all the excitement (ed. -- What?) over the return of Joe Johnson, fact is, the Hawks have hit their ceiling. They may win 50 games but they are a second-round playoff team at best, a step below the real EC contenders: Miami, Boston, Orlando and probably Chicago. Collins and Powell won't improve Atlanta's fate against real bigs like Dwight Howard. The Hawks will be good again, but no way they threaten to win the East.
    Accompanying Broussard's analysis there's a brief, early look at John Hollinger's projections. His projection for Josh Smith looks encouraging.
  • Speaking of Josh Smith, long two-point jumper apologist Kelly Dwyer ranks him as the league's 7th-best power forward:
    Smith just got it together last season. And when you're a player of Josh's considerable skill and athletic ability, getting it together leads to big things. He's just an all-rounder, tossing in a relatively paltry 16 points and nine rebounds (and that's rounded up), but shooting over 50 percent while averaging 3.7 combined steals/blocks and 4.2 assists. My man, that works. Famously, at least around these parts, he also gave up on 3-pointers last season. After averaging 112 3-point attempts between 2005 and 2009, Josh attempted just seven last season, and to these eyes nearly all of them were last-second heaves from half court or beyond.
  • Dwyer ranks (not a "true center") Al Horford as the league's 4th-best center:
    Al Horford can defend. The Hawks don't really stand out amongst this league's best defensive team, not with those point guards, but Horford just tends to cover all angles and save his team's bacon time and time again. 14 and 10 with a block, too, last year. While shooting 55 percent, and not having many plays run for him. The idea that Al Horford might be a top five center in this league might feel a little off, but he is all over the place defensively, and a smooth scorer offensively. And he's nowhere near as injury prone as, seemingly, everyone on this list.
  • Erick Dampier? Sure, if the team is willing to carry a 14th player that would fill an obvious hole and to make the decision to lock up Jason Collins (relatively) early look even more curious.
  • Wherein Travis Outlaw makes me feel young.
  • I'm eagerly anticipating the countdown of the greatest Hawks of all-time. Jason Terry starts things off at #16.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Poll: Who Should the Hawks Sign For the 13th Roster Spot?

Earlier today, I linked to the ShamSports post about available 2010-11 NBA free agents.

Michael Cunningham reports the Hawks have "some degree of interest" in Francisco Elson, Brian Skinner, and Josh Boone.

Those options are uninspiring enough for me to try to talk myself into Pape Sy filling the final roster spot.

What say you, dear reader? I've embedded a poll with 10 options for that final roster spot. Some reasonable, some fanciful, some all-too-plausible. If you don't feature any of the selections, mark it "other" and please specify your alternative in the comments.

Who Should the Hawks Sign For the 13th Roster Spot?
Josh Boone
Francisco Elson
Nick Fazekas
Trey Gilder
Randolph Morris
Garret Siler
Brian Skinner
Pape Sy
Kyle Weaver
Mario West
other (please specify)
pollcode.com free polls

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Comprehensive List of Candidates For the 13th Roster Spot

It's at ShamSports and includes Mario West and everything*.

*Including, but not limited to, a picture of Dan Dickau's Maserati.

Ball Don't Lie: Dwyer: Small Forward Rankings

Kelly Dwyer's positional rankings continue with the small forwards (players ranked 11-20, player ranked 1-10).

Marvin Williams is ranked 21st:
There are some nights where Williams will play much better than those who are listed ahead of him in these particular rankings, but overall he just doesn't stand out. Doesn't do anything spectacularly nor poorly, and is quite replaceable. Just right in the middle of everything, a Milford Man through and through. Appreciate his production, though. And his taciturn tone.
Josh Childress is ranked 22nd:
This seems like a bit of a jump, and in a way it is, I guess. Childress hasn't played in the NBA for the last two years, preferring to spend his time with a team in Greece. Before then, he was merely an above-average small forward for the Hawks and now he's playing on a Suns team that is loaded (clearly, according to this list) with small forwards. So why this high? Because he's an efficient, sturdy scorer who can hit threes on the break, he'll defend and rebound well, and he turned only 27 two months ago.
I still dream of a world where they co-exist and complement each other.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Links For a Long Weekend

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Might Individual Stats Stay Consistent As Roles Change

A fair question given the anticipation over Larry Drew's new half-court offense, no? Neil Paine studied...I'll let him describe it:
I took every player since 1974 who was between 24 and 34 years old and played at least 1,000 minutes in back-to-back seasons. I then sorted those players by the absolute change in their possession usage %, and took the top quartile as my sample of players who definitely changed roles. For these 1,036 players, I ran correlation coefficients on their year-to-year performances in these offensive rate stats: True shooting % (PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA))), Assist Rate (% of teammate FG assisted when on the court), Turnover Rate (TOV/Possessions used), Free throw rate (FTA/FGA), Offensive rebounding % (% of available OReb pulled down while on the court).
The conclusion:
True shooting % is easily the least consistent stat when a player changes roles, which seems to back up the concept of skill curves. When a player has a high TS% and a low possession %, it may be that his efficiency is inflated by taking relatively easy shots, attempts that comprise a smaller proportion of his shot selection when he is asked to increase his usage. Along the same lines, turnover rate was the 2nd-least consistent offensive rate stat when changing roles, suggesting that not only is shooting % dependent on the player's usage, but the ability to avoid turnovers is as well.

Finally, free throw rate was in the middle of the pack in terms of correlations. I expected it to be high, alongside OR% and AsR, but it makes sense that it would be lower when you consider that it at least partially represents a player's ability to get shots close to the basket... Just like the ratio of high-percentage shots to low-percentage ones decreases when you take on a bigger role (as evidenced by TS%'s low correlation), it stands to reason that the ratio of close shots to longer ones also decreases with an increase in usage, albeit at a slower rate.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ESPN.com: Summer Forecast: Best and Worst Coaching Changes

More results of the voting by the panel of experts are revealed. This time the categories are best and worst coaching changes of the off-season. The Atlanta Hawks' decision to replace Mike Woodson with Larry Drew finished second* in the latter category.

The voting results are augmented by a few hundred words from me about the decision to hire Drew. My premise:
It's easy to understand skepticism over the Hawks' hiring of Larry Drew as their new head coach. As with any first-time head coach, Drew carries a certain burden of proof. But a larger share of the doubt appears to be cast upon (and reasonably so) those who made the decision and the degree to which they've presented Drew an opportunity to succeed.
Should you wish to read the whole thing...

The decision also got a vote as the best coaching change. In fact, every coaching change received votes in both categories.

Monday, August 16, 2010

SI.com: Mannix: Offseason Grades

Chris Mannix joins his SI.com colleague Ian Thomsen as the rare advocate for the Joe Johnson contract on the basis of the Joe Johnson is worth 40 wins calculation (work not shown):
Yes, Joe Johnson's six-year, $119 million deal was excessive, but where would the Hawks be without him? All the progress Atlanta had made over the last five seasons would have been flushed had a player of Johnson's caliber left.
Joe Johnson's contract actually costs $123.7 million.

It's not the most coherent report card. Larry Drew is complimented for his:
...plans to run a more balanced offense that will emphasize the low-post play of undersized center Al Horford and forward Josh Smith.
How that sentiment (with which I agree) reconciles with the necessity of retaining Joe Johnson regardless of cost is unclear to me and is likely the result of assigned, rigidly formatted work due on deadline.

Those are the two things Mannix likes about the Hawks' off-season. (Which may explain the C+ grade he gives them.) As for the two things Mannix didn't like, the first laments the lack of a "true center" and the second the lack of a point guard in whom the Hawks (and their fans) can be reasonably confident. The latter is a thoroughly fair and too often overlooked point. The latter, as I've previously expressed, is both too familiar and unconvincing dependent, as it is, on ignoring Zaza Pachulia.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Qualifying Expectations For the New Offense, or, What About Defense?

Disclaimer: Trying to spin multiple posts over consecutive days out of a single subject is made difficult by the presence of astute readers and colleagues.

Larry Drew's as-yet-unseen motion offense is great fun to contemplate and project upon but, from a practical perspective, it's important to remember that, over the course of 82 games, the Hawks were excellent offensively. Now, that didn't count for much in two playoff series against top-3 defenses and it's perfectly fair to hope and argue for a less-predictable offense to pay dividends in that context even if it's not as efficient over 82 games.

I'll admit that it's hard for me to imagine these Hawks running a motion offense. My conception of the players has been significantly influenced by Mike Woodson's offense. Evn if Drew's offense helps Horford and Williams and Josh Smith fulfill their abilities it might stifle the abilities of Jamal Crawford and, to a lesser extent, Mike Bibby. For all the reasonable criticism Woodson received, he probably didn't get sufficient credit for getting career years out of Flip Murray and Crawford. In addition to the improbability of Crawford repeating a career year at the age of 30, his skills, because they are so individualistic, are unlikely to translate perfectly to a motion offense. The lack of basketball instincts that so limits him as defender and rebounder could further suppress his production in 2010-11 if he's asked to do more in a team context. On the other hand, his ability to create shots for himself and his fine work on the pick-and-roll with Al Horford could serve as a fine safety net.

That Drew's system doesn't figure to be as extreme a low turnover offense worries me with regard to the team's already dire transition defense. As does the fact that all the public attention has been directed toward improving a generally effective offense and (unless switching every screen was an even worse idea than it seemed at the time) the average-at-best defense has not been addressed at all. Unless Jeff Teague plays a lot and proves a useful defender, it's difficult to see how Larry Drew will coax a significantly better defensive performance out of the same personnel that frustrated Mike Woodson.

It wasn't just Woodson that capitulated in the Orlando series. The players exhibited a substantial unwillingness to compete in difficult/uncomfortable circumstances as well. I fear that weakness may still be lurking within. In the best of circumstances, it's difficult to execute at a high level over the course of a season. The Lakers don't always deign to run the triangle but they can get away with taking the ocassional shortcut because they're good defensively, they have Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson's there to point them in the right direction. The Hawks have none of those lodestars with which to re-orient themselves should they go off-track.

There's a general human reluctance to embrace change. Whether or not the Hawks give themselves up to a new system and stick with it through the difficult patches is a fair question. With the relative lack of commitment (considering the amount and length of his contract) the organization has shown Drew, his ambition to remake the team's offensive identity is laudable. The new offense could well make the 2010-11 team more interesting* than the 2009-10 team. It may not remake the team to the same degree addressing the team's defensive weaknesses, both in terms of personnel and tactics, might.

*There's a certain selfish appeal to this that I try and repress.

ShamSports: Creative Financing in the NBA, 2010

There's little Hawks-related in this epic post outside of a mention of no-trade clause Jason Collins has by virtue of being a player on a one-year contract whose team will have early or full Bird rights on him at the end of the season and the use of Joe Johnson's contract as an example of the opposite of creative financing but it's a must-read for salary cap heads and/or anyone wishing to read the greatest explanation yet of how the Miami Heat got so far below and then so far over the salary cap in the same off-season.

Trail Blazers Hire Steve Rosenberry

The Hawks are in the market for a new Director of Pro Personnel/College Scouting because the Portland Trail Blazers have hired Steve Rosenberry to be an Assistant GM.

"I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with Rich, and while I have tremendous respect for him as a basketball person, he’s been a great friend throughout the years. It’s exciting to be a part of an organization with a storied history and winning tradition such as Portland’s."
Rosenberry worked with both Rick Sund and new Portland GM Rick Cho in Seattle. He'd been with the Hawks since 2008, a period during which the Hawks' collegiate draft picks could turn out to be quite good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Look at Larry Drew's Motion Offense

Michael Cunningham watched Larry Drew run his assistants through the new halfcourt offense and provides the following observations:
There was lots of motion and ball movement, yes, but what stood out was how much of the action had players cutting to the basket. It seemed there always was an option for the next man in the sequence to either accept the ball while moving to his position or reverse field and look for a cut to the basket. Not everything happens on the strong side, either, so ball-watching and inattentiveness by defenders can mean backdoor baskets.

“It’s very difficult to guard,” [Lester] Conner said. “You have to be precise in your defensive schemes. You can be beat at any spot on the floor at any time. NBA teams don’t like to guard a lot of movement and screens. I’ve heard the guys [Hawks players] are all for it and are excited about it.”

For weeks L.D. has said his system would “force the ball to move” and I get that now. Things happen so fast there’s not much opportunity for holding the ball. The screens and cuts happen quickly and if the first option is not there then the ball quickly swings the other way, leading to move movement.

Not much possession time is spent on the one- or even two-man game. Each guy gets a chance to touch the ball at different spots on the floor. Decisions must be made quickly for things to flow correctly.

Some of my notes: "pindown screens with curl to free-throw line...dribble hand-offs, sometimes with roll man...backdoor cuts...high-post pick-and-pop...flare screens with roll man...ball reversal to quick weakside seal post-ups...high-low post-ups...”
Sounds great.

Lest anyone think Larry Drew isn't on a roll, his ideas for using Josh Smith at the 3 are not unreasonable, either:
"I won’t match him up against a lightning-quick guy where he would have to defend multiple screens. But he certainly will be able to play some 3. At the same time, he can be a tough matchup at the 3 as well. You play him at some 3, there is a high probability he is bigger than that three man, stronger than that three man. Certainly the way to take advantage of that matchup is to post him up. We will certainly try to utilize his ability against a smaller guy. It won’t necessarily be about us adjusting to what the other team does. We want to put the opponent in a position where they have to match up with us."
It's still a little more than six weeks until training camp opens (and another month until the regular season begins) but the excitement of the new* begins to work its magic.

*Make the other team adjust to the Hawks!

Start of Training Camp, Exhibition Schedule Announced

Complete Press Release

The Atlanta Hawks will hold Media Day on Monday, September 27th with training camp to open the next day.

Three of the seven exhibition games will be played in Atlanta, with the October 21st matchup against the Miami Heat to be televised on TNT.

The Hawks will travel to Detroit, Washington, and Charlotte and will play the New Orleans Hornets in Johnson City, TN.

Full schedule

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More 2010-11 Schedule Analysis

Josh Robbins of the Magic Basketblog on The Orlando Sentinel website has a comparison of the back-to-back games on the respective 2010-11 schedules of the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls.

There's a handy chart there delineating all of this but the main points of interest are as follows:
  • The Hawks and Bulls play the maximum allowed number of back-to-backs: 23.
  • In 16 of the Hawks 23 back-to-backs, the second game is on the road.
  • The Bulls play on the road in just 11 of the 23 second games of their back-to-backs.
  • The Bulls also get 4 home-home back-to-back games.
  • Orlando plays three fewer back-to-backs than the Hawks will but the Magic play 17 of the 20 second games on the road.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2010-11 Atlanta Hawks Schedule Released

Here's the press release detailing the Atlanta Hawks 2010-11 schedule.

  • 14 scheduled national TV appearances (7 on NBA TV, 4 on ESPN, 3 on TNT) one more than last season.
  • 23 back-to-back games. None of those back-to-backs include two games at home. Five back-to-backs include two games on the road.
  • Larry Drew's head coaching career will start with games @Memphis and @Philadelphia, but he'll have two months of experience under his belt before his first West Coast trip.
  • With only seven road games over the last six weeks of the season, a strong finish appears likely.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Those Pape Sy Buyout Discussions May Be Real

I chose not to write about this report about the Atlanta Hawks negotiating to buy out the final year of Pape Sy's contract with Le Havre that appeared over the weekend due to my own ignorance of the source, the limitations of Google translator, and a previous piece I'd read there about Sy which opened with a factual error obvious even given my limited French.

Michael Cunningham's latest blog post gives credence to the report though it's still probably unlikely to occur:
Back when the Hawks drafted Pape Sy and brought him to Summer League, assistant GM Dave Pendergraft said there was “no chance” the team would buy out Sy’s contract with Le Havre of the top French League. Over the weekend Pendergraft upgraded that to a “slight chance” Sy will join the Hawks this fall.
On the one hand, Sy appears a long shot to succeed in the NBA. On the other hand, he would presumably be brought over to defend on the wing* which could shore up a real weakness of the team and scouring the benches of the French league for players exhibits a level of creativity rarely associated with the franchise's player personnel decisions.

*Despite my overall reservations regarding Sy given his age, statistical record, and limited playing time in Summer League, I've no real knowledge of his aptitude with regard to this particular skill and no reason to believe he couldn't clear the admittedly low bar set by Mario West.

ESPN.com: NBA Summer Forecast: Predicted Eastern Conference Standings

I'll leave it up to the reader to decide which is the greater folly: trying to predict team records for the upcoming season in mid-July or my inclusion in a poll of "92 of ESPN's best basketball minds."

Either way, the consensus prediction for the Atlanta Hawks proved to be 48 wins, fifth-best in the East. From the editors:
Amazingly, Atlanta has improved for five straight seasons, but our panel says the streak ends here. The Hawks are a solid team that seems stuck in no man's land, having failed to make the conference finals for 40 years -- since the Lakers swept them in the 1970 Western Division finals -- and that probably won't change in 2011.
For what it's worth, seven Eastern Conference teams are predicted to finish between 31 and 39 wins (and none to win fewer than 27). That's the nature of this sort of thing. Some team is probably going to win fewer than 20 games in the East but it's difficult to predict which team that will be especially amidst the optimism over off-season acquisitions and the assumption* of good health.

My own first draft of predictions totaled almost 1300 wins (or about 70 too many should there again be just one winner of each NBA game next season). Upon completing and submitting a plausible set of predictions, it turns out I was within a game of the common wisdom for 7 of the East's 15 teams. Interesting? Perhaps. Meaningless? almost certainly.

I suspect injuries will go a long toward stratifying teams in the Eastern Conference this season.

UPDATE (1:10pm): There is an accompanying poll up now.

Some Stray Thoughts On Perspective

In what may be turning into a recurring feature here, a new post inspired by comments to a previous post.

While offline most of the weekend (but, as ever, thinking about the relevant issues), I'm currently wondering if a more disciplined approach to the relatively minor summertime day-to-day issues involving the Atlanta Hawks might result in a more appropriate and interesting tone of voice for the blog.

For example, with regard to the biggest issues facing the team in the 2010-11 season...
  • I don't know exactly what Larry Drew's offense will look like or which players will (and which players will not) benefit from it.
  • I don't know if implementing a less extreme and rigid defensive philosophy will mitigate the team's perimeter defensive shortcomings.
  • I don't know if Jeff Teague can play point guard in the NBA.
Because such vital questions are unresolved and likely to remain so for months, frustration over the lack of a clear, long-term approach to constructing a roster takes on a greater importance than it perhaps should, especially with regard to the short-term, on-court success of the team; a situation perhaps exacerbated by the long-term goals of this blog which themselves seem to necessitate, in the short-term, producing a certain (and consistent) volume of work about a very narrow subject. That's no excuse for sometimes confusing cleverness for substance or failing to write through equivocation to produce a nuanced thought. That it isn't easy is, I hope, as much an indication of the potential value of the work (within an admittedly narrow context) as my own limitations.

Either way, less overtly personal content will return shortly.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Why didn't the Hawks sign Shaquille O'Neal? Michael Cunningham reports:
I’ve been told that Atlanta wouldn’t budge on giving Shaq a starting nod over Al, who is after all still only 24-years old and an All-Star. Shaq believes he will get the starting nod over Jermaine O’Neal in Boston as Kendrick Perkins rehabs from his knee injury.

Atlanta also wasn’t willing to pay Shaq more than the minimum and that was a sticking point for him. He didn’t want to sign for the minimum when the Hawks had their bi-annual and mid-level exceptions available because of the perception that would create–as in the Hawks could have paid him more but didn’t. That’s not the case with Boston, which had neither of those exceptions and so could only give him the minimum.

The big guy still has his pride.
Sound decision making, though, I have to deduct a couple of points for the answer not being "Because there's little reason to believe that Shaquille O'Neal will be more productive than Zaza Pachulia next season, taking minutes away from Horford, Josh Smith, and Pachulia would not lead to significant improvement, and we have far a more pressing concern in needing to improve our perimeter defense."

The latter point is clearly not a concern in-house. Cunningham also reports that the Hawks are looking at adding Francisco Elson, Brian Skinner, or Josh Boone to fill the 13th roster spot. Elson and Skinner would be marginal improvements over Jason Collins in the (apparently) crucial* third-string center role. Boone, at least, could reasonably be expected to outperform Josh Powell.

You may be asking, what about Garret Siler?

Well, Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside makes the case for Siler:
Siler is probably the most obvious player to include on this list since Cunningham suggested there is "some interest" in the 6-foot-11, 300-plus pound big man out of Augusta State. Though Cunningham suggested that "he's got a lot to prove after a bad showing at Summer League," I'd like to counter that THE DUDE MADE 75% OF HIS SHOT ATTEMPTS AND PULLED DOWN 3.8 BOARDS IN JUST 14 MINUTES OF ACTION. I've been driving the Siler bandwagon for awhile, sure, but the kid deserves an opportunity. He has great size, soft hands, scores as efficiently as anyone and seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to get an opportunity - I mean, he runs the court very well for a guy his size.
Siler is very efficient but because he's big and slow and can't create his own shot, he's not especially productive. And that's in NCAA Division 2 and the Chinese League. He did appear slimmer in Las Vegas and I'd rather the Hawks anchor the bench with Siler than Collins but he's probably not an untapped resource.

As for the other four names on Schroeder's list of non-retreads, I whole-heartedly support the idea of signing Pops Mensah-Bonsu or Alade Aminu (though I've still no reason to believe he's not going to play for Elan Chalon next season) while signing Chris Hunter or Kurt Looby would likely be, relative to Collins, Powell et al., more interesting though no more useful.

*Almost 5% of the Hawks' regular season games will be against Dwight Howard, after all.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Hardwood Parxoysm: Haberstroh: Beating the Market

Tom Haberstroh uses WARP2 to determine the 20 best bargains in the NBA last season. Josh Smith was the 7th-best and Al Horford was the 16th-best bargain in the league.

In what-might-have-been news: Brandon Roy, despite missing 17 games last season, was still the 13th-best bargain while playing on the fourth year of his rookie contract. Shelden Williams does not appear on the list.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Responding To Future Power Rankings Comments

It being the off-season, I'm exercising my prerogative to respond to the fine comments from a previous post in the form of a new post.

As of this writing, the fine NBA editors at ESPN.com have only posted the teams whose futures Ford and Hollinger have ranked 11-30 so I'm reluctant to say much about a subjective ranking without seeing the rankings but I think it's (roughly) a fair ranking because...
  1. Ownership is, for the foreseeable future, a detriment to building a championship team in Atlanta.
  2. I think Joe Johnson has one more really good year left in him. From that point on the Hawks will owe $107 million to their (at best) third-best player.
  3. Profligate spending on re-signing not just Johnson but also Bibby and Marvin Williams (unless he's given and thrives in a larger role) has limited their future options to a) re-signing Horford and b) dumping salary.
  4. The organization has never worked to acquire assets they could afford to give up in trades to improve the team. Without cap flexibility or a good reason/the ability to pay the luxury tax, the Hawks would have to trade Josh Smith or Al Horford to acquire an impact player in a trade and this hypothetical player's impact would be seriously blunted by the loss of Horford or Smith.
  5. Even in Joe Johnson's expensive decline years, Horford and Smith (and, one hopes, Jeff Teague and Crawford the Younger) are likely good enough (and the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bad enough) to keep the Hawks in the playoffs and out of the lottery, thus making building through the draft* difficult.
*And bizarrely, despite being win-now in all their other decisions (save the choices for the end of the bench which are probably best not dwelt on for any length of time), the Hawks have chosen two long-term prospects (and sold the 31st pick in the 2010 Draft) in the draft rather than taking someone (Darren Collison, DeJuan Blair, Damion James, etc.) capable of contributing immediately in a position of need. I write this as an admirer of both Teague and Crawford.

As for the particular complaint of Rufus1 regarding the ranking of the Oklahoma City Thunder relative to the Hawks...
  1. Unlike the Hawks, Oklahoma City drafted a franchise player.
  2. Said franchise player is younger than every member of the 2009-10 Hawks roster and is just 24 days older than Jordan Crawford.
  3. The Zombie Sonics franchise has ably (as partially evidenced by their winning 50 games in the third rather than fifth year of a rebuilding program) and purposefully (as partially evidenced by their firing of a coach failing to develop young players early in the second season of his tenure rather than signing him to a second, shorter contract that all but gave him an incentive not to develop young players) built around said franchise player.
  4. In their first appearance in the playoffs they were out-scored by the soon-to-be NBA champions by 10 points over 6 games rather than 84 points over 7 games.
  5. The Thunder have both cap flexibility going forward and more useful young players than they can accommodate.
  6. They buy, rather than sell, picks at the top of the second round.
  7. Sam Presti runs this game. Rick Sund doesn't. Nor will the next Atlanta Hawks GM.
There's no shame appearing worse than the Thunder over the next three seasons. The problem is that the Hawks do not appear to have given themselves opportunities to get better than they currently are nor have they given themselves recognizable options should anything unforeseen (in a bad way) occur. That's how a team's future gets ranked similar to that of the Nets, Clippers, and Pacers. It's not pleasant, but it's been a long time coming.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Forgive Me

Michael Cunningham reports:
Word is Dave Pendergraft, Atlanta’s assistant general manager, is a candidate for Phoenix’s GM job under Lon Babby. And Steve Rosenberry, Atlanta’s director of pro personnel/college scouting, is expected to join Portland’s staff, where GM Steve Cho is looking for assistants.
If Pendergraft and Rosenberry leave, who will ASG turn to as the cheapest possible in-house replacement for Rick Sund?

ESPN.com: Ford/Hollinger: Future Power Rankings

Between March 2nd and August 3rd, the Hawks have fallen from 13th to 19th in Chad Ford and John Hollinger's NBA future power rankings (Insider):
Atlanta dropped seven spots since our last Future Power Rankings, largely due to two factors.

First, a depressing playoff performance took some of the shine off their roster -- although they won 53 games and got the third seed in the East, it's hard to credibly call this a contending bunch. A mix of three good young players -- Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams -- along with a veteran in Joe Johnson is nice, but this group needs more to get over the hump. New coach Larry Drew will have a tough time coaxing similar results given how injury-free the Hawks were last season.

Second, the enormous free-agent contract given to Joe Johnson is likely to be a significant liability going forward, especially given the franchise's reluctance to go into the luxury tax. As a result, money is likely to be extremely tight. As if to prove that point, the Hawks have barely dipped a toe into the free-agent market, and it may be difficult for them to keep Jamal Crawford as a free agent a year from now.
A word on their method:
The Future Power Rankings are ESPN Insider's projection of the on-court success expected for each team during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

To determine the Future Power Rating, we rated each team in five categories: Players, Management, Money, Market, Draft (ed. note -- in descending order of importance).
The Hawks rank 9th in Players (246 of 400 possible points), 19th in Management (76 of 200 possible points), 24th in Money (71 of 200 possible points), 17th in Market (46 of 100 possible points), and 18th in Draft (45 of 100 possible points).

The Hawks Have Plans For Jason Collins

From Michael Cunningham's return blog post:
Atlanta thinks Collins will be more effective in 2010-11 because he will be in better shape. Word is he’s already lost a significant amount of weight. Also, ASG’s Michael Gearon Jr. is on record as saying (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) he didn’t think Collins was properly utilized by Woody.
This is a crackerjack example of how this franchise limits itself. Last Summer, they sign Jason Collins to be the team's third-string center. He's 30-years-old and already three years removed from his last useful season. Collins is visibly overweight and immobile (even by his own established standards). He plays 115 minutes, almost 5 of those being productive minutes. He commits more fouls than he scores points or grabs rebounds.

Do the Hawks then look to replace Collins with someone younger or more likely to produce in such a limited role? No. Collins is a nice guy. Certain members of the ownership group may come to like him personally. So, on a promise of getting in better shape (as if there's an alternative) and granting the organization another opportunity to blame everything on Mike Woodson*, Jason Collins gets another contract. Had he gone to high school within a 100-mile radius of Atlanta it probably would have been a 2-year deal.

*At this point I wouldn't be surprised to read someone in the organization claiming, on the record, that Woodson is all that kept the team from winning 60 games last season. I hope Larry Drew can stave off frustration over being asked to win more with a team possessing the same inherent problems. It won't be easy.

Signing Collins to fill out the roster is uninspiring. Signing Collins because you think he needs to play and that, in playing him, the team will win more games is breathtakingly misguided.

NBA TV To Begin Announcement of 2010-11 Schedule Tonigh

There's an hour-long special at 7pm (EDT) tonight on NBA TV to announce the national television schedule for the NBA Tip-Off ’10, Christmas Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day games.

Rick Kamla hosts with Chris Webber, Steve Kerr, Kenny Smith, and Craig Sager joining him.

The full 2010-11 NBA schedule will be released next Tuesday, August 10th.