Sunday, October 31, 2010

NBA Playbook: Hawks Get the Dagger With a Lob

Sebastian Pruiti looks at the Josh Smith-to-Al Horford lob that put the Hawks up 93-87 with 1:37 left Saturday night.

Atlanta Hawks 99 Washington Wizards 95



Hoopdata Boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
52.6 19.7
21.1 19.6
ATL 92 1.076 45.1

They're not all going to pretty but even a game that only an illegal screen fetishist could truly enjoy can be instructive and Saturday night's 99-95 win over the Washington Wizards taught us some things about Larry Drew. We should expect overreaction to early fouls. We should expect a willingness to risk losing a game in order to give some starters extended rest. We should not expect quality of defense or infrequency of shots made to affect the playing time of any tenured members of the backcourt.

So Joe Johnson plays 43-and-a-half minutes, uses 23 shots and 4 free throw attempts to score 25 points while turning the ball over 4 times and earning 3 assists. On the other hand, Al Horford is limited to 25-and-a-half minutes because he committed two fouls in the first eight minutes and four seconds of the game. He finished with three fouls. He also finished with 21 points on 10 shots and 10 free throw attempts, grabbed 10 rebounds, earned 3 assists of his own, and turned the ball over just once.

When in the game, Horford looked constantly to attack to create easy shots for himself and his teammates. Yet Drew preferred using five minutes of the first half playing the slimmer but still profoundly limited Jason Collins rather than risk Horford actually getting in mild foul trouble. Collins squeezed three turnovers, two fouls, a defensive rebound, a block, and a 17-foot jumper into those five minutes. I suspect Horford might have provided more.

Somewhat similarly, Jamal Crawford played the final 15 minutes and 53 seconds of the game, the last 11:37 alongside both Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, insuring little perimeter or transition defense, and even less help on the glass. Crawford made just 1 of 7 shots during this period and Jamal Crawford provides no other value to augment his scoring. Crawford, Bibby, and Johnson combined for 7 rebounds in 108 minutes of play and helped John Wall keep the Wizards in the game. Marvin Williams spaces the floor almost as well as Crawford and Bibby, doesn't turn the ball over, rebounds, plays defense, and doesn't keep the ball out of the hands of Horford or Josh Smith. Williams didn't play a second of the fourth quarter.

The above isn't to denigrate the team, the coach, or argue against the value of the victory. It's to point out the margin for error this team possesses and to acknowledge the very real reasons for optimism. On a night where John Wall had his way, Al Thornton celebrated being back home, and the Wizards played some pretty effective zone defense for stretches the Hawks won reasonably comfortably despite poor shooting from Johnson and Crawford, needlessly wasting Horford on the bench for most of the first half, Josh Smith throwing up two more long two-point jumpers (He's 4-15, 33.3 eFG% outside of 15 feet on the season now), and throwing away minutes on Jason Collins and Josh Powell. This team needn't be at its best to win. Still, it would be nice to see them make best use of their resources.

Joe Johnson:
"I'm a shooter. I've got to keep shooting."
Larry Drew on Joe Johnson:
"He’s our guy. We rely on him a lot down the stretch. I told him I don’t want him to get discouraged. We put the ball in his hands at the end of games."
Larry Drew differs in some obvious ways from his predecessor. In other ways he differs not at all.

Mark Bradley:
As much as we might want to call these the Same Old Hawks, they’re not quite. (Not that being the Same Old Hawks was all that terrible. They did win 53 games and claim the No. 3 seed in the NBA East last season.) But they’re not the Brand New Hawks, either.

I know. It’s kind of confusing. The Hawks won Friday in Philadelphia with Joe Johnson taking fewer shots than Al Horford or Josh Smith and working the fourth-fewest minutes among starters. They won here Saturday with Johnson playing 43 minutes and 28 seconds — a regulation game is 48 minutes — and taking eight of the team’s 20 fourth-quarter shots and scoring five of its nine fourth-quarter baskets.

Said Drew: “Joe — obviously he’s our guy.”

Which sounded odd, given that Drew’s case for being promoted to head coach was essentially, “I’m not like Mike.” (Meaning Mike Woodson, who requested two weeks ago in a high-decibel phone conversation that his name no longer be invoked in this correspondent’s discussion of the Hawks. That request has been inspected and rejected.)

Woodson’s Way was to give the ball to Johnson — Iso-Joe, as it became known — and get out of his way. The Drew Method involves more ball movement and less reliance on one man. And yet, come the season’s third game, here was Joe Johnson doing pretty much the Joe Johnson thing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 30th Game Preview: Washington Wizards (0-1) @ Atlanta Hawks (2-0)

TIP-OFF: 7pm (EDT)

: SportSouth

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Wizards

ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Mo Evans and Pape Sy are out.

WASHINGTON INJURY REPORT: Gilbert Arenas and Josh Howard are out.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
WASH (off)
39.7 26.9
6.7 13.4
ATL (def)
96 1.068 43.7

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
WASH (def)
61 41.6
33.3 21.6
ATL (off)
94 1.185


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Truth About It, Bullets Forever

PREVIOUSLY...the Washington Wizards lost 112-83 in Orlando on Thursday night. John Wall scored 14 points on 19 shots, earned 9 assists and committed 3 turnovers in his NBA debut. Cartier Martin led the Wizards in scoring with 17 points and Al Thornton led the team with 7 rebounds.

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

Quotes, Notes, and Links: Atlanta Hawks 104 Philadelphia 76ers 101


Hoopdata Boxscore


Larry Drew on the fourth quarter offense:
"We’ve had some success running the pick-and-roll with Mike and Joe, and they did a good job defending it. We came up with a couple of bad possessions."
Drew on the transition defense:
"We got a little lackadaisical and we didn’t get back on defense, which was one thing we really wanted to do against this team."
Again, I think it's an open question as to whether it's a lack of effort or simply due to inherent personnel limitations (exaggerated by a reluctance to play Marvin Williams in the fourth quarter) that prevents the Hawks from getting back on defense.

Another aspect of how poor transition defense hurt the Hawks is that the Hawks were pretty effective guarding the 76ers in the half-court blocking 8 shots and forcing Philadelphia to use 28 of their 85 field goal attempts on long two-point attempts. They made just six. The 76ers were, to a man, more than willing to take those low percentage shots. Eight of the nine Philadelphia players who played at least 10 minutes took at least two long two-point jumpers. The ninth, Tony Battie, took one.

Joe Johnson:
"We just kind of made some boneheaded plays down the stretch, with me leading the pack definitely. We’ve got to know the time and the score. In the fourth quarter, under five minutes [to play], we’ve really got to take care of the ball. That’s on me."
On a happier note, Joe Johnson has attempted 23 free throws in the first two games of the season. His previous high for free throw attempts in consecutive games for the Atlanta Hawks was 20, accomplished on November 5th and 7th, 2006 and November 11th and 12th, 2008.

Josh Smith:
"We was able to get it done. It wasn't pretty. You are going to have games where it's not pretty, like how it was in the end. But we found a way to get the job done."
Smith on his three-pointer with 47 seconds remaining and the Hawks up two:
"You can't be scared to take them. I wasn't afraid to take it."

Through two games, Smith is 2-11 on long two-point jumpers and 2-3 on three-point attempts. He's providing two object lessons: one on his inability to make jump shots, the other on the value of three-point shot relative to one taken one step inside the line. The Hawks can survive one or two Josh Smith three-point attempts a game. It will be more difficult to stomach Smith taking five shots a game that are worth two-thirds as much the 29% of the time they go in. Which goes to show, yet again, how short-sighted and incomplete the "Josh Smith isn't shooting three-pointers" praise was.

At Peachtree Hoops, Kris Willis evaluates Larry Drew's early performance:
The way the Hawks are playing right now offensively the only people slowing them down are themselves. Once they get even more comfortable with the system the turnovers should go down. That is why it is great to steal a win like this when they were less than stellar with ball security. The last thing that I think is notable is that no Hawks starter played more than 34 minutes. Joe Johnson only played 32 minutes in this one after playing 31 in the opener. Thus far coach Drew has done an excellent job in my opinion of handling the rotation and keeping the minutes down. While the results of such a move may not be visible in the early going, they will however play a part later in the season.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Atlanta Hawks 104 Philadelphia 76ers 101


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 92
55.7 37.1
29.4 21.7
PHI 94 1.074 44.1

The Hawks held on to win but, in doing so, exhibited some familiar fourth quarter problems: little ball movement, an inability to identify favorable matchups, an inability to put the team's best players on the floor, and poor transition defense.

For most of the fourth quarter, the Hawks put the ball in the hands of Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford and asked them to create offense for themselves. Now, the Hawks did this almost exclusively in screen-and-roll rather than isolation sets but the mode of attack remained predictable. Making it more difficult, the 76ers could guard Johnson with Andre Iguodala and Crawford with Jrue Holiday. Crawford managed just two points and two turnovers and Johnson scored six points (two of those coming off of four attempts earned via intentional Philadelphia fouls in the final 12 seconds) on three field goal attempts and six free throw attempts while committing three turnovers. The 6 Atlanta live-ball turnovers (they committed 3 more turnovers on offensive fouls) in the fourth quarter led to 12 Philadelphia fast break points. For the game, 29 of Philadelphia's 101 points came in transition.

Thus, the Hawks consistently attempted to attack the strength of Philadelphia's defense rather than to get the ball to Al Horford against Elton Brand. Horford made all three field goals he attempted in the fourth quarter. Complicating matters, Josh Smith got himself benched for 2 minutes and 40 seconds of the fourth quarter following an offensive foul/technical foul exacta. For reasons he alone knows, Larry Drew chose to replace Smith with Josh Powell (6 points on 5 shots, 4 rebounds in 22 minutes on the night, and no history of success playing in the NBA) rather than Zaza Pachulia (7 points on 5 shots , 7 rebounds in 14 minutes on the night, and a history of success playing in the NBA). Drew also preferred both Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby to Marvin Williams from the 8:30 mark (Hawks up 81-70) to the 0:47 mark of the fourth quarter (Hawks up 102-97) which only exacerbated the transition defense problems.

The thing is, both Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were very effective through three quarters as the Hawks made a concerted effort to push the ball up the court following missed Philadelphia shots and to move the ball in the half-court. The pair committed just three turnovers between them through three quarters and, despite their fourth quarter struggles, Johnson finished the game with 22 points on 10 shots while Crawford scored 17 on 9 shots and earned 5 assists.

Josh Smith roughly duplicated his bipolar performance in the Memphis game, exhibiting terrible shot selection on the offensive end while wreaking havoc on the defensive end. Six of Smith's eleven field goal attempts were outside 16 feet. He made two of the shots, including a contested three-pointer that extended Atlanta's lead to 5 points with 47 seconds left. Through two games, Smith is 4-13 from outside 16 feet, good for a 38.5 eFG%. Inside of 16 feet, Smith is 5-8 from the floor (62.5 eFG%) and 3-4 from the line. Smith added six blocks to the five he recorded in Memphis, bringing his season total to 11 in 54 minutes on the court.

The good news is significant, both in size and import. The Hawks are 2-0 without having played at home. They're 2-0 despite self-negating play from Josh Smith, despite a terrible game from Al Horford in Memphis, despite a poor team effort in the fourth quarter in Philadelphia, and despite Jeff Teague still being firmly entrenched as the backup point guard. Things have not gone perfectly, and the Hawks are 2-0.

There will be stiffer tests (though likely not on Saturday night) and greater obstacles to overcome. Eventually, Larry Drew will lose a game he coaches. It hasn't happened yet. The season's off to a good start.

October 29th Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks (1-0) @ Philadelphia 76ers (0-1)

TIP-OFF: 7pm (EDT)

: SportSouth

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/76ers

ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Mo Evans and Pape Sy are out.



Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
57.5 33.8
23.1 15.6
PHI (def)
91.4 1.061 53.6

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
48.8 29.1
20.5 14.3
PHI (off)
91.4 0.952


OTHER PERSPECTIVES: Philadunkia, Liberty Ballers

PREVIOUSLY...the Philadelphia 76ers lost 97-87 to the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Philadelphia's bench kept them in the game. Which likely says as much about how well Lou Williams, Thad Young, and Evan Turner as it does about the wisdom of starting Jason Kapono and Spencer Hawes

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts. 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks Team Page

The proud sponsor of an essential resource.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quotes, Notes, and Links: Atlanta Hawks 119 Memphis Grizzlies 104



Hoopdata Boxscore


Undefeated head coach Larry Drew:
"It's huge. I've been thinking about this for a long time. This is my first win. I've got to enjoy it."

Joe Johnson:
"I got a lot of wide open looks. I just didn’t make a lot of shots. At times I was a little too excited. For me to not have a great shooting night and for us to win big like this tonight, it’s perfect."
A couple of tidbits gleaned from the Hoopdata boxscore underline how Johnson had a better game than the traditional boxscore might indicate: 1) 3 of his 7 assists led to three-point baskets and 2) he didn't attempt a single shot between the free throw line and the three-point line.

Larry Drew on the perimeter defense:
"We had a few problems with Conley on the high pick-and-roll but we made a few minor adjustments."
Those adjustments contributed to Rudy Gay and Sam Young combining for 19 points in the third quarter before Lionel Hollins ran his deep bench out there for the final two-and-a-half minutes and lost the game for good. There was a cost to slowing Mike Conley (1-5 FGA, 1 assist, 2 turnovers in the third quarter), but it's not like Larry Drew has bountiful defensive options* so the Hawks will almost always be giving something up when they focus on stopping someone. Let's hope that, in the future, the someone they have to stop is better than Mike Conley.

*I suspect it's a sign of how entrenched Jeff Teague is as the backup point guard at this point in time that he didn't get brought in specifically to stay in front of Conley. Teague and Conley shared the court for just 5 minutes and 25 seconds last night. Though, to be fair, Conley was 2-2 from the field for 5 points with an assist when Teague was on the court.

Larry Drew on Teague:
"One thing I have been trying to instill in Jeff is the fact that with him on the floor, his speed, his quickness and his ability to push the ball. He can guard. We need that type of energy and he’s the only guy on our team who has it."
Josh Smith:
"Preseason is preseason. That’s what people have got to realize."
Josh Smith's shot chart vs. Memphis, 10.27.10
"There are going to be games where the bench has to pick us up, like tonight. They did that, and we were able to come in and finish them off."
Drew on playing Pachulia for 20 straight minutes in the first half:
"I didn’t want to put him in for the second quarter especially when Zaza was going well. I spoke to Al on the bench about that and he was fine with it."
"I think coach felt like I didn’t have to play in the second quarter. It was one of those games where I couldn’t get it going. I just have to get back focused and get ready for Friday."
Lionel Hollins on Zaza Pachulia:
"Pachulia just killed us on the glass all night long. That was a huge factor."
The Human Highlight Blog tabbed Zaza as the star of the game because he, among other things:
Singlehandedly disproved any notion that Hasheem Thabeet was going to make his mark this season in the NBA.
Kris Willis on offensive diversity at Peachtree Hoops:
It is important to point out that the Hawks didn't run the motion offense exclusively. They still called some high pick and roll plays and a few isolation sets in certain instances. I was critical in the comments section of Jamal bogging down the offense but in looking at the situation again it appeared that the Hawks probably had a high pick and roll called instead. There were two instances in the fourth quarter where Memphis rookie Xavier Henry was matched up on Joe Johnson. Joe immediately backed him down into the post scoring on the first opportunity and passing out for a Mike Bibby three after the Grizzlies were forced to double team on the second.

The fact is set plays and isolations are a part of basketball at all levels. You just don't want it as the backbone of your offense as it was last year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Atlanta Hawks 119 Memphis Grizzlies 104

Box Score

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 96
57.5 33.8
23.1 15.6
MEM 98 1.061 48.8

There's no diminishing the value of an easy road win, but there are legitimate reasons not to set the ease with which the Atlanta Hawks dismissed the Grizzlies in Memphis as the standard against which the Hawks should henceforth be judged. It was a good performance by the Hawks, but one clearly aided and abetted by their hosts.

Marc Gasol's absence and Zach Randolph's early exit gave the Hawks an opportunity to control the defensive glass. To their credit, they took advantage of that opportunity and maximized the advantage by consistently pushing the ball up the court after Memphis misses to the tune of 26 fast break points. The Grizzlies led the league in offensive rebound rate last season. Take that away from them and they're a well below-average offensive team even before accounting for the loss of efficient post scoring from Gasol and Randolph.

Thus, there's little comfort to be taken from the Hawks allowing 1.061 points per possession. Despite the good rebounding, Marvin Williams's good work in the first half in shutting down Rudy Gay, and Josh Smith's spectacularly effective help defense, the team's familiar defensive problems defined much of the night. Mike Conley (23 points on 15 shots, 8 assists) inflicted most of his damage when matched up against Mike Bibby but both Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson had chances to prove they still can't stay slow even a nominal NBA point guard.

Without Zach Randolph, Lionel Hollins went small at the start of the second half and, with both Gay and Sam Young in the game, Memphis could consistently take advantage of the fact that the Hawks employ only one player capable of guarding small forwards. Hollins deserves credit for that move as well as blame for putting out lineups of Acie Law/Tony Allen/Sam Young/Darrell Arthur/Hasheem Thabeet and Law/Allen/Xavier Henry/Demarre Carroll/Thabeet late in the third quarter to help turn a 6-point deficit into a 16-point hole by quarter's end.

Larry Drew inspired a couple of minor worries himself: sitting Al Horford for the final 20:33 of the first half after he picked up his second personal foul, then bringing Josh Powell off the bench before Zaza Pachulia in the third quarter despite Pachulia's 13 point, 9 rebound first half. Neither decision affected the outcome of the game but are both worth watching going forward.

The lowering of expectations out of the way, it must be said that the defining element of the game was the ease with which the Hawks scored. In addition to his fine defense, Marvin Williams scored 15 points on just 6 shots. Mike Bibby mitigated his poor defense to a fine degree by scoring 19 points on 9 shots, making all 4 of his three-point attempts, and earning 4 assists against a single turnover. The aforementioned Pachulia finished with 17 points on 7 shots (plus 7 free throw attempts) and 5 offensive rebounds.

Jamal Crawford needed 11 shots to score 13 points and Joe Johnson used 16 shots and 11 free throw attempts to score 22 but neither forced the offensive action to any serious degree. That Johnson got the the line 11 times should be cause for celebration in Atlanta (as well as concern in Memphis for their lack of interior depth) as should his 7 assists, many of them courtesy of his teammates' movement off-the-ball punishing the Memphis defense for the attention paid Johnson.
Larry Drew's motion offense will face tougher tests but it cleared its initial hurdle with much room to spare.

Only Josh Smith and Al Horford really struggled* offensively. Horford's failure to get in rhythm could plausibly be linked to his foul trouble. Smith's problems were purely self-inflicted.

Josh Smith's shot chart vs. Memphis, 10.27.10

Seven of Smith's ten field goal attempts were taken outside of 17 feet. He made just two of those shots, including his only three-point attempt. Smith converted all three of his attempts inside the paint. He also earned 4 assists in just 25 minutes, demonstrating once again how self-indulgence can't fully negate his gifts.

*Bad as he looked both catching passes and forcing shots, Josh Powell was 3-7 from the floor and committed just one turnover.

Opening Night Preview: Atlanta Hawks (0-0) at Memphis Grizzlies (0-0)

TIP-OFF: 8pm (EDT)

: SportSouth

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

: Hawks/Grizzlies


MEMPHIS INJURY REPORT: Marc Gasol, Greivis Vasquez, and Acie Law IV are all listed as day-to-day.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
50.6 21.3
28.2 13.3
MEM (def)
92.3 1.115 52

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
49.7 28
27.2 15.4
MEM (off)
92.3 1.098 49.2



PREVIOUSLY...the Memphis Grizzlies won 40 games in 2009-10 despite a 2-9 finish to the season. To the fourth-most successful team in franchise history they've added Tony Allen and Acie Law IV as veteran backcourt depth, Damien Wilkins to their stable of poor reserve small forwards, drafted Greivis Vasquez and Xavier Henry, and hope for a strong return from a healthy Darrell Arthur while losing only Marcus Williams and Jamaal Tinsley from those who played 500 minutes for them last season.

The early indicators for the 2010-11 Grizzlies are promising. Memphis won all 8 of their exhibition games (including a 115-111 victory over the Hawks in Atlanta). Only three teams did that in the past nine seasons (the 2009-10 Orlando Magic, the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets, and the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons) and each of those teams won at least 49 games.

The Hawks enter the game tied for first in the Southeast Division, one-half game ahead of the Miami Heat.

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

Atlanta Hawks 2010-11 Season Preview Compendium

Larry Drew and Predictions
Bet it Hit Rim #4 takes an early look at Larry Drew's new offense
NBA Playbook does the same

John Hollinger's Atlanta Hawks forecast
Lang Whitaker's Atlanta Hawks preview from SLAM Online
Peachtree Hoops preview Blog Atlanta Hawks preview
A prediction roundup
The Atlanta Hawks season preview chat from

Josh Smith
Al Horford
Joe Johnson
Marvin Williams
Mike Bibby
Jamal Crawford
Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia
What Kind of Point Guard Can Jeff Teague Be?
Maurice Evans
Josh Powell
Jordan Crawford
Etan Thomas and Jason Collins
Pape Sy

111-115 (OT) Memphis
85-94 at Detroit
92-107 at Washington
84-74 vs. New Orleans
73-102 Orlando
98-89 Miami
66-99 at Charlotte

Voice on the Floor: Josh Smith by Trey Kerby


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Larry Drew and Predictions

Previously: Josh Smith, Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia, Maurice Evans, Josh Powell, Jordan Crawford, Etan Thomas and Jason Collins, Pape Sy

Larry Drew has been given a difficult task: use the same materials as his dismissed predecessor to improve on success. Nor is there a particular skill on which Drew can rely. He must bring along young players (Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague immediately, Jordan Crawford and possibly Pape Sy eventually), consolidate the development of the franchise's cornerstone talent (Josh Smith and Al Horford), minimize the effects of decline from two of the primary returning ball-handlers (Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby), postpone the decline of the franchise's greatest investment (Joe Johnson), and overcome a worrying lack of frontcourt depth and talented defenders.

Further complicating matters, Drew is a different but not a new voice in the locker room. Can a familiar man in a new position enact fundamental change within an organization that prizes stability if not outright stasis? Will players accede to change if rewards are not immediate? If the players resist, will the organization give Drew greater support than his contract suggests?

Rhetorically, Drew hasn't put a foot wrong yet. His desires to make the team more difficult to guard and to demand accountability on defense are unimpeachable. But wants do not always produce matching behavior and we likely won't know for weeks, if not months, whether Drew is capable of getting what he reasonably wants from his players much less if defensive accountability matters when so many of those being held accountable lack competence.

Whether the gamble on Drew pays off for the Atlanta Hawks or not won't be known (if you assume, as I do, that the Hawks will have one of the eight best regular season records in the Eastern Conference) until after the playoffs. Even then, the answer may not fully reflect Drew's capabilities as an NBA head coach. Mike Woodson was a better and more accomplished head coach at the time the Hawks declined to renew his services than either day they signed him to a contract. A head coach pays both for his mistakes and those of the organization. If Dwane Casey were here, he'd likely agree.

Prediction time.

This I believe...

I believe the Atlanta Hawks will be different under Drew and I'm willing to predict how they'll be different.

I believe the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks will win 47 games.

I don't believe that necessarily means the team will be worse in April 2011 than they were in April 2010.

I believe the Hawks will play 7 games in the first round of the playoffs.

I believe the Hawks will win that series if they have home-court advantage and lose that series if they do not.

I believe the Hawks, should they reach the second round of the playoffs, will lose at that stage.

I believe the Hawks, should they reach the second round of the playoffs, will win at least one game in that series.

I believe that Jamal Crawford will sorely miss Mike Woodson and produce closer to his career averages than his career highs.

I believe there's a decent chance that Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford combine to miss more than 1 games to injury in 2010-11.

I believe that, as of October 27, 2010, the Hawks will not have a single good option to play point guard.

I believe that Josh Powell will be given every chance to prove that he's a below replacement level player.

I believe that the Hawks will go from being 7% more efficient than the average NBA offense to 3-4% more efficient than the average NBA offense

I believe that their improvements in eFG% (where they should move into the top 10) and FT Rate (where they'll approach the league) will be more than offset by a decline in turnover rate (from league best to league average) and offensive rebounding (from top 5 to top 12).

I believe that the Hawks will be largely the same defensively, within 1% of the league average in defensive efficiency.

I believe they'll better the league average in forcing turnovers, approach the league average in defensive rebounding, fall below the league average in eFG%, and fall out of the top 10 in opponents' FT Rate.

I believe that the decline in opponents' FT Rate will be due both to committing more fouls and from not benefiting from their opponents shooting so far below the league average from the stripe. Had the Hawks' opponents made free throws at a league average rate last season, they would have finished 16th, rather than 13th, in defensive efficiency.

I believe that (non-systematic) predictions this specific are hubristic to the point of absurdity, basically indefensible, and worthy of disagreement, if not snark.

Fire away.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Predictions In Anticipation of Opening Night

Basketball Prospectus offers both the final SCHOENE projections (36 wins for the Hawks, up one from that published in the excellent Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 but still not missing the playoffs) and NBAPET projections (40 wins and the fifth seed in the East for the Hawks).

Neil Paine ran three different sets of predictions at the Blog with the Hawks winning 44, 43, or 50 games depending on the methodology.

10 ESPN employees (including a possibly airbrushed Zach Harper) predict the Hawks to finish third in their division and fifth or sixth in the East.

At The Wages of Wins Journal, Andres Alvarez predicts the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks the Wins Produced way. The result: 47 wins.

WhatIfSports predicts 46 wins for the Hawks. Pelton: Trend Watch

Kevin Pelton's inagural Trend Watch at (Insider) takes a look at some troubling numbers from the pre-season:
The preseason demonstrated that Atlanta has a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the new offense. The Hawks finished last in the league in offensive rating, scoring just 94.7 points per 100 possessions. And that improved passing has yet to materialize. Atlanta was slightly below average in assists per field goal last season, ranking 16th in the league, and ranked just 17th this preseason. In turn, the Hawks have gotten few easy baskets. Their 2-point percentage of 44.3 percent was 23rd overall.

The danger to Drew's strategy is that Atlanta will lose the strengths that made its offense so effective during the regular season, when the Hawks boasted one of the league's three best attacks on a per-possession basis. As unattractive as the isolation offense may be, it played to the team's strengths and limited miscues. Atlanta turned the ball over less than any other NBA team a year ago. During the exhibition season, the Hawks committed turnovers slightly more often than average. The team's offensive rebounding has also suffered badly.
Pelton acknowledges both the degree of change Drew is trying to implement and the injuries (specifically Jeff Teague's unavailability for much of the pre-season) that hampered his early efforts. His conclusion:
Drew may need more time to implement his entire game plan. Sixth Man of the Year Predictions

25 votes split among 13 players, but Jamal Crawford comes out on top with 24% of the vote.

2010-11 Season Preview: Josh Smith

This time last year, Josh Smith was a candidate to breakout. And breakout he did, finishing second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, making the All-Defensive Second Team, and setting career highs in assist and offensive rebound rate. The latter two accomplishments were due, in no small part to Smith forgoing the three-point shot and putting himself in position to take advantage of his offensive talents more often.

The equally encouraging and frustrating fact, though, is that Smith did not fully embrace either his offensive limitations or his offensive talents. It's encouraging because it means there remains room for improvement. It's frustrating because the evidence from this season's exhibition games suggests both that he will not conclude that his inability to make jump shots means he should stop attempting them and that no one in the organization will make him stop taking jump shots.

Almost one quarter of Josh Smith's field goal attempts (three attempts per game) came from outside of 16 feet in 2009-10. He made 27.9% of those shots. This pre-season, 48.2% of Smith's attempts (almost four attempts per game) came from outside of 16 feet. He made 29.6% of those shots. Josh Smith cannot make these shots and should not, given his gifts for finishing at the rim and passing, be permitted to waste possessions on them.

Which isn't to say he should never shoot a jump shot. That's not realistic. Plus, the occasional jump shot, however ineffective, would make his use of the pump fake in the high post effective. Nor should Smith be discouraged from working on his shot. Ideally, that work would be channeled away from whatever need he has to prove himself as a practitioner of the game's least efficient shot and into improving his free throw shooting. Were Smith to return even to the below-average 70% free throw shooting he managed his first four seasons in the league, he'd add about half-a-point per game to his scoring average. That, combined with better shot selection could do great things for the team's offensive efficiency.

Defensively, Smith figures to be as important to the team as ever both because of his own abilities and the deficiencies of the team's frontcourt reserves. Were the front office to acquire a competent, dedicated backup at the power forward position or were a head coach to use Zaza Pachulia as a third big man in lieu of a competent reserve power forward, Smith's playing time could conceivably be held accountable to his decision-making on the offensive end. If the alternative to Josh Smith wasting possessions quixotically is Josh Powell playing more, it will be difficult for the team to survive Smith spending time on the bench even if one assumes that such discipline would take.

Ultimately it rests on Smith himself to maximize his abilities, accept his limitations, and become the sui generis player he might.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

For Entertainment Purposes Only

I neither encourage nor moralize about wagering on sporting events so I pass along the following 2010-11 NBA player props from in the spirit of "My, that's interesting to ponder" rather than "Hold on a minute, what's the limit on -115 for Joe Johnson scoring fewer than 21.3 points per game?"

Player must play in 20 games for wager to have action.

Points per game

Joe Johnson over/under 21.3
Jamal Crawford over/under 17.7
Josh Smith over/under 15.7
Al Horford over/under 15.0
Marvin Williams over/under 11.0

Rebounds per game
Al Horford over/under 10.3
Josh Smith over/under 8.0

Assists per game
Joe Johnson over/under 5.3

Odds to win the 2010-2011 NBA Scoring Title
Joe Johnson 20/1

Odds to win the 2011 NBA Rookie of the Year
Jordan Crawford 30/1

There are some team props as well.

Hawks wins in 2010-11
over/under 46.5 (the over is -125, the under -105)

Hawks to win...
Southeast Division 12/1
Eastern Conference 25/1
NBA Championship 50/1

Hypothetically, here's my card:

Joe Johnson under 21.3 PPG (-115)
Jamal Crawford under 17.7 PPG (-120)
Josh Smith over 8 RPG (-115)
Houston to win Southwest (5/1)
New Orleans to win Southwest (11/1)
Portland to win the West (12/1)
Portland to win the NBA Championship (30/1)
Orlando to win the NBA Championship (13/1)
Cleveland over 30.5 wins (+100)
Golden State over 30.5 wins (-140)

Pretend wagers. There's no greater rush.

Sports Book Review on Bodog

Atlanta Hawks Cap Exhibition Slate With 33-Point Loss in Charlotte

Box Score

I'll let Larry Drew take the lead in describing how much last night's exhibition game helped the Hawks:
"Zero. Zero. Nothing whatsoever."
Three of the starters played limited minutes, Mike Bibby sat the game out, and Josh Smith used his 29 minutes to attempt two of four shots from beyond 16-feet. He missed both. Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague both played 34 minutes. They combined for 23 points and 13 turnovers. I suspect no one wanted to be on the road for the second game of a back-to-back at the end of pre-season.

I cede the floor to Larry Brown:
"They seemed disinterested. They played last night, but still."
Michael Cunningham covered the issue of Josh Smith taking a ton of jump shots this pre-season:
L.D. said he doesn’t doubt Josh believes he can make long jump shots. He said he hasn’t told him to stop taking them altogether “because his stroke has certainly improved and he has worked on it.” But he doesn’t want them early in the shot clock, late in games or when the play calls for Josh to be in the post.

That latter point is how L.D. frames the issue: He doesn’t labor the point that Josh can’t make jumpers, but rather points out that he needs to be in the paint because he’s so effective there.

“I just tell him when I run something put him in the post don’t want him letting the defense off the hook shooting a fadeaway jump shot,” L.D. said. “I believe in his ability down in the post to get a basket or get fouled. Shooting a fadeaway is letting your defender off the hook.”
I think the belief that he can make jump shots is the root problem, but I don't have to work with him. 27 of Smith's 56 pre-season field goal attempts came from outside of 16-feet he made 8 of those shots (29.6 eFG%).

Also concerning are Drew's expectations for Josh Powell:
"He’s going to be a big part of us being successful."
Evidence and observation suggest that's highly unlikely. Either way, we'll add to our collective knowledge far more efficiently once the season commences.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bet It Hit Rim #4: Moving Targets

"Bright Pink Bookmark" by Frightened Rabbit from The Midnight Organ Fight

TrueHoop: Stein: Ten days to go for Class of '07 extensions

Marc Stein updates the status of Al Horford's contract extension:
Despite persistent chatter in recent days that Horford and the Hawks have made little recent progress in negotiations, sources close to the situation maintain that a deal before the deadline remains probable, given Horford’s status as a borderline All-Star big man … and the fact that Horford is being represented in negotiations by the same agent (Arn Tellem) who squeezed the biggest contract of the summer ($123.7 million over six seasons) out of the Hawks for Joe Johnson. (Word is reigning Sixth Man Award winner Jamal Crawford, meanwhile, has to wait until Horford’s window passes before Atlanta seriously entertains the idea of signing Crawford to the extension he seeks.)

Encouraging Performance Gives Atlanta Hawks Victory Over Miami Heat

Box Score


The 98-89 win was nice but, with the game not counting, carries relatively little import. As to what did...

Joe Johnson was clearly Atlanta's best player, demonstrating a level of activity largely absent in recent seasons. He moved without the ball, generally made quick, strong moves with the ball, and was a presence on the offensive glass against what should be a stout defensive rebounding team. One caveat: though flex sets should provide higher-quality shots for Johnson, it's unlikely to help him get to the line more often (23 field goal attempts, 2 free throw attempts last night) so he's unlikely to become wildly more efficient as a scorer. Of course, adding a couple offensive rebounds and earning six assists against a single turnover makes for an excellent offensive night overall.

Josh Smith isn't going to stop taking jump shots (4 of his 10 field goals last night were jumpers, including a three-pointer early in the shot clock with the Hawks up 3 and 1:39 left in the game) so someone will have to make him. It's a terrible waste to allow him to punt 3- or 4-percent of the team's possessions just because he feels like it. It's a tough decision and won't be easy to implement but the Hawks can't afford to have a good passer who converts his shots around the rim at a 65% rate drifting around the perimeter undermining his own talents and the team. Maybe Larry Drew can tie permission to shoot the occasional jumper to Smith's free throw percentage.

The other reason making Smith accountable for his shot selection difficult is his centrality to the team's defensive success. He was remarkably effective against Chris Bosh and Josh Powell, the player the team seems intent on using as Smith's backup, wasn't given the opportunity to guard Bosh. Larry Drew gave that assignment to Zaza Pachulia.

Powell grabbed seven rebounds but failed to impress even beyond being hidden defensively in a pre-season game. His inability to score in the paint or make jump shots was on full display, augmented by a committing a couple of turnovers with offensive fouls.

Though movement isn't Mike Bibby's strong suit, increased movement off the ball (both from him and his teammates) amplifies his good basketball instincts.

Which is good, because Jeff Teague doesn't appear prepared to play major minutes yet. No one is going to stay in front of him, but he'll need to convert his own shots in addition to setting up his teammates to take full advantage of his speed. Pick-and-roll defense seems a work in progress, as well. Though, as porous as the second unit looked as a whole, it's plausible that it's primarily a contextual problem.

I think we'll still see Jamal Crawford dominating the ball with the second unit. It's not ideal for Teague's development but may be necessary given the limitations of Evans, Pachulia, and Powell.

Al Horford couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, but there won't be many halves where he misses five straight wide-open face-up jumpers. He finally knocked down a jumper in the third quarter and scored a couple of nice baskets in the paint after catching the ball on the move.

Marvin Williams knocked down the dagger 3 to finish off the Heat but the 10 defensive rebounds he grabbed were nearly as important. No, he didn't slow down LeBron James, but he did make him work harder for his points than any other Hawk did. Decent-to-good defense, above average scoring efficiency, and improved rebounding are reasonable standards to hold Williams to in 2010-11.

Larry Drew:
"I’ve seen improvement in the defense the last couple games. Tonight we did a good job collectively on them. One thing I wanted them to focus on was the transition defense. We let LeBron get away a couple times but for the most part we did a good job with that."
It'll be different when the Hawks have to deal with James and Wade but, as mentioned above, Josh Smith matches up very well with Chris Bosh and Al Horford doesn't have to guard anybody really. I would not be surprised if the Hawks are more competitive against the Heat this season than they are against the Magic.

The Hawks play a sure-to-be anti-climactic exhibition in Charlotte tonight before tipping-off the regular season Wednesday night in Memphis.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Afternoon Atlanta Hawks Links

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Al Horford

As misguided as the retention of Jason Collins and the addition of Etan Thomas are in improving the team, one part of the underlying motivation encourages thoroughly: a desire to maximize Al Horford's production.

Practically and tactically speaking, one way of doing that could be to play Horford at power forward when that presents a more advantageous matchup for him. Another could be to get Horford more touches on the move so as to use his superior quickness against bigger, slower centers just as their teams, in turn, use their superior strength against him in the post. Another could be to prevent Horford from having to keep opposing point guards in front of him on the perimeter. The more defense Horford plays in and around the painted area could also lead to an increase in the number of defensive rebounds he's able to grab.

It's possible, if not probable, that each of these changes occurs in the 2010-11 season. Which is great. Everybody likes Al Horford and many share the faith that he could do much more for the team were he made more central to the proceedings.

Larry Drew's task is to make use of Horford's potential without diminishing the potential production of his teammates. It won't be straightforward. If Horford plays more at power forward, does that mean extended minutes for Jason Collins or Etan Thomas at center? Does it mean extended minutes for Josh Smith at small forward? At whose expense does Horford get increased touches in the half-court and how does that impact both efficiency and morale? If not Horford, who keeps opposing point guards in front of him on the perimeter? If the answer to that question is "no one," can Horford maintain his low foul rate while protecting the paint? Even if Horford increases his defensive rebounding volume and/or rate, will a different, possibly reduced, role for him in the team's defensive system adversely affect other areas of defense, specifically opponents' field goal percentage? Even if Horford spurs an improvement for the Hawks on the defensive glass, will they really run more often and, thus, maximize the value of those extra defensive rebounds?

I don't know and not knowing is one of the joys of caring about basketball. There's little disagreement on the composition of Al Horford's skills. He's about to play a third straight season with essentially the same teammates. Larry Drew has been perfectly clear about his tactical intentions. And, yet, predicting how the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks will play, how the familiar players will interact in new systems, how they will decline with age or improve as their talents mature seems, one week before the season tips-off, is a subject ripe for reasonable disagreement.

But, let it be said: Al Horford is capable of more, both in terms of individual production and in terms of helping a team win. Whether we witness either strand of more this season, with this team...that's why we watch. And write. And argue. And why I anxiously anticipate, with equal passion, the tangible evidence that explains (to some degree) success or failure and the surprise of the sublime.