Tuesday, October 05, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia

When even the requisite positive stories out of training camp focus on the physicality the team's new additions bring to practice rather than any remotely plausible hopes for in-game production* it means the expected improvement must come from within. Veteran guards Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, and Jamal Crawford can't reasonably be expected to improve on their 2009-10 performances. Josh Smith and Al Horford are younger but performed at an All-Star level (and combined that with perfect health) last season. Improving on that would be difficult. Reasonable hopes might exist for Marvin Williams to be more productive though uncertainty exists about where increased offensive opportunities might come from for him. Thus, there are two returning players who could help Larry Drew succeed as a head coach and validate the organization's "Blame Woodson" off-season: Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia.

*Heck, even Solomon Jones was good for one pie-in-the-sky training camp report a year.

Jeff Teague

Jeff Teague's production was predictably minimal in his rookie season. New hire Nick Van Exel has been tasked with helping Teague find his "dog." I don't know that Teague's dog had gone missing since leaving Winston-Salem so much as he was a young guard playing for Mike Woodson which meant few opportunities and less correlation between quality of performance and playing time*.

*The "Blame Woodson" argument is not entirely without merit. More on that below.

Teague's performance in Summer League was equal parts encouraging and unenlightening but playing for Larry Drew (once the real games commence) seems a better fit for Teague than Woodson ever would have been. Teague is more suited for a motion offense* than Mike Bibby and one suspects that, at some point, the Hawks will have to address their defensive limitations practically rather than rhetorically. If so, Teague is the only member of the roster capable of even intermittently staying in front of NBA guards.

Furthermore, just by virtue of it being Teague's second season in the league, some improvement can be expected. Both John Hollinger (PER improving from 11.07 to 12.16**) and the SCHOENE projections from Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 (improving from -0.4 WARP to 0.8 WARP) foresee significant improvement for Teague using more thorough and sound methodology than I'm capable of applying to the question.

*To be more blunt, Teague is better suited for moving than Bibby.

**Mike Bibby posted a PER of 12.77 last season.

Zaza Pachulia

When given a fully healthy roster, Mike Woodson assigned his reserves narrow, specific roles. On the one hand, this was a fine example of a coach recognizing and attempting to minimize the damage of a personal weakness (in this case, making good in-game tactical decisions). On the other hand, this weakness still hurt the team because the narrow role (backup center) Woodson assigned Zaza Pachulia was insufficient to the player's talents.

There was no good reason to limit Pachulia to 1089 minutes (14 per game) last season. He was far and away the third-best big man on the roster. He still is. The massive gulf in quality between Zaza Pachulia and the rest of the reserve big men is larger than the difference between Pachulia and the starting post players. Josh Powell, Etan Thomas, and Jason Collins are bad, unproductive NBA players. Zaza Pachulia is an above average reserve at worst. The Hawks are preoccupied with solving a problem that doesn't exist. The Hawks don't need more size, they need better defenders, better rebounders, they need not overspend on their own players, etc. etc. etc.

There is agreement that playing Al Horford at power forward when matchups dictate is a fine idea, an idea made all the better by the history of success the Hawks have had playing Horford alongside Pachulia. Over the last two seasons (covering 963 offensive and 960 defensive possessions) the Hawks have outscored opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions with Horford and Pachulia on the court together. Mike Woodson either didn't recognize or failed to act on this. That failing created the best chance Larry Drew has for turning the same players into a more productive team.


Drew Ditzel said...

I sit in horror as the fact sets in that Zaza Pachulia just had to share a preview with another player.

Unknown said...

I can't understand why Zaza hasn't played more. I would try a plan like 16 minutes Horford-Josh, another 16 Zaza-Josh and another 16 Zaza-Horford. 32 minutes each of the big three when no healthy or fouls problem (more or less).

Bret LaGree said...

I don't think Zaza could play 32 minutes without fouling out but having him play 20 minutes a game behind Smith and Horford (both playing 36 minutes a night) seems eminently plausible.