Hold on to your hat, but the Atlanta Hawks played a basketball game against the Orlando Magic and, in that game, the Hawks took lots of long two-point jump shots and, through their inability to defend multiple areas of the floor simultaneously, made Dwight Howard's teammates as dangerous offensively as Howard.
23 of Atlanta's 78 field goal attempts were two-point jumpers from between 16- and 23-feet. The total belies the underlying problem. Down 27 after three quarters, the Hawks attempted just 3 long two-point jumpers in the fourth quarter. While actively losing the game, the Hawks used 20 of their 62 field goal attempts on the least efficient type of shot in basketball. Larry Drew's effort to implement a new offensive system is admirable but it will take time and it will be run by largely the same players.
Players, even more than a sound tactical system, separate the Orlando Magic from the Atlanta Hawks. It's entirely predictable that Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter could exploit the Hawks' fixation on Dwight Howard. It's more difficult to explain away the degree to which Ryan Anderson (11 points on 4 shots in 16 minutes), Brandon Bass (17 points, 8 rebounds (4 offensive) in 20 minutes), and Chris Duhon (10 assists only 2 field goal attempts in 23 minutes) worked unimpeded. Nor does such production from Orlando's bench against the Hawks stand as a one-off.
As for the home team's bench, some of it admittedly pressed into extended service due to a poor, foul-plagued* performance by Al Horford, there was little to encourage. Sure, Josh Powell scored 13 points on 6 shots but he also failed to grab a defensive rebound in 17 minutes of play. It's the latter stat that fits better with the evidence of his career than does the scoring outburst. The essential bulk of Jason Collins led to 7 unlikely points** but he managed just one defensive rebound in 17 minutes. Yes, Orlando made more than half their shots but they also rebounded 25% of their own misses. There may, in fact, be a downside to filling out the bench with older players who haven't contributed to an NBA team in three seasons.
*And, to a lesser and inexplicable degree, early fouls committed by Zaza Pachulia. I'll say it again, the Hawks would not be damaged at all were Pachulia to foul out of every single game this season. They don't need 40 minutes from him. They need 16 or 20 and he's perfectly capable of giving hard fouls while refraining from fouling out too quickly in that context.
**That it was bench scoring from Josh Powell and Jason Collins that kept the contest within 30 is among the more chilling aspects of the box score.
"They are one of the best teams in the league because they can defend. They can flat-out guard. A lot of people say it’s because of their offense but it’s because they guard. They have a lot of energy on the defensive end, and that’s why they’re one of the top two or three teams."Al Horford:
"I think that in the past with our team when teams make runs at us we tend to go the other way sometimes. I feel like we have to be more mature about handling things like that, being able to stay with the game plan and keep playing."Larry Drew:
"[Orlando] is on a mission and we've got to get like that. They are certainly a measuring stick. They are getting the job done now; they are now waiting until the regular season. We have to do the same."Michael Cunningham:
Before the game Monday Drew said this is a "new year" with a "new attitude" for the Hawks. Instead, there was the same feeble offense, defensive breakdowns and visible frustration that usually show up in their games against Orlando.Cunningham's right. The difference between the Hawks and Magic has little to do with focus or effort. The difference is in the team's respective talent*, a difference down both to the amount of resources allocated and the wisdom with which the respective resources were allocated. The Atlanta Hawks, as currently constructed, cannot fairly be expected to compete with the Orlando Magic.
*Brandon Bass played 648 minutes last season. The talented and productive (and young) Ryan Anderson played just 910 minutes even with Rashard Lewis missing 10 games.
John Denton of Magic.com:
When the Orlando Magic got word that the Atlanta Hawks were pointing to Monday’s exhibition game as an opportunity to show they aren’t the same team that was obliterated in the playoffs last spring, the Magic had just the motivation they needed to flex their muscles.JJ Redick:
Not that the Magic need any extra incentive these days what with the way they regularly crush foes and beat up on the Hawks anytime the two teams collide. But Monday’s pregame banter sharpened Orlando’s focus and set the stage for another whipping that was eerily similar to last spring’s playoff pounding.
"We talked this morning about what (Atlanta) said (Monday) morning and they still have it in their minds what happened in the playoffs, but we looked at it as another opportunity to get better and we did that. We’re continually getting better every day and this team has a mindset right now that we don’t want to waste a day."Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball on the new-look Atlanta offense:
Atlanta offered a different look offensively than what everyone has been accustomed to seeing under then-head coach Mike Woodson. Instead of a lot of isolation plays, the Hawks ran a considerable amount of pick and rolls and there was plenty of movement off-the-ball. It’s understandable to see that Atlanta is trying to adjust to a new scheme on offense, but some of the elements that head coach Larry Drew is trying to install is encouraging to see. There’s more diversity to the Hawks’ offense than seen before, so it’s only a matter of time before things start to click for them. That being said, Howard did his thing defensively and the rest of the roster for Orlando did not make it easy for Atlanta to score.At Orlando Pinstriped Post, Ben Q. Rock points out that the Magic thoroughly stifled Atlanta's offense despite forcing only 6 turnovers:
Atlanta's in the infant stages of implementing new systems on both sides of the ball under new head coach Larry Drew, and it showed, as the Hawks' core group of players struggled despite three-plus years of experience together. Orlando limited Atlanta to 86.6 points per 100 possessions, yet the Hawks committed just 6 turnovers, which underscores how difficult the Magic made their shots.Per, the same post, the Magic scored 120.3 points per 100 possessions last night. In their eight head-to-head meetings last season, the Magic averaged 118.8 points per 100 possessions and held the Hawks to 94.8 points per 100 possessions.