Monday, November 08, 2010

Orlando Magic 93 Atlanta Hawks 89


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91
50 17.1
20 18.7
ORL 89 1.045 45.3

For the first time in more than two years, the Atlanta Hawks were competitive in Orlando. A brief catalogue of why follows...

1) Jason Collins. However one wishes to apportion credit and to whatever degree the belief that Jason Collins can effectively defend Dwight Howard one-on-one is an article of faith rather than based on empirical evidence, the presence of Collins prevented the Hawks from becoming preoccupied with Howard to a degree that served to highlight their defensive deficiencies on the perimeter. Collins played just 22 of 48 minutes, but wheter it was he, Zaza Pachulia, or Al Horford defending Howard (who scored 27 points on 20 field goal and 11 free throw attempts), the acting Atlanta center took responsibility for Howard, allowing the other four Hawks to focus on defending their men.

2) Jameer Nelson. It's a huge drop-off from Nelson to Chris Duhon (4 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers) and Jason Williams (8 points, 2 assists). His absence further diminished the exposure of Atlanta's defensive vulnerability on the perimeter.

3) Atlanta's jump shooting. 25 of Atlanta's 76 field goal attempts were long two-point jumpers. That's a typical portion of Atlanta field goal attempts to be dedicated to the least efficient shot in basketball in a game against the Magic. The Hawks took 94 long two-point jumpers in the four regular season meetings against the Magic last season. The Hawks made 34% of those shots last season and were outscored by 16-and-a-half points per game by the Magic. Tonight, the Hawks made 52% of those shots (and still scored less than a point per possession) and were outscored by four points by the Magic. There's certainly a substantive difference between the quality of the average long two-point jump shot the 2010-11 Hawks take compared to the 2009-10 edition. This year's team is far more likely to attempt the shot as a result of player and ball movement than as a result of dribbling and shot clock expiration. Then again, the Hawks were down 27 after three quarters in Philips Arena after taking 20 of 62 field goal attempts from 16-to-23 feet against the Magic this pre-season. Like Josh Smith's jump shot over the past week, this could as easily be a hot streak as a redefinition.

4) Orlando's jump shooting. The Magic made just 4 of 22 three-point attempts. Rashard Lewis (career 39.2 3PTFG%), Ryan Anderson (career 36.8 3PTFG%), JJ Redick (career 38.9 3PTFG%), and Quentin Richardson (career 35.8 3PTFG%) combined to go 0-16 from beyond the arc. They did not collectively take 16 bad three-point shots. Atlanta defended the perimeter more effectively than they have in the past against the Magic but, had Orlando made a more representative proportion of their three-point attempts, they could have controlled the game in the second half.

5) Defensive rebounding. That the Hawks forced more difficult shots from Orlando than they have over most of the past two seasons was nice. That the Hawks rebounded 77.5% of Orlando's missed shots was just as crucial to competing in this game. Josh Smith led the way, by a fair margin, with 12 defensive boards. Zaza Pachulia's six defensive boards as well as the five Joe Johnson and the four Mike Bibby grabbed deserve mention as well.

Now, the catalogue of reasons why the Hawks ended the game on the wrong side of a narrow margin...

1) Al Horford. Horford didn't play poorly (16 points on 13 shots, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers). He just didn't play enough: 28 minutes and 7 seconds. That's 6 minutes and 28 seconds less than Josh Smith, 13 minutes and 32 seconds less than Joe Johnson, 5 minutes and 9 seconds less than Jamal Crawford, 3 minutes and 17 seconds less than Mike Bibby. It's an inexcusable state of affairs for the team's best player, one who plays the same position as the opposition's best player. The root cause: Larry Drew's overreaction to two first half personal fouls and not just Horford's first two fouls in this case. Drew allowed Horford to play 3 minutes and 11 seconds of the second quarter with two fouls before pulling him for the final 5:33. Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins were not so lucky. Pachulia lasted 12 seconds after his second foul and Collins no time at all. Collins was replaced by Etan Thomas for the final 5:21 of the first half. Horford finished with four personal fouls. As did Pachulia. Jason Collins finished with three fouls and sat for the the final 13:52 of the game. That's how poor Etan Thomas was: his minutes could have been better spent on Jason Collins. Thomas immediately surrendered an offensive rebound to Brandon Bass and went on to miss two of three shots at the rim, commit two fouls, and turn the ball over once while the Hawks saw a two point lead turn into a four point deficit. Turns out that acquiring a bad player for the express purpose of playing him against a good team despite having the option to play actual, productive NBA players isn't a recipe for success.

2) Zaza Pachulia. Speaking of productive NBA players, he's simply a better basketball player than Jason Collins, Josh Powell, and Etan Thomas and should always be favored ahead of them with playing time. None of the four can guard Dwight Howard and none of the four are especially effective offensive players (though Pachulia is clearly the most effective of the four). Pachulia, though, is far and away the best rebounder the Hawks can bring off the bench and, in a game that goes down to its final possessions, that has real import. Pachulia grabbed 7 rebounds in 15:38. Collins, Powell, and Thomas combined for 8 rebounds in 41:40.

3) One really poor defensive possession in particular. Joe Johnson made a three-pointer that got the Hawks within two at 89-87 with 34 seconds left. On Orlando's subsequent possession, Johnson and Josh Smith butchered defending a hand-off (Rashard Lewis for Vince Carter) despite the Orlando pair mishandling the ball. Johnson and Smith switched, leaving Smith on Carter 28 feet from the basket. By the time Dwight Howard's ball-screen for Carter arrived, Smith was already beaten. That forced Al Horford to switch onto Carter at the top of the key. Horford was dead. Unsure of whether Smith had recovered sufficiently to keep Howard from rolling to the rim for an alley-oop dunk, Horford couldn't commit all his attention to cutting off Carter's drive. Even at his advanced age and on the downside of his career, Carter's no slouch when given an avenue to the rim and, unlike Steve Nash the day before, Carter possesses the size and strength to finish at the bucket against Horford. Carter did so and drew a foul on Horford in the process. He missed the free throw but JJ Redick had his back on that score one possession later.

This was a worse switch than Mike Bibby onto Channing Frye yesterday. At least that one was motivated by stopping a Jason Richardson curl from leading to an easy basket. In this instance, Smith and Johnson switched 28 feet from the basket with no Magic player in possession of the ball nor the true action having started.

With Jameer Nelson out, the talent gap between these teams narrowed. On the decisive possession, an execution gap remained. Orlando did what they wanted. Atlanta did something for discernible reason. The result was familiar.


jrauch said...

Why is LD treating Al like a faberge egg foul-wise?

Its ridiculous. I thought we were getting change with a new coach, not more of the same. We could have just kept Woody with the same ridiculous two-fouls in the first half business.

Unknown said...

The Hawks will never be an elite team if they coninue to accept this bogus defensive philosophy of switching on screens. There is no way that you can ever build any defensive toughness with the mindset of "Oh, if I run into a pick we'll just switch." The best defensive teams fight through screens and challenge every shot.