Monday, December 27, 2010

Al Horford An Afterthought In Another Fourth Quarter

From his game recap at Peachtree Hoops, Jason Walker on Al Horford:
Al Horford isn't perfect, but dang, can the man be more than a freaking afterthought on this team? His number comes up less often than any starter in terms of having a play specifically called for him to get the ball despite his effectiveness. We see every single player blow through their possessions like Kleenex, yet they continue to get the plays called for them. Al doesn't seem to get that grace, and it all goes back to the franchise seeing him as a useful engine, but not the top of the franchise player that would have a gameplan built around his skills.

By the way, Coach Drew.....28 minutes, four fouls. Horford missed (12) minutes due to the foul "trouble" of getting two whole fouls in the first half, which is far more than he likely would have missed if he had fouled out late in the fourth quarter. One often meets his destiny on the path taken to avoid it. And yes, that's a Kung Fu Panda reference.
It was another Hawks loss, it was another one-shot fourth quarter from Al Horford. That makes it four of the last seven games and three of Atlanta's last four losses wherein Horford has gotten a single field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps, rather than adjusting the team's on-court and the franchise's off-court plans to reflect the reality of his excellence, the plan is to suppress the evidence that Horford is the team's best player.


Adam Malka said...

Is it possible that Hawks' management simply doesn't understand the team's strengths and limitations? Is this a problem of their being behind the curve in terms of higher-level analysis?

It seems that certain teams, like San Antonio and Dallas, are taking advantage of the undervalued skill sets of defense. The Hawks meanwhile have failed in multiple ways to recognize (1) who is a good defender, and more broadly, (2) the significance of good team defense to winning basketball games. They play Bibby and Crawford together; they think Johnson is a good defensive player; they blow money on veteran bigs who can't guard or rebound; they fall back, almost to a man and from the ownership down through the player personnel, on platitudes of effort rather than detailing the specifics of their failed strategy. And so on.

On a related note, the Hawks also don't seem to recognize who is their best player. They are wont, more generally, to overvalue Points/Game and "veteran intangibles" while ignoring many of the other offensive attributes that determine a player's value. They give guys like Crawford and Bibby too much playing time. They keep Evans and Powell in the rotation at the expense of Teague, Pachulia, and even Williams. They give Johnson and Crawford too many touches and fail to run the offense through Horford, Williams, and Smith. And so on.

Obviously we can't know what the deal is, and we're not always right. I'm just a dude posting a comment on a blog. I'm just wondering if you, Brett, have any insight into the Hawks' system of analysis and whether, especially, if they're simply behind the ball with their use of stats, etc. After all, so long as a few teams are innovative, everyone else will be slower; and someone will always be, inevitably and definitively, last.

Bret LaGree said...

Adam --

I don't know that it's a lack of interest in and use of advanced stats and analysis (though I've no indication the Hawks make any use of either) so much as an inability to identify and address the team's weaknesses.

One doesn't need advanced stats to know that Bibby, Crawford, Johnson, and Powell are poor defenders, nor does one need to calculate defensive rebounding rate to know that the Hawks give up too many offensive rebounds.

You should just have to watch the games to recognize the ease and frequency with which opposing guards get past their initial defender, how easy it is to screen Johnson or Crawford to get a shooter open off the ball, or how few Hawks (especially when Marvin Williams is out the game) box out after Smith or Horford help against dribble penetration.

This team's been essentially the same for three seasons. The tenured guards are not going to get any better at their ages, Smith looks like he's maxed out his ability to make use of his talents, Williams and Teague aren't getting enough extra touches and minutes to leverage their apparent improvement, and Horford, though he's blossomed into one of the top 15 players in the league, remains fourth in the team in usage and third in minutes.

Even using their preferred analytic methods, the Hawks brain trust appears to lack the ability to reconsider players as they develop or age. That's how you lose Josh Childress for nothing, how you acquire cheap, old reserves for their past reputations rather than present abilities, and why young players don't get a fair chance at a spot in the rotation.

Jeff Teague's a young player. Mike Bibby's a steady veteran. Jamal Crawford's a shot maker. No matter what reality shows us, those are, internally, how those players are and will be defined.