Friday, May 28, 2010
*Their first two guests were Sekou Smith and Larry Coon, so if you subscribe to the podcast, the level of discourse will typically be higher than I offer in this episode.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Mike Bibby's limitations have been obvious since he arrived in March 2008. This season those limitations began to surpass his contributions. For the first time in his career, Bibby played less than 30 minutes a game (27.4) and averaged fewer than 13.6 points/36 minutes (12.0). Though still a fine passer and shooter, Bibby's declining quickness makes it difficult for him to create shots either for himself or for his teammates. Bibby's assist rate declined noticeably in 2009-10 compared to his first year-plus in Atlanta as did the percentage of his made field goals which were assisted by a teammate.
Somewhat remarkably, Bibby had as many field goal attempts at the rim (45) in the entire 2009-10 season as he did in the in the 33 games he played with the Hawks in 2008.
|Bibby||%FGA (at rim)||%FGA (16-23')||3PTA/FGA|
To Bibby's credit, he appears to be doing the most he can with what he's got left: forgoing the long two-pointer in favor of more three-point attempts (as a percentage of the whole) and making an extremely high percentage (58.1%) of the rare shots (72) he gets within 10 feet.
Bibby tries to accomplish the same feat defensively but it's much more difficult to use skill to overcome a lack of size and athleticism in that aspect of the game. True, the Hawks allowed 3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bibby on the floor than with him off the floor but I suspect that had as much to do with amount of floor time Bibby shared with Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford* as well as the second unit's defensive struggles than with Bibby experiencing a defensive renaissance. In both 2007-08 and 2008-09, Bibby's defensive on/off numbers more closely matched his reputation as the Hawks allowed 5.8 and 6.9 more points per 100 possessions with Bibby on the court, respectively.
*58.5% (2359 possessions) of Bibby's on-court defensive possessions were played alongside Williams, Smith, and Horford and the Hawks allowed 1.032 points per possession with those four on the floor. With Bibby on the court and any or all of Williams, Smith, and Horford off the court (1676 possessions), the Hawks allowed 1.092 points per possession.
It's difficult to imagine a scenario where Bibby plays the majority of the team's minutes at point guard next season. Bibby's 2009-10 offensive production would be perfectly acceptable (if pricey) from a backup point guard and his defensive impact would be lessened both by reduced minutes and a new head coach not designing the team's defensive game plan to best hide Bibby. Giving Jeff Teague more minutes at the point appears to be the most plausible in-house, short-term option for improving the team's defense as well as being necessary for the team's long-term player development strategy.
The plausibility of Teague playing at an acceptable level for a starter will be addressed shortly.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
NOTE: I'm moved this installment in the season review forward in the schedule to honor Drew's retirement from blogging.
Zaza Pachulia provided another season of solid post play off the bench. Better health for Josh Smith and Al Horford than either had in 2008-09 saw Pachulia's minutes diminish but his production was roughly similar. His scoring and rebounding declined a bit but so did his turnover rate, while he greatly increased his rates of steals and blocked shots.
Pachulia would be overmatched as a full-time starter but could probably continue to thrive in a larger bench role and could be the "true center" that allows Al Horford to play more power forward, a state of affairs for which many Hawk fans wish. Pachulia and Horford didn't play together much last season as Mike Woodson's fondness for strictly defined roles saw Pachulia cast as the backup center (and Joe Smith the backup power forward) for much of the season. In their brief time together last season, Pachulia and Horford proved an effective combination.
|Players||Off Eff||Poss||Def Eff||Poss||+/-|
|Pachulia & Josh Smith||109.5||810||111||825||-1.5|
|Pachulia & Joe Smith||106||655||113.2||660||-7.2|
|Pachulia & Horford||110.7||291||96.9||270||+13.8|
|Pachulia & others||103.7||270||101.9||264||+1.8|
The Hawks were +1.7 per 100 possessions with Horford and Pachulia playing alongside each other for 672 offensive and 670 defensive possessions in 2008-09. That makes the Hawks +5.3 per 100 possessions (Off Eff: 104.7 Def Eff: 99.4) over the last two seasons (totaling 963 offensive and 960 defensive possessions) with Horford and Pachulia playing alongside each other. Still not a large sample size, but interesting.
If Pachulia could succeed as even a situational third post player rather just a backup center, that could allow the team to take greater advantage of his reasonable contract and invest more resources in improving their perimeter talent rather than shoring up the deepest part of the team's roster.
When Marvin Williams signed a 5-year, $37.5 million contract last summer it's doubtful that either side of that negotiation expected both his offensive role* and production to regress following a promising 2008-09 season but regress they did.
Usage rate? Down 15% and not just down, but lower than Mike Bibby's usage rate and roughly identical to those of Zaza Pachulia and Maurice Evans.
Scoring rate? Down 17%.
3PTFG%? Down 14.6%
eFG%? Down 3.4%.
FT Rate? Down 25.1%. TS%? Down 5.1%. These despite his FT% increasing from 80.6% to 81.9%.
Offensive rebound rate? Down 19.3%.
Defensive rebound rate? Down 2.6%.
His assist and turnover rates remained steady but neither have been central to his offensive value (or lack thereof).
*Largely explained by Jamal Crawford playing 485 more minutes in 2009-10 than Flip Murray did in 2008-09 while posting an even higher usage rate.
Worse, Williams looked bad offensively. Whereas his spacing had, in past seasons, been consistently sound and appeared effortless, he struggled to find the appropriate space to spot up for jump shots, finding himself unbalanced and/or unprepared when receiving a pass, and too often taking a jumper with one or both feet on the three-point line. It was likely not a coincidence that Williams appeared to lose confidence in his jump shot even as jumpers consisted of a greater percentage of his field goal attempts than in the previous season. He shot the ball poorly but did himself no favors by passing up open jump shots to drive hesitatingly into traffic, resulting in more missed shots and fewer trips to the free throw line.
|Williams||%FGA (16+')||eFG% (16+')||%FGA (rim-10')||eFG% (rim-10')|
Josh Smith wasn't the only young Hawk forward to settle for the long two-point jump shot too often. Given the lack of success Williams and Smith had from that range, it's remarkable the team's offense was as efficient as it was.
|Williams||%FGA (16-23')||eFG% (16-23')||%FGA (3PT)||eFG% (3PT)|
Despite the disappointing offensive season, Williams is far from a hopeless case. The bulk of the evidence suggests that he can shoot, especially when he has his feet set. He can finish at the rim. He's adept both at getting to the free throw line and making his free throws. In limited opportunities, he's shown some promise when he receives the ball in the mid- or high-post. He rarely turns the ball over. Too often though, these offensive abilities remain latent and with each passing season the concern that Williams is not capable of claiming a larger role in the offense becomes more serious, even more so given the level of investment in him now that he's no longer on his rookie contract.
It may or may not be encouraging with regard to his offensive woes, but Williams does play a significant defensive role for the Hawks, being the only* player capable of guarding opposing small forwards.
|Williams at 3||1.019||4113|
|Anyone else at 3||1.134||3319|
*Joe Johnson could plausibly guard opposing small forwards were he not so busy being asked to guard players he can't possibly stay in front of, but he didn't.
Now, 16.3% of those "anyone else at 3" possessions occur with Williams still on the floor. Comparing the team's defense with Williams at the 3 against him at other positions:
Most of those "other" possessions have Williams playing the 4 so we're seeing both the difference between Williams and others guarding the 3 and the impact of not having both Josh Smith and Al Horford on the court which, over the course of the season, was worth 3.2 points per 100 possessions.
Marvin Williams figures to have the most to gain from the hiring of a new head coach. Any of 1) a larger role in the offense, 2) a better defined role in the offense, 3) a commitment to pushing the ball up the court, or 4) simply getting more minutes in recognition of his defensive value could reasonably be expected to lead to an improvement in his offensive production. How much ("if" for the more skeptical amongst us) his offensive production improves is ultimately up to him and will likely determine whether his future lies in Atlanta or elsewhere. If he cannot increase his offensive production to match that which he provides defensively, his contract, barring a sudden increase in league-wide revenue or a willingness from ownership to pay the luxury tax, figures to necessitate a trade.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
That 20-20 record. That's what everyone remembers.As for the coaching search in general, I recommend patience. Remember June 12th. It was on that date in 2008 that the Hawks offered Mike Woodson his second contract.
OK, that's what most people remember. That's what some people remember. That's what I remember, at least.
I remember that Dwane Casey is not just another retread. That he can actually coach. And that if the Atlanta Hawks make him their next sideline stalker, general manager Rick Sund may have found an answer for the blasé attitude that permeated the Hawk locker room more times than not during Mike Woodson's tenure.
That 20-20 is Casey's record over the first 40 games of the 2006-07 season, a 40-game stint that saw Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor overestimate the amount of talent GM Kevin McHale had put together before firing Casey and asking assistant Randy Wittman (now there's a retread) to take over for the final 41. Working with the same group of Timberwolves, Wittman went 12-30.
That 20-20 record stands out as one of the more telling marks in Timberwolves history — the team that refused to rebuild after the win-now boys of 2003-04 fell apart, the team that hung onto Kevin Garnett(notes) for too long, and the team that decided that a cadre of crappy hybrid guards (seriously, look at this roster) was the future. Somehow, a rotation featuring Mike James(notes), Randy Foye(notes), Rashad McCants(notes), Troy Hudson(notes) and Marko Jaric(notes) all battling for time to bring the ball up and launch an iffy jumper just didn't work for Wittman.
It worked for Casey, as he put the Wolves in the playoff hunt midway through the season with a lineup built around Kevin Garnett that should have been in the Greg Oden(notes) hunt. The Kentucky product and one-time-understudy-to-many had the Wolves overachieving, and working hard on both ends. And for Taylor, it wasn't enough. It should have been.
The Hawks acquired Jamal Crawford to score. He held up his end of the bargain, scoring more frequently and more efficiently than in any of his previous nine NBA seasons. Joining a good team for the first time in his career, specifically one that institutionally de-emphasized the importance of perimeter defense, Crawford found a context that made his obvious strengths more valuable than his equally obvious weaknesses were costly.
Crawford's 2009-10 saw him set new career highs* in each of these categories.
*Crawford averaged 18.6 points per 36 minutes in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, made 45.2% of his 2PTFGA in 2005-06, 36.1% of his 3PTFGA in 2004-05, and posted a TS% of 54.5 in 2008-09.
Much as he did with Flip Murray in 2008-09, Mike Woodson asked Crawford to focus on scoring and was rewarded for the decision. When playing as the lead guard, Crawford had little responsibility for setting up his teammates and, when playing off the ball, Crawford had no real responsibility other than to knock down open shots his teammates created for him. This deployment saw Crawford post career low assist and turnover rates.
Crawford's previous career lows occurred in 2004-05, his first season with the Knicks, when he shared the backcourt with Stephon Marbury.
It's a testament both to Crawford and how he was used that he was almost certainly a net positive for the Hawks despite him being a terrible defender. How terrible was Crawford? Arguably worse than Mike Bibby. Crawford was less likely to steal the ball or draw a charge or grab a defensive rebound than Bibby.
Long, athletic, and not lacking in effort this past season Crawford simply lacks any useful defensive instincts. Whereas Bibby can (very) occasionally mitigate his lack of mobility by reading a play and breaking it up, Crawford, when his team does not have possession of the ball, tends, quite literally, to stand and watch. At the (potential) end of an offensive possession, he watches a shot until it goes in or is rebounded, frequently causing him to be out of position in transition defense. In the half-court defense, he's rarely in position to help defensively and tends toward stasis once an opponent's shot goes up, neither blocking out nor in position to grab a rebound that doesn't fall directly to him. Not coincidentally, the Hawks allowed 5.3 more points per 100 possessions with Crawford on the court than when he was off the court, the worst differential on the team.
Vital as Crawford was to Atlanta's offensive success he was equally liable for the team's defensive limitations. The next Hawks coach isn't going to make the team much more effective defensively without better defensive players on the perimeter. Crawford will turn 30 during the 2010-11 season. He's coming off a career year (for which he was lauded) and has an expiring contract. Given that he's managed the team's cap space in such a way as to have severely limited his options this summer, Rick Sund has to explore Crawford's trade value.
That isn't to say that Crawford should be traded. 11 months ago, Jamal Crawford, owed $19+ million over two years, was worth only Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton's expiring contract. I suspect he would be worth more in exchange this summer, but Crawford's one-year, on-court value to the Hawks so far surpasses the value of the package the Hawks gave up to acquire him that the potential market for his specific skill set may be too soft for the Hawks' liking.
Still, a willingness to capitalize on Crawford's career year to acquire a player or players that better complement, both long- and short-term, whichever Hawks remain to be built around would be an encouraging sign for Hawks fans who want the team to compete for a championship. Crawford's skill set is limited and one worries about the recent tendency of the Hawks' organization to become commit such resources to their role players (Bibby, Marvin Williams, Mario West) as to limit their options to improve the team.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Josh Smith (deservedly) gets talked about in terms of what he might become and what the hypothetical consolidation and maturation of his talents might mean for the Atlanta Hawks. Even though Al Horford's skills are more conventional he should probably be discussed in similar terms. Horford recognizes his strengths and weaknesses more readily than does Smith so his improvement has and could come from refining his existing skills rather than a hope for enlightenment.
Horford improved his offensive production and his efficiency in both his second and third seasons:
Horford continued to play a surprisingly small role in the Atlanta offense given his abilities, though his usage rate also reflects the significant improvement he's made in his turnover rate.
Despite still being mechanical* with his back to the basket, Horford is tremendously efficient when shooting from inside of 10 feet. Almost 65% of Horford's field goal attempts came within 10 feet of the basket and he made those shots at a far higher than league average rate.
*Whether or not Horford improves his post game sufficiently to consistently draw a double-team and thus fully take advantage of his passing ability will likely determine whether he remains an arguable All-Star or becomes an arguable All-NBA player.
|2009-10||at rim FG%||inside 10' FG%||combined FG%|
Horford complemented his work in and around the paint with a devastatingly accurate face-up jumper. 21.5% of Horford's field goal attempts came between 16 and 23 feet. It's the worst percentage shot in the game in general, but not so much so if one, as Horford did last season, makes the shot 48% of the time rather than the league average of 39.8% and uses the shot judiciously. Horford is unlikely to make 48% of that type of shot again next year, but his career field goal percentage from 16 to 23 feet is now 41.5% so he should be expected to remain better than league average from that range. As an counterexample of indiscriminate and ineffective use of the jumper, Josh Smith took 64 more long jump shots (including 3PTFGA: 1 for Horford, 7 for Smith) than Horford and made 20 fewer.
|Name||FGA (16' +)||%FGA (16' +)||eFG% (16' +)|
Horford's defensive role was essentially the opposite of his offensive role. Mike Woodson's switching defense called on Horford to do everything: guard the opposing center in the post, guard the opposing point guard away from the basket on the screen-and-roll, help on dribble penetration from the wings, and rebound the misses. If defensive usage rate were a real thing rather than a term of art, then Horford presumably would have been among the league leaders as his all-court defensive effort rarely failed to impress.
How effective Horford was as a defender is a fair question, though. The Hawks allowed fewer points per 100 possessions with Horford on the court than with him off the court but that has a fair amount to do with the relative quality of Horford to both his backups and his teammates. Similarly, how effective is it that Horford moves his feet well enough to often stay in front of smaller, faster players in an absolute sense and how much is it impressive simply because his teammates could so rarely accomplish the same feat? Employing guards who can defend on the perimeter is surely the sounder strategy than testing the limits of Horford' mobility. I'm confident that Horford is an above average defender but I think it's possible that his overall defensive contributions are somewhat similar to Joe Johnson's scoring: more impressive for the circumstances through which they occur than in absolute value. Given a more reasonable defensive brief, it's not inconceivable that Horford (already the superior defensive reboudner) could challenge Josh Smith as the team's best defender.
If Horford is the dark-horse candidate, in relation to Josh Smith, to blossom into a franchise player, then he's also the dark-horse candidate, in relation to Marvin Williams (and possibly Jeff Teague), to benefit the most from a new head coach. Horford has produced admirably through three seasons despite being utilized more often to cover for his teammates' limitations than to take advantage of his own strengths. Should the new head coach allow Horford to use his superior quickness to neutralize the size and strength advantages bigger centers have against him and/or make more use of Horford at power forward alongside Zaza Pachulia when that tandem presents potentially favorable matchups for the team, Horford might conceivably increase his usage rate and his efficiency yet again.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Josh Smith broke out, improving across the board on his injury-limited 2008-09 season, becoming an All-Star Game snub célèbre, finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and making the All-Defensive Second Team. Smith was central to the team's success. He and Al Horford were the only two Hawks who, when they were off the court, saw the team get outscored.
Smith got lots of attention, all of it positive, for attempting just seven three-point shots (most of them at the end of quarters) during the regular season. A career 26.6% three-point shooter, Smith had attempted at least 87 three-pointers in each of the four previous seasons.
Smith also greatly increased the percentage of his field goal attempts which came at the rim* where he made 65.6% of his attempts.
|Josh Smith||%FGA (at rim)||FG% (at rim)|
*All that time spent at or near the rim also allowed Smith to take better advantage of both his passing and offensive rebounding skills. Smith set career highs in assists, assist rate, offensive rebounds, and offensive rebound rate.
Why then, did Smith's eFG% decline slightly (from 50.8% to 50.5%) from 2008-09 to 2009-10? Because Smith didn't actually reduce the number of jump shots he took by the degree the three-point attempt column of the box score suggests and, on the rare occasions those jump shots went in, none of them were worth three points.
|Josh Smith||%FGA (16' +)||eFG% (16' +)|
Smith made a largely cosmetic rather than a fundamental change to his shot selection. Even worse, he backslid on what progress he'd made in this regard in the Orlando series where (small sample size acknowledged) jump shots constituted more than 30% of his field goal attempts and less than half his field goal attempts came at the rim. This even though Smith made a typical 27.8% of his jump shots and 65.5% of his shots at the rim.
It's incumbent upon the next Hawks coach, whoever he may be, to succeed where Mike Woodson failed throughout his tenure. Smith must be convinced to embrace his gifts, maximize his strengths, acknowledge his weaknesses, and minimize his exposure of those weaknesses. Even the idea of Smith improving his jump shot is, at this point, a virtual dead end, given the more realistic and fundamental areas in which Smith can and should improve: his free throw shooting, his lateral movement when defending away from the basket, and not letting referee decisions impact his effort.
Josh Smith is unique, a devastating scorer and passer when he receives the ball in an area where he deserves the attention of one or more defenders but a complete offensive liability when he stands 20 feet from the basket. He's an outstanding, game-changing help defender (and has become a decent on-the-ball defender in the post) but a defensive liability when asked to defend in space or close out on perimeter shooters.
Josh Smith clearly cannot play small forward but he does not conform to the generic conception of a power forward, either. At 24, he faces two choices. He can continue to suppress his individuality in a futile attempt to fill a traditional role or he can consolidate his strengths, accept (and let go of) his weaknesses and make something new, something just for himself, and bend the game to his will. If he chooses the latter path, he'll have the opportunity to take a place alongside Bob Pettit and Dominique Wilkins in the history of this franchise.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
It was a typical Joe Johnson season: he posted a well above-average (but far rfom elite) scoring rate with slightly below-average efficiency, an excellent assist rate for his size/position, committed few turnovers given his usage rate, and ended the season with a far better defensive reputation than evidence can support. If Johnson was only arguably the Hawks' best player in 2009-10 that argument would have more to do with the improved play of Josh Smith and Al Horford than any decline in Johnson's production.
With Johnson's free agency the essential variable of this off-season for the Hawks, the most important thing about his 2009-10 performance is what it might tell us about his future.
Looking at his scoring, shooting, passing, and ball-handling numbers it's difficult to argue he's improved or changed during his five years in Atlanta. He played essentially the same role essentially as well on a 26-win team in 2005-06 as he did on a 53-win team in 2009-10. Just because the Hawks have managed themselves into a cap position that leaves them unable to replace Johnson through free agency, it doesn't mean they should re-sign him.
Johnson turns 29 this summer. He's played 25,974 minutes in the NBA. The Atlanta Hawks have enjoyed the prime of his career. That prime may last another couple of years but Joe Johnson isn't going to sign a two or three-year contract this summer. Some team is going to be on the hook for the next five or six years of Johnson's career at the cost of at least $15 million per season. I think it's unlikely Johnson gets any better* but how confident can one be that he'll remain this good.
*The shape of his performance could change in a different context. As more of a finisher than a creator, for example, he could become more efficient in a lower-usage role but likely at the cost of some the volume of points he's scored and assists he's earned over the last five seasons.
Both Johnson's consistency over the last five seasons and that his 2009-10 stats remained above his career averages pretty much across the board suggest that he's a fairly safe bet to be this good again in 2010-11. Beyond that, there are some clear warning signs that Johnson, never an especially athletic player, will be forced to take a more reduced role in the offense of whichever team employs him.
To be clear, Joe Johnson is a great shot-maker and it's his ability to make difficult shots that has mitigated both his (and the offense system in which he's played's) inability to create easy shots for him. His lack of quickness and his ability to rely on his jump shot have always kept Johnson from getting to the free throw line at a league average rate. In 2009-10, Johnson's FT Rate declined by almost 25% from the previous season's (already below average) rate. JR Smith and Jason Richardson were the only two players in the top 60 in the league in scoring rate to post a lower FT Rate than Johnson.
Interestingly, this decline is not due to Johnson shooting more jump shots. The percentage of his shot attempts taken outside of 16-feet has declined each of the last three seasons. Rather, Johnson is now taking almost as many shots between the area at the rim and 10-feet as he is at the rim. In 2006-07, just one in ten Johnson field goal attempts came away from the rim but within 10-feet of the basket. Last season, almost one in five of Johnson's shots were attempted there.
|Johnson||%FGA (16'+)||%FGA (at rim)||%FGA (rim to 10')|
He's unlikely to draw sufficient contact on all those floaters and runners to get to the free throw line consistently.
Though Johnson's age and relative lack of athleticism have yet to seriously impact his offensive production, the same cannot be said for his defense. Granted, all of the data below (and most of the conclusions drawn) reflect a combination of Johnson's absolute ability as a defender and how he was used defensively. Johnson's defensive performance certainly could improve if he's no longer asked to guard opposing point guards. At the same time, it's fair to argue that the team's leader in minutes played was a significant part of said team's defensive limitations.
The Hawks allowed 4.4 more points per 100 possessions* with Johnson on the court than with him off the court. This despite 73% of Johnson's on-court defensive possessions coming with both Josh Smith and Al Horford on the floor alongside him. Only Joe Smith** (+4.8 per 100 possessions) and Jamal Crawford*** (+5.3 per 100 possessions) posted worse defensive on/off numbers for the Hawks last season.
*This is actually an improvement over 2008-09 when the Hawks allowed 5.1 more points per 100 possessions with Johnson on the floor.
**Joe Smith, for example, shared the court with Horford and Josh Smith on just 5 of the 1107 defensive possessions he played this season.
***Crawford played 42.4% of his defensive possessions alongside Smith and Horford, during which the Hawks allowed 1.072 points per possession.
|Johnson on court||1.083||5344|
|w/ Smith & Horford||1.067||3902|
|w/ Smith or Horford||1.099||1167|
|w/o Smith & Horford||1.24||275|
This table shows a few things: how central Josh Smith and Horford were to whatever defensive success the Hawks had, how much better than their backups Smith and Horford were defensively, and how little positive impact Joe Johnson had on the team's defense.
There are other numbers that support that last point. Johnson, listed at 6-8, blocked five (5) shots last season. Jeff Teague, listed at 6-2, blocked 11 shots while playing a quarter of the minutes Johnson played. Johnson drew just 9 charges in 2886 minutes played. Both of these single-digit numbers were compiled despite the frequency with which the Atlanta defense inverted itself, putting frontcourt defenders on the perimeter and perimeter players on the interior. In fact, Johnson's rate of defensive plays (blocks plus steals plus charges drawn) made per 40 minutes was lower than Mike Bibby's rate and essentially equal to Jamal Crawford's rate.
Now, Johnson is a better defender than Crawford if for no other reason than his defensive rebounding rate is more than 40% higher than Crawford's rate and Johnson surely suffered some from being asked to do something (guard opposing point guards, at least until the first screen) at which he cannot succeed. However, Johnson's overall defensive performance was not appreciably different from the little asked, little given performances of Crawford and Mike Bibby despite Johnson's greater size and strength which could have, theoretically, proved more helpful when defending after a switch.
Joe Johnson had a bad defensive season. He wasn't used optimally but the combination of that with his lack of a measurably positive defensive impact in 2008-09 as well, his below average offensive rebound rate, his sharp decline in both free throw and block rate, the paucity of defensive plays made, an increasing inability either to get to the rim or create space for a mid-range jumper, and the volume of minutes he's played calls his future into serious question. Every athletic marker in his statistical profile draws a red flag.
These are the kind of numbers that indicate a player is unlikely to translate his collegiate production to the NBA. However one feels about the validity of Johnson's current reputation, it's difficult to see how he will maintain his established level of production into his mid-30s. Buyer beware.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Mike Woodson's most successful season as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks was also his last, a circumstance that speaks both to his limitations as a head coach and those of the organization for which he worked. The 2010 Hawks won the most games since the 1997 squad and reached the second-round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 13 years. The 2010 team also posted both the highest offensive efficiency and lowest defensive efficiency of Woodson's six seasons in charge. Yet Woodson's departure has been met with a response ranging from relief to celebration.
Such reaction is understandable given the miserable ending to the season. Woodson appeared to lose control of the team, and, concurrent with that, demonstrated his greatest weaknesses as a head coach. Had Woodson been able to make a better case for his importance to the team's accomplishments during the regular season, his future with the team could plausibly be in his own hands. Unfortunately for Woodson, his team finished second in the league in offensive efficiency even as he colorfully (and, I believe, honestly) proclaimed not to "give a shit about the offense."
His disinterest in the offensive half of basketball led Woodson, throughout his tenure, to rely on veteran point guards who, though they could knock down a jump shot when Joe Johnson stopped dribbling, were serious defensive liabilities. All the not turning the ball over in the world can't make up for Mike Bibby's defensive limitations and the contortions through which Woodson put his better defenders in an attempt to hide them. Nor did the indisputable success Woodson had in deploying Flip Murray and Jamal Crawford as lead guards off the bench come without the cost of failing to break into the top third of the league's defenses.
To his credit, Woodson consistently and competently prepared his team to play a certain way. Over the course of the past two 82-game seasons, that consistency and the front-line talent available to him proved successful far more often that not. However, when the certain way the Hawks intended to play was stymied (offensively) or exploited (defensively) they just as consistently lacked the ability to counter their opponents. Woodson's attempts at in-game coaching ranged from the maddening (yet largely inconsequential) deployment of Mario West as the game's first-ever end of quarter defensive specialist, to an irrational fear of potential future foul trouble*, to his final, shocking miscalculation: contriving a way to bench Al Horford for much of the first half of the first game of the Orlando series in favor of Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia.
*The Horford Treatment became less absolute later in Woodson's tenure but it never disappeared completely.
Mike Woodson was never given a deep and talented roster with which to work but there's little evidence he could have made use of such resources had they been made available to him. A coach who find a defined (albeit ridiculous and minuscule) role for Mario West but can't manage to find regular minutes for the point guard of the future is, at best, idiosyncratic.
Perhaps the most incongruous aspect of Woodson's tenure is how it appears, in retrospect, that Woodson was miscast as head coach of this team during his first contract. Woodson never displayed an aptitude for player development. Had he followed a firmer hand, a coach who undertook the hard work of making Josh Smith the player he could be rather than player he thinks himself to be, a coach capable of making use of both Marvin Williams and Josh Childress, a coach who valued shot creation and good shot creation more evenly, then his consistent message and aversion to confrontation might be seen as an inspiring breath of fresh air rather than a calcified impediment to future success.
If Woodson is discerning about his next job and takes over a veteran team with a set roster and more than two good defensive players, I expect his success will more closely mirror that of his last two seasons in Atlanta than the futility of his first four.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson will receive the first interview to fill the Atlanta Hawks' coaching vacancy, according to NBA coaching sources.
Current Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey will also interview for the Hawks' job in the next few days, sources said.
Johnson, an NBA analyst for ESPN, has already interviewed with the Philadelphia 76ers and his hometown New Orleans Hornets in recent weeks.
The Hawks, sources said, requested and received permission from the Mavericks over the weekend to meet with Casey.
Utah Jazz assistant coach Tyrone Corbin and Phoenix Suns assistant Dan Majerle are also on the Hawks' list, sources said.
Sources say Johnson and Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, meanwhile, have emerged as standout contenders in New Orleans in a search that has generated seven interviews to date. Besides Johnson, Thibodeau and Casey, New Orleans has met with Portland assistant coach Monty Williams, TNT's Mike Fratello, ESPN's Mark Jackson and former New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank.
It's folly to judge a general manager on one season's work. The desire to win in the current season must be balanced with longer-term goals for an organization to succeed. There won't be many absolute judgments levied below nor will what look like problems currently necessarily remain problems.
For example, trading Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton for Jamal Crawford was a great move in terms of the 2009-10 season. However, the $10 million Crawford's owed for the 2010-11 season appears to limit Sund's options this summer. Then again, Sund could turn Crawford's career year, combined with an expiring contract, into assets useful in 2010-11 and beyond should he explore the trade market. Which he surely must given Crawford's age and limitations.
So it is with Marvin Williams, who was paid far too much in 2009-10 for what the team asked of him. I think it's a fair belief that Williams is capable of more. If such is asked of him and he's able to fulfill the promise that made him a consensus top-two prospect in the 2005 NBA Draft, then his contract (4 years and $30 million remain) would look reasonable if not a bargain.
Mike Bibby's contract is unlikely to be a bargain at any point in time, though, in concert with other moves, the $650,000 pay cut he takes this season may make the acquisition of an additional (and one hopes useful) player possible. If Sund can find a taker for the final two years of Bibby's contract, a parade would not be out of the question.
The end of the bench in 2009-10 doesn't inspire confidence for the end of the bench in 2010-11 which will almost surely consist of whatever cheap, available options can be scraped together. As expected, neither Joe Smith nor Jason Collins was able to contribute. The second, guaranteed year of Randolph Morris's contract wasted a roster spot on a team already limiting itself to 13 players for the entire season. More disappointing was that the Hawks continued to lack ambition and imagination with non-NBA free agents and to completely ignore the existence of the D-League. The Hawks used the final roster spot to recycle two non-prospects of their own: Othello Hunter and Mario West. Hunter was the better use of a roster spot* both because he's a marginally more plausible contributor and because Woodson wouldn't play him.
*Using that roster spot on him and assigning him to the D-League might have been more useful for the team, not to mention his own development.
Woodson's predilections make it impossible to give Sund's first-round draft choice anything other than an incomplete grade. Given the volume of quality point guard prospects (also, Jonny Flynn) available in the 2009 NBA Draft, it won't look good if Teague fails to develop. It remains to be seen if selecting Sergiy Gladyr in the second-round was a productive long-term decision or just another wasted draft pick for the franchise.
Another season without Josh Childress neither on the roster nor gone for good in a sign-and-trade leaves a mess Sund inherited unresovled and awaiting a final judgment.
Letting Mike Woodson's contract expire was a sound and necessary decision* but one that pales in importance next to the decision of whom to hire as the team's next head coach.
*One that will be discussed at much greater length in the next season review piece.
Similarly, I expect the 4 year, $60 million contract offered Joe Johnson in the summer of 2009 to compare quite favorably to the contract Johnson signs in the summer of 2010. Whether or not the contract Johnson signs is one offered by the Hawks will also go a long way toward coloring Sund's job performance. Bidding against yourself is not a recipe for success. Refusing to overpay may involve taking a short-term hit in the service of a brighter future.
Friday, May 14, 2010
My end of season piece on Woodson, originally seen in The Daily Dime:
Woodson was informed in a Friday morning meeting with Hawks' management that that he would not be offered a new contract after leading the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances in his final three seasons.
The team is expected to make an official announcement this afternoon.
Woodson's contract expired Monday, forcing the Hawks to make a quick decision. Woodson is now free to explore his options with a half dozen coaching vacancies around the league, while the Hawks embark on a search of their own for his replacement.
Mike Woodson coached his 521st game with the Atlanta Hawks Monday night. The 14-point loss completed a sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic and might have been his last game with the team, capping a remarkable, unlikely run in charge.Change might and if to was and when.
Woodson's tenure is remarkable because he got a second contract after winning 106 games in his first four seasons in charge and because he's unlikely to get a third contract offer after winning 100 games over the past two seasons while taking the Hawks to the second round of the playoffs in consecutive years, a feat last accomplished in Atlanta by Lenny Wilkens in 1996 and 1997.
Last season's second-round sweep could be (fairly) blamed on injuries as much as Cleveland's superiority. This season's sweep demonstrates just how far the Hawks, despite their slow, consistent improvement under Woodson, have to go to compete for a championship. With the contracts of both Woodson and Joe Johnson expiring, an era may be over in Atlanta.
It would be unduly charitable to view Woodson as a victim of his own success. This team, in perhaps its last week together, revealed the consistent weaknesses of the Woodson era: an overreliance on jump shots created off the dribble and in isolation, lots of talk about defense but little in the way of results, and a lack of depth. The first two problems are directly related. Though Woodson retains, from his association with Larry Brown in Detroit, a defensive reputation in some circles, the Hawks never finished better than 12th in the league in defensive efficiency largely because Woodson was most comfortable turning the offense over to veteran point guards.
Tyronn Lue, Anthony Johnson, Mike Bibby, Flip Murray and Jamal Crawford each took their turn spotting up on the weak side while Joe Johnson had the ball. Each also took his turn guarding the opposition's least-dangerous offensive player as Woodson cross-matched in an attempt to hide his point guard from quicker players.
In time, this effort to hide, on the defensive end, players deemed essential to the offense turned the Hawks into a fully predictable team, one that switched almost every screen, both on- and off-the-ball, in an effort to maximize the involvement of its two good defensive players (Josh Smith and Al Horford) in each possession.
In the playoffs -- especially on the road, where the Hawks lost 12 of 14 games under Woodson -- opposing teams took advantage of this defensive predictability to create whichever matchup they desired and/or to pull Smith and Horford away from the basket. It proved just as damaging as the more-publicized isolation-heavy offensive sets which too often failed to trouble sound defensive clubs in the postseason. It was damaging, because the Hawks never appeared to have any other options, either in terms of tactics or personnel, at their disposal.
Woodson has become, over the course of six seasons, quite competent at installing a game plan. However, he has failed to make successful adjustments when teams foil that plan. If this is the end, it may be the similarity, more than the number, of Hawks defeats that convinces the organization to hire a new head coach.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
"Some Early Prediction Thoughts," was a well-intentioned but not especially thought through post. In retrospect, using Win Shares over-complicated an already difficult task as it encompasses both player and team performance in a single number. I don't have a projection system* and cobbling together some scratch work involving advanced stats doesn't change that. I didn't even do an especially good job of estimating player minutes for a team that suffered no significant injuries.
*Compare my efforts with some things I took note of in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 to see the value of a projection system when making projections.
I did, though, set a realistic goal for my record prediction:
I'm researching and exploring some methods to utilize in the hopes of making a more objective, more accurate prediction for the 2009-10 season with the goal of getting within, let's say, ten games of the Hawks' final record. A small step but one which would constitute an almost 30% improvement for me over last year's prediction. It's all about setting attainable goals.In my official season preview, I pegged the Hawks for 44 wins but gave myself plenty of wiggle room in the text:
The Hawks have not built, nor do they appear to be building, a championship contender. Instead, a bifurcated ownership group, former GM Billy Knight, Mike Woodson, and current GM Rick Sund have worked (if not always together) to assemble the best Hawks team in a decade, a 44 to 50-win squad almost certain to make the playoffs in the East for a third consecutive season.and:
[T]he Hawks went from attempting one out of every six field goals from beyond the arc in 2007-08 and making 35.6 percent of them to attempting one out of every four field goals from beyond the arc in 2008-09 and making 36.6 percent of them. The improvement was a team effort. Mike Bibby and Josh Smith bettered their career 3-point field goal percentages. Flip Murray, Maurice Evans, and Marvin Williams each set career highs in 3-pointers made, attempted, and 3-point field goal percentage. Whether this was a sustainable, systemic improvement or just a confluence of unlikely performances will go a long way toward determining whether the Hawks’ win total in 2009-10 is closer to 47 or 37.The Hawks followed up a 36.6% three-point shooting season with a 36% three-point shooting season. I guess it was sustainable. Josh Smith eliminating the three-point shot from his game (during the regular season) certainly helped make up for the decline in three-point percentage from Mo Evans and Marvin Williams. That Evans and Williams both shot fewer three-pointers in 2009-10 minimized the impact of their decline in accuracy.
None of which is to say that I didn't make too much of the team's three-point shooting much like how I overreacted to the loss of Josh Childress the previous summer.
Looking back, I'm not at all ashamed of this passage:
[T]he 2009-10 team will look an awful lot like the 2008-09 team, will fall out of the divisional race fairly early but will fight to the end for the fourth seed and its accompanying home court advantage, will win or lose a close first-round series, and, if the former occurs, [and] might even win a second-round playoff game...My 2010 team predictions were better than my 2009 team predictions but they still weren't especially good. Nowhere did I mention turnover rate, the defining characteristic of the league's third-best offense in the regular season, I underestimated, despite writing a pretty good post about it, the impact of Josh Smith being healthy for a full season, and probably allowed my own prejudices to underrate Jamal Crawford's addition even though Flip Murray demonstrated the season before that the rest of the Hawks could make good use of a shoot-first third guard.
Sund said the Hawks would extend a qualifying offer to Josh Childress, a restricted free agent who has played in Greece the past two seasons. If Childress wants to return to the NBA, he must opt out of his contract with Olympiakos by July 15 (he reportedly hasn't made up his mind).This is a good decision. The Hawks cannot afford to lose Childress for nothing.
Extending the one-year, $4.8 million qualifying offer would allow the Hawks to maintain Childress' NBA rights. If Childress doesn't accept the offer but wants to return to the NBA, the Hawks could use him in a sign-and-trade transaction.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The NBA has estimated the 2010-11 salary cap to be $56.1 million and the luxury tax threshold will be approximately $68 million.
The Hawks have seven players under contract for next season for a total of $45,130,214:
|Name||2010-11 Salary (millions)|
Maurice Evans has a player option for $2.5 million next season. It has been reported that Evans is leaning toward declining the option and becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Because of cap holds, this does not mean the Hawks will have $11 million ($8.5 million if Evans exercises his option) in cap space this summer.
Until Joe Johnson re-signs with the Hawks or signs with another team, the Hawks will have a cap hold of approximately $16.2 million for Johnson. As Larry Coon explains, this is to prevent a loophole regarding Bird rights.
The hold for Johnson brings Atlanta's cap number to approximately $63.1 million.
There is also a cap hold for the Hawks' first-round pick. Last year, the cap hold (and first-year compensation) for the 24th pick was $933,500.
That brings Atlanta's cap number to approximately $64 million.
The Hawks also have cap holds for two potential restricted free agents: Josh Childress ($10.894 million) and Mario West ($1.06 million). In order to retain the right to match any offer, the Hawks must submit a qualifying offer to Childress and West by June 30th.
That brings Atlanta's cap number to approximately $76 million.
If the Hawks do not submit a qualifying offer to Childress or West, the will still have a cap hold of $854,389 for every empty roster spot if they have "fewer than 12 players (players under contract, free agents included in team salary, players given offer sheets, and first round draft picks)." The seven players under contract, plus Johnson (until he signs a contract with another team), plus the first-round draft pick, plus Childress and West, brings the Hawks to 11 players so we add $854,389 for one empty roster spot, bringing the total of salaries and cap holds to just under $77 million. As explained above, the Hawks can reduce that number by not submitting a qualifying offer to Childress and/or West but declining to submit the qualifying offers would not appreciably change the team's cap space.
This is why the Atlanta Hawks cannot pursue other team's free agents for anything other than the Mid-Level or Bi-Annual Exceptions. This is also why the Hawks may aggressively pursue sign-and-trade deals involving Joe Johnson and Josh Childress should the former sign with another team and/or should the latter opt out of his contract with Olympiacos and return to the NBA but not the Hawks.
You could have never told me we would struggle to score points.It's not an encouraging sign that I, in my semi-professional capacity here, might have had a better grasp on the central issue of the Hawks/Magic matchup than the head coach.
Was he unable to be told or did he choose not to listen?
May 3rd, again
Media-friendly owner Michael Gearon, Jr. again reveals himself more fan than serious analyst. On Jeff Teague:
"He has extraordinary talent and is capable of producing now."Teague's 2009-10 stats and a study of rookie point guards drafted outside the lottery. I think you'll find both the amount of Teague's playing time (on a good team) and production to be right in line with reasonable expectations.
On Joe Smith and Jason Collins:
"Guys like that are capable of contributing a lot."They're not. They're just not. Joe Smith took 193 shots this season. 103 of those were at least 16 feet from the basket. He made 30 of those. He was also terrible defensively. Jason Collins played 4 minutes and 49 seconds of good basketball this season, and even then, only when matched up against a larger (and possibly slower) human being. His total combined points and rebounds barely eclipsed his total combined fouls and turnovers.
I don't know how much influence* Gearon has in personnel decisions but it's disconcerting to hear him sound like a below-average message board denizen in expressing absolute belief in the ability of once-useful players with recognizable names** who are clearly on the downside of their career. I bet he really likes the energy Mario West brings and thinks Garret Siler has an NBA future, too. Meanwhile, the D-League is ignored and the best player the organization's found in the second-round of the draft in the last 20 years is probably Chris Crawford.
*He presumably has some influence on spending.
**Maybe he really did want to sign Ilgauskas.