Thursday, September 30, 2010

FanHouse: Tomasson: Rookie Contract Extension Deadline Extended

Good news if one assumes the Hawks will never pass up an opportunity to take a little more time to make a decision:
NBA teams will have one extra day this fall to make what could be some tough decisions on contract extensions.

NBA senior vice president of basketball communications Tim Frank confirmed Thursday that teams have until Nov. 1, rather than the usual Oct. 31, to make decisions on rookie contract extensions. The extra day is because Oct. 31 falls on a Sunday, so the deadline reverts to the next business day.

The deadline affects teams deciding whether to pick up the third- and fourth-year contract options of players drafted in the 2009 and 2008 first rounds and whether to sign players selected in the 2007 first round to extensions or let them become restricted free agents next summer.
Most prominently, this affects Al Horford but Jeff Teague's third-year option falls under this provision as well.

2010-11 Season Preview: Josh Powell

Futzing around with acquiring two third-string centers in their 30s, neither of whom are likely to contribute is disheartening but unlikely to have a tangible impact on the 2010-11 season. The Hawks, because they already employ two centers, one borderline great, the other perfectly useful and previously underutilized, were almost certainly going to employ one third-string center unlikely to play very often.

Managing to find a backup power forward to be (one hopes) the fourth big man in the post rotation who could quite possibly be less productive than Joe Smith was last season might actually hurt the team. Any hopes for Josh Powell helping should be confined to the offensive glass. That's something, just not something the Hawks, the fifth best offensive rebounding team in the league last season, especially need. Powell struggles to finish at the rim, takes (and misses) a lot of jump shots, doesn't contribute on the defensive glass, and was not a measurably positive defensive factor overall the last two seasons with the Lakers.

In 2008-09, Solomon Jones played 675 minutes as the fourth big man. Joe Smith played 592 minutes last season. Good health for Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia and frequent exposure to Josh Powell's limitations could further define that role down.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 Cunningham: 'Hard Work' Drew's Theme As Camp Opens

Michael Cunningham reports on the pace of practice Larry Drew has implemented to increase the pace of play once the season begins:
The Hawks started the morning with a timed mile run, followed by an intense practice of nearly three hours. The Hawks were to practice again Tuesday night, with Drew promising more drill work.

Players described the morning session as intense with no wasted times between drills. The portion of practice open to reporters featured several full-speed, three-man weaves with Drew barking at players to pick up the pace.


Drew wants the Hawks to play at a faster pace this season while running his motion offense and also playing tighter man-to-man defense. Conditioning is key to those goals.

"That's the way all of our practices will be, whether we are here [90 minutes] or here for an hour," Drew said. "They will be high intensity because I'm just a firm believer in getting your work done and getting out."
Cunningham also reports that will be two weeks until Maurice Evans will be cleared to participate following surgery on his right knee and that a bad back has Pape Sy sidelined indefinitely.

2010-11 Season Preview: Jordan Crawford

This is a positive one.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, if Larry Drew succeeds* as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, Jordan Crawford will play a significant role in that success. The Hawks haven't had an athletic guard like Crawford since Mike Woodson used Josh Childress to cover for the lack of a quality point guard. It's not a great comparison. Crawford has a far more traditional game (should it translate to the NBA) than Childress. For that matter, he has a more traditional game than Jamal Crawford, who uses his athletic gifts almost exclusively to create space for jump shots. Jordan Crawford's ability to shoot, to score, and to pass seems a perfect fit for a motion offense.

Unless the Hawks find Jamal Crawford's expiring contract more valuable than Jamal Crawford the basketball player, it will probably be a season until Jordan Crawford fits in the rotation. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In addition to his basketball gifts, Crawford displayed a relative physical frailty in Summer League. He'll be 22 by the time the season starts, but his transfer from Indiana to Xavier means he played just two seasons of college basketball. An early stretch in the D-League wouldn't hurt his development.

That Crawford (like Jeff Teague the year before) is a longer-term prospect gives some hope to those who worry about the organization's commitment to (or even acknowledgment of) the future. In the last two drafts, the Hawks had the opportunity to choose players who could contribute immediately (Darren Collison or DeJuan Blair in 2009, Damion James or Gani Lawal in 2010) but opted for promising players who need (and will have) the opportunity to ripen. Drafting Teague and Jordan Crawford represent the rare long-term decisions made by the organization since they re-signed Josh Smith. Which only further underscores the importance of the young guards to the team's future success.

*Not that Drew's been handed an easy task. The team created the impression, quite possibly true, that he was not the first choice for the job then signed him to a short, cheap contract, and expect him to improve on a 53-win team simply by deploying the same players differently. Hollinger: 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks Forecast

John Hollinger projects the Atlanta Hawks to win 46 games, sixth-best in the Eastern Conference. To my mind, the key excerpt from the fine preview concerns a relatively open secret published for the first time:
Atlanta's max-out season was both the best and worst thing that could have happened to Woodson. On the one hand, he received a lot of credit for winning 53 games and improving the team's record for the fifth straight season. On the other hand, the resounding feeling that the team had reached its ceiling with the Iso-Joe show provided an impetus to seek change.

What the Hawks did next was bizarre, hiring assistant Larry Drew mainly because he would come cheaper than any of the other candidates. Spies in Hotlanta say that ownership made this call despite general manager Rick Sund's preference for Mavs assistant Dwane Casey, adding another layer of intrigue to the proceedings.
Emphasis mine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ShamSports On Atlanta Hawks Training Camp Invitees

There's nothing to add to this summary of the presence of Evan Brock, Ricardo Marsh, and Richard Delk at the Atlanta Hawks training camp:
The Hawks have already taken the purpose out of any training camp signings. They have already emphatically stated that the 14 man roster they already have is the 14 man roster that they will begin the season with; their three signings (Evan Brock, Ricardo Marsh and Richard Delk) serve only to prove that.

2010-11 Season Preview: Etan Thomas and Jason Collins

Both are several years removed from their last productive campaign. Neither should be expected to make a positive impact at either end of the court. As the fifth and sixth big men, the third and fourth centers on the roster, neither should be expected to play barring injury or blowout. They don't figure to be relevant to the success or failure of 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks on the court.

They are relevant in terms of the team's salary cap, roster construction, and organizational philosophy. Every team hopes their third-string center maintains a redundant role throughout the season. A second third-string center is a double-barreled redundancy. For a team operating near the luxury tax line (a team, in this case, near the luxury tax line with four centers but without a backup small forward or a proven quality defender in the backcourt) the $854,389 spent on a second washed-up center in his 30s creates more limitations than opportunities. Especially in the case of Collins, whose no-trade clause could insure that he wastes a roster spot all season should the Hawks choose to address the weaknesses that could cause problems for them in the 78 games they won't be facing Dwight Howard.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Attention Josh Smith

Perhaps finally forswearing the jump shot isn't the greatest adjustment Josh Smith will have to make this season. As Henry Abbott reports, the NBA has expanded (and/or better defined) what constitutes cause to assess a technical foul. I direct both the reader and Mr. Smith's attention to the second bullet point in particular:
Referees have been instructed to call a technical for:

• Players making aggressive gestures, such as air punches, anywhere on the court.

• Demonstrative disagreement, such as when a player incredulously raises his hands, or smacks his own arm to demonstrate how he was fouled.

• Running directly at an official to complain about a call.

• Excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone.

In addition, referees have been instructed to consider calling technicals on players who use body language to question or demonstrate displeasure, or say things like, "Come on!" They can also consider technicals for players who "take the long path to the official", walking across the court to make their case.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Pape Sy

I don't know of anyone doing translations to use player stats from the French League to create projections for the NBA but John Hollinger has published translations from the Euroleague to the NBA:
Scoring rate decreases 25 percent
Rebound rate increases by 18 percent
Assist rate increases by 31 percent
Shooting percentage drops by 12 percent
Overall, player efficiency rating drops by 30 percent
In his 425 minutes of playing time last season, Pape Sy scored 13.1 Pts/36, 4.3 Reb/36, 3.4 Ast/36, 3.0 TO/36, 1.6 S/36, 0.2 BS/36, 4.7 PF/36, and made 54.7% of 64 two-point attempts and 41.4% of 29 three-point attempts.

The good news there? That shooting percentage (at least when moving from a higher level of European basketball to the NBA) remains the most constant and Sy augmented his good shooting with a FT Rate of 52.7. Reinforcing that last item, in his very brief appearances at Summer League, Sy demonstrated two abilities: straight-line speed and a willingness to initiate contact.

The bad news? Most everything else. Sy was something like Maurice Evans (with more assists, and many more turnovers and personal fouls) but for the 13th-best (out of 16) team in the French League rather than the third-best team in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.

Even with Sy's encouraging efficiency when scoring, his scoring rate was so low that, were it to decline just at a rate typical for a player moving from the Euroleague to the NBA, he'd score at a rate closer to Mario West than any other member of the 2009-10 Atlanta Hawks.

Given his age (22) and inexperience, there's little reason to expect Sy to make the massive, immediate jump in ability to contribute in the NBA in 2010-11 and, given his age and inexperience, the Hawks must move quickly to recoup their investment in Sy. It's highly unlikely that Sy becomes an NBA player* by wearing suits on a tour of our nation's benches. Thus, barring a rash of injuries, Sy should be in Reno on November 20th.

*There could have been a period right there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yahoo!: Wojnarowski: Dampier Ponders Free Agent Options

Adrian Wojnarowski reports on Erick Dampier's possible destinations:
Free-agent center Erick Dampier(notes) is finalizing a list of teams he’ll meet with in the near future, a league source told Yahoo! Sports.

Dampier’s list is expected to be topped by the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, as well as a potential sleeper: the Atlanta Hawks. Dampier still hasn’t decided how many teams he wants to meet with, but there are multiple suitors for him.
This presents a dilemma. On the one hand, there's the opportunity to add a fifth center to the roster, though this one's 35 years old and possibly as good as Zaza Pachulia. On the other hand, every dollar over $1,423,195 million spent on Dampier this season will cost double or necessitate a salary dump before the final day of the regular season.

(HT: Royce Young) Vote For the Greatest Hawks Team of All-Time

Vote there. Discuss your picks here.

I went Wilkens/Johnson/Wilkins/Pettit/Rollins though I'd have voted Lou Hudson at the 2 had that been an option.

One More True Center Unlikely To Be As Productive A Center As Al Horford

Limited Yao Ming is better, for both the Rockets and basketball, than no Yao Ming, but I doubt that he, playing no more than 24 minutes a game and siting out the second game of back-to-backs, can outproduce Al Horford playing 34 minutes 76 times a season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pape Sy Contract Details

Michael Cunningham reports that the Atlanta Hawks signed Pape Sy to a three-year deal, with the first year fully guaranteed for the rookie minimum of $473,604. That brings the team's 2010-11 salary commitments to $68,883,805, leaving the Hawks $1,423,195 below the luxury tax threshold with one open roster spot remaining. The buyout agreed with STB Le Havre was approximately $125,000.

Cunningham also quotes Rick Sund on the subject of Sy spending time in the D-League. Sund:
"It gives us another young guy who we can develop and maybe send to the D-League and get some experience. He could help us down the line."
Though any expectations should be seriously tempered and flexible due to Sy's limited production in limited minutes in both France* and summer league, keep the words Sund used, especially "could" and "down the line," foremost in the mind when forming them.

*To be fair, Sy played almost as many minutes as Etan Thomas and Jason Collins combined last season, albeit in the France.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Atlanta Hawks Confirm Pape Sy Buyout

Via Arthur Triche's Twitter feed, the Atlanta Hawks confirm they've bought out and signed Pape Sy:
Hawks sign second round pick Pape Sy to a contract this morning, he will wear #19.
As of this writing, there is no official press release stating the terms of the deal are undisclosed.

UPDATE (2:29pm):
Atlanta Hawks Executive Vice President and General Manager Rick Sund has announced this afternoon that the team has signed guard/forward Pape Sy to a contract. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

“Our European scout (Loize Milosavljevic) did a great job in recommending Pape to us and once he participated in our pre-draft workouts, our scouts and coaches were very impressed with his abilities,” said Sund. “Although he was hampered by an Achilles injury during summer league workouts, we were encouraged with his ability, athleticism and competitiveness.”

“He is a talented 6-7 backcourt player who can play multiple positions,” said Assistant General Manager Dave Pendergraft, who worked throughout the process to get Sy here in time for training camp. “Sy’s an interesting prospect who is determined to play in the NBA.”
(HT: Michael Cunningham)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 (Insider): Ford: Offseason Grades

Chad Ford gives the Atlanta Hawks a grade of C for their off-season decisions:
The Hawks surprised just about everyone this summer by giving Johnson a max contract. The conventional wisdom had the Bulls, Knicks or some other team with major cap room sneaking in and stealing him away. In the short term, it was a great move by the Hawks. In the long term? The franchise may really regret it.

A six-year, $123 million contract is huge for a 29-year-old guard who absolutely fell apart in the playoffs versus Orlando in May. The deal could also have some long-term effects on the Hawks' ability to pay free agents going forward. Al Horford will be looking for a big extension this fall. Can the Hawks really afford three max players?

The team's other move was more Hawks-like. They let head coach Mike Woodson go and replaced him with the cheapest possible alternative, assistant Larry Drew, who is an unknown at this point. But hiring a head coach with no experience is a strange move for a team that is trying to take the next step in the playoffs.
It's the joint-10th highest mark Ford gives out to an Eastern Conference team.

Hang Time Podcast: Episode 24

Marvin Williams joins Sekou Smith and Lang Whitaker approximately 12:10 into Episode 24 to speak about the FIBA World Championships, continuing education, the Southeast Division, Larry Drew, Marvin being a young veteran, the importance of getting to the foul line (yea), motion offense, defensive responsibility, social networking, how he's dissimilar to Antoine Walker, and the Strike The R-Word bowling event with the Special Olympics Georgia.

Etan Thomas: The Thunder Are the Future

Etan Thomas:
I just signed with the Atlanta Hawks and am truly thankful to be a part of their organization. I am truly blessed. I see how many good players there are still not signed, and that makes me even more thankful. This is a great organization with a young, exciting, extremely talented team. I am looking forward to contributing to the success of this team this upcoming season in any way that coach Larry Drew sees fit.

I wanted to write an article thanking the Oklahoma City Thunder and the entire state of Oklahoma. I had a great time there, and that organization really has something special. From top to bottom they are really a first-class organization. I have read a lot of articles since the end of the summer that questioned if what the Thunder organization accomplished last year was somewhat of a fluke or if they are the real deal.

Allow me to speak from first-hand experience, from someone who has actually seen what goes on behind closed doors and has been in the trenches with the team for an entire season… This was definitely no fluke, and here are the reasons why.
1776 words in praise of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, the team's bench depth, Sam Presti, and the Oklahoma City fans follow

Clip-and-save until Summer 2011, then compare and contrast with his farewell blog post about the Hawks.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Prognostication in Retrospect

Jeff Ma is, if not an out-and-out wealthy* man, a wealthier man than I. I'm mostly jealous that he's worked with Kevin Pritchard but he also appears (by his own account) to have gotten the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden choice more correct than I.

There's no Hawks-specific content in this post, just a peek inside how a front office interested in alternative points of view operates and a reminder of how wrong I might (I repeat, might, let's see if Fazekas Oden has a healthy season before delivering a final judgment) be.

*I don't know him, he may or may not be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Both Teams Played Hard: A Walk Around the Block -- Jamal Crawford

Noam Schiller's most recent survey of the trading block focuses on Jamal Crawford. Noam's conclusion:
Atlanta seems to have good reason both to keep Jamal and to move him. Conversely, despite his fine play last season, any team acquiring Jamal will be taking a major risk while doing so.

Usually, situations like these mean that the player is staying put. But Jamal is, as always, a special case.

With Atlanta probably knowing that he is the piece they can best utilize to acquire new, key components, and with Crawford coming off such a strong season, there may be one or two teams that can talk themselves into bringing him off the bench for 30 minutes and 14 shots a night. Then again, the Hawks could also talk themselves into paying Jamal more than he is worth to stay on their squad.

Either way, I doubt Jamal doesn’t get paid.

Despite the progress made in evaluating players, scoring is still the stat that is overrated the most, and a strong scorer like Jamal will always find a suitor. Whether he can live up to that billing for another year is yet to be seen.
There are no easy answers in Atlanta, a reality Noam drives home in attempting to identify a trading partner that's a good fit.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Stop Switching

Even though it should surprise no one, Larry Drew talking about how the Atlanta Hawks will switch less on defense certainly counts as breaking news during the dead days of the NBA calendar.

Drew, as told to Michael Cunningham of the AJC:
"Good defensive teams, their mindset is to go into games and outwork you. They don’t care how they do it. They do whatever it takes to shut you down. They have that aggressive mentality, where each game they go into it thinking 'I am going lock in on my guy.' and that works its way to the rest of the guys. You have to have that team concept and that aggressive mentality."
That's great in theory but how does it apply practically to a team that features Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford in its first eight?

"I think you have to make a decision on how you want to guard certain people. Certainly game-by-game, adjustments will be made defensively. But you go into the game with the mindset of guarding your own people. I think we are deep enough we can get that kind of defense out of our guys."
Adjustments. That's where Drew can differentiate himself as a defensive coach from Mike Woodson. Woodson didn't commit to the all-switching, all the time defense in a fit of philosophical inspiration. He committed to it because his guards (mostly guards he wanted for their offensive contributions) couldn't stay in front of anybody. Jeff Teague pending, that's not going to change. But, if the Hawks can adjust to their opposition by giving up what they have to given their personnel limitations* in order to take something away, there's plausible opportunity for defensive improvement. Improvement that figures to be needed if the Hawks fail to maintain their (regular season) offensive efficiency of last season.

Let's be clear, though, if the Hawks don't switch on ball-screens, they will likely be more susceptible to dribble penetration than they were last season. However, by not inverting the defense, there's a reasonable expectation that the defensive rebounding will improve enough to offset that. Plus, if the Hawks stop switching so many off-the-ball screens, they should be better able to play active team defense and provide the help the veteran guards will need.

This change in defensive philosophy does create one rational fear. Whereas, in past seasons, Al Horford and Josh Smith were charged with cutting off dribble penetration away from the basket where they either succeeded or got beat, this season they figure to take on more traditional roles (and floor positions) protecting the basket. There, facing dribble penetration at full speed, they could be more susceptible to committing fouls** and thus testing the depth that impresses no one outside of the organization.

*Drew compliments the team's depth but I wouldn't expect anyone other than Teague to be good enough defensively to overcome their offensive limitations and work their way into the rotation. Frankly, I don't expect Josh Powell, Jason Collins, or Etan Thomas to be good defensively full stop. Pin your hopes on Pape Sy.

**One thing you could never say about Woodson's defenses was that they fouled a lot. (Mario West excluded).

Friday, September 03, 2010

STB Le Havre Confirm Pape Sy Buyout

From the official site:
Le président du STB Le Havre confirme qu’un accord a été trouvé entre le club, Pape SY et les Atlanta Hawks (NBA) afin de libérer le joueur auquel il restait une année de contrat.

Pape Sy, 22 ans, quitte donc le STB Le Havre, club qui l’a formé depuis la catégorie Cadet.

Les discussions ont été longues et ont finalement abouti dans l’intérêt et le respect des différentes parties . Le joueur et le club ont décidé de ne pas communiquer sur les modalités d’indemnisation.

Le STB Le Havre souhaite bonne route à Pape et ne manquera pas de suivre l’évolution de sa carrière en NBA.
When reading the Google translation, insert (sic) early and often:
The Chairman of the STB Le Havre confirms that an agreement has been reached between the club, SY Pope and the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) to release the player whom he remained one year contract.

Pape Sy, 22, thus leaving the STB Le Havre, the club has since formed the Cadet category.

The discussions were long and ultimately resulted in the interest and respect for different parties. The player and the club have decided not to disclose the terms of compensation.

STB Le Havre route to Pope wants good and is sure to follow the evolution of his NBA career.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

L'Equipe: Sy Rejoint Atlanta

The headline translates as "Sy joins Atlanta" though I would not, were I you, trust Google when it translates arrière as "rear" rather than "guard."

A more reputable source, L'Equipe, reports that the Atlanta Hawks have bought out Pape Sy's contract with STB Le Havre. Neither STB Le Havre nor the Atlanta Hawks have confirmed the deal on their official sites.

Atlanta Hawks Sign Etan Thomas

The working hypothesis in the Atlanta Hawks front office appears to be that, if you get the chance to follow up your inexplicable decision to re-sign Jason Collins to be your third-string center by signing a free agent center six months older than Collins who has played 1082 fewer minutes than Collins over the previous three seasons to create competition for the role of third-string center, you have to make that move.

Enter Etan Thomas.

That difference in playing time isn't entirely fair to Thomas, as he missed the 2007-08 season after undergoing open heart surgery and Thomas was useful more recently than Collins (that being the 2006-07 rather than 2005-06 season). Therefore, let it be noted that, since his return from open heart surgery, Thomas has, over two seasons, played 90 more minutes in 6 fewer games than Collins.

Thomas was unproductive in limited minutes in each of the last two seasons but not, it should be further noted, unproductive to the comical extent to which Collins was unproductive. Still, with the Wizards in 2008-09, Thomas set career lows in scoring rate, eFG%, OR%, DR%, steal rate, turnover rate, usage, and PER. With the Thunder in 2009-10, Thomas set
new career lows in scoring rate, eFG%, TS%, OR%, DR%, assist rate, usage, and PER. Oh, and not that it's statistically significant given how little he played, but the Wizards allowed 4.5 more points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor in 2008-09 and the Thunder allowed almost 2 more points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor last season.

Looking at
his career stats, there's a sharp line drawn between the useful role player Thomas was in his 20s and the guy in his 30s who could play or produce for either a terrible team or a good team following open heart surgery. And now he's a Hawk. And now the Hawks are $854,389 closer to the luxury tax line. And still the roster includes neither a proper backup for Marvin Williams nor a guard with a track record of staying in front of opponents.