Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why Have the Atlanta Hawks Struggled Against Better Teams?

It's the offense.

As has been established, the Hawks are 19-5 against opponents with a record below .500 and 3-9 against teams with winning records this season.

In those 12 games against teams with winning records, the Hawks have given up just 1.5 more points per 100 possessions (and better the league average defensive efficiency mark--106.2--against both good and bad teams) but they're scoring 12.3 fewer points per 100 possessions:

OppOff EffDef EffMargin
under .500111.2104.2+7
over .50098.9105.7-6.8

The Hawks are equal to the league's best offenses (San Antonio leads the league with 112.2 points per 100 possessions, Miami averages 111.3, Denver and Phoenix average 111.1) against sub-.500 teams but are worse than the Bucks (99.9 points per 100 possessions) against teams with winning records.

So how exactly is the offense suffering against better opposition? For one thing, the Hawks put up fewer shots when facing winning teams. The Hawks average two fewer possessions per game against teams with winning records, they turn the ball over more often, and they rebound fewer of their own misses.

under .50090.81524.4
over .50088.715.821.8

More importantly, the Hawks shoot worse in every conceivable fashion against better opposition:

under .50051.537.552.579.224.557.1
over .50046.433.647.373.217.850.8

The Hawks aren't shooting worse against better opposition because they're attempting or making significantly fewer long two-point jump shots, either:

OppFG% (16-23')%FGA (16-23')
under .50045.233.2
over .50043.834

Yes, the Hawks are shooting the least efficient shot in basketball somewhat more often and somewhat less well against better opposition but it pales in comparison to their relative inefficiency inside of 16 feet:

OppFG% (at rim)%FGA (at rim)
under .50063.323.5
over .50055.922.7

OppFG% (inside 10')%FGA (inside 10')
under .50048.816.2
over .50043.714.4

OppFG% (10-15')%FGA (10-15')
under .50046.79
over .50035.39.1

Summing up the shooting location numbers inside and outside of 15 feet (including three-point shooting in the latter):

OppeFG% (inside 15')%FGA (inside 15')
under .50055.448.7
over .5004846.3

OppeFG% (16+')%FGA (16+')
under .50049.751.3
over .50046.653.8

Shot location data courtesy of Hoopdata

So which players are most contributing to this offensive ineptitude against better opposition? Pretty much all of them. Jamal Crawford's slightly higher scoring rate against teams above .500 is all that keeps the top 6 Hawks from making a clean sweep of scoring less often and less efficiently against better opponents:

under .500
over .500

Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have suffered the most against better teams but we're only looking at 12 games of play in Smith's case and 8 games in Johnson's case. The severity of their reduced production is more indicative of team-wide struggles than individual performance. Even the two Hawks (Al Horford and Mike Bibby) whose efficiency remain above average against better opposition accomplish that feat while scoring 9 and 8 percent fewer points respectively.

If the Hawks are to be more successful against the league's better teams, they must collectively find a way to score more often and more easily. Complicating matters (at least in terms of discerning progress on this front), the Hawks will rarely face better opposition over the next seven weeks. Only one of Atlanta's next seven, three of their next eleven, and five of their next nineteen games come against teams currently sporting a record above .500. The Hawks could get two-thirds of the way through the season schedule having played just 17 games against teams with a winning record.

From February 27 to March 18, though, the Hawks are scheduled to play ten consecutive games against teams currently above .500. Based on current evidence, better ideas and better execution will be necessary to pass that test.

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