Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28th Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks (36-23) @ Denver Nuggets (34-26)

TIP-OFF: 9pm (EST)

: SportSouth

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Nuggets


DENVER INJURY REPORT: Melvin Ely is listed a questionable. Danilo Gallinari is a game-time decision.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
24 15.3
DEN (def)
95.6 1.093 50.7

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
48.8 27.2
25.2 14.3
DEN (off)
95.6 1.112

: Roundball Mining Company


PREVIOUSLY...the Denver Nuggets lost 107-106 in Portland in overtime on Friday. They won their first two games since the Carmelo Anthony trade: 120-107 against Memphis and 89-75 against Boston, both at home.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

NBA Playbook: Kirk Hinrich's Game Winning Charge

Sebastian Pruiti breaks down a rather new sight for Hawks fans: a point guard moving to make a key defensive play in the paint.

Atlanta Hawks 90 Portland TrailBlazers 83



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 89
42.9 28.1
POR 89 0.933 41.5

Even accounting for the shambolic final six minutes, that saw the Hawks go more than four minutes of game time without a field goal and a 20-point lead shrink to six, this was Atlanta's most impressive win since their overtime victory in Miami on January 18th. Impressive precisely because not everything went right for the Hawks.

Al Horford picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game, Josh Smith missed all five of his jump shots, the Hawks committed 25 turnovers (and not all of them while giving lie to the axiom that NBA teams are too good to be bothered by full-court pressure), and, in an all too familiar turn, responded to the existence of key fourth-quarter offensive possessions with lots of dribbling in place.

But the Hawks survived all that because they, in a not so familiar turn, made things relatively easy on themselves. Larry Drew turned to Zaza Pachulia (12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 points) rather than Josh Powell (who committed two turnovers before he touched the ball twice) after Horford picked up his second foul and played Horford for more than six minutes of the second quarter with two fouls. Most importantly, the Hawks played effective defense for three-and-a-half quarters to create the margin that allowed them to survive the game's final six minutes.

Granted, the Portland TrailBlazers aren't naturally inclined to attack two of Atlanta's greatest defensive weaknesses (transition defense, stopping dribble penetration) and, like previous iterations of the Miami Heat, Portland are susceptible to attempting lots of jump shots out of isolations against Atlanta's sagging man-to-man defense. Then again, with Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinirch playing 42:30, transition defense and stopping dribble penetration are not weaknesses to the degree they were for the Hawks this time last week.

Plus, generally having all five players on the court taking a reasonable defensive assignment appeared to free the Hawks to be more aggressive in the passing lanes and create easy baskets in transition, thus easing the typical pressure the Hawks put on themselves to make a high percentage of their jump shots.

Al Horford:
"We don’t have to help as much. It takes a lot of pressure from Josh and myself. The guys are really doing a good job getting over screens and staying aggressive. Now we have to keep it going because we look good when we play like that."
Josh Smith:
"Obviously during a game you are going to have to help but when it’s limited to a minimum that makes it that much better.

From a bigs standpoint, it was like me and Al had to pick and choose because we didn’t want to get in foul trouble helping every night. Kirk is a hard-nosed defender. And you have definitely got to tip your hat off to Teague, who was definitely thrown in the fire after really not playing a whole lot. He’s really been handling it well. Whenever you can limit the help on the perimeter it makes the team that much better."
Outside of Andre Miller posting up Teague and Hinrich, Wesley Matthews was the only perimeter player to trouble the Hawks with any regularity and, even then, two of his buckets came on back-door cuts when Joe Johnson was ball-watching and the three-pointer he made in the fourth-quarter was a result of good spacing and ball movement taking advantage of Hinrich covering for Jamal Crawford managing to get himself in a spot on the strong side of the floor in between two Portland players but defending neither.

Larry Drew on the last six minutes:
"That was really rough. We took a lot of ill-advised shots, and then their pressure sped us up and we turned the basketball over. You just can’t do that but hopefully we’ll learn from it."
At Peachtree Hoops, Jason Walker calls for that 42:30 Teague and Hinrich combined to play to become 48 combined minutes of running the offense:
Jeff Teague looked good--and should have played more, but I'm sure he violated some unwritten rule of the court and that's why, despite his effective defense and play overall, he got the Royal Ivey treatment out there tonight.

Making that matter worse was that Drew, with Teague under house arrest and Hinrich not knowing the offense well enough to initiate, I guess, had Jamal Crawford running the offense. He's not a point guard, and no matter how many ways Drew thinks he sees it, he's not. 6 turnovers against a single assist would probably get Teague banished to the D-League or left at the team hotel, but that was Jamal's line tonight. There is no reason. You have Teague and you have Hinrich--stop the madness.
Ben Golliver at Blazers Edge provides further Portland perspective:
This one was so ugly that Blazers coach Nate McMillan started his explanatory post-game remarks by simply saying: "You saw it." In other words, it was so bad in so many ways that providing even the bare specifics felt like overkill.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27th Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks (35-23) @ Portland TrailBlazers (33-25)

TIP-OFF: 10:30pm (EST)


CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Trailblazers


PORTLAND INJURY REPORT: Marcus Camby, Greg Oden, and Elliot Williams are out.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
23.8 15.1
POR (def)
88.5 1.073 50.8

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
49 27.2
25.1 14.2
POR (off)
88.5 1.08

: Portland Roundball Society, Blazers Edge


PREVIOUSLY...the Portland Trailblazers beat the Denver Nuggets 107-106 in overtime on Friday night. It was Portland's seventh win in eight games with the lone loss coming in overtime against the Lakers.

Scheduling quirk: the Hawks and Trailblazers have not played each other in over 15 months.

Analytical quirk leading to tactical error: Larry Drew plans on keeping Josh Powell ahead of the far, far superior* player Zaza Pachulia in the rotation in part due to Powell grabbing seven rebounds in a quarter's worth of garbage time in Oakland Friday night.

Larry Drew:
"I’m looking for certain things out of our big guys. I need presence, I need physicality, I need rebounding, I need screens being set to open up our perimeters.

Josh Powell came in and did a good job for us. He came in and got eight rebounds in 18 minutes."
Looking at the facts here, Josh Powell last posted a higher rebounding rate in a season than Zaza 2007-08. Powell has never posted a higher offensive rebounding rate than Pachulia and has a lower offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, True Shooting Percentage, assist rate, steal rate, and block rate than Pachulia this season.

Oh, and the Hawks are 14.9 points per 100 possessions worse this season with Powell on the court than with him on the bench. The degree to which Powell has hurt the team with his play may be extraordinary but that Powell has hurt the team with his play should surprise no one.

*Which is not to say good, in absolute terms.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts. Palmer: Who's Better: Aldridge or Horford?

Ahead of tonight's Hawks/Trailblazers game on ESPN, Chris Palmer compares the relative merits of Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge (Insider). The verdict:
As skilled as Horford is, his best fit will always be as a third option who can give his team consistently strong defensive play and much needed hustle. And that's exactly what he does. With Aldridge embracing the role of franchise player and making good on his vast potential, he leaves Horford behind on the NBA's second tier while he looks to join the elite class of players in the game.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ShamSports: Tax Payers, Trade Kickers, and Other Deadline Day Bookkeeping

From ShamSports, some details for anyone wondering if/when the Atlanta Hawks could add a 15th player to balance out the roster without paying the luxury tax:
Atlanta's trade for Kirk Hinrich did not push them into luxury tax territory, but it did push them really, really close to it. Specifically, their tax number now stands at $70,140,069, a mere $166,932 below the luxury tax. They also have little depth on the wings now, and they have only a 14 man roster, one of whom is the unsuitable Pape Sy. So if one or two players get injured, and they need to bring in some reinforcements, they will now struggle to do so. Indeed, if they want to sign someone to a minimum salary contract for the remainder of the season, they must wait until March 12th until they can do so without becoming luxury tax payers. But then, this is the team with the third highest committed salary in the whole league. They are not fiscally responsible. Oh and additionally, how do they justify giving up both Crawford AND a pick?
I suspect the Hawks gave up both Jordan Crawford and a pick because 1) the Hawks really wanted to get rid of Mike Bibby and 2) the Hawks will be interested in any deal that removes a couple million in future guaranteed salaries off the books.

Atlanta Hawks 95 Golden State Warriors 79



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 90
50 24.4
GS 90 0.878 38.2

Given that the Atlanta Hawks have more often embarrassed themselves than the opposition this season, it's fair to focus on the ease with which they overwhelmed the Golden State Warriors for three quarters and mostly ignore that the Warriors were very, very poor. By forcing 14 Golden State turnovers and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds in those first three quarters, the Hawks were able to build an insurmountable 26-point lead despite just average (50.7 eFG%), by their standards, shooting. As the Hawks have, in their success, so often been dependent on their jump shooting (admittedly the blowout portion of the game was aided by Josh Smith making six of ten jump shots), seeing them win a game with the aid of other qualities came as a welcome sight. It's also not entirely coincidental that the Hawks won this game so easily on a night they played through Al Horford (22 points on 13 shots, 13 rebounds, 7 assists) and Smith (26 points on 18 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) more often than Joe Johnson (12 points on 14 shots, 5 assists) or Jamal Crawford (9 points on 10 shots).

In his Hawk debut, Kirk Hinrich showed himself to be a clear defensive upgrade on Mike Bibby, if not a player who can eliminate dribble penetration all by himself. Simply by not providing a clear path to the basket on an opponent's first step, Hinrich will have value to this team. By virtue of picking up two personal fouls in his first stint (and as useful introduction to Larry Drew), Hinrich played few meaningful minutes and we'll have to wait for him to face sterner opposition before beginning to evaluate how quickly he's picking up the offense and learning to play effectively with his new teammates.

One thing the Bibby trade did not solve was the team's poor roster construction. With Pape Sy in Utah and Larry Drew (reasonably in at least three of their cases) not wanting to use any of his four (4!) backup centers against Golden State's small second unit, Josh Powell was elevated to the third man off the bench, a role he, quite predictably, failed to perform adequately. With the Hawks just $167,000 below the luxury tax line, neither that particular roster imbalance nor the general lack of quality depth are problems likely to be solved.

Larry Drew:
"I thought we really showed up tonight. First half we were about as good as we have been all season. We were relentless defensively.

The minute we get the basketball we have to race the lanes and get down the floor. When we do that we are a pretty good ball club. We've got enough offense in the half court; what we've been lacking is stops so that we can run."
Al Horford:
"It's a little frustrating for me because I wish we played like this all the time. I hope there is no looking back now. We saw how we can play so we have to be able to keep that up."
Horford on Jeff Teague's defense:
"He picked up the point guard full court and really had a big impact because he was able to get over screens. That’s something we struggled with in the past, our guards getting over screens."
Joe Johnson on Teague:
"I think we all understand he is a young player and he is going to make mistakes but now he can just play through them and just play freely. Obviously he’s got the talent. We’ve just got to put the ball in his hand and trust him."
"I thought Kirk came in and played some D on Monte and the D I played on him was pretty good. But also the help we got on him from other guys. That’s the main key, man. In order for us to be consistent, in order for us to be a good team, we have got to be able to do the small things and help is definitely one of them. Hopefully we can try to get on a nice little streak here."

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25th Game Preview: Atlanta (34-23) @ Golden State Warriors (26-30)

TIP-OFF: 10:30pm (EST)

: SportSouth

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Warriors


GOLDEN STATE INJURY REPORT: Lou Amundson is doubtful.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
23.3 15
GS (def)
94.5 1.112 51.5

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
49 27.6
25 14.2
GS (off)
94.5 1.081



PREVIOUSLY...the Golden State Warriors lost 115-93 to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. The Warriors were hot prior to the All-Star break, winning 6 of 8.

The Hawks beat the Warriors 103-93 in Atlanta on December 29th.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reaction to the Atlanta Hawks Trade For Kirk Hinirch

My thoughts on the trade are here.

Larry Drew:
"As everybody knows we’ve been searching for a point guard for a while, somebody who can come in and run this club. Not saying that Mike didn’t go a good job, but there just comes a point where a change has to take place. We as an organization felt like it was that time.

Kirk brings such a wealth of toughness at that position. He’s a heady guy, he’s a smart guy. All the intangibles you are looking for he brings to the table."
Joe Johnson:
"We let three good guys go who I had become really good friends with. But at the same time we understand the business aspect and this is the profession we chose knowing that trades happen. You have to deal with it. Getting Kirk and Armstrong is definitely going to contribute to what we are trying to do. Kirk is very defensive-minded and a guy who can really knock down the open shot and penetrate and make plays for others as well. I think he is going to be beneficial for us."
Jamal Crawford:
"It’s tough to tell now [how the trade will work]. Mike was the leader at point guard for a while. Jordan has a bright future. Mo is just solid, gives you defense and 3-point shooting. But I played with Kirk Hinrich and I know what he’s about."
Michael Cunningham:
Moving Jordan and the first-round pick is the latest indication the Hawks, when push comes to shove, are more focused on making moves they think will help now vs. player and asset development in the future.
Which is true except when it isn't: like when the Hawks take Jeff Teague instead of DeJuan Blair or Darren Collison, or when they sell the 31st pick, then buyout Pape Sy's contract.

Mark Bradley deems the trade OK:
Best-case scenario: Hinrich does his hybrid-guard act — he used to be quite good at it, but his numbers haven’t been anything special the past four seasons — and puts the other Hawks in the right position and this team manages to win a first-round series.

Worst-case scenario: Hinrich fails to mesh with Joe Johnson — say what you want about Bibby, but he and Johnson made a nice tandem — and the Hawks, who have bombed out in Round 2 the past two seasons, bomb out in Round 1 this spring.

Either way, the addition of Hinrich and Armstrong is no cause for re-calibration of this team’s ceiling. The Hawks aren’t much different today than they’ve been for the past three years. They’re a pretty good team in an Eastern Conference that keeps getting more competitive at the top.
It comes as no surprise that this trade is met with scorn at HawkStr8Talk:
The trade sucks - Kirk Hinrich, age 30, is not an NBA difference maker at a position that is full of difference makers. The defense gets better, but only incrementally. The Hawks needed a difference maker at PG and so, they got another guy to join Collins and Thomas and Powell on the bench twiddling their thumbs. And so what did they give up - the guy you drafted and raved about who could replace a one dimensional Jamal Crawford (furthering my fears that we could actually RESIGN a guy who isn't going to help your team win a title) and a first round draft pick who could help you build depth on the cheap. Doesn't matter to me that Bibby and Evans needed to leave town, but a lateral at BEST move just sucks.

What else do we lose? Future flexibility come 2012 to actually sign someone who matters. Or in other words, fail, fail, fail!!! If the player you trade for doesn't change your seed and doesn't change your lot come playoff time (I mean does ANYONE think Hinrich is the difference in the Hawks winning and losing vs. the Orlando Magic). So, I say again - this organization is completely and utterly clueless. Period. I'm on record as saying this trade will blow up in the Hawks' face. At least we got a 4 time all star for giving up extra stuff that wasn't necessary in the Joe Johnson, but going overboard for Kirk Hinrich...REALLY!?!?!
I think it's the extra stuff the Hawks gave up to get Joe Johnson that's the root cause of the team's current second-round ceiling and the lodestar of the organization's limitations. The Joe Johnson sign-and-trade worked as well as could be expected but didn't bring the team significantly closer to winning a championship (at least not nearly as much as drafting Josh Smith and Al Horford did). That's why you don't see typically see teams build around the fourth-best player on a conference finalist.

The Hawks were right about Johnson having more potential than his production in Phoenix indicated. They were (and are) wrong about how good he could be (and is) in absolute terms.

Sekou Smith (who wanted the Hawks to draft Mike Conley, Jr. rather than Al Horford):
Jeff Teague, the Hawks’ second-year point guard, is clearly not ready for a starring role and might not be anytime soon. He was as given every opportunity to supplant Bibby and couldn’t do it. He’s the latest in a long line of supposed point guard solutions that ended up being a problem (Speedy Claxton, Acie Law) for the Hawks.

They’ve tried everything at the point from Royal Ivey to Anthony Johnson to Tyronn Lue to even playing Joe Johnson at point guard during his first season with the team. That’s nine different point guard options spanning two different regimes (former general manager Billy Knight is the man who drafted Marvin Williams, paid Claxton, drafted Law and also traded for Bibby while current general manager Rick Sund is the man who shipped Claxton and Law out of town for Jamal Crawford, drafted Teague and made the deal for Hinrich).

While Hinrich is clearly an upgrade over Bibby, particularly at the defensive end, he still doesn’t solve the Hawks’ seemingly eternal point guard problem.
Zach Lowe thinks the trade helps both the Hawks and the Wizards:

Nabbing Hinrich doesn’t make the Hawks a title contender, but it feels like the kind of move that could have a bigger impact on the court than many anticipate. Start with this: Hinrich can defend point guards. Very well. And that addresses the main problem with Atlanta’s defense, which ranks about average despite the Hawks’ having faced the easiest schedule in the league. It isn’t just that Bibby can’t defend point guards; it’s the degree to which the Hawks have had to compensate for the 32-year-old’s defensive issues. They’ve had to tire out Johnson by assigning him point guard duty. They’ve gone to zone defenses that haven’t really worked. They’ve switched too often, though less so this season under rookie coach Larry Drew.

They can toss out those gimmicks now and go to work with lineups like Hinrich, Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Al Horford. That works.

The Hawks will miss Bibby’s shooting, but it’s not as if they are losing a pick-and-roll stud who initiates most of their sets. Bibby handles the ball some, but he’s usually a spot-up shooter and screen-setter in Drew’s offense, which mixes in motion plays, post-ups and lots of off-the-dribble work for Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Hinrich, 30, can step into Bibby’s role immediately, and he happens to be shooting a solid 38 percent from three-point range (and a career-best 45 percent overall) this season.

One small bonus that Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel picked up on immediately: Hinrich is 6-3, tall and strong for a point guard, and he has defended a ton of shooting guards through a career of shifting between the two backcourt positions. That gives Atlanta a nice answer for when Miami goes to lineups that don’t include traditional point guards, and if the Heat earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference, there’s at least a small chance the two teams will meet in the second round.

John Hollinger gave the Hawks a B:
As far as need goes, it's tough to do better than this. Atlanta Hawks fans who have spent half a decade watching their point guards get torched night after night will now have to cope with the shocking sight of Hinrich competently defending opponents at either guard spot.


Hinrich isn't as good a spot-up shooter as the departed Mike Bibby but he's better at everything else, and his ability to play off the ball should make him a solid backcourt cohort with Jamal Crawford or even Jeff Teague. Look for Joe Johnson to also benefit, as he'll no longer be spending his nights chasing all the point guards that Bibby couldn't contain.


Oh, Hilton Armstrong is in the trade too. He'll make Jason Collins and Josh Powell feel better about themselves in practice.
Kevin Pelton summarizes what the trade might mean for the Hawks on the court the rest of this season and beyond:
How much is that upgrade worth? I’d say maybe a game or two over a full season. Ordinarily, that’s an enormous difference. But the gap between the Hawks and the East’s best teams is so large that I’m not sure this move makes much of a dent. Atlanta still looks to me like first-round fodder for the Magic. That’s when you have to start wondering about the Hawks’ future. This deal means giving up two years’ worth of young contributors on cost-effective rookie deals. Backup point guard Jeff Teague is the only growing player of note on the Atlanta roster, and this deal along with rumors involving Teague seem to indicate the Hawks don’t view him as a starter any time soon. So Atlanta isn’t good enough right now, and can’t count on adding young talent. That’s a pretty bad recipe for long-term relevance.
At Bullets Forever, Mike Prada is just lukewarm on the trade.

Quotes, Notes, and Links: Phoenix Suns 105 Atlanta Hawks 97



Hoopdata boxscore


Josh Smith:
"We couldn’t get [stops]. We ended up switching. Nash is a smart point guard. He knew where the mismatches were. Tip your hat to Channing Frye, he hit some tough shots on Damien. Damien was all over him but when you are 6-10, 6-11 you get that ball in position you want it’s kind of hard to block the shot."
Jamal Crawford on getting hot in the second half and the Hawks using a 31-year-old free agent small forward signed mid-season to defend one of the greatest offensive point guards in the history of the league in the fourth quarter:
"I’m getting back to being me, for sure."
Larry Drew on Jeff Teague:
"I thought he came out aggressive in attack mode and used his speed and quickness. We need that. I thought he did a tremendous job breaking the defense down and getting to the basket. That’s the way he has to play. Don’t worry about turning the basketball over, just keep the pressure on the defense."
Al Horford:
"It was one of those games. I was happy with our team's effort in the second half and I wish we would have maintained throughout the game. We did a much better job of staying poised and playing our style of play."
Zaza Pachulia was held out of the game due to his involvement in trade talks the Hawks continue to carry out.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Phoenix Suns 105 Atlanta Hawks 97


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 86
25.6 14
PHX 86 1.221 61.2

Nothing good came of the first half, unless one counts the reminder that Atlanta's defensive problems do not begin and end with Mike Bibby.

It's almost as hard to find positives in the spirited comeback that tied the game at 92-92 with five minutes. Some of the difficulty is due to the surrounding context, both the terrible first half and the ineffectual final five minutes. Some is due to the nature of the comeback, specifically the four consecutive Josh Smith made jump shots across the third and fourth quarters and the three jumpers Jamal Crawford made in the the fourth. No one denies the Hawks are an effective team when the jump shots go in, it's the sustainability of that approach people fairly question, especially against better defenses. Which the Phoenix Suns are not. Nor are the Suns a good rebounding team (25th in offensive rebound rate, 28th in defensive rebound rate entering the game) which throws into question how much credit the Hawks truly deserve for their good work on the glass in the second half.

Questions of sustainability must be asked of the improved Atlanta defense in the first half of the fourth quarter just as the defensive ineptitude of the first half and the final 5:22 mark the first half of the fourth quarter as an outlier of competence. The Hawks forced five Phoenix turnovers in the first 6:02 of the fourth quarter but then allowed the Suns to score on six of their final seven possessions (eight of nine of you wish to include the possessions on which Atlanta fouled intentionally). Damien Wilkins led an active, disruptive defensive effort from the Hawks but those disruptive efforts became predictable, exploitable. It took Steve Nash about three minutes of game time to figure out how to handle Wilkins's initial defense and how to take advantage of the Hawks switching every single ball-screen.

Once the Suns solved that puzzle, that Hawks had no counter-move. They ceased to cause turnovers, they got just the one step, and those defensive failures led, in turn, to a more stagnant offense against a set Phoenix defense. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson and Wilkins each missed a long jumper. Johnson turned the ball over twice. The Hawks scored just two points and didn't score once in the half-court between the 5:00 and 0:29.7 marks of the fourth quarter. The hole they dug early was too deep for such late struggles.

Atlanta Hawks Trade Mike Bibby, et al. For Kirk Hinrich

The trade: Mike Bibby, Mo Evans, Jordan Crawford, and Atlanta's 2011 first-round pick for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong.

There is more to this deal for the Hawks than Kirk Hinrich not being Mike Bibby. Though not the player he was, say, four seasons ago, Hinrich is still younger and better than Bibby today and Hinrich's strengths will not be as redundant while playing alongside Jamal Crawford.

Hinrich has a well-deserved reputation as a good defender and, even accounting for the diminishing effect of age, he will likely be more effective defending in front Josh Smith and Al Horford than he was in front of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. It should be remembered though that, even at his defensive peak, was never a great defender of point guards. His greatest strength was defending bigger guards where his long arms and tenacious effort off-the-ball made up for his lack of quickness (at least a lack relative to the league's quickest point guards) in ways those skills couldn't when defending point guards. Hinrich will pick up much of the slack Bibby left his teammates to deal with on the defensive end but won't do much to solve the problems caused by Crawford's (arguably worse) play on that end of the court.

Offensively, Hinrich should be (at least once he picks up the offense) able to match Bibby's contributions. Over their careers, they're both 37.9% three-point shooters. Going back to his time at Kansas, Hinrich has always been a far better shooter when spotting up than when coming off screens so he should feel comfortable playing off Joe Johnson, Crawford, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.

As for when the ball's in Hinrich's hands, unlike Bibby, he hasn't seen his assist rate crater yet. Hinrich's two-and-a-half years younger than Bibby and it's fair to assume that he'll be more dynamic as a pick-and-roll ball-handler than Bibby. If so, running pick-and-roll with the first unit might actually turn into pick-and-roll occasionally rather than just pick-and-pop. The flip side of that is that Hinrich will probably turn the ball over more often than Bibby.

Trading Mo Evans likely means more Damien Wilkins but if it means less Mo Evans plus Damien Wilkins, then it might help the Hawks marginally. When Jordan Crawford saw his playing time decrease upon Joe Johnson's injury, it appeared he was on the typical young Hawk career path. Who knows what kind of player he'll become but it's hard to envision him becoming a useful player here. Same goes for whoever the Hawks would have picked late in this summer's draft. For his part, Hilton Armstrong figures to slot in alongside Josh Powell and Etan Thomas to form a triumvirate of useless big men on the end of the bench.

Financially, the addition of Hinrich adds a few hundred thousand dollars to Atlanta's 2010-11 (though the Hawks remain approximately $200,000 under the luxury tax line) and 2011-12 payroll but his expiring deal should be far easier to deal than Bibby's after this season or during the next should the Hawks wish to do so. The inclusion of Crawford the Younger and the 2011 first-round pick will save the Hawks some future guaranteed money as well.

Hinrich is no longer good enough to make a real difference over a 25-game stretch but his good qualities will help the Hawks defend on the perimeter and may well make a positive difference for the Hawks in the matchup calculus of a seven-game series.

February 23rd Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks 34-22 @ Phoenix Suns (27-27)

TIP-OFF: 9pm (EST)

: SportSouth

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Suns




Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
23.3 15
PHX (def)
94.4 1.105 51.1

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
49 27.6
25 14.2
PHX (off)
94.4 1.101

: Valley of the Suns


PREVIOUSLY...the Phoenix Suns lost 112-106 to the Dallas Mavericks in their last game prior to the All-Star break. Prior to that loss, the Suns had won seven of nine games to get above .500 for the first time since December 7th, 2010.

The Suns beat the Hawks 118-114 on November 7th in Atlanta.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Los Angeles Lakers 104 Atlanta Hawks 80




Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91
16 7.7
LAL 90 1.156 53

Yes, the Hawks missed several open shots in the fateful first half but they also made themselves easy to guard. Whatever defensive value starting Jason Collins against Andrew Bynum had was overwhelmed by the value the Lakers gained by being able to defend five-on-four in the half-court. Atlanta's primary ball-handlers, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, approached a defense overloaded to the strong side with lots of dribbling. The resultant offensive stagnation further encouraged Josh Smith to continue his evolution into a spot-up shooter which in turn magnified (possibly exaggerated) the damage of the turnovers he committed when attempting to make an aggressive play.

Finally, Larry Drew hammered the final nails in the offensive coffin by applying The Horford Treatment to his two best players. Josh Smith sat with two fouls for the final 5:05 of the first half. Al Horford sat with two fouls for the final 3:59 of the first half. Horford left the game with the Hawks down 15 and a lineup of Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Mo Evans, Marvin Williams, and Jason Collins on the floor. The Hawks would trail by 21 at the half and never get closer than 18 in the second half. But neither Horford nor Smith fouled out which is the most important thing.

Larry Drew:
"I don’t think we went to the rim enough. I just thought we settled, which is starting to be a pattern with us. When you fall into that type of pattern when you are not making shots you’re going to struggle. We went 1-for-15 from the three, yet we settled for the three. We have to have more basketball savvy than that."
If Larry Drew truly thinks the Hawks are "starting" a pattern of shooting a lot of jump shots, he's clearly playing a longer game than I previously appreciated.

Also, Zaza Pachulia and Jeff Teague's meaningless fourth quarter efforts got the Hawks above their season average Free Throw Rate for the game. Not that either of those options are under consideration for meaningful minutes that might create real change of the cage-rattling kind.

Al Horford:
"I can go down competing, but we are not competing at our highest level it’s frustrating."
Joe Johnson:
"We didn’t play with an edge; we gave them too much respect. We didn’t have that fire, that competitive nature that we need. It’s frustrating, man. I don’t know what to do."
It's not Joe Johnson's place to say this, of course, but more good players would be a start. Though I'm a loss as to which player on this roster, Al Horford and Josh Smith excluded, or which contract on Atlanta's books, Jamal Crawford's expiring excluded, any other NBA team would covet.

Michael Cunningham provided a brief post-game update on which way the trade winds blow:
Kirk Hinrich is a possibility and Ramon Sessions remains in play. No to Devin Harris (who is probably headed elsewhere) and Raymond Felton (whom the Nuggets apparently aren’t looking to move).
Both Hinrich and Sessions would improve the Hawks to some degree but, even if the Hawks acquire one, serious questions need to be asked about why the team could be improved by adding either third guard from two teams with a combined record of 25-86. If the Hawks don't acquire either, the questions should center around why the Hawks lack the assets to acquire a third guard from a wretched, rebuilding team.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22nd Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks (34-21) @ Los Angeles Lakers (38-19)

TIP-OFF: 10:30pm (EST)

: SportSouth, NBA TV

RADIO: The Hawks have moved to 97.9 on the FM dial this season.

CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Lakers


LAKERS INJURY REPORT: Mat Barnes and Theo Ratliff are out.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (off)
23.5 15.1
LA (def)
91.4 1.053 48.4

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL (def)
48.9 27.1
24.8 14
LA (off)
91.4 1.117

: Forum Blue and Gold, Land O' Lakers

FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY: Los Angeles -7.5, 189.5 o/u

PREVIOUSLY...the Los Angeles Lakers have split their last 16 games. Five of those eight losses have come on the road including their three consecutive losses prior to the All-Star break.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts.

Q&A With Andy Kamenetzky of Land O' Lakers

In the interests of promoting inter-conference, contra-coastal understanding, Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O' Lakers Blog on ESPN LA and I exchanged questions about tonight's Hawks/Lakers game.

My answers to Andy's questions can be read here.

Andy's answers to my questions are below...

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion
: Like the Hawks, the Lakers are on a lengthy stretch of .500 basketball themselves. Unlike the Hawks, the Lakers are the two-time defending champions and deep into their fourth long season in a row. How does that past success inform perceptions of an 8-8 stretch? Does it make mediocre play seem that much worse or does it create an assumption that this will pass and the team will play better as the playoffs approach?

Andy Kamenetzky, Land O' Lakers
: The answer is "yes" on both counts, and I'm not sure either answer is correct. The Lakers are often analyzed (in particular, locally) through a myopic lens. Their issues are always presented at DEFCON 1, while other contenders are presented as firing on all cylinders. The hyperbolic reaction is predictable -- the Lakers are the league's highest profile team and nobody else has more to lose -- but it doesn't always create the most accurate analysis. Even two-time defending champs should be expected to have weaknesses.

Having said that, even as someone who still believes in this team's potential, I don't think it's as easy as "crank it up as the playoffs approach, no questions asked." This team has been all over the place for reasons beyond complacency. It's definitely been an issue, but at times they've looked more discombobulated than disinterested. There's something habitually out of sync with their on-court chemistry. The issues are correctable, but they're not simply a matter of "Instant perfection: Just flip the switch," as it's framed by some fans and media. Then again, as long as the Lakers treat the matter as one requiring actual work, it doesn't really matter what those outside the team think.

BL: After finishing in the top 6 each of the past three seasons, the Lakers are 10th in the league in defensive efficiency so far. Have they slipped defensively, or do you expect them to defend better over the last quarter of the season?

: There's been some slippage, but it's debatable how consistently dramatic. I crunched numbers on Jan 26 after Jerry West's infamous (and overblown) comments about age preventing good D, and by basically every measure available, the results were still pretty good. They've hardly morphed into the Warriors. Of late, there have been more problems scoring than defending, and poor offensive execution (shot selection, turnovers) has compromised the defense. Yes, transition D is part of the gig, but no team can be effective while constantly defending on its heels. When the Lakers run their offense properly and smartly, the defense tends to follow.

And yes, I do expect improvement, even though attempting to read this teams' tea leaves has been a consistent exercise in me being wrong.

: From my distant, and admittedly often sleepy, perspective, Andrew Bynum has looked pretty good since returning. Is he back to full strength?

: Funny you should ask. At Monday's practice, Bynum told reporters, "It's getting better, but I don't feel the same [as before the surgery]. It is what it is."

("It is what it is," by the way, might as well be the official slogan for Andrew Bynum's knees.)

Phil Jackson has also alluded to conditioning issues, which definitely affects the center's minutes and, at times, his effectiveness. But overall, Bynum has looked pretty good. Offensively, he's another option down low and a source of second chance points. (Not to mention, for a team inexplicably perimeter-oriented at times, he's a physical reminder to play inside-out.) On defense, Drew's presence in the lane is a major plus, whether blocking shots or forcing misses. Plus, and this may be the most important by-product of his return, his availability keeps Pau Gasol a fresher and more effective player.

The positives of Bynum's return haven't been as pronounced as hoped, what with the other issues experienced of late. But it would be impossible to label his availability as anything but a major plus.

: Point guard most likely to make a layup in this game: Derek Fisher (25 in 1558 minutes), Mike Bibby (21 in 1657 minutes), or Steve Blake (5 in 1133 minutes)?

: I got Fisher in a landslide.

Blake is out. The guy doesn't even attempt enough of the three-pointers he was brought in to launch, much less whatever layups outside of his comfort zone. So between Bibby and Fisher, the Laker attempts more layups per minute, L.A. blocks more shots than Atlanta and Staples provides a home court advantage (of sorts). That gives Fish the edge. Not a great edge, mind you. Few things prompt Laker fans to cringe more than Fisher taking it "strong" to the rim. This happens more often than one would reasonably expect. Then again, some of those "Don't do it!" shots inexplicably drop at the damnedest times. The ol' geezer hit a buzzer beating layup against the Clips this season and had a huge drive to the rack in Game 3 against Boston. It doesn't make much sense, but neither does drafting Marvin Williams with Chris Paul and/or Deron Williams available and a glaring need at point guard. As Hawks' fans know, weird things happen.

Breaking Down Zaza Pachulia, the Sometimes Forgotten Center

Even more than Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia's on/off numbers this season are submarined by time spent on the court alongside Josh Powell.

Zaza PachuliaPossOffEffDefEffMargin
w/ Powell521100.8111.8-11
w/o Powell903103.8105.5-1.7

At this point in his career, Pachulia probably isn't a starting caliber center, the Hawks don't possess a ton of depth, and Marvin Williams and Al Horford have both missed time this season. Still, given the gift of a functional Jason Collins this season, it's likely that Larry Drew could/should have pieced together a post rotation that didn't include 490 minutes (so far) for Josh Powell.

Furthermore, since Pachulia appears far more engaged and productive when given regular minutes and because he and Al Horford are once again playing well alongside each other, I'll keep on agitating for more minutes for Pachulia. It's not as if keeping him on the fringe of the rotation is doing anything to increase his trade value or make his contract shrink.

Zaza PachuliaPossOffEffDefEffMargin
w/ Horford403103100.2+2.8
w/ Josh Smith382101.6104.4-2.8

Breaking Down Josh Smith as a Small Forward

In this flip side to the Josh Smith, Jump Shooter? series, it's posited that though Jason Collins may not benefit entirely from (mostly) playing alongside Al Horford and Josh Smith, Josh Smith, as a defensive small forward, sure benefits from playing alongside Al Horford and Jason Collins.

Josh Smith on/off stats by position:

Josh SmithPossOffEffDefEffMargin
at 3772104.8100.3+4.5
at 42705108.9105.5+4.4
at 5138116.7102.9+13.8

Josh Smith just as a small forward:

Josh SmithPossOffEffDefEffMargin
w/ Horford & Collins512109.297.9+11.3
all other26096.1104.9-8.8

I've no explanation for the team's lesser offensive efficiency with Smith at the 3. He shoots a higher percentage (and slightly less often) at small forward than at power forward. I suspect (but cannot prove) that he's more likely to shoot at three-pointer as a small forward and that he's more likely to take/be goaded into taking a long two-point jumper when guarded by a power forward.

It's probably best not make any grand assumptions from such a small sample. At least not unless one's also ready to call for more time for Josh Smith at center (with the accompanying use of Marvin Williams or Damien Wilkins more often at power forward) based on that tiny sample of play.

Breaking Down Jason Collins

Jason Collins has played almost half of his 469 minutes this season against teams ranked in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency. Larry Drew deserves credit for spotting Collins effectively and Collins deserves credit for serving as a useful obstacle to those poor teams scoring.

For much of the season, Collins has posted the best on/off numbers of any Atlanta Hawk (albeit always in limited minutes) and, just to be clear, those numbers aren't entirely down to playing Collins mostly against bad teams* and alongside both Al Horford and Josh Smith.

*The New Orleans is the only team in the bottom 12 of the league in offensive efficiency that has a winning record.

Jason CollinsPossOff EffDef EffMargin
w/ Smith & Horford512109.297.9+11.3
all other352105.695.7+9.9

Perhaps some explanation for Collins's excellent on/off stats stems from him sharing the court with Josh Powell (-10.9 per 100 on-court possessions this season) for just 4.46% of his possessions. This past post and one future post will show how other Hawks centers have not been so lucky.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Point Forward: Al Horford Interview

Zach Lowe spoke with Al Horford today in Los Angeles:
PF: Let’s talk about on-court stuff. There was a lot of hype earlier in the season about Larry Drew moving away from so many isolations and implementing a new motion-style offense. But how different are things, really, from your perspective? Sometimes I watch you guys, and the offense — the sets and stuff — do look a lot more motion-oriented. But in other games, like against the Knicks before the All-Star break, you tend to isolate more — and in that game, you had good matchups to do it.

Horford: We’re a little bit more of a half-court team this season. Last year we were running more. And I think we need to get out and run more and freelance more. Coach Drew is doing a good job, it’s just that sometimes we tend to get away from running more and the things we do best.

PF: When I hear players say that — that the team is not always doing what it should be doing on offense — I always wonder why that is. Is it because of the coach’s philosophy and play-calling, or are players breaking plays on the court and improvising? Some of both?

Horford: It’s both. A lot of times, we as players get caught up in saying, “Oh, we’ve got a mismatch!” But teams in this league are very good at positional defense. They’ll double team you and front you and really disrupt that mismatch.

Reasonable Post-All-Star Break Expectations For the Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks have won 61.8% of their basketball games so far this season. If they maintain that pace for the remainder of the season, they'll (rounding up from 50.7) win 51 games.

Every day publishes John Hollinger's playoff odds, the results of 5,000 simulations of the remainder of the season. At the All-Star break, the playoff odds predict the Hawks will win 46 games.

A five game difference over a 27-game sample? That's pretty severe. Which method is likely to provide the more accurate prediction?

Because neither method includes all relevant information, my guess is that they're equally likely to provide an accurate prediction and the Hawks will win (barring a major trade or major change, either positive or negative, to the rotation) between 46 and 51 games this season.

You see, Atlanta's current winning percentage does or does not (depending on your preferred semantic perspective) reflect that the Hawks played the league's easiest schedule prior to the All-Star break. Furthermore the Hawks played the easiest schedule by a wide margin. The difference between Atlanta's strength of schedule (opponents' winning percentage : .459) and 29th-ranked Miami's strength of schedule is 18 percentage points, equal to the difference between Miami and 22nd-ranked Philadelphia. From here on out, the Hawks will face opponents with an average winning percentage of .549 which is 31 percentage points higher than the league's toughest schedule faced (by Houston) so far this season.

Hollinger's playoff odds know about this strength of schedule discrepancy which goes a long way toward explaining its relative pessimism about the Hawks over the final 27 games of the regular season. But the playoff odds should not be taken at face value because, in their sterile, mechanical state, they do not account for the fact that the two losses, by a combined 75 points, the Hawks suffered in the last month came in Al Horford's absence and are unlikely to be replicated if the team's best player remains healthy from here on out.

Judged by their season-long efficiency margin, the Hawks are a 30-25 (54.5%) rather than a 34-21 (61.8%) team. Remove those two home losses from the measure, and the Hawks are 33-22 (60.6%) team. Three-quarters of the difference between Atlanta's record and their expected record is attributable to those two losses. One cannot dismiss those losses entirely, they exposed both the teams greatest weaknesses as much as they revealed Horford's importance to the team but any purely statistical predictions will give those two games too much importance.

So I say, consider 46 wins to be the minimum number of games the Hawks should be expected to win this season and 51 wins to be the maximum number of games the Hawks should be expected to win this season. Should their final total fall outside that range, be it high or low, serious credit or blame must be apportioned.

Josh Smith, Jump Shooter? All-Star Break Edition

Both Mike Prada and Bill Simmons, in their rankings of NBA players last week, made a point to credit Josh Smith for his improved perimeter shooting. Which is a perfectly fair and accurate assessment in and of itself. However, much as Smith got credit for improved shot selection by putting up a near goose egg in the 3PTA column of last (regular) season's boxscores while the three long two-point jumpers (a worse shot) he took each game were ignored, it should not be overlooked that Smith's improved jump shot has not made him a better offensive player.

Smith has improved to a league-average shooter on long jump shots so far this season, but because he's taking so many jump shots (6 a game) his eFG% (50.3% so far this season) is essentially the same as he posted the past two seasons (50.8% and 50.5%). His TS% has improved slightly, because of his career-high FT% but, because of the extra time he's spending on the perimeter attempting uncontested jump shots, he's on pace for a career-low Free Throw Rate, undermining much of his improvement from the line.

Furthermore, spot-up shooter Josh Smith is on pace to set a career-low in Offensive Rebounding Rate, is earning fewer assists than he did last season, and turning the ball over more often.

His improvement as a jump shooter could make him a better basketball player. It has not done so yet.

Updated charts...

Josh Smith continues to take and make three-point field goals at a far higher rate than his career norms:

Josh Smith3PTA/FGA

Smith's hot season (40-115) from beyond the arc has lifted his career 3PTFG% to 28.2%.

Smith is also making a significantly higher percentage of his long two-point jump shots so far this season:

Josh SmitheFG% (16-23')

The league average from 16-23 feet this season is 39.5% on 1.7 (per player) field goal attempts per game so Smith has clearly been an above average shooter from that range so far this season.

He's both taking and making a greater percentage of his long jump shots so far this season.

Josh Smith%FGA (16+')eFG% (16+')

Smith has continued to take a lower percentage of his shot attempts at the rim than in previous seasons. Some of that may be due to a data collection change at Hoopdata. Last season, 32.5% of shots in the NBA were categorized as at the rim. This season, 29.1% of shots in the NBA have been so categorized.

Josh Smith%FGA (at rim)eFG% (at rim)