Monday, March 28, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 99 Cleveland Cavaliers 83



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

CLE 92
0.902 39.7


The Cleveland Cavaliers magnificently defy at least one recap cliché: You can't force the Cavs to take bad shots. Individually and collectively they take bad shots willingly, with gusto even. That willingness presumably provided Larry Drew's impetus* for bringing back the switching defense. If the Cavs were going to shoot at the first slim daylight, by all means, give them that glimmer early in a possession and twenty feet from the basket. I doubt the Hawks will return to relying defensively upon Mike Woodson's most famous blunt instrument so I'll instead focus on another bit of nostalgia last night's game inspired.

*I presume Jason Collins started to get him prepared for the Hawks, most likely, set to play 5 of their next 12 games against Orlando rather than anything having to do with how he matches up against Ryan Hollins.

In February 2009, Joe Johnson missed a couple of road games against the then, as now, terrible Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Bobcats. In his stead, Marvin Williams took advantage of the extra available touches to score 52 points in those two games, fueled primarily by 34 free throw attempts.

That was just a little more than two years ago, a time when the future of the Atlanta Hawks was neither so set nor appeared so bleakly mediocre and Marvin Williams was assumed both to be a competent three-point shooter and in possession of as yet untapped general offensive potential.

Last night, in Joe Johnson's absence, facing a terrible team on the road, Marvin Williams scored 31 points on 14 shots, made 3 of 5 three-point attempts, and 10 of 11 free throws. Williams scored 13 points on 4 shots in the fourth quarter.

The only real (and, to be fair, not especially passionate) defense of the decision to re-sign Joe Johnson was that the Hawks couldn't immediately replace Johnson with an equally valuable player. Given the rest of their salary commitments, that was true. The assumption was that, without Johnson, the Hawks would take a damaging step backward.

With Johnson (more or less), the Hawks have taken a damaging step backward. They're sufficiently better than the bottom feeders of the league (and the majority of the Eastern Conference) that they will cruise into the playoffs despite looking futile most of the time against the other 15 teams that will make the playoffs. With another $107 million owed Johnson over the next five seasons, the Hawks appear stuck with this collectively mediocre bunch for the foreseeable future.

The Hawks haven't just taken a step backward in terms of on-court performance. The perception of the team, both generally and among the team's loyal and passionate band of fans, hasn't been so negative since before Game 3 of the Celtics series in April 2008.

Last night might have been a glimpse of an alternative present, one where the Hawks, at 12:01am on July 1, 2010, did not immediately offer Joe Johnson every cent they possibly could. A present where the Hawks, following a sober assessment of their current state and future options, chose to take a chance on their young frontcourt, trusted their fan base to accept short-term mediocrity as part of a bid for long-term relevance, and let someone else be the highest bidder for Joe Johnson's thirties.

Last night's Hawks game doesn't prove anything about anything and I acknowledge that this alternative present I envisioned assumed some manner of Mike Bibby disposal to remain a pleasant thought. But say the Hawks had sold the 2010-11 season on the basis of the future. Imagine a 2010-11 season wherein the Hawks still extended Al Horford to a reasonable deal, either got rid of Bibby in some fashion or just played Jeff Teague anyway, looked forward to the options inherent in Jamal Crawford's expiring contract coming off the books, struggled mightily against good teams, and beat up on bad teams.

It would, I suspect, be, empirically, much like this team. The difference would be the path taken to achieve similar results and, if that path frequently included nights like this, where Marvin Williams still provided hope, Jeff Teague played 20 minutes across two aggressive, if imperfect stints, Josh Smith mitigated his attempt to improve through increased jump shooting with a commitment to rebounding (18) and passing (8 assists), and Al Horford scored everywhere between the rim and 19 feet while grabbing 10 rebounds and earning 4 assists, would the Hawks be significantly worse off in terms of short-term perception? Would the future seem, if not more hopeful, at least less sadly certain?


dmorton said...

Yeah, that pretty much sums up the fanbase. I wish I could say nobody saw this coming, but we all did. Everybody except the people making the decisions.

jonesppp said...

prisoner of the moment. These sentiments are only in the vacuum of the watching the hawks against the worst team in the NBA. Marvin could have sat the entire game and we still would have won (and that is less overreactive than your post). Sure, ASG paying Joe top dollar was a little short-sighted, but look at the past drafts in the last ten years and tell me the future would have been brighter with the same people running the show.

jrauch said...

I think what continues to astound me -- and this is just seat of the pants feeling -- is how the ball seems to move around more when Joe's not out there hogging it, and Marvin's seemingly magical ability to get to the line when Joe is absent.

I find it particularly interesting that Joe never gets to the line near as much as Marvin does against similar teams.

If we were Joe less this year, and held onto that cash to make a play for Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, I would have happily bought the step back in the standings, with the knowledge a bigger plan was at work.

Corey Farris said...

Great post.

Adam Malka said...

Agreed--great post.

Also, "ASG paying Joe top dollar was a little short-sighted" wins the award for (sports) Understatement of the Year. Nice work all around.