Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Did Larry Drew Learn Anything From the Game 2 Loss?

He's not admitting so publicly. As reported by Michael Cunningham, Larry Drew has no regrets about sitting his best player for 21 minutes of the first half to stave of future foul trouble that never materialized, sitting his specialist starting center for eight-and-a-half minutes, and sitting his competent backup center for more than eleven-and-a-half minutes:
"When he picked up the early two fouls it put it us in a bit of a bind. You don’t anticipate your starters picking up two early fouls like that. When he went to the bench, had we hit a bad stretch at the start of the second quarter to the middle of second quarter, I would have put him back in. We actually had a really good stretch in the middle of second quarter, three minutes hit a bump in the road and jeopardize him picking up his third when we were going good."
There's no tangible value in Drew making a public confession regarding his incompetence, he just can't play his worst players at the expense of his best player and better players for long stretches of the game.

Will he resist the mystifying temptation? I don't know. Given that he largely moved away from the Horford Treatment and gave Josh Powell a non-playing role commensurate with his abilities as the season progressed, one could fairly concentrate real hard on Drew's ability to do so again while ignoring the incomprehensible (given the stakes) backsliding Tuesday night.

On the other hand, Drew quite clearly was far more interested in addressing the possibility of three of his players committing three first half fouls than how a Hawks lineup of Jason Collins, Josh Powell, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Kirk Hinrich is going to get a rebound three minutes into a playoff game.

Other reactions to Drew's coaching job in Game 2...

John Hollinger (Insider):
[S]tudies have shown there may be some benefit to sitting a player in more dire foul trouble -- with more fouls than the quarter of the game, basically (i.e., two fouls in the first quarter, three in the second, four in the third) -- because such players will slack off on defense if they stay on the court.

Even by this logic, however, Horford should have been back on the court to begin the second quarter. Or, at worst, come back in with 8:44 left in the quarter after Jason Collins picked up his second foul.

Oh, did I leave that part out? Yes, the Hawks did the same thing with Collins, too -- their most valuable player this series because of his defense on Dwight Howard. Wanting to preserve Collins for the fourth quarter -- one he ended up not playing a minute in, because the Hawks were behind and Collins can't score -- Drew also sat Collins for the final 8:44 of the half with two fouls.

And Zaza Pachulia, the backup to those two players? Yes, really. Him too. He picked up his second foul with 11:22 left in the half and immediately hit the pine for the rest of the period. Can't be having players getting a third foul in the second quarter, after all, because if they get three more, they'll be forced to sit out. And there's nothing worse than having a player forced to sit out. Which is why Drew sat them out. My brain hurts.

Up 'til that point the Hawks had the game under control, with a 10-point lead. Soon things would change dramatically.

First, Josh Powell came in, after he mystifyingly was left activated while Etan Thomas didn't dress. (True story: I was talking to two NBA front-office types before a game this month and we were trying to come up with the worst player in the league. Without any prodding from me, both of them nominated Powell.)

Then came Hilton Armstrong, who managed to commit three fouls in his 5:20 stint but somehow stayed on the floor. Apparently the two-foul rule is waived for fifth-string centers.

Nonetheless, the damage was done. Orlando outscored the Hawks 26-10 over the final 8:44 of the second quarter, with Howard erupting for 17 points against Atlanta's scrubs.

There is no way to sugarcoat it: This is the most indefensible coaching decision I've seen this season. Horford played the entire second half and finished the game with -- you guessed it -- two fouls. This didn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Hawks this season. Horford has one of the lowest foul rates in the league at his position -- just 2.85 fouls per 40 minutes -- so even if he had stayed in the game with the two fouls he was at virtually no risk of fouling out.

Overall, when a real center was on the court the Hawks won Game 2 by 10 points. Unfortunately, Drew's personnel choices sabotaged them so badly in the second quarter that they missed a golden opportunity to grab this series by the throat.
Zach Lowe:
Stat-heads have been going nuts for years about coaches overreacting to foul trouble, to the point that a consensus was almost forming. So folks took notice at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March, when three researchers steeped in heavy math backgrounds presented a paper essentially arguing that coaches are right to take out starters in foul trouble early in games. After analyzing several years worth of play-by-play data, the researchers found that teams fared a bit worse when coaches asked guys to play through foul trouble in the first two or three quarters. No one is quite sure why, but the group behind the paper speculated that guys play too tentatively while in foul trouble, and that only the very worst bench players would play worse than a foul-plagued starter.

But here’s the thing: Even the thrust of this research goes against the kind of caution Drew showed Tuesday. The researchers defined “foul trouble” as any scenario in which a player’s foul total is greater than the number of the quarter at a particular time in a game. A player with, say, three fouls in the second quarter would qualify as “in foul trouble,” but the researchers took him out of the “foul trouble” category if he still had three fouls during the third quarter.

By this definition, Horford was in foul trouble with two fouls in the first quarter but would have been safe to re-enter in the second quarter — and stay in the game until he picked up his third foul. And critics at the conference considered even this definition of “foul trouble” a bit too conservative.

Horford played the entire second half. He finished the game with two fouls. That wasn’t shocking. Horford is not a foul-prone guy; he averaged just 2.6 fouls per 36 minutes this season, and he has cut his foul rate every season he’s been in the league. Add in the relatively low quality of Atlanta’s backup big men beyond Zaza Pachulia, and I’m willing to bet even the most conservative math would suggest that Horford should have been on the floor for at a chunk of the second quarter.

Horford is Atlanta’s best player. The Hawks will have trouble beating a quality team four times in seven games if their best player logs just 26 minutes for no good reason.
Zach McCann:
@ZachLowe_SI @hoopinion Well that is stupid.
Tom Ziller:
Larry Drew's mishandling of foul trouble and Horford's foul trouble in particular has been a constant lament for numerous Atlanta writers, but Tuesday's head-slapping (il)logic was just too much. Horford picked up his second foul just a shade over two minutes into the game. Drew unsurprisingly pulled him ... for the entire first half! That's right: Al Horford, the most valuable Hawk, played two minutes in the first half because Larry Drew didn't want him to be unavailable later on due to an ejection he was four fouls away from.

Horford played every second of the second half, and finished with ... two fouls. That's right -- a player who sat for 22 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble never actually sniffed foul trouble. He could have had five fouls in the first two minutes and not fouled out.

Drew has no concept of the reality that 22 minutes in the first half are just as valuable as 22 minutes in the second. It'd be hilarious if it weren't killing a playoff team as we speak.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Somehow, it isn't too surprising that the playoff series has become about Larry Drew and not the players. We have been watching things unravel on the sidelines all season--from the Horford rule, to the Teague situation, to the painful obsession with Jamal Crawford's offense, to the lack of accountability on defense, etc. Now that the Hawks have hit the national stage, everyone else gets to see what we already know: that Drew is kind of a stupid man. He is also, evidently, stubborn as hell, and that characteristic, of course, is not unrelated to said stupidity.