Monday, August 29, 2011

ESPN3: Watch Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia Play Live in International Competitions

Al Horford and the Dominican Republic begin play in the FIBA Americas Championship tomorrow at 10:30am EDT against Cuba. There are two bids to the 2012 London Olympics at stake (plus three more chances to get into the final Olympic qualifying tournament).

Zaza Pachulia and Georgia open their EuroBasket campaign against Belgium at 8:30am EDT Wednesday, with the Dominican Republic's second game tipping off at 10:30am EDT.

You can
watch the entire FIBA Americas and EuroBasket tournaments live on ESPN3.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pape Sy Signs With BCM Gravelines

Roughly translated, Pape Sy signed a one-year deal with BCM Gravelines that includes an out-clause. So ends my brief time checking the French sporting press on a daily basis.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Joe Johnson

In the first season of Joe Johnson's huge contract, the Hawks didn't get the one representative Joe Johnson season that seemed likely at the time of signing. The danger is that 2010-11 season ushered out Joe Johnson's twenties and the Hawks could now be on the hook for $123 million purely for the decline phase of a player who has never been a good bet to age gracefully. The good news is that Johnson's wide-ranging decline (scoring rate, scoring efficiency, rebounding rates, steal rate, turnover rate) wouldn't look quite so bad had his three-point shooting not collapsed entirely. Because Johnson already drew little value from rebounding or making boxscore* defensive plays, declining rates in those facets aren't nearly as damaging to his contributions.

*Though Johnson increased his blocked shot total by 40% (from 5 to 7) in 2010-11 despite playing 300 fewer minutes than in 2009-10.

Because Johnson played hurt for essentially the entire season, there's little reason to believe he's all of a sudden a sub-30% three-point shooter. Especially because there was no concurrent decline in his field goal percentage on long two-point jumpers. Furthermore, his usage rate remained constant and by his (admittedly pedestrian) standards he had a good* playoffs, highlighted by his brilliant Game 1 performance in Chicago.

*and clearly his best playoff performance since 2007-08

Whether it was the Jason Collins effect or Larry Drew possessing a better perspective on reasonable defensive matchups for Johnson, the Hawks, unlike the previous two seasons, were not significantly worse defensively with Johnson on the floor. More backcourt minutes for Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, as well as the opportunity to replace Jamal Crawford with a competent defender, could further ease Johnson's defensive responsibilities going forward though, at the team level, Johnson taking small forward minutes away from Marvin Williams figures to have a detrimental impact on defensive rebounding.

Even though there appears to be no way the new CBA could mitigate the size of the remaining five years of Johnson's contract for the Hawks, there are few players in the league (admittedly, most of them older than Johnson) who could benefit more from a shortened 2011-12 season. He's presumably poised to bounce back from beyond the arc, would have extra time to regain full health and might again be given a more reasonable brief by Larry Drew. Joe Johnson's days as the best Atlanta Hawk are most likely over and he's going to be over paid. However, neither of those realities define the quality of his play.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pape Sy, Magnum Rolle Updates

I covered Keith Benson's deal with Dinamo Sassari earlier today but let's not forget about the other players whose rights the Hawks own but are on unguaranteed deals.

Less is known about Magnum Rolle's (the 474th best player in the NBA per #NBArank) deal to play in South Korea than Benson's deal, but a little more is known about Rolle as a professional basketball player, on the basis of his D-League performance. Plus, at Rolle's age, he needs to make money playing basketball sooner rather than later.

As for the 483rd ranked player in the NBA, Pape Sy (who needs to play, himself), based on this report (and my rusty French), I'd recommend checking the website of BCM Gravelines regularly for updates.

Keith Benson Heads to Italy, Everybody Wins

The deal between Keith Benson and Dinamo Sassari reportedly contains a conditional opt-out clause. Take it away, Scott Schroeder:
Benson signed a contract with Dinamo Sassari for the upcoming season, according to a press release posted on the Italian team's website. The release notes that Benson has an opt-out clause to return stateside, but only for a guaranteed NBA contract with provisions keeping him in Italy if his American options are either signing a 10-day contract or being assigned to the NBA Development League.
I see no problems with those conditions. Given the lack of players under contract for 2011-12, the Hawks were likely both to sign him and keep him with the team (rather than assigning him to the D-League) whether he played regularly or not. In the mean time, Benson gets to play at a higher level than the Summit League and the Hawks get to evaluate him at a higher level. It could very well be in the team's best interest for him to play a full season in Serie A instead of sitting at the end of Atlanta's bench. And, if Benson can't beat out Othello Hunter for minutes, then the Hawks need not invest in Benson at all right now.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 Ozanian: Meruelo's Purchase of Hawks Partly Financed By Seller

Mike Ozanian of reports that Alex Meruelo's purchase of the Atlanta Hawks may be more "pending league approval" than previously thought:
Alex Meruelo's purchase of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and lease to Philips Arena, pending approval from the league’s owners, would be heavily financed by the current owner of those assets, Atlanta Spirit LLC.

According to a person with first-hand knowledge of the deal, 40% of the purchase is to be financed by Atlanta Spirit LLC for five years, which is probably why there has been so much confusion regarding how much Meruelo is paying for the money-losing team we valued at $295 million this past January.

Seller financing is unusual in sports and typically involves poorly capitalized teams. The purchase of MLB’s currently bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers by Frank McCourt from Fox in 2004 involved considerable financing from the News Corp. subsidiary. And the sale of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008 by William Davidson to Oren Koules and Len Barrie was partially financed by Davidson. Shortly thereafter Koules and Barrie sold the under-capitalized hockey team to Boston Red Sox minority owner Jeff Vinik for much less than they paid for it.

This deal will likely be scrutinized extra closely by the NBA and, in my opinion, is no sure thing to be completed as currently constituted.

Monday, August 08, 2011 Atlanta Hawks Season Preview

The 5-on-5 season previews turn to the Southeast Division this week. Discussion of the Hawks leads things off and, for anyone needing a 60-second summation of the Hawks with a reference to the pending change in ownership shoehorned in at the last minute, there's a video that I produced in my kitchen. Fair warning and all that.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Atlanta Hawks Are Sold

Tim Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Consitiution reports that the Atlanta Spirit Group have sold a majority stake in the Atlanta Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena to Alex Meruelo:
Meruelo said some members of the Spirit group will maintain minority ownership positions but that he will own more than 50 percent and control ownership decisions. He would not be more specific about the size of his stake and would not divulge the price he has agreed to pay for it.

But he said, "I will be in complete control of the team."

Although his primary residence and business will remain in Southern California,

Meruelo said he plans to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and to buy a home here.

"If you look at my previous ... business ventures, I'm very hands-on, and this will be no different," he said.

Asked if there is any scenario in which he would seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta, Meruelo said: "Absolutely no. None."
Given the uncertain future of the NBA, both in terms of when the league will resume and how its financial structure will change it's pointless to speculate as to the particulars of Meruelo's ownership. Regardless of particulars, Meruelo has two obvious and certain opportunities to improve on the job done by his new minority partners:

1) Allow basketball people to make basketball decisions
2) Better overcome the demographic and logistical difficulties that keep Philips Arena far below capacity far too often

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Possible Solution to The Horford Treatment

From Jason Walker at Peachtree Hoops, Al Horford wants to eliminate the disqualification:
"I'd eliminate fouling out. You'd have to have some sort of penalty, because otherwise the game would become too aggressive; you don't want guys fouling whenever they want. I don't know if you make every foul after six worth two free throws and the fouled team gets the ball, but we could come up with something. Maybe you have a penalty box like in hockey. Or you get more free throws after a certain number of fouls. But it's crazy that a team is unable to play its best players the entire game if that's what the coach wants to do."
After a fashion, Larry Drew has already eliminated fouling out. As Walker aptly points out, there have been consequences to the ad hoc solution Drew and his predecessor favored:
Even in his earlier years, you could see where the early foul trouble was impacting Horford's play. His initially aggressive style of defensive play was visibly toned down in order to avoid so-called "foul trouble". Nobody wants to miss, as Horford did this past spring, up to (22) minutes of game time due to a couple of perhaps touchy fouls or have his playing time determined by too quick a whistle.

So the adjustment for players who don't want to miss the entire first half with foul trouble is to simply over-adjust to the fear of not fouling. Now you have players who aren't thinking about defending as earnestly as possible, but rather calculating how they can stay on the floor. It's not fault, it's nature, and clearly, even at this stage in his career, the notion of fouling out still haunts Horford and clearly he feels this is impeding how much he plays.

This isn't some hack out there who can't control himself either, this is a guy who averaged 2.9 fouls per 40 minutes, well below the 4.2 fouls per 40 average among NBA centers playing more than 20 minutes per game. Horford simply shouldn't be worrying about such things, but he has to because of the overly cautious approach his head coaches have taken in this regard.
Speaking of Larry Drew's predecessor, Mike Woodson is apparently a candidate to become Mike D'Antoni's defensive coordinator in New York. If hired, expect one (and only one) clearly motivated defensive strategy designed to mitigate the glaring weaknesses of individual defenders which, in turn, creates other glaring defensive weaknesses which good teams can easily and repeatedly exploit. Which isn't to say that Woodson couldn't get the Knicks to become a slightly above average defensive team. Nor that such an achievement wouldn't hold significant value for the Knicks.

Also expect me to take another run at getting "The D'Antoni/Woodson Nexus" to catch on. Said nexus being the point where, regardless of pace, a coach demonstrates a significant preference for his team missing a shot rather than turning the ball over. Who Ruled the Top Defenses in 2011?

Neil Paine looked at how players performed last season against good and bad defensive teams. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith had the seventh- and fifth-greatest decrease in effectiveness against good defenses compared to bad defenses, respectively. Whether that's because the Hawks were 20th in the league in offense or why the Hawks were 20th in the league in offense is a fair question, and one I hope to see answered in a 2011-12 season. Regardless of causation, I expect the correct answer involves lots of missed jump shots. Joe Johnson simply not making less than 30% of his three-point attempts and Josh Smith simply not shooting (say it with me) 482 shots outside of 16 feet could make a very positive difference whether the change is scheme or player motivated.