Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ticket Giveaway: Boston Celtics @ Atlanta Hawks, No April Fool's

The good folks at StubHub have come through again. I've got two tickets for Friday's Hawks/Celtics game.

If you wish to win the tickets, send an e-mail by 11:59am EDT on April 1st to (hoopinion (at) gmail (dot) com) with "Tickets" in the subject line.

As close to 12:01pm as possible, I'll send the tickets to the winner.

If you don't hear from me, fear not, I will have at least one more pair of tickets to give away before season's end.

Good luck, and thanks for reading.

Daily Dime: Hollinger: Jason Collins, The Superman Stopper

John Hollinger on Jason Collins:
Collins started all four meetings this season, and the Hawks held Orlando to an average of 82.5 points in those games. The key was not just that he limited Howard's points and periodically got him out of the game entirely with his penchant for drawing charging fouls, but that his single coverage took away Orlando's 3-point game. Orlando made only 19 of 84 3-point attempts in the four meetings; that's obviously a lower rate of accuracy than the Magic's norm, but perhaps more notably a lower frequency of attempts.

Normally, Collins' glaring deficiencies on offense make it too expensive to leave him on the court for his defense, but normally, the Hawks aren't playing the game's most dominant big man. On this night, Collins swung the game to the Hawks' advantage early by drawing two quick fouls on Howard, one on the offensive boards and the other with one of his patented flops in the low post. That sent Howard to the bench just four minutes into the game, and he struggled with fouls all night.


[T]his might come as shocking news to those who saw Orlando brutalize the Hawks in four lopsided games a year ago, but a lot has changed for both teams since then. Collins, who sat at the end of the bench a year ago, got himself in much better shape. Mike Bibby, torched by Jameer Nelson last spring, was exchanged for the defensively solid Kirk Hinrich. And Josh Smith (26 points) improved his shaky jumper juuuuuuust enough to provide a plausible answer at small forward, enabling the Hawks to use the "big" lineup with Collins at center and Horford and Smith at the forwards.

None of this means the Hawks will prevail when these two teams renew acquaintances in two weeks. (Although neither team has technically clinched its position in the standings, a Hawks-Magic matchup is virtually assured). Orlando might shoot 3s more accurately, might figure out how to get Howard easier touches against Collins and, barring that, might still shut down the Hawks' sputtering offense enough to prevail anyway.

But unlike a year ago, we're looking at a genuinely competitive series. For that, you can thank the guy with three points and five rebounds.

Atlanta Hawks 85 Orlando Magic 82




Jason Collins isn't a very good basketball player anymore. Jason Collins is absolutely essential to the Atlanta Hawks' playoff hopes.

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks scored 76, 81, 86, 86, 71, 98, 75, and 84 points in going 1-7 against the Orlando Magic. This season, the Atlanta Hawks have scored 89, 80, 91, and 85 points and won three of four games against the Orlando Magic.

The difference is Jason Collins and the difference is Larry Drew.

Collins has played just 79 minutes in the four games against the Magic and has committed almost as many fouls (16) as he's scored points (18) or grabbed rebounds (18), but his presence has convinced the Hawks that they can defend Orlando in a sensible manner as Drew has recognized that the Hawks have to drag the Magic down to their scoring level in order to have a chance to win.

Collins and the Hawks haven't shut Howard down compared to last season (He's scored 19.3 points a game this season versus 21 points a game against the Hawks last season.) they just haven't freaked out every time he touches the ball. However it is that Collins has convinced the Hawks they can defend the Magic with composure, it's proven greatly beneficial in terms of defending the three-point line and limiting dribble penetration, as well as in terms of keeping Al Horford on the floor.

Now, it doesn't hurt that the Magic aren't nearly as good as they were last season and, over the course of a seven-game series, I expect Stan Van Gundy is more likely to make profound adjustments than is Larry Drew. (That Marvin Williams was put in the game for Kirk Hinrich to guard Jameer Nelson on Orlando's penultimate possession does not inspire great confidence.) Nor do I expect that Josh Smith (5-10, including 3 three-pointers, from outside of 20 feet last night) will be a more effective jump shooter than Ryan Anderson (3-9 from beyond the arc) over time.

The Atlanta Hawks have a chance to win a playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Ten-and-a-half months ago that seemed a ludicrous notion.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Attempt to Write Interesting Game Recap About Meaningless Game Gains Notice

Said notice is much appreciated.

Michael Cunningham responded to my recap of Sunday's Hawks/Cavs game on his blog at
Of course all of this assumes the Hawks would have a) received some useful players/assets in a sign-and-trade for J.J. and/or wisely used the cap space left over after his departure; b) done the same with Jamal; and c) used whatever assets the team acquired in such a way as to build a team that provided fans real hope for the future. Considering the team’s recent history of drafting, player evaluation, and resource allocation (both in terms of money and player roles), there would be some understandable skepticism about the prospects for such a scenario bearing fruit.

Still, I do think it’s a vision ASG could have sold to fans without much trouble. Normally teams that let their best player walk face a potential backlash. But J.J. (or really any of the current “core” outside of Al) wasn’t popular after last spring’s surrender to Orlando. The Hawks could have leveled with their fans and told them while the team may not have been as good this season without J.J. it still could make the playoffs (and, if not, get a lottery pick).

Then the Hawks could have gone about the process of turning J.J., Jamal, and any of their beloved “core” into a group that plausibly would be better next season than in 2010-11. All the while the Hawks could have whispered that they plan to make an all-out run at Dwight or CP3 in the summer of 2012 because ASG knows you need a top 5-10 player to win a title and will pay the tax for that chance. Failing that, the Hawks could have built a team that truly follows the Detroit model and includes tough-minded, defensive-focused players while still looking for opportunities to acquire a top 5 player or luck up into drafting one.

Instead, ASG found itself in the curious position of giving J.J. the richest contract in the league, in direct contradiction to its (unfair) cheap image, and getting ripped for it. The criticism increased when they failed to follow that bold move with others and settled into a familiar stasis. Now the Hawks are a mess with the playoffs to begin soon.

Their attendance has sagged. As LaGree points out, their esteem in the eyes of fans has declined both among those who are casual and not interested in the Hawks as entertainment, and those who are serious and stay loyal to the team but are dismayed because they saw this coming and now have little hope for future improvement.

So, even if you are skeptical that the Hawks could have competently embraced LaGree’s J.J.-less “alternative present” and then made smart moves for the future I’m sure they could have sold the plan. It turns out that would have been better than what they are selling right now.
Kris Willis did likewise at Peachtree Hoops while passing along word that Joe Johnson plans to play tomorrow night against the Orlando Magic:
I wasn't opposed to bringing back Johnson given that I had no confidence that this team could take a step back and come out ahead in the long run. I wasn't the only one that thought Atlanta had to keep Johnson. Former Hawks beat writer Sekou Smith told us that the Hawks had to keep him and couldn't afford to let him walk without getting anything in return. If I was critical of anything, it was that they didn't follow that Johnson signing up with any other significant moves and basically brought back the same roster with a much higher payroll.

While I will offer that hindsight is 20/20, many of you like Bret voiced your displeasure with the signing loudly. Now that the Hawks have given Johnson his money and they have taken a step backwards anyway the situation doesn't look near as promising as it once did. I will close with something I wrote shortly after the contract was signed:
No matter if the Atlanta Hawks bring in more players that are capable, this signing cements the fact that the face of the franchise is Joe Johnson. Joe has to be ready to meet the challenge head on. Much of the criticism surrounding his contract was made because of statistics showing that perimeter players tend to drop off in production in their early thirties. Joe is 29 years old and has to make sure that he is the exception to that rule.
So far Joe hasn't been the exception to the rule however he still remains a now very expensive face of the franchise. There is still time but now there is even more doubts.
Irregular or new readers should be advised that the key element of my recap is likely the line:
"Last night's Hawks game doesn't prove anything about anything..."
If I may engage in some friendly speculation, I suspect that this particular recap caught the attention of Messrs. Cunningham and Willis because they share* the struggle to write something of (one hopes) value about this team on a daily basis.

*Though they both get to share their share of that struggle.

I'm more than 300 game recaps into this project. Personally, the most interesting thing about Sunday's game was how it reminded me of two near-forgotten games from more than two years ago. That oblique perspective provided me with entry point from which to write recap No. 3XX. It wasn't a manifesto or an argument any more than
Some Things That Need to Be Said About Joe Johnson, the Atlanta Hawks Organization, the Summer of 2005, and the Impact of Context on Our Perceptions of Professional Basketball Players in the 21st Century was a summation of Joe Johnson's time in Atlanta.

Again, Sunday's game didn't prove anything. Much as those were some things I felt needed to be said about Joe Johnson, etc.

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?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 98 New Jersey Nets 87



Hoopdata boxscore


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

ATL 87
1.126 52.6


Admittedly, as one who claimed weeks in advance that the Hawks should be judged more on their post-February 14th schedule than the routine wins they so frequently tallied against inferior competition prior to the All-Star break, I'm less inclined than many to grant this game the same weight as those recently played against Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, and Denver.

Not that the Hawks make it easy to credit them for the victory (or clinching a playoff spot). A 30-point lead with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter wasn't quite sufficient to put away the New Jersey Nets playing without their best player on the second night of a back-to-back. True, the Nets didn't quite get back in the game, thanks to three straight Al Horford scores (true, two of them came courtesy of long jumpers, and one of those a step-back 18-footer as the shot clock expired, but the first came via an all-too-rare trip to the free throw line for Horford), but the Nets did go on a 34-14 run in a little less than a quarter's worth of time against Atlanta's regular rotation.

One can't deny the damper that Joe Johnson's thumb injury, one that will keep him out of tonight's game in Cleveland, put on the night, either. The team may have signed Johnson to an onerous contract and Johnson might be late into his least-good season as a Hawk but he remains an above average player on a team with very little guard depth.

I mentioned above that New Jersey's sort-of comeback run came against Atlanta's regular rotation. That's due in part to Jason Collins and Hilton Armstrong and Etan Thomas all being active for the game. Presumably* all made available to Larry Drew should Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia prove insufficient to battle the beastly Brook Lopez (0 rebounds in 30:46 tonight) on the glass, once Johnson left the game, the Hawks had more backup centers dressed than guards. Tonight, no matter who Larry Drew tells to put on his suit, he will have more backup centers than guards who have played a single second in the NBA from which to choose. I'm sure this will all pay off when Al Horford's trying to close out on Ryan Anderson on Wednesday against Orlando.

*Checking to see if Josh Powell got arrested or suspended again...apparently he did not.

Joe Johnson on his injured right thumb:
"I didn’t know if it was still attached when it happened. It hurt that much."
In positive injury news, though Johnson will miss tonight's game and Josh Smith is still hampered by his sprained knee, in Michael Cunningham's post-game injury report, only Al Horford's sprained ankle, and not his sore hamstring, rates a mention.

Larry Drew:
"We really played our game that first half. We were pushing the ball, we were moving the ball. Guys were making plays, Joe was making plays out of the post. We were swigning the ball well. It just seemed like everything was going right. I thought we played as well of a first half as we could offensively and defensively we did a really good job."
Kirk Hinrich:
"I think our mindset was great for three quarters or so. We just have to feel when we are starting to go the other way and get a little bit of slippage and come together and not allow that to happen."
Al Hoford on clinching a playoff spot:
"It’s special. It’s something I don’t take or granted. A lot of guys play in this league and don’t get this chance. I’m very excited about it. Now it’s about us building on this and keep getting better."
Routine as it is for the Hawks to make the playoffs now, it was far more routine for far longer for them not to make the playoffs.

Josh Smith:
"It's a big accomplishment. There's a lot of guys who play a whole career and don't make it. I think if we get our act together, we can do something special this year."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Larry Drew's Got This Figured Out

Michael Cunningham's latest blog post has an amazing quote from Larry Drew:
Drew turned on the television at 3 a.m. and came across a replay of the Thunder-Heat game from a couple weeks back:

"I am sitting there watching Kevin Durant and they are double-teaming him all over the place. But he goes quick. He gets his shot quick. He comes off the screens looking to shoot it quick. And he’s accepting double teams and making plays out of double teams. Sometimes it calls for showing a willingness to make the right plays out of double teams. If they see you are a reluctant passer the heat will be turned up even more. Not saying that’s what’s happening with us but those are the things you have to do with double teams. If you are a scorer, knowing that you are going to be double-teamed you have got to go into your shot and your offense a little quicker. If not, you have to make a play out of a double team. The other thing that affects double teams is where you are on the floor. It’s a lot easier to double team when you are on one side of the floor than when you are in the middle of the floor. We’ve gone to where doing more things out of middle of the floor."
Rest easy Hawks fans, the head coach has a plan: Joe Johnson should play like Kevin Durant.

This is the logical culmination of Drew's season-long imploring of Hawks players with a long history of not attacking the basket off the dribble to attack the basket off the dribble as if it was as easily done as said.

Of course, these pleas occur concurrent with allowing Josh Smith to take almost half his shots outside of 16 feet, running plays for Al Horford to curl around a down-screen to shoot a jumper, and a disinterest in using the three Hawks (Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, and Jeff Teague) most likely to attack the basket and get to the free throw line.

Allow me to set those last three sentences from Drew apart for further contemplation:
"The other thing that affects double teams is where you are on the floor. It’s a lot easier to double team when you are on one side of the floor than when you are in the middle of the floor. We’ve gone to where doing more things out of middle of the floor."
To which every single person who has watched the Hawks play during the last four seasons responds, "Duh."

It's shocking that a man who was watched every single Hawks game over the past four seasons is having an epiphany right now about how much easier it is to defend a team when the ball stays on one side of the floor. It's doubly shocking that he would admit such in public.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Off Day(s) Puzzler

Do the Atlanta Hawks struggle because they aren't assignment-sound or do the Atlanta Hawks struggle because they aren't assigned well?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Philadelphia 76ers 105 Atlanta Hawks 100


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

PHI 86
1.221 54.8


In a nice change of pace, I had some very complementary and pleasant comments prepared. Then the fourth quarter happened, and I have to return to two persistent and recurring themes.

The jump shots stopped falling and the Hawks stopped scoring.

The Hawks made one jump shot between 3:17 of the third quarter and 2:15 of the fourth quarter. At 3:17 of the third quarter, Josh Smith's 19-footer* put the Hawks up 77-66. At 2:15 of the fourth quarter, Joe Johnson's 18-footer cut the Philadelphia lead to 99-90. The Hawks scored 13 points over more than a quarter's worth of playing time. What makes it so frustrating (this time) is that, in the first half, the Hawks did an excellent job of complementing their jump shooting with transition buckets and trips to the free throw line. Over the final fifteen minutes, both of those elements disappeared from Atlanta's offensive attack.

*Smith's 33 points broke down thusly: 3-8 outside of 16 feet (including a three-pointer), 1-2 on foul line jumpers, and 9-11 (plus 6-7 from the free throw line) inside of 10 feet.

The Hawks scored 12 of their 20 fourth quarter points in the final 2:15, after they'd fallen behind by more than 10 points and victory was highly improbable. Heck, 6 of Atlanta's 20 fourth quarter points came after they'd essentially given up by not fouling down seven with less than 45 seconds left.

Over the first 9:45 of the fourth quarter, Al Horford scored four points on three shots. Josh Smith scored two points (with the bucket assisted by Horford) on four shots. Joe Johnson scored two points on two shots. Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia were both scoreless on two shots each.

Poor defense put tremendous pressure on the Atlanta offense in the fourth quarter.

Clearly, the fourth quarter against Denver, the end of the second and third quarters against Detroit, and the second quarter against the Bulls last night have done nothing to dissuade Larry Drew from playing Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson together in the backcourt. Nor did their fourth quarter offensive ineffectiveness appear likely to curtail either their playing time or their touches.

After the Hawks struggled to get stops for several minutes with that pair attempting to defend on the perimeter, Drew replaced Marvin Williams with Kirk Hinrich and broke out a new kind of ineffective zone defense, a 1-3-1/1-2-2 hybrid with Hinrich at the zone's point, Johnson and Crawford lost somewhere on the wings, and one of Josh Smith or Al Horford defending at the free throw line and unable to help protect the basket.

Defense was a problem throughout the game* for the Hawks, mostly in familiar ways. Watch how often the Hawks switch on screens (on- or off-the-ball) seemingly on impulse rather than by design. When the ball goes in the post, watch perimeter players sag to a spot where they're neither double-teaming the ball nor in position to close out on a spot-up shooter. Watch how often, in transition, a bigger Hawk stops at the three-point line and waves an in-position Kirk Hinirch off the opposing ball-handler, forcing Hinrich to go chase down his teammate's nominal defensive responsibility.

*It was 59-53 at halftime. In a 43 possession game.

Five individuals wearing matching uniforms can fairly easily and frequently create opportunities to take jump shots. Five individuals wearing matching uniforms cannot play good defense. Over the last five games the Hawks have allowed 115.9, 121.8, 114.3 (this in their win over the Pistons), 132.6, and 122.1 points per 100 possessions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chicago Bulls 114 Atlanta Hawks 81


My thoughts on the game are over at the Daily Dime. Regular readers will be ahead of the game.

Derrick Rose was amazing. The Atlanta Hawks were not. Save for Jeff Teague, who ably showed up the head coach in garbage time and Josh Smith who did the same, in a less positive sense, during the relatively brief competitive portion of the game.

The Hawks didn't make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game, though Marvin Williams (in the third quarter) and Jeff Teague (in the fourth quarter) each made a jumper inside of 15 feet during that portion of the game.

The Hawks didn't make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game despite trailing by at least 20 points for the entire time. Defense is about talent more than it's about effort but a culture of accountability has its place as well.

March 22nd Game Preview: Chicago Bulls (50-19) @ Atlanta Hawks (40-30)

TIP-OFF: 8pm (EST)


CHAT: Daily Dime Live

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Bulls

ATLANTA INJURY REPORT: Several Hawks are banged up but none of them appear on the injury report.



Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CHI (off)
29.6 13.4
ATL (def)
89.3 1.064 49.1

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
CHI (def)
46 29.7
24.2 13.8
ATL (off)
89.2 1.067

: By the Horns, Blog a Bull


PREVIOUSLY...the Chicago Bulls beat the Sacramento Kings by 40 points in Chicago last night in Carlos Boozer's return to action.

The Hawks and Bulls have split their two meetings this month with the Hawks winning in dramatic fashion in Atlanta on March 2nd and the Bulls winning in impressive fashion in Chicago on March 11th.

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

Hawks/Bulls Ticket Giveaway Closed, Winner Notified

A winner has been chosen and notified. Thanks to all who entered* and, for those who didn't win, please keep reading for at least one future ticket giveaway courtesy of StubHub.

*The volume of entries, once again, set a new standard.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ticket Giveaway: Chicago Bulls @ Atlanta Hawks

The good folks at StubHub have come through again with a two tickets for me to give away to a reader for Tuesday's nights game against the Bulls.

If you wish to win the tickets, send an e-mail by 11:59pm EDT tonight, March 21st, to (hoopinion (at) gmail (dot) com) with "Tickets" in the subject line.

I will notify the winner early Tuesday morning. If you don't hear from me, fear not, I will have at least one more pair of tickets to give away before season's end.

Good luck, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 104 Detroit Pistons 96


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 84
1.238 57.9

The Hawks scored a lot of points against a bad defense. That's a lot better than not scoring a lot of points against a bad defense but, even as the Hawks took care of business and moved closer to securing the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference, the tendencies that cause the Atlanta offense to struggle so frequently against better competition were obvious.

Against the league's third-worst defense, offensive opportunities were plentiful enough that the Hawks could easily overcome a general, persistent sense of being out-of-sync offensively. If a shooter spotted up but was unready to shoot when the ball arrived, there was a good chance another open shot could be found before the possession ended. Despite passing up open shots fairly regularly, the Hawks didn't commit a single shot clock violation (though two three-second violations resulted from the team not taking the first available shot). Somewhat similarly, Kirk Hinrich's efforts to push the ball up the court often provided more in the way of good intentions than easy buckets as his teammates appeared unprepared for him passing ahead.

Because Hinrich is new to the team and because the Hawks do not currently have anything approaching a set rotation, these problems could plausibly diminish as the team gets more time playing alongside its new point guard (and vice versa) or if Larry Drew commits to playing the nine plausible NBA players at his disposal in regular combinations.

It seems far less plausible that the Hawks will become competent (much less proficient) at feeding the post. Whether this team-wide inability either to establish a good angle from which to feed the post or recognize whether the post player is open or not is a function of the team's general reluctance to play through the post or the reason why the team doesn't play through the post more often, I don't know, but there are 27 teams in the league more capable of making that weakness a detriment than the Pistons.

The committed effort to play through the post made this offensive explosion not just an example of the Hawks making jump shots. Al Horford turned 11 shots and 9 free throws into 18 points and had sufficient touches to complement his scoring with six assists against three turnovers. Zaza Pachulia, apparently, finally, ensconced as the team's third big man, bettered Horford by making 10 trips to the foul line. Six of Joe Johnson's 13 field goal attempts came inside of six feet.

A commitment to getting the ball inside, at least as a complement to the team's inherent jump shooting tendencies, might be necessary to consolidate the gains the team has made in swapping Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich. Despite the very obvious improvement in general and Hinrich's excellent work on Richard Hamilton today, the Hawks remain exploitable whenever the Hawks do not have a point guard on the floor. The ends of both the second and third quarters today demonstrated that Larry Drew does not consider the fourth quarter of the Denver loss a warning of the dangers of using Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia to defend the pick-and-roll.

March 20th Game Preview: Detroit Pistons (25-44) @ Atlanta Hawks 39-30

TIP-OFF: 2pm (EST)

Not just are the Hawks playing at two o'clock on the Sunday afternoon of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Hawks are playing at two o'clock on the Sunday afternoon of the Publix Georgia Marathon and the accompanying downtown street closings. I suspect five thousand fans present at tip-off is an optimistic hope.

: SportSouth

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Pistons


DETROIT INJURY REPORT: Jonas Jerebko is out.


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
DET (off)
27 12.2
ATL (def)
89.4 1.063 49.1

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
DET (def)
52.5 30.3
28.3 13.9
ATL (off)
89.2 1.064

: Piston Powered


PREVIOUSLY...the Detroit Pistons won two home games this week, 107-93 over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and 99-95 over the New York Knicks on Friday. The Pistons have not won a road game in over a month, however.

The Hawks have won two of three games against the Pistons this season, splitting the games in Detroit (losing 103-80 on December 14th and winning 94-79 on Valentine's Day) and winning the previous meeting in Atlanta 94-85 back on November 3rd.

Consider this an open thread for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game (but pre-recap) thoughts. Schuhmann: The Demise of the Hawks

John Schuhmann looks at the precipitous decline of the Atlanta Hawks offense from 2009-10 to 2010-11:
When Larry Drew took over for the fired Mike Woodson last summer, he promised to bring more ball movement to the Hawks’ offense. That sounded great to those that grew tired of Iso-Joe, but some wondered why Drew would mess with a good thing. The Hawks ranked third in the league offensively last season, scoring an efficient 108.9 points per 100 possessions. Iso-Joe may have looked ugly at times, and Atlanta may have ranked 16th in assist rate. But overall, Woodson’s offense worked for the Hawks.

Well, it looks now like Drew made a mistake. The Hawks rank 21st in the league offensively this season, scoring just 103.2 points per 100 possessions. They have Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, and they’ve been worse offensively than the Pistons (103.9, 18th) and Raptors (103.5, 20th). They’re assisting on a higher percentage of their shots (ranking fourth in assist rate), but that doesn’t mean anything when they’re not getting as many shots at the basket.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How Important Is Shot-Making to the Hawks' Success?

Very important.

Perusing Hoopdata this evening, I noticed that the Hawks have had a lower eFG% than their opponents in each of their last 25 losses and in 27 of their 30 losses this season. The three exceptions all came prior to Thanksgiving: at Dallas, in the home loss to Utah, and in the first visit to Orlando.

The Hawks have had a higher eFG% than their opponents in 31 of their 39 wins.

So, when the Hawks shoot better than their opponents this season, they're 31-3. When they shoot worse than their opponents, they're 8-27. In 17 of the last 18 Atlanta Hawks games (the exception being the come-from-behind win against the Bulls), the team that shot better won the game. Possibilities for Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding

I wanted to get this fine piece by Max Fisher-Cohen up before last night's game against the Heat. Instead, I provided another data point for the argument that the key to effective blogging is underemployment. I suspect the material will still be interesting one day later.

Miami Heat 106 Atlanta Hawks 85




Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 87
0.977 46.2

Possible themes for this game recap...
  • The Atlanta Hawks struggle mightily against quality opposition.
  • The Atlanta Hawks: competitive as long as their jump shots go in. They were 4-9 outside of 16 feet, including a Hinrich three-pointer in the first quarter and trailed by four. They missed their next 12 shots from that range, a streak broken, with the starters already ensconced on the bench, by Jeff Teague's jumper with 4:24 left in the third quarter that cut the Miami lead to 29.
  • Discern and describe the je ne sais quoi that Semih Erden and Erick Dampier share that necessitates starting Atlanta's third-best center against them.
  • Josh Smith's knee brace: the perfect accessory for defending LeBron James?
  • Over the last 18 games, Joe Johnson has scored 269 points on 267 shots.
  • The Hawks have outscored their opponents by three points, or 0.0437 points per game, this season.
  • Congratulate everyone who answered "three games later" when asked "When will Jeff Teague fall out of the rotation again following his excellent performance against Portland?"
  • Hilton Armstrong: the biggest Mario West you'll ever see.
  • Again lament that Josh Powell dresses (but does not play) and Pape Sy does not dress and thus does not get the opportunity to make garbage time (more than 16-and-a-half minutes of it by my count) interesting.
  • Admit that after writing more than 300 game recaps about this team over the last four seasons, there may be nights (and mornings after) where the dire predictability of a loss overwhelms one's analytical capacity and just get to the dispiriting quotes, not that the Hawks offered much in that respect, either.
Larry Drew:
"Miami’s a solid defensive team. They do a great job, particularly on the first side of the offense. You have to force them to shift their defense and then you have to attack. We didn’t do that. Once the ball came out, we settled again for threes."
I don't see how starting Jason Collins is going to diminish Miami's commitment to defending the strong side nor how attempting 9 three-pointers (out of 57 field goal attempts) through three quarters gets anywhere near explaining why the Hawks were destroyed in their own building.

As with Mike Woodson, it's not that I expect Larry Drew to get to the heart of the matter through brutal honesty in his post-game press conferences but because the obvious problems persist and the same platitudes get rolled out night after night, there's no sane response but to treat the post game quotes as serious, if unconvincing, comment

Damien Wilkins, indirectly discussing Josh Smith being assigned the job of defending LeBron James:
"To me, it felt or seemed like we were conceding the fact that [James] was making shots. He was way too comfortable pulling up for jump shots, coming down and just doing whatever he wanted to do, just showing way too much respect. … I think we could have done a better job showing a little bit more resistance."
Al Horford:
"We’re going through a real rough patch right now. We’re going to keep fighting and we have to figure it out."
Per Ken Sugiura this was the 17th time this season that the Hawks lost by 10 or more points. Maybe the 17th time will be charm, Al.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Denver Nuggets 102 Atlanta Hawks 87


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
DEN 88
20.6 13.6
ATL 89 0.978 44.5

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks were an offensive team playing for a defensive coach. This season, at least since Rick Sund swapped Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich, the Hawks are a defensive team playing for an offensive coach.

Case in point: the fourth quarter of this game. With 7:52 left and the Hawks down eight, Larry Drew went with a big lineup: Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson in the backcourt and Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia in the frontcourt. The express purpose of this lineup was to get the ball to Josh Smith, in an advantageous matchup against JR Smith, in the post. Granted, this effort to get the ball to Smith (13 points on 16 shots, 7 of them jumpers, all 7 of them missed, 1 assist against 2 turnovers) in the post came approximately 40 minutes and 8 seconds (of game time) too late but, theoretically, it's sound.

Theoretically* sound offensively.

*Practically, the Hawks suffered both from Smith's inability to finish in the paint and Joe Johnson's willingness to stop the ball when Smith drew, then appropriately passed out of, double-teams.

Defensively, the lineup was a disaster. Defensively, Josh Smith is at his worst when he has to close out on shooters. On the second and third Denver possessions following Larry Drew's decision to go big, JR Smith caught a simple, direct, initial pass and made three-point baskets over the sagging Smith. On the next three possessions, the Nuggets played 1/5 pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton and Nene against Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia. Nene scored twice, then Felton made an uncontested layup.

For the sixth straight possession on which the Nuggets scored, JR Smith broke Josh Smith down off the dribble before pulling up for an essentially uncontested 13-footer. On the seventh straight scoring possession, Smith made a long three-pointer as the shot clock expired. On the eighth straight scoring possession for the Nuggets, Felton made another layup. At that point the Hawks were down 16, Drew pulled the passive (just five shots in 33:47, plus, granted, six assists) and possibly still-injured Al Horford and the game was over with 2:47 left, just five minutes after Drew made his bold tactical choice.

Bold and different, yes, but essentially the same choice that Drew made so often earlier this season when he left Crawford and Johnson and Bibby on the floor in an effort to catch up on offense, not acknowledging that such a perimeter troika would do little to stop the other team from scoring. One might argue that tonight's fourth quarter lineup was actually worse as it invited Denver to attack Josh Smith's greatest defensive weakness and allowed the Nuggets to make Al Horford a non-factor. After the Nuggets scored on three straight Felton/Nene pick-and-rolls, Horford switched onto Nene. The Nuggets then used Kenyon Martin (now matched up against Pachulia) to set ball-screens.

To be fair, Larry Drew doesn't have a lot of options from which to choose. Then again, if the Atlanta Hawks had been in the market for a coach who accounted for as many contingencies as possible, he probably wouldn't have his job.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 110 Milwaukee Bucks 85


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
MIL 91
23.4 14.3
ATL 91 1.209 70.5

Allow me to leverage my March 8th recap of the Atlanta Hawks' 101-87 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers:
The Atlanta Hawks can compete with any team in the league as long as their jump shots go in. When they don't, they can't because they aren't, as a team, especially good at anything. Against lesser teams, the Hawks can take advantage of being not bad in a number of areas and punish the inferior team for its mistakes.
Tonight, we saw that. When Joe Johnson and Josh Smith make their jump shots, when they work through the post (against limited* resistance in this case), and when they control** the defensive glass , the Hawks are a very successful basketball team. Not entirely coincidentally, this happens most often against bad basketball teams.

*Bucks-ologists may refer to Keyon Dooling repeatedly defending Marvin Williams in the post in their upcoming "When Did Scott Skiles Lose This Team?" pieces.

There, too, it appeared, more than once during the first three quarters, that there were zero Bucks inside the three-point line as the Hawks corralled a Milwaukee miss.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a bad basketball team. Despite the presence of Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings on the roster, they've taken on the identity of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: so bad offensively that high-level defensive aptitude becomes almost meaningless. And, as the season slips away, it's only natural for that defensive performance to slip as the lost nature of their cause reveals itself more fully.

So, impressive as Joe Johnson (36 points on 19 shots, 6-9 3PTFGA) was shooting the ball, he'll have to demonstrate a renewed ability to make shots against Denver and Miami and Chicago over the next seven days to provide true encouragement because his familiar defensive deficiencies, the inability to get through screens and keep even a modest and similarly-aged talent like John Salmons in front of him, were apparent concurrent with his offensive explosion.

Joe Johnson, even in this, the most trying individual season he's had in Atlanta, scored 30 points six times* prior to tonight: at home against the Raptors, the Kings, the Knicks, the Suns, and the Rockets
, and at the Bobcats.

*If you think I'm having fun with endpoints, Johnson has five more games of 26 to 29 points and they all occurred on the road. The Kings and Raptors appear on that list also, along with the Clippers, Jazz, and Mavericks.

The Hawks, as a whole, were not so different tonight. Even in that 55-point, 43-possession first half (i.e., the competitive portion of the game), the Hawks attempted just 5 free throws (one of those courtesy of a John Salmons technical foul) while 18 of their 36 field goal attempts came outside of 16 feet. Against better teams, against teams that are playing for something, those jumpers won't be as open nor will better opponents permit two-thirds of those jumpers to be taken from beyond the three-point line.

Every win's a good win. Orlando are clearly the fourth-best team in the East and, thanks to Larry Drew's re-appraisal of how to defend Orlando and, presumably, the addition of Kirk Hinrich to defend Jameer Nelson, the Magic clearly provide the best possible first-round matchup for the Hawks. With eight or nine (depending on whether or not the April 11th game against Miami is a dead rubber for the Heat) difficult games remaining on the schedule, the Hawks must take advantage of every opportunity to maintain or extend their lead on the Knicks and 76ers.

Every win's a good win and not every performance, no matter how good or how bad, redefines a team. And, yes, seeing the recently arrested Josh Powell (Though, to be fair, the arrest did not appear to affect Powell's performance. The Hawks were a rather typical -3 in Powell's 6:06 of one rebound, two turnovers, no points court time.) rather than Pape Sy get those garbage time minutes does disappoint to an absurd degree.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Only Buster Bluth Rates Juice More Highly Than Does Larry Drew

As reported by Michael Cunningham, Larry Drew on the Hawks breaking their four-game losing streak:
"They seemed to have a little bit more juice. Heck, I seemed to have a little bit more juice. It’s good to break the streak. You are almost 70 games into the season. It’s been a long grind, and you just welcome those kind of moments."

Also, previous to that.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TrueHoop: Hollinger: Teague Steals a Win for the Hawks

John Hollinger:
It’s rare to see a game turn at the end of the first quarter, but tonight it happened. Atlanta’s 91-82 victory of Portland came about largely because of an 8-0 run at the end of the first quarter, one that snapped the Hawks out of their offensive doldrums long enough to end a four-game losing streak.

The catalyst? Surprise starter Jeff Teague, who played the best game of his young career with 24 points, five steals, and two chase-down blocks at the rim. Shockingly, Teague tore apart Blazers stalwart Andre Miller, holding him to one point on 0-for-8 shooting – and the one point came on a technical foul shot.

Quotes, Notes, and Links: Atlanta Hawks 91 Portland Trail Blazers 82




The Hawks have only won two games through the first two weeks of March but they've both been genuinely enjoyable victories.

Larry Drew on Jeff Teague:
"He was absolutely sensational from start to finish on both ends of the floor. Defensively he did a great job of picking the ball up and harassing the ball. His speed and his quickness is just something we don’t have. When we put him in games we rely on him to be a nuisance defensively and offensively just to stay in the attack mode."
His speed and quickness is something the Hawks have had for almost two full seasons and, for almost two full seasons, two head coaches have chosen not to utilize it for reasons that are not obvious given his age, draft position, and on-court performance. Perhaps that has now changed permanently.

Now, I'll admit that I thought Andrew Miller would dominate Teague in the post and we'd witness a repeat of a rusty Teague's embarrassment at the hands of Chris Paul. Larry Drew got it right last night.

"I am hoping this will be kind of a springboard for him. It’s been kind of an up-and-down season for him. He’s played some minutes, he’s started a few games, and he’s gone stretches where he hasn’t played. But during that stretch I never stopped believing in that kid because I saw the package that he brings. He can make shots, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness, he can go from end to end. Defensively he can be a nuisance.

It’s important that he keeps believing in himself because I will never lose the belief in him. I’m committed to him. I know that at times he shows signs of a lack of confidence. For whatever reason, I don’t know, because I recognize the fact that this kid if he’s playing at a level I know he can he can be pretty good and tonight he showed that. I just have to keep being that little birdie on his shoulder and keep letting him know how good he can be for our team."
I'm just speculating, but I'm guessing the 10 DNP-CDs and 10 more appearances that lasted less than five minutes might have, possibly, adversely affected Teague's confidence.

"It felt great to get an opportunity to get out here and play, something I’ve wanted to do all year."
"Coach told us to get up there and put on the pressure and try to overplay the passing lanes and make something happen. I got my hands on a couple of the balls. I got lucky."
Nate MacMillan on Teague's spectacular steal-free throw, steal-dunk, steal-three stretch over the final 12 seconds of the first quarter:
"Those possessions at the end of the first quarter changed things."
Wesley Matthews (I think he just beat Joe Johnson on another back-door cut) on Jeff Teague:
"Jeff Teague had a great game. He played the passing lane well and was really active and caused some problems for us."
Teague had five steals and three blocks in 44:18 last night. Compared to his fellow Hawk guards:


Per 100 on-court possessions, that looks like:


Among Hawks this season, Teague trails only Josh Smith (2.56) and Al Horford (1.55) in BS/100 possessions and Teague has a higher defensive rebounding rate than both Johnson and Damien Wilkins, as well.

Drew on Atlanta's decent success against Portland's zone:
"We actually went back to our man-to-man offense against the zone which turned out to be pretty good."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 91 Portland Trail Blazers 82


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
POR 87
24.4 18.4
ATL 86 1.058 55.8

The Hawks won this game on the defensive glass. On the final night of a four-game road trip, Portland failed, in the third quarter especially, both to do their usual damage on the offensive glass or to get back on defense following those missed offensive rebound opportunities. The Hawks took (all too rare) advantage of the many chances they had to turn missed Portland shots into transition scoring chances. All told, the Hawks tallied 27 fast break points in a game featuring just 86 Atlanta offensive possessions.

The Trail Blazers, because they lack guards capable of causing problems off the dribble, are a good matchup for the Hawks. With both Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Teague playing, dribble penetration figured to have been less of an issue than normal regardless of the opposition, but there's nothing about this game, won in Al Horford's absence and following three consecutive lop-sided losses, about which the Hawks shouldn't feel proud.

As to whether or not the Hawks can build on the victory, there are reasons for both optimism and skepticism. Neither Jeff Teague (24 points on 17 shots, 5 steals, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and just 1 turnover) nor Zaza Pachulia (6 points and 6 rebounds) should suffer another DNP-CD and anything approaching the 20 points (on 14 shots) Jamal Crawford scored, the 12 points Damien Wilkins scored, or the eight rebounds Marvin Williams grabbed, were they to occur on a regular basis, would aid the cause.

On the other hand, the Hawks, all too typically, got to the line just 10 times in the game and none of those guys mentioned in the previous paragraph will be as important to the Hawks, going forward, as either Joe Johnson or Josh Smith so the 25 points those two combined for on 24 shots and the nine turnovers they committed may be a greater harbinger of the team's future.

Then again, the Hawks are now 3-2 in Al Horford's absence (though they've been outscored by more than eight points a game without him), have never lost when Pape Sy dresses, and have never lost when Josh Powell gets arrested before the game. Harbingers are where you find them.

March 12th Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (37-28) @ Atlanta Hawks (37-28)

TIP-OFF: 7:30pm (EST)

: SportSouth

GAME NOTES: Hawks/Trailblazers


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


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
POR (off)
29.3 12.7
ATL (def)
89.4 1.063 49

Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
POR (def)
51 31.2
27.8 15.6
ATL (off)
89.3 1.065

: Portland Roundball Society, Blazers Edge


PREVIOUSLY...the Portland Trail Blazers lost 97-92 at the Charlotte Bobcats last night. Their four-game Southeastern swing began with impressive back-to-back wins in Orlando and Miami.

The Hawks beat the Blazers 90-83 in Portland on February 27th.

On a four-game losing streak and having lost TK of TK since the scheduled stiffened, the Hawks have now outscored their opponents by just five points over 65 games and 5,827 possessions. Twenty-five games and 2,220 possessions ago, the Hawks were +120 on the season.

Unfortunately, the two most likely changes I envision for the Hawks are either Damien Wilkins starting in place of Marvin Williams* or Josh Powell getting rewarded for his two garbage time buckets last night with another futile reappearance in the rotation.

*At what point does giving Marvin Williams a 5-year, $37.5 million extension becomes a worse decision than drafting Williams second overall?

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