Friday, November 02, 2012

It's Been Pleasant

For the first time in five years, I'm not going to write about the Atlanta Hawks' first game of the regular season. For the first time in five years, I have no specific plans to write about the Atlanta Hawks at all.

First of all, I appreciate the irony of stepping away from the keyboard at the precise moment the franchise made a decision I've been advocating since 2008, just as the Hawks presume to be interesting and new in ways they haven't been over much of the last five seasons.

I'm here because the Kansas City Kings left town when I was 8 years old. As a result of that, I channeled my basketball interest into the college game. I have many great memories because of college basketball but, as a fan and writer, it turned out to be an aesthetic and intellectual dead end.

Secondly, I deeply appreciate everyone who took the time to read anything I wrote about the Hawks.

When I began writing about the Hawks, I didn't have a lot of things in my life that satisfied me. I didn't have anything that provided me a useful and interesting outlet. Writing about the Hawks, interacting with Hawks fans, and entering the genuinely pleasant community of the NBA blogosphere was (this is in retrospect, not something I consciously understood or appreciated at the time) profoundly important in my life.

So I'm also here because Atlanta Hawks fans were passionate and generous with their time and attention to one who adopted their team. Whether you agreed or disagreed with me, whether you let me know of said agreement or disagreement, the semi-public platform I created was an important and valuable part of my life for five years.

What comes next are the thank yous I probably should have expressed more often in the moment. Feel free to read the following, skim it for you name, or skip to the end, as applicable.

I'm here because, after one season of blogging about the Hawks here, Matt Bernhardt invited me to start a Hawks blog at SB Nation. Without that encouragement and opportunity, there's a very good chance I would drifted in yet another different direction after that first season.

I'm here because of the example Henry Abbott set at TrueHoop and the investment of his time, energy and talent in establishing the TrueHoop Network.

I'm here because Kevin Arnovitz called me, told me that Henry Abbott was starting a network of NBA blogs under the TrueHoop banner, and asked if I'd like to write about the Hawks for them. The call surprised and flattered because of my admiration for Kevin, first through his writing at ClipperBlog, even moreso as I've gotten to know him over the years.

I'm here because, on that first phone call, Kevin told me they were getting Kurt Helin and Mike Kurylo for the TrueHoop Network. Both fine writers and, if it hadn't been for Kurt and Mike taking me up on my offer to contribute at, I might never had made the transition to writing about the NBA.

I'm here because of the people who have made up the TrueHoop Network, because of the colleagues I saw once a year (if that), because of those I've never met in person, all of whom remain comfortably simpatico. There are tens of people I now know with whom I fondly remember sharing a drink, a conversation, and laughs and look forward to doing so again at some unspecified moment in the future. I'm not so foolish as to start a list and leave off one of the many, many friends I've made through the TrueHoop Network. Thank you all.

I'm here because the NBA editors at are really super, generous with both their time and assignments. There is no doubt the opportunities I received there, from being a part of the TrueHoop Network, added legitimacy to the time I spent writing about basketball. Same goes for Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton inviting me to share a little corner of the Atlanta Hawks section of three editions of the Basketball Prospectus annual.

The longtime and old-time Hawks bloggers deserve their own paragraph. A special thank you to Drew and Larry and CoCo and Jason and Kris for the conversations and arguments we've shared, as well as the unexpected delights the Hawks have provided us over the last five years amidst the somewhat more predictable* disappointments. Hawks blogs are as strong as they've ever been, in my opinion, and I look forward to getting to know better the emerging writers. I think this is the spot where I should say I'll still be on Twitter, pitching woe and delight in unequal measure as the Hawks play.

*The Hawks will win 47 games this season. Josh Smith will not be traded, but Devin Harris will.

I'm here because Buddy Grizzard, James Goeders, and Mark Phelps stepped up and recapped a bunch of games this season. Without their efforts, Hoopinion probably would not have survived the lockout.

I'm here because a part of me -- not the best part, mind you -- draws energy from critics, willful mis-readers, and those troubled by my conscious rejection of certainty. One doesn't follow this path for five years because of the money. One follows this path due to some need for attention.

I'm here because Alison Weldon has been tremendously patient regarding the amount of time I've spent watching, thinking, and writing about the Atlanta Hawks over the last five years.

I'm going because I'm marrying Alison and because I found a real job. These two things are related, and wonderfully so. Miraculously, really, when it comes to the former. Both of those developments are an outgrowth of the work I've done here. Hoopinion has served as a way station between an old, uncertain self and one embracing adult life, for better and worse. Mostly better. It is bittersweet that, as my life has developed in these wonderful ways, it crowds out the time necessary to give this effort, which I also love, the attention it deserves.

I don't think I'm going because I'm running low on valuable things to say about the Hawks, but I've been spectacularly, hilariously wrong before and better to leave the party early than for your host to find you passed out on the bathroom floor. Or so I've heard.

Regarding that, if anyone reading this is on the fence about starting out in this, or a similar arena, especially anyone young, my advice is to write. Make yourself do the work. The rewards will often seem ephemeral, at best. Then, looking back, they appear vast. And unending.

If you bet it hit rim, proceed to the window and collect your money.

Thanks for reading, everybody. It's time for me to go. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 Doolittle: East win projections

Friend of the blog Bradford Doolittle published the Basketball Prospectus win projections for the Eastern Conference yesterday (Insider). Therein, the current state 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks projected to win the second-most games in the Eastern Conference. The (pleasant) surprise of the ordinal rankings make it possible to overlook that the projections have the Hawks winning games at a lesser rate than their 2011-12, fifth-best record in the East performance. This isn't an argument that the Hawks get better, it's that the East gets worse.

As for why the Hawks project to win* almost 49 games after trading away their two best wing players in salary dump deals, I think the explanation is fairly simple. Because Marvin Williams is such a low usage player and Joe Johnson is not an especially efficient scorer (and surely projects to decline in any forecasting system given he's on the age precipice for good but nor great shooting guards), a collection of fairly efficient low usage players (Morrow, Korver, maybe John Jenkins) and a couple of not especially efficient high usage players (Devin Harris and Lou Williams) simulates to be similar to the Hawks having kept Williams and Johnson.

Nor should we overlook in the upheaval that a (healthy) primary post rotation of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia with the fully competent Jordan Williams and Ivan Johnson in reserve, is a really nice post rotation.

I don't think it will play out along the lines of this projection because of the uncertainty of the practical changes in usage and roles for so many players. Plus, until Ferry acquires a good perimeter defender, Smith and Horford will have their work cut out to make this an average defensive team and team defense has to have a similarly large margin for error in any forecast. And there's always the chance that Danny Ferry makes a conscious decision to win fewer games in 2012-13 in order to improve the franchise's program's chances of winning a championship thereafter.

In the accompanying Summer Forecast, the NBA team collectively picks the Hawks to win 40 games and finish eighth in the East next season. Assuming the Hawks try to win for the entire season, I pegged them at 45 wins, envisioning them playing an offensively entertaining but defensively abysmal style.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Marvin Williams' Years in Atlanta

Previously: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Larry Drew, Rick Sund

In retrospect, Marvin Williams' time with the Atlanta Hawks never made more sense than the night he was drafted. Oh, in hindsight it was a mistake to take Marvin ahead of Chris Paul or, to a significantly lesser* extent, Deron Williams, but it was a mistake 28 other teams likely would have made. It's only in pairing hindsight with selective memory, forgetting Deron Williams' college playing weight, forgetting how bad Wake Forest was defensively, forgetting the final two weeks of Chris Paul's college career were lowlighted by both his punch to Julius Hodge's groin and a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament as a 2-seed, that drafting Marvin Williams becomes a singular, spectacular act of incompetence.

(I understand you may disagree. For me to take you seriously, you'll need to cite your work. An unsupported "I knew back then" is not convincing. Here's mine. There is much wrong within.)

There were questions about Paul and Williams. Marvin Williams was potential. He didn't fulfill much that potential as an Atlanta Hawk. It's unclear how much of that was due to his limitations, unrecognized during the 22 minutes a game he played during his lone season at North Carolina, and how much was due to organizational dysfunction.

*In hindsight, Utah made a pretty sizable mistake in taking Williams ahead of Paul, too, though that generally goes unmentioned.

On his rookie deal, Williams often played ahead of the superior Josh Childress. Once the Hawks, quite reasonably, chose the younger Williams over Childress and signed Marvin to a sizable extension, the team, quite inexplicably, became disillusioned with him almost immediately. Despite the sizable extension and Williams being the only legit small forward on the roster, he found himself in a reduced role that never gave him a chance to justify the contract. Not that he would have justified it, given the chance. His almost tragically poor playoff performances added to the impression that Williams was not one to seize the moment.

Williams took grief for being an okay player drafted two spots ahead of an all-time great. For being offered a long, large extension despite being, in his brighter stretches, no more than a useful player. For his usefulness coming in ways likely to be unappreciated. In Atlanta, Marvin Willliams came to tick many of the boxes on the list of ways to be an underrated player: an efficient, low-volume scorer who didn't turn the ball over, a slightly above average defender, and a fine rebounder who played only 30 minutes a game.

Much like Joe Johnson, but at a lesser cost, Marvin Williams couldn't hope to match the organization's over-investment in his talents, especially given how he was utilized. Exactly like Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams is not his contract, nor is he what might have been had the Atlanta Hawks never acquired him. Marvin Williams is an adequate player who, in fresh circumstances, could, in his age-26 and age-27 seasons, justify the final two years of his contract. For his sake, I hope he gets that chance in Utah.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Future

Through two trades announced within a couple of hours of each other on Monday, Danny Ferry transformed the Atlanta Hawks from one of the most capped-out teams in the league to one that will have $30-40 million in cap space next Summer when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum and James Harden and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents. And cap space isn't just for signing free agents. It gives an organization the flexibility to take advantage of other teams' dysfunction to add quality players and assets. A numbingly cautious and predictable organization became bold and opened itself up to countless possibilities.

The Hawks are going to be far more interesting now that their ambitions extend beyond hosting a couple of second-round playoff games but greater ambitions and smart management provides no guarantee of greater success. Kevin Pritchard couldn't turn and Daryl Morey hasn't turned sound methodology into a championship contending team. Sam Presti runs a model franchise but it's got to be better than even money the Thunder don't win an NBA title on his watch. Danny Ferry was there as the Spurs saw what might be their last hurrah turn from two months of glorious basketball into playoff elimination in the course of a week. For all the ambition, talent, and hubris collected in Miami, Pat Riley and the Heat felt both accomplishment and relief in winning the NBA title. It's terribly difficult to win a championship.

Here's the thing: reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history won't be all that satisfying if the Hawks lose that series. That's the nature of fandom. Team success breeds desire for more success. For now, for the first time in a very long time*, the desires of the Atlanta Hawks and the desires of Atlanta Hawks fans are in sync. I think we have to enjoy that, embrace the possibilities or the playoff losses and the injuries (in various degrees, both will come) will won't make it feel like a better place. For Hawks fans, it is.

*I don't count the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade. That was a move made out of desperation and insecurity, one that diverted resources which could have been used for rebuilding into the acquisition of an above average player. It laid the foundation for an era of competency despite mismanagement, realized only through moving up in the 2007 lottery and drafting Al Horford to pair with Josh Smith. The Hawks didn't have a winning record until you could honestly argue that one of those two, rather than Johnson, was the best player on the team.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Great Trade. Who'd We Get?

So ends an era. One wherein terrible management turned a good player into a profound organizational handicap. Michael Cunningham reports:
The Hawks and Nets have agreed to terms on a trade that will send All-Star guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for expiring contracts and a first-round pick, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.
Let's hear it for Danny Ferry, who performed a miracle. And let's hear it for Billy King, who saw the post-prime years of (presently) an above average score and passer who doesn't rebound, whose defense can best be described as "won't kill you if you put him on the other team's second-most dangerous wing" and thought to himself, "That's worth $90 million and a first-round draft pick."

The cost of the Joe Johnson era was only, it turned out, $105 million, one first-round pick, and one league average player. Danny Ferry turned a potential disaster into something that didn't work out as planned.

The Hawks have moved on. This trade doesn't improve them in the short-term, it only makes improvement possible in the future. Ferry will have to make several good decisions (and have them work) to get the Hawks to win two playoff series in a season for the first time since they moved to Atlanta.

Tonight, though raise a glass to Ferry, to Joe Johnson, to Billy King, and to the future.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Draft Dissent

I gave myself a day to find something more valuable than frustration and disappointment to express regarding John Jenkins and Mike Scott being the 23rd and 43rd selections in the 2012 NBA Draft.

In Jenkins, the Hawks acquired a one-trick pony. Granted, Jenkins' trick is the most important in the game. He can make shots. Problem being, he can't create shots and there's little evidence that Larry Drew's offensive system is capable of consistently creating quality shots for players. Furthermore, given Drew's tendency to play his reserves en masse, Jenkins figures to get court time with to be determined reserves who will, in all likelihood, be more comfortable creating shots for themselves than others.

Unless injuries force his hand, Drew has shown little willingness to give inexperienced players consistent minutes. Jenkins will always be a percentage player. Give him enough open looks from beyond the arc and he will score points efficiently. In a situation where a couple misses in a row might lead to Jenkins getting a week off, his limitations as a player could even be exaggerated as a Hawk.

In short, Jenkins is a nice second-round talent the Hawks drafted in the first round who does not, pending roster completion and/or changes, have a defined role to play for a team that, historically, has done a poor job of leveraging its players strengths while mitigating their weaknesses.

Regardless of identity, it is unreasonable to expect anything from the 43rd pick in the draft. Mike Scott does not figure to challenge that precept. Successful as a fifth-year senior at Virginia, Scott turns 24 in a couple of weeks. He's just two years younger than Marvin Williams and Al Horford. There's little precedent of a power forward draftee of any age succeeding in the NBA with the poor athleticism markers evident in the stats from Scott's excellent senior season. Scott averaged just one blocked shot and 1.4 steals per 100 on-court defensive possessions. He rebounded less than ten percent of Virginia's misses.

It's difficult to find recent comparisons to Scott's numbers. Best I can come up with are Luke Harangody without demonstrating college three-point range, a less efficient Tyler Hansbrough, or Gary Wilkinson, who went undrafted out of Utah State and currently stars in the Australian league. All three of those guys turned the ball over significantly less than Scott in their final college seasons so even the best comparisons for Scott break down eventually and not in his favor.

Furthermore, it's puzzling to comprehend how Scott fits on a roster with Ivan Johnson. Were Scott younger, it might make more sense to carry him as fifth big man (sure to be sixth once the Hawks sign a franchise-defining third-string center) in the hopes he develops into a rotation player. With Johnson yet to receive a qualifying offer, the suspicion lurks that the Hawks may be comfortable replacing him with an inferior, younger (but no young) player, in order to save about $500,000.

All in all, would the Hawks be significantly worse off, from a talent perspective, not even considering the combination of talent plus the inherent value of using the 23rd and 43rd picks to acquire additional talent, with the undrafted pair of William Buford and Drew Gordon?


Jenkins and Scott are clearly the superior scorers. Not to get all Prof. Berri here, but that's the simplest explanation for why they were drafted while Buford and Gordon were not. However, as all around players, what certainty is there that Buford, longer and more athletic than Jenkins, won't become a superior two-way role player to the Hawks' first-rounder? Does Gordon's relative youth and superior activity defensively and as a rebounder really suffer that much in comparison to Scott's superiority in knocking down a face-up jumper?

We'll see, won't we.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The TrueHoop Network Held a Mock Draft

With the stipulation that we make predictions rather than express preferences and given the first 22 selections made by my colleagues, I have the Hawks taking Royce White.

1. New Orleans: Anthony Davis (Joe Gerrity,
2. Charlotte: Thomas Robinson (Spencer Percy, Queen City Hoops)
3. Washington: Bradley Beal (Kyle Weidie, Truth About It)
4. Cleveland: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Colin McGowan, Cavs: The Blog)
5. Sacramento: Harrison Barnes (James Ham, Cowbell Kingdom)
6. Portland: Andre Drummond (Sean Highkin, Portland Roundball Society)
7. Golden State: Dion Waiters (Rasheed Malek,
8. Toronto: Jeremy Lamb (Sam Holako, Raptors Republic)
9. Detroit: John Henson (Dan Feldman, PistonPowered)
10. New Orleans: Damian Lillard (Joe Gerrity,
11. Portland: Kendall Marshall (Sean Highkin, Portland Roundball Society)
12. Milwaukee: Perry Jones III (Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball)
13. Phoenix: Terrence Ross (Ryan Weisert, Valley of the Suns)
14. Houston: Tyler Zeller (Jared Dubin, Hardwood Paroxysm)
15. Philadelphia: Terrence Jones (Carey Smith, Philadunkia)
16. Houston: Austin Rivers (Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger)
17. Dallas: Quincy Miller (Connor Huchton, The Two Man Game)
18. Minnesota: Meyers Leonard (Steve McPherson, Hardwood Paroxysm)
19. Orlando: Tony Wroten (Eddy Rivera, MBN)
20. Denver: Andrew Nicholson (Kalen Deremo, Roundball Mining Company)
21. Boston: Jared Sullinger (Brendan Jackson,
22. Boston: Moe Harkless (Brendan Jackson,
23. Atlanta: Royce White (Bret LaGree, Hoopinion)
24. Cleveland: Arnett Moultrie (Colin McGowan, Cavs: The Blog)
25. Memphis: Fab Melo (Red Coleman,
26. Indiana: Marquis Teague (Tim Donahue, 8p9s)
27. Miami: Jeff Taylor (Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak)
28. Oklahoma City: Draymond Green (Royce Young, Daily Thunder)
29. Chicago: Will Barton (Matt McHale, Bulls by the Horns)
30. Golden State: Jared Cunningham (Rasheed Malek,

Given the same situation, I would prefer Draymond Green and Evan Fournier to White. This is where you tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Danny Ferry Hired As GM

Danny Ferry's tenure as GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers is not impressive. He inherited LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. For the positive of the Mo Williams trade, there's the negative of signing Larry Hughes to a 5-year, $60 million contract as a free agent. For the positive of drafting Shannon Brown and Danny Green, there's the negative of neither playing useful minutes for the Cavaliers. Ferry traded for Ben Wallace and Shaquille O'Neal, but well after either could play significant minutes anymore. His last major move, trading for the 33-year-old Antawn Jamison, didn't work.

I fear it's this history, of drafting out-of-sync with his head coach, adding an above average player to an undisturbed core rather than making a move of profound and risky change, signing a player in the hopes he'll be something he hasn't been before, acquiring the fading, ex-famous rather than promising players and giving them a defined role to play, acquiescing to ownership's desire to win now, even the Cleveland franchise's futile fascination with the potential of Wheeler's JJ Hickson that makes him a natural fit with the Atlanta Spirit Group rather than an indication of a new direction.

Not that a new direction would be especially feasible for anyone to forge given the years of entrenchment represented by the franchise's current roster and cap situation.

Despite my general misgivings, Ferry's hiring offers one indisputable reason for optimism: a six-year contract. Danny Ferry's contract lasts longer than Joe Johnson's. Long-term planning could return to the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since Billy Knight mused as to how many wings could play at the same time. Given the fairly predictable and familiar near-future (unpredictability only coming via the potentially unsatisfying conclusion of Josh Smith's time with the team), the possibility of a long-term plan, even if it exists as a mirage for the time being, offers Hawks fans a reason for real, true hope.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Joe Johnson's Season

The second season of Joe Johnson's second, more ridiculous contract with the Atlanta Hawks demonstrated some practical understanding of his strengths and limitations. Up to a point, it was as good a season as could reasonably expected from Johnson at this stage of his career. That point was the playoffs.

During the regular season, Johnson, presumably recognizing his increasing inability to create high-percentage shots for himself or for teammates, demonstrated a greater willingness to finish rather than start possessions and he finished possessions from behind the three-point line more often (per minute and as a percentage of his field goal attempts) than in any previous season in Atlanta. The result of his slightly smaller role in the offense: significantly more efficient scoring at the cost of some assists. A fair trade.

With Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford replaced in the rotation by Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, Johnson was no longer burdened with futile defensive assignments. Johnson took on a role more suited to his lack of athleticism and general defensive passivity. He stopped fouling almost completely (committing a little more than one personal foul every 36 minutes and committing more than three personal fouls in a game on three occasions, one of them being the triple overtime loss to Miami) and let his already poor defensive rebounding rate shrink to 9.2%. Neither of these prevented the Hawks from improving significantly defensively, suggesting that reducing Johnson's defensive role was a net positive. He even had a (relative) shot blocking explosion, rejecting 13 shots in 2127 minutes after blocking just 12 shots in more than 5400 minutes during the previous two seasons combined.

Despite the positive results, all this sensibility regarding Joe Johnson disappeared in the playoffs. Injuries didn't help matters but, even at less than 100%, Josh Smith and Al Horford clearly looked superior, outplaying the overextended Johnson in the playoffs. That's old news. In a new development, Jeff Teague joined them in outshining Johnson.

Johnson repeatedly failed to create good shots for himself or his teammates while struggling to chase Paul Pierce around screens for much of the series. Yet it was Johnson, dribbling nowhere good against a set defense to which the Hawks turned again and again until elimination. It was the worst of Johnson's five mediocre-to-poor playoff performances as a Hawk.

The series also re-raised the question of whether the limitations Johnson's contract has put on the team from a player personnel standpoint will continue to carryover onto the court. There are now three younger teammates (Smith, Horford, and Teague) capable of making Johnson a more effective player the more they are on the court, the more they have the ball in their hands. The Hawks are overpaying Joe Johnson to be an above average player. The overpayments* will continue after Johnson has ceased to be an above average player. The team must get maximum value out of him while there remains value to be had.

*Since Rashard Lewis was traded again this week, a word regarding untradeable contracts: untradeable contracts become tradeable once another team is in possessions of a contract (or contracts) as large, but longer than the one you want to get out from under. Joe Johnson's contract has four years to run and more than $89 million due. Also, unlike Lewis, Johnson's contract is fully guaranteed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Josh Smith's Season

Previously: Larry Drew, Rick Sund

The jump shots don't reflect well on anyone: not the player, not the head coach, not the organization. The player's insistence on taking the jump shots, the head coach's indulgence thereof, and the organization's dysfunction can also overwhelm the depth and breadth of the player's contributions to winning basketball games.

Josh Smith's stubborn insistence on taking lots and lots of jump shots, more than 500 of them during the 2011-12 regular season, again existing in tandem with some very poor free throw shooting (63%, not even matching his poor 67% career rate), suggests the answer as to why Smith does this to himself, and his team, rests in the realm of psychology. Whatever need low-percentage shots fills for Smith appears to be insatiable. There's no debate to be had about Smith's shot selection. These are bad shots. Taking so many of them hurts the team and prevents him from making maximum use of his varied talents.

But Josh Smith is not just the sum negative value of those jump shots. Nor was Larry Drew, last season, simply an enabler of his best player's worst offensive habit. Drew also made it possible for Smith to take great advantage of his best defensive attribute. By shedding the worst defensive players from the backcourt and generally playing guards and wings capable of defending their positions, Drew allowed Smith to serve as a true help defender. No longer was he forced to rescue an incompetent or mismatched teammate, he could provide a second level of defensive pressure on opponents.

Because Larry Drew's offense either encouraged or accepted jump shots over more efficient shot types, the Hawks had to win with defense. Smith led that effort. And, because he was helping rather than bailing out his teammates, Smith's efforts didn't remove him from defensive rebounding position as often as in past seasons. He posted a career-best 24.8 DR%.

Position, it must be admitted, is a relative term when applied to Smith the defender. He doesn't box out, instead relying on his athleticism to react faster than an in-position opponent can to a missed shot. It's that lack of anticipatory work that prevents Smith from being as effective a defender at the point of attack as he is when providing help. It's what keeps him (legitimately) off the All-Defensive Team. It's also what keeps him from being an attractive candidate for a second long contract.

Between his established preference to take jump shots despite ample evidence that the other team wants him take every damn one of them and his reliance on athleticism for essentially everything positive he does defensively, Smith is not a great candidate to age gracefully. What part of his on-court activity and demeanor indicates that he will adapt to the diminishing of his physical gifts? Even a willingness to completely change the way he approaches the game wouldn't guarantee success in an endeavor as difficult as completely changing the way he approaches the game. Josh Smith is the most Josh Smith player in the league. Could he ever be something else? Someone less different?

It's a bit of an intellectual exercise anyway. Because of the aforementioned organizational dysfunction, signing Josh Smith to another long-term contract appears impossible from either side of the negotiation. Because of the aforementioned organizational dysfunction and Smith's sui generis style of contribution to winning making him best appreciated and understood the more one is exposed to his play, his trade value, even coming off a career season, may not match his on-court value.

Considering that potential complication, the specter of Smith's age-related decline, and that the Hawks have, quite consciously, put themselves in a position where they are incapable of adding a quality player alongside Smith and Al Horford it's possible to argue with a straight face that the best course of action for the team would be to keep Smith for the final year of his current contract, hope Joe Johnson can remain above average (in the regular season, at least) for 12 more months, and make one more stumbling run toward hosting two second-round playoff games.

Barring the unlikely event of a run to the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, the story of Josh Smith's time with his hometown team will be told in a series of questions asked: What if Josh Smith had channeled the things he needed to prove into the things he could do? What if the franchise hadn't invested so heavily for so long in a player so obviously inferior to Josh Smith? What if the franchise had invested in an experienced head coach in an attempt to get the most out of Josh Smith?

Only the first of those questions still has a chance of being answered in a satisfactory fashion. To know that answer would be worth losing the future rights to Smith for nothing. Not to know that answer, ever, would be the more fitting conclusion to the Josh Smith experience, simultaneously the most hopeful and frustrating aspect of the last eight seasons in Atlanta. Appreciation expressed through expectations, accepted by acts of defiance.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Larry Drew's Season

Previously: Rick Sund

With a couple of exceptions, Larry Drew had a very good regular season. With a couple of exceptions, Larry Drew had a very poor playoff series. There are some commonalities between these disparate results.

Larry Drew really trusts his bench and likes to use them a lot. In addition to giving Jannero Pargo and Willie Green credit for making shots this season, one has to give Drew credit for consistently putting them in situations to succeed, to the extent they can. If you're going to play Pargo and Green, you can't get too upset about the things they do (or don't do) that made them freely available talent in the first place. Sure, injuries played a role, but Drew's instinct to look for additional players he could use also gave us Ivan Johnson's delightful regular season.

Johnson was something of an exception as Drew's trust typically extends to veterans. The career years from Pargo and Green were off-set (not so much on the court but at a franchise level) by the absurdity of the team going over the luxury tax line to have Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier sit at the end of the bench.

Tracy McGrady was something of an exception to the rule as well though the reluctance to extend the trust inherent in a regular rotation role to a player physically unable to play both ends of a back-to-back during a compressed season, a player physically unable to finish every game in which he did play more isn't so mysterious.

Certainly not as mysterious as Drew fundamentally underestimating the difference between regular season and playoff basketball. Though not an especially good professional basketball team at this point, the Celtics are a clear cut above the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, against whom the Hawks ably padded their regular season record by winning 22 of 25 games. Furthermore, Doc Rivers made every effort to highlight his team's remaining strengths while mitigating their numerous limitations.

One trait of Drew's benefited the Hawks in the playoffs. He's a players' coach. In the regular season that trait manifested itself in such ugly ways as letting Kirk Hinrich come back from shoulder surgery weeks before he was ready, letting Joe Johnson play on one leg for a stretch in February, and letting Josh Smith shoot 500 jumpers with an eFG% below 37%. In the playoffs, the trait manifested itself in letting Smith and, especially, Al Horford play significant minutes while injured. Both were clearly limited by their injuries, but they were also easily the team's two most productive players and central in extending the series to the final seconds of Game 6 despite Drew's self-sabotage over the first three games.

To be sure, Larry Drew drew a bad hand for the playoff series but he played that hand poorly. He willingly rested his few above average and healthy players en masse for the first three games of the series, with disastrous results. He too often tried to defend Kevin Garnett with either Jason Collins or Marvin Williams. The former (from Game 2 onward) couldn't cover Garnett in space, the latter couldn't handle him on the post. He repeatedly allowed the team to go away from what was working (usually Jeff Teague in a two-man game with either Smith or Horford) to Joe Johnson dribbling toward an empty possession.

The series was there for the taking. One flawed team made a concerted, unified effort to take it. The other team did not.

Depending on where the breakeven point on home playoff games is exactly, the franchise is probably getting good value on their investment in Drew but not so much to make up for the money wasted on other people or to push the team significantly closer to contending for a championship.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Rick Sund's Season

It's difficult to evaluate Rick Sund's tenure as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks because the worst parts of his tenure are essentially conditions of his employment. There are only 30 NBA general manager jobs and who's to say that not having one of those jobs is more satisfying than having one, but on the condition you can't choose the head coach and have to sign Joe Johnson to a franchise-limiting contract. Sund didn't make the Hawks' cap situation any worse this season. A backhanded compliment, but not one that could have been delivered at the end of any of the last three seasons.

Rick Sund is a symptom of organizational dysfunction, not a cause. In fact, in the limited space he had to maneuver, Sund did a fine job filling out the bench with freely available talent. Yes, it's absurd the Hawks went over the luxury tax line by keeping Jerry Stackhouse for a full season and locking in Erick Dampier as the fourth-string center, but those irritating decisions didn't have much of an adverse impact on the court. It probably won't improve the Hawks' future that ASG paid the luxury tax, didn't get the revenue from hosting two second-round playoff games, and, in the end, ludicrously bought out Pape Sy's contract for no reason at all. But, hey, those are costs you can sell draft picks to cover.

And, on the court, the Hawks enjoyed career seasons from Willie Green and Jannero Pargo, paired bargain with pleasure in the form of Ivan Johnson, and weren't seriously hampered by the physical frailty of Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic. There were surely more interesting ways to build a bench on the cheap, Sund just built an effective one out of familiar spare parts, players suited to the wide arc of Larry Drew's motion offense. He deserves credit for that.

Nor should it be forgotten that the Hawks survived Al Horford's absence because Rick Sund did not, in the end, trade Zaza Pachulia at the 2010-11 trading deadline just because Larry Drew couldn't identify his third-best big man and because a Rick Sund draft pick, heretofore marginalized by a head coach not of Sund's choosing, turned out to be a perfectly competent NBA point guard when given a reasonable chance to prove himself.

Sund hasn't overcome the curious whims of his employers, but he's done some good work in the margins. In lieu of a sound organizational philosophy, that may be all that's possible of anyone in a simultaneously enviable and unenviable position.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hickory-High: Offensive Geometry

Ian Levy looks at how NBA offenses distribute possessions, the results won't surprise regular Hawks watchers but the accompanying radar graph is a nice way of looking at the problem:
In these graphs we also see examples of teams struggling to find success both because of an inefficient balance, and an inability to exploit specific opportunities. The Hawks had some terrific offensive options at their disposal this season. They had strong spot up shooting from Kirk Hinrich, Willie Green, Joe Johnson, Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams. They also had two strong ball handlers in the pick-and-roll in Johnson and Teague. The performance of Teague was particularly impressive, averaging 0.93 points per possession in the pick-and-roll, well above the league average. Unfortunately 29.7% of their possessions in our data set went to Josh Smith in either isolations, spot-ups or post ups. Smith was an atrocious spot up shooter, scoring just 0.81 points per possession, well below the league average of 0.94. He was right around average on post ups and isolations, but again, nearly a third of the Hawks’ offensive possessions were being used on some of their least efficient outcomes.
The two most efficient outcomes for the Hawks during the 2011-12 season were Josh Smith cutting and Joe Johnson spotting up. The four least efficient outcomes were Josh Smith in isolation, Joe Johnson as pick-and-roll ballhandler, Jeff Teague in isolation and Josh Smith spotting up.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Clip-and-Save Future Atlanta Hawks News

While noting that Larry Drew had his option picked up and will return as head coach, let's get a few items out of the way to clear up the schedule for the next 12 months or so:
  • A GM is named for the 2012-13 season. Note: the name of this GM really won't really effect any of the following.
  • The Hawks sign a series of players available for the minimum, who take lots of jump shots, and have names recognizable to ownership to one-year deals.
  • The GM and or an owner announces the Hawks will not trade Josh Smith.
  • The Hawks offer Josh Smith a contract extension.
  • Josh Smith does not sign a contract extension.
  • Fall 2012 headline: Healthy Hawks Target Return to the Second Round.
  • Another Fall 2012 headline: Hawks Decide Not To Use Amnesty Provision.
  • The 2012-13 season transpires, wherein lots of jump shots are attempted, above average defense is played, local columnists occasionally broach the key issue of the 2008 offseason, the Hawks win about 45 games, make no significant transactions, lose in the first or second round of the playoffs, national media get opportunity to file their "Is Joe Johnson Really the Hawks' Best Player?" columns, now five years after the question was relevant to the Hawks making moves toward a championship.
  • Spring 2013 headline: Big Offseason Decisions Coming For Hawks.
  • Josh Smith signs with another team, for a contract that team will come to regret, a fact which does little to assuage the final missed opportunity of Josh Smith's career with the Hawks: losing him for nothing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Open Letter to Josh Smith

By Buddy Grizzard

Dear Josh Smith,

I'm writing this open letter to you in response to some information that came to light in a recent blog post by Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham, specifically the following notes:
"Josh didn’t have much to say about his future, except to repeat “I’m under contract for one more year with the Hawks” and remind media that he could be fined for talking about the reports of his trade request. His trade request still stands for all the reasons I reported before the trade deadline. I’m told another factor that can be added to the list is his desire to play in what he believes to be a better basketball market. But I’m sure you might have inferred that from the way Josh (without prompting) contrasted Boston’s fans with Atlanta’s throughout the series."
As you may know, in March I called out Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson for playing dumb with regard to your desire to be traded. In that post I said the following:
"Josh Smith still has not gone on record saying he does not want to be traded or that Cunningham's source was incorrect about his desires or lack of faith in the organization's commitment to winning a championship."
So here is where we stand at season's end. We all know that the Hawks organization would never fine you for saying, "I have no desire to be traded." Therefore, your fear of being fined confirms that you wish to end your relationship with the Atlanta Hawks.

I can't say that I blame you. If you look at everything from draft blunders to the owners suing each other to Michael Gearon, Jr., opening his mouth and making your job harder, the Hawks are probably not ranked among America's greatest companies to work for. The problem I have is that you are blaming the fans.

Before I address that, let me tell you why I'm writing. After watching "The Decision" and then watching Dwight Howard stumble his way through one public relations disaster after another this year, I've often thought to myself that I wish some of these athletes had my cell number so that I could give them free PR advice. I'm a fan of yours, Josh Smith, and I'd like to give you some advice.

What makes me qualified to give you advice? For starters I've been a media professional for about half of my working life (I'm a network engineer now ... got bills to pay). One consequence of serving as associate editor of several small newspapers is that I have in my possession a letter from Evander Holyfield thanking me for my work in publicizing amateur boxing in Georgia.

Beyond sports I've served as a campaign consultant for an 11-term member of Congress. And for two years I had the honor to serve as a volunteer media liaison for the MLK March Committee, which organizes events surrounding King Day each year in Atlanta. In that capacity I was privileged to work directly with civil rights legends Dr. Joseph Lowery (President Emeritus, Southern Christian Leadership Conference), his wife Mrs. Evelyn Lowery (Founder, SCLC/WOMEN) and the late Rev. James Orange (an organizer of the Selma-to-Montgomery March who served on King's personal staff). When Rev. Orange informed the New York Times that he would refuse to comply with the Secret Service's request to vacate Ebenezer Baptist Church ahead of President George W. Bush's visit to the King Memorial, he did so on my phone.

Athletes in America are often subject to criticism that is grounded in racist attitudes. Rev. Jesse Jackson alluded to this when he decried the "plantation" mentality that was the basis for much of the hatred directed at LeBron James after "The Decision." As you can see from the paragraph above, that mentality is not my mentality.

So, having stated my qualifications, let me suggest the following:

Take it back, Josh.

I don't know if it's your dad or your cousin or your best friend that's passing this information to Cunningham, but you've let it be known that you want out of Atlanta because the fans aren't good enough for you. Aside from that, all of the reasons attributed to you for wanting to leave were completely valid. Let's go through those reasons from MC's post in March:

1. Smith believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court. He believes the Hawks didn’t do enough to promote him for selection to the All-Star team.

I believe this is absolutely true. I believe that you will receive multiple All-Star and All-NBA selections, but it will happen with another franchise. The failure of the Hawks organization to properly promote you for an All-Star selection in any of the past three years was a monumental failure. I also believe that when you play for a coach like Doc Rivers, such a coach will quickly correct negative aspects of your game such as shooting too many jumpers or quitting on plays to argue with referees. Larry Drew has proven incapable of making such corrections and the organization has failed to provide you with a coach who is capable.

2. Smith, an Atlanta native who has played his entire eight-year career with the Hawks, also would like to play for a franchise he believes is more committed to winning a championship.

Once again, I can't blame you for feeling that you have a better chance to compete for a championship with a different organization. I feel that the Hawks had the talent necessary to advance to the Eastern Conference finals in each of the last two years, but that talent was not properly utilized. The Hawks have almost $250 million in future committed salaries and entrusted that investment to a coach with no previous head coaching experience. That coach then played the corpse of Jason Collins when legitimate rotation big men Zaza Pachulia (against Chicago last year) and Ivan Johnson were available. After the Hawks traded away two first round draft picks to obtain Kirk Hinrich, Drew at times favored Willie Green and Jannero Pargo, whose disastrous impact on the Hawks' postseason effort I have documented.

So you see, Josh, we're in complete agreement. Right up until the point where you say, "Oh and also the fans in Atlanta aren't good enough." The problem I have with comparing Hawks fans to Celtics fans is that, when I stand inside Phillips Arena, I can't seem to find the championship banners anywhere. Did Hawks fans pick Marvin Williams over Chris Paul? Did Hawks fans pick Larry Drew over Dwane Casey? If your issue is with fans groaning when you take outside shots, you need to understand that you took more shots this year from 16-23 feet than Dirk Nowitzki. He shot 50% from that range. You shot 37% from that range.

LeBron's biggest mistake was the way he made Cleveland fans agonize right up until the last minute, and then made his "Decision" in a shamelessly self-promoting, but ultimately self-defeating manner. Dwight's biggest mistake was not having a plan and sticking to it, exposing himself as indecisive. By contrast, you seem to have an exit strategy, you're sticking to it, and you have given the fans in Atlanta fair warning. I applaud you for all of this. But let's talk about how you should conduct yourself for the rest of the time you are in a Hawks uniform.

First of all, stop pointing fingers. True leaders say "I accept all blame," because they know blame isn't what matters. Results matter. Did you succeed or fail? If you failed and it was someone else's fault, you still failed. The next time you speak to a reporter, I would suggest you say something like this:

"I have not demanded a trade and I will fulfill my contract. The Hawks organization knows and understands my commitment to competing for an NBA championship. When this season ends, I will explore free agency. That is my right, and I will look for the best situation for me to compete for a championship. If I feel at that time the Hawks are moving in the right direction, I may consider staying here beyond this season. In the meantime, as long as I am with the Atlanta Hawks I will give everything I have to make this team successful."

James Orange was in Memphis with Dr. King at the time of the assassination to help organize a sanitation workers’ strike. They were trying to help laborers negotiate fair compensation with their employer. Their efforts at collective bargaining paved the way for you to be in the position you are in today, with your talents in great demand and the ability to pick the situation that is right for you. Enjoy that, but respect it. Do you want to be remembered the way Cleveland fans remember LeBron or the way New Orleans fans remember Chris Paul? Play hard until your last minute as a Hawk and don't ever say, "This isn't working and it's not my fault."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lessons Learned: An After-Action Report

By Buddy Grizzard

In my series preview, I opined that the Hawks should limit minutes for "scrubs and washed-up veterans," and that Ivan Johnson, not Jason Collins, should be the first option at center. Following are notes regarding the series and its take-aways.

In Game 1, with 9:56 to play in the 4th, Ivan Johnson argued with a referee over a foul call. Larry Drew motioned for Ivan to calm down, but instead he exchanged words with Drew. Collins entered the game for Ivan, who sat the rest of the way. He finished with 4 points and 5 rebounds and got to watch Rajon Rondo's meltdown with 41 seconds to play as he cost his team a chance at victory. Drew later told the AJC's Michael Cunningham that he overreacted by pulling Ivan out of the game.

Ivan also called Kevin Garnett a "dirty player" according to Cunningham. In the Initial Feedback for the Hawks' Game 1 win, Hoopinion's Bret LaGree wrote that, "The Celtics figure to get more familiar and less pleased with [Ivan's] presence as the series progresses." The opposite would prove to be true as Ivan's minutes decreased throughout the series, doubtless increasing Boston's pleasure.

In Game 2, Collins got his second start and was again solid defensively. But with 8:25 to play in the 4th and the score tied at 66-66, Collins picked up his 6th foul. Ivan's night had featured an assortment of missed jumpers, successful assaults on the basket, solid post defense in isolation and blown defensive assignments. On two separate possessions for Boston, Garnett and Brandon Bass went 1-on-1 in the post against Ivan and came up empty-handed. Ivan was far from perfect in this game, but in the absence of Zaza Pachulia he was the best banger available.

Rather than put Ivan back in to match up with Garnett, Drew subbed in Marvin Williams and slid Josh Smith over to center. This is an alignment Drew toyed with throughout the season, usually with unspectacular results. In this case the results were disastrous. Drew was fully aware of Smith's ongoing struggles with knee tendinitis. Rather than send Ivan back in to body up Garnett, he sacrificed Josh. With just over 4 minutes to play, Garnett delivered a hip check and Josh's knee buckled. The Celtics outscored the Hawks 13-8 the rest of the way and home-court advantage was a pleasant memory.

In Game 3, with Smith unavailable, Drew got 22 effective minutes from Erick Dampier, who chipped in 6 points and 6 rebounds. Hinrich played 26 scoreless minutes, but as Cunningham broke down here, he kept Rondo from going off. With the Hawks trailing 54-53 with 2:05 to play in the 3rd quarter, Pargo replaced Hinrich. By the time Marvin Williams checked in for Pargo with 7:39 to play in the 4th, the Hawks trailed 74-65. For the game, the Hawks played the Celtics even while Hinrich was on the floor and were outscored by 11 with Pargo on the floor. The Hawks lost by 6. Hinrich did not take the floor in overtime but minimum salary players Willie Green, Vladimir Radmanovic, Tracy McGrady and Jason "Instant Offense" Collins did.

After Collins' star-making 6 point, 5 rebound performance in 32 minutes in Game 1, LaGree noted, "After banking this win, let's hope Larry Drew ponders his Plan B." In Game 4, the Celtics got their 4th look at Jason Collins as starting center. In 54 minutes across Games 2-4, Collins scored 6 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. The Celtics made shots at an absurd rate, and Atlanta found itself in a 3-1 series hole.

With Josh Smith returning to the lineup but still hobbled, you might have thought this would be a good time to give Ivan some run. Through the first three games, Johnson averaged over 15 minutes. In Game 4 Johnson played 6 minutes. Then in Game 5 his only appearance was as a momentary defensive substitute. During the TNT halftime show, Charles Barkley said, "It’s never a good thing when your most fierce player doesn’t get in the game,” referring to Ivan. Although the Hawks would win Game 5, some chickens that came home to roost in Game 6 were much in evidence. At the end of the 1st quarter, Josh Smith lingered at the offensive end to argue a non-call and recovered just in time to watch Kevin Garnett hit a 3-pointer to put Boston ahead 21-15. Josh had so many passes to Rondo, you would have thought they were already on the same team. One of his turnovers while trying to lead the fast break was so egregious, it must be what prompted Larry Drew to say, “When we are at our best is when [Al] and Josh rebound the ball and bring it out on the dribble."

Finally in Game 5, Drew made an adjustment to the starting lineup that wasn't dictated by injury. Horford replaced Collins as the starting center, but perhaps just as significantly, Drew went big with Joe Johnson at shooting guard and Marvin Williams at small forward. This allowed Hinrich to come off the bench as the primary backup point guard, making Pargo superfluous. In this configuration, Hinrich saw only 7 minutes, scoring 7 points on 3-for-4 shooting. Green equaled Hinrich in minutes, but his time on the floor was disastrous. Green subbed in for Joe Johnson 33 seconds before halftime and barely contested Rondo's 27-footer at the buzzer that evened the score at 40-40. The Hawks were outscored by 11 during Green's time on the floor. Fortunately for the Hawks, they outscored the Celtics by 1 point and won the game.

This brings us to the build-up for Game 6, where a win would shift momentum and home court advantage back to the Hawks. To aid in the effort, Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon, Jr. provided the Celtics some bulletin-board material by parroting Ivan, calling Garnett "the dirtiest guy in the league." Dampier, the only backup big man to see time, played 12 scoreless minutes as the Hawks' season concluded.

Tracy McGrady and Hinrich also saw marginally-effective minutes, but it was the starters who would decide the outcome of this game. Ron Borges of the Boston Herald wrote the following with regard to Josh Smith's contributions to the outcome:
With 9:29 remaining and the Celtics leading 71-65, Atlanta’s Josh Smith got into a silly beef about whether or not he could enter the game and was hit with a technical that cost the Hawks a point.
Seconds later he had his shot blocked. While he was gesticulating toward his shoulder and refusing to run up the floor, the Celtics fled the scene. Had he trailed the play he might well have knocked the ball loose because his teammates stopped the Celts charge, but Smith was nowhere to be found. Instead of getting into the game defensively, Smith was pleading his case down court, even though no one was listening.
Seconds later Kevin Garnett hit a 10-foot fadeaway and it was 74-65. In a matter of 47 seconds Smith’s non-plays cost his team three points in a game they would lose — surprise — by three points.
So what did we learn? The following table shows the reserves plus part-time starters Hinrich and Collins, ranked by +/-. Rebounds are listed only for front-court players and 3-pointers and percentage are listed only for wing players:

Player MIN FG % 3P % PTS REB +/-

Dampier 54 7-13 54 - - 16 14 -1

Collins 86 6-11 55 - - 12 12 -4

Johnson 53 5-16 31 - - 13 17 -13

Hinrich 141 13-30 43 6-16 38 34 - -15

McGrady 91 10-26 38 0-4 0 25 - -17

Pargo 46 6-21 29 4-12 33 16 - -26

Green 63 6-13 46 1-4 25 13 - -40

As you can see, Ivan Johnson out-scored and out-rebounded Collins in 33 fewer minutes, although his shooting percentage was worse than anyone on this list except Pargo. Meanwhile Green, who amassed a team-worst aggregate -75 for the regular season, was a team-worst -40 in a mere 6 games in the postseason. Doesn't seem like we learned much. In last year's Chicago series, Drew started Collins against the young, deep and athletic front line of the Bulls while mobile banger Zaza Pachulia languished on the bench. In the Boston series, Collins and Dampier, two minimum-salary big men at the end of their careers, played more than Ivan Johnson, who matched the athleticism of anybody on the Celtic's roster. Johnson, the reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April, could command up to the mid-level exception as a restricted free agent this Summer.

Drew's comment about the Hawks being "at their best" with Horford and Smith bringing the ball up had the sound of a man trying to rationalize circumstances beyond his control. Hawks ownership has established a pattern of rewarding negative behavior. First, after Joe Johnson participated in the most lopsided playoff series defeat in league history, and he proclaimed that he didn't care if the fans showed up, the team rewarded him with the richest contract in the sport. This year it became public knowledge that Mike Woodson feels Drew was angling for his job while still working as his lead assistant. How do you expect a coach to command the respect necessary to correct negative tendencies among his players when he's hired with no track record and is rumored to have obtained his position through less-than-ethical means? Josh Smith shot 13-for-47 outside the paint for the series. That's 34 missed field goals in a series where the team lost by single digits three times.

Even if the Hawks were inclined to replace Drew, which I seriously doubt, what sort of options would they have at their price-point among coaches willing to work while looking over their shoulder?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Second Quote of the Day -- May 11, 2012

Kevin Garnett:
"First off, I want to say ‘Thank you’ to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight. My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about, Xs and Os versus checkbooks and bottom lines. . . . We’re not dirty. We’re firm, we’re aggressive. We’re not dirty. You have to understand the word ‘dirty’ in this game is very defined. Going under guys, trying to hurt guys, ill intent–is not they way we play basketball. . . . We play with a lot of passion, play with force. It’s the playoffs but I’m not trying to hurt anybody, nor has my teammates. I just found that comment to be a little rude and a little out of hand and I wanted to address it. Just because you got a bunch of money don’t mean you can open your mouth."
Kevin Garnett, being either very polite or brutally sarcastic in his description of ownership.

Quote of the Day -- May 11, 2012

Larry Drew:
"That [Josh Smith's missed corner two with nine seconds left] wasn’t [the play]. We were in our wrong spots. We did not execute what we had drawn up in the huddle. We can’t have that type of mental breakdown at the end of a game. You just can’t have it. That play is not designed to be at the elbow shooting a jump shot. We did not execute it."
The Hawks sorted it out in their final huddle of the game, a collaborative masterpiece:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Initial Feedback: Another Season Done Gone

Initial feedback: A completely subjective and immediate response to the events of tonight's game, featuring a comment and rating, the latter on a scale of 1 to 10, on every player who saw the floor and the head coach, along with ephemera and miscellany as the author deems necessary.

Your ratings and commentary, dear reader, are welcomed in the comments to this post.


Jeff Teague: Really struggled to get the ball in the basket but he attacked off the dribble, didn't turn the ball over, and earned six assists without ever turning the ball over. Despite his sub-par production, one never got the sense that Teague had the ball in his hands too much. Again did a decent of job of making Rondo shoot jumpers and encouraging him to explore turnover opportunities. 5/10

Joe Johnson: 17 points on 17 shots with his only really effective quarter being the third where he made three catch-and-shoot jumpers and got a flat-footed put-back off of a Marvin Williams tip-out. That put-back was Joe Johnson's only rebound after the 8:08 mark of the second quarter of Game 5. He earned two assists and committed two turnovers. He didn't earn a single trip to the free throw line. He was a non-factor defensively. His blocked layup attempt with 3.2 seconds left defines him as a player in the context of this team, this franchise, this contract: he's not bad, he just isn't good enough to do what is asked of him. 4/10

Marvin Williams: Made shots, grabbed rebounds, didn't turn the ball over, and did a decent job on Paul Pierce. All that could reasonably be asked. More than he's ever done two playoff games in a row. 6/10

Josh Smith: Some excellent defensive possessions (including on Garnett's go-ahead turnaround that made it 80-79 Celtics). Some terrible defensive possessions. Some excellent offensive possessions (the ones where he attacked the basket or passed ahead). Some terrible offensive possessions (he took 11 jump shots, making 3). More good than bad but not as good as he, even playing hurt, could be. A rather large caveat in an elimination game. 6/10

Al Horford: Honestly, Horford was pretty terrible for three quarters, slow of foot and reaction. He came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 of Atlanta's 17 points. Had he scored 12 points in the fourth (or not turned the ball over seven times), the Hawks might have gotten to play one more game. Without him, they wouldn't have been playing tonight. 6/10

Kirk Hinrich: Didn't again suffer the indignity of sitting while Willie Green played in the fourth quarter but didn't surpass his own limitations. Got stuck with bailing the Hawks out of isolations gone nowhere a couple of times and, not surprisingly, couldn't make much happen on his own. 3/10

Tracy McGrady: He made it through a whole season on a winning team without figuring out how to integrate his remaining skills into a team context. 3/10

Erick Dampier: Played 12 minutes for some reason. Grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds. Good for him. Elbowed Ryan Hollins. Excellent for him. 1/10

Jannero Pargo: Put in as a defensive replacement with 5 seconds left in the first half to guard Rondo. Seriously. He fell down in the backcourt. Incomplete

The head coach
Larry Drew made no egregious mistakes tonight but some chickens came home to roost in the form of Joe Johnson's inefficiency and narrow production, Josh Smith's jump shots, and minutes thrown away on an aged, immobile center (not the one you'd think, but still). Injuries were never his fault but the failure of the team and its players to take a harsh look at their own abilities, address their weaknesses, and play to their strengths falls at his feet. Not even a somewhat healthy Al Horford could save them in the end. 4/10

A thought regarding the opposition
Kevin Garnett was excellent. The question of who's better: a one-legged Paul Pierce or Joe Johnson? was definitively answered. Rajon Rondo was mercurial, with probably more good than bad. Still, the Hawks lost to a team that played Ryan Hollins and Keyon Dooling for much of the fourth quarter. Unlike the past four seasons, the Hawks did not bow out to an obviously superior opponent they had no chance to defeat in a best-of-seven series. Progress has stalled.