Last season’s trade of Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans and the Hawks’ 2011 first round draft pick to the Washington Wizards for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong has been the subject of much controversy and speculation. One side of the discussion holds that trading consecutive first round draft picks (Jordan Crawford and the 2011 pick the Wizards used on Chris Singleton) for a season-and-a-half rental of Kirk Hinrich mortgaged too much of the franchise’s future for too little potential gain.
My side of the discussion holds that this trade, along with the previously-discussed selection of Jeff Teague in a draft rich with other point guard options, was the masterpiece of Rick Sund’s tenure as Hawks GM. I would maintain this opinion even if Hinrich never played another game for the Hawks because of the way the trade transformed the culture and identity of the franchise, and because of the way Sund used it to save Larry Drew from himself.
As previously noted by Bret Lagree, Drew does not appear to have been Sund’s choice to replace Mike Woodson as coach. Despite speculation that Woodson was fired in part because of his refusal to develop Jeff Teague, Drew continued to play Teague sporadic minutes, following promising appearances with prolonged stretches on the bench. This provides the backdrop for Feb. 23rd of last year, when the five-player trade was executed as the Hawks sought to hold on to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That night, Zaza Pachulia was held out of the Suns game due to ongoing trade discussions. Days later, as the trade deadline passed and Pachulia remained on the team, he expressed to AJC beat writer Michael Cunningham that he was unhappy about his playing time. In the same article, Cunningham quoted Drew saying that he was considering moving Josh Powell ahead of Pachulia in the lineup, the same Josh Powell that ESPN’s John Hollinger claimed multiple front-office types felt was the single worst player in the NBA.
For those of you still trying to decide if the Hawks are better off with Pachulia still on the roster, consider this remarkable statistic. The following is the list of players who ranked in the top 10 in rebounding rate in at least two of the last three postseasons.
Pachulia wasn’t the only player struggling for consistent minutes. In the 8 games the Hawks played in February leading up to the trade, Teague’s minutes looked like this: 11, 6, DNP, 21, DNP, 1, 4, 13. Teague started the next 4 games, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes in the loss to the Suns, then contributing 6 points and 6 assists in 26 minutes in a win over Golden State. In a victory over Portland on Feb. 27th he played only 13 minutes as Hinrich joined the team and played 29. He then scored 7 points with 6 rebounds and 2 assists in a loss to Denver on Feb. 28th as Hinrich sat with a calf injury.
Starting with the Hawks home win against Chicago on March 2nd, Hinrich took over the starting point guard role and Teague’s minutes looked like this: 7, 14, 11, 9, 3. On March 12th, with Al Horford out due to a sprained ankle, Drew started a 3-guard lineup. Teague played 44 minutes and matched a career-high with 24 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals as the Hawks snapped a 4-game losing streak. His minutes remained inconsistent for the remainder of the season, and we all know what happened when he was thrust into a starting role in the playoffs against Chicago after Hinrich’s season-ending injury in Game 6 vs. Orlando.
Fast forward to this year and Teague has comfortably settled into the starting role thanks to Hinrich’s continued absence due to injury. The contrast between this year’s Hawks and the Hawks of Bibby and Jamal Crawford is startling. The latter two were widely considered among the worst defenders in the league, and both rank at the bottom of the league in rebound rate. For Bibby, this is obviously due to diminished ability, as evidenced by his collapse in the playoffs last year. For Crawford, who is listed at 6-5 and noted for his quickness, this is obviously a matter of effort. Once Hinrich returns, the transformation from switching-by-necessity to defensive-effort-at-all-positions will be complete.
And it wouldn’t have happened if Sund hadn’t made a calculated move to get rid of Bibby. Is there any doubt in anybody’s mind that if Bibby remained with the team after the trade deadline that he would have started against the Magic and the Hawks would have been out after one series? Meanwhile Jordan Crawford is shooting .268 from 3-point range for the Wizards, Singleton is averaging 4.8 points and both look years away from being contributors on a winning team.
As soon as Hinrich is able to go full speed, I have no doubt he will once again replace Teague as the starting point guard, even though he has trouble guarding quick point guards and has a very pedestrian assist-to-turnover ratio. I feel Hinrich would help the Hawks more as a backup at both guard positions but I’m not concerned… it will be a good problem to have. Zaza’s situation remains unsettled even with the huge need at center created by Horford’s injury. He sat the final 7 minutes of Wednesday’s win over Portland, despite contributing 5 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes, in favor of Ivan Johnson. The latter sparked the Hawks to a win over the T-Wolves but didn’t show much in 13 minutes against the Blazers.
Another good problem to have is the sudden log jam at small forward. Marvin Williams may be in the process of having a career year but his minutes have been severely cut into by contributions from Ivan Johnson, Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic. Marvin will just have to keep playing well and get his when and where he can. I’m less inclined to criticize Drew for under-utilizing a player when there isn’t an obvious, glaring need at the position as there was at point guard last year with Bibby and at center this year without Horford.