Monday, February 27, 2012

Assessing the Hawks at the Midway Point or “How I Succumbed to the Pessimism”

By Matt Tanner

Disclaimer: I am going to keep this shorter than my last post because, like many mothers out there, mine was fond of the mantra that “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Well, saying nothing at all would make for a very poor blog post, so I am just going to say very little.

Without further ado, your Atlanta Hawks thus far. . .

The Record: 20-14 (.588)

Current Pace: 39-27 (48-34 in a normal 82 game season)

The Second Quarter Not Like the First
It has been exactly one month since my last post on this blog, in which I assessed the Hawks after one-quarter of this lockout-abbreviated season. My oh my how things have changed. At that point the team was on pace for nearly 60 wins, had earned a split with Eastern heavyweights Chicago and Miami, and the idea that the team might rally around the injury to center forward Al Horford and remain a contender for the rest of the season didn’t seem impossible. Then the second quarter of the season happened.

Things actually got off to a promising start, as the squad went 4-1 on a road trip that saw them crisscross the nation, beating Milwaukee, Detroit, New Orleans and Toronto. The Hawks then came home and promptly lost 3 straight to Memphis, Philadelphia and Phoenix. It was at that point that I assumed the loss of Horford and the increased difficulty of the schedule was finally catching up to the Hawks. They then went out and thoroughly dismantled Indiana and toughed out a road win over Orlando in overtime.

As I watched the win over Orlando just two short weeks ago, I thought to myself, “okay, so this is going to be an up-and-down year, but at least this team can win on any given night. I can live with that.” Since that night, any good feeling I had about this team has been transmuted to general disgust. The team has lost 8 of their last 12 and are now just 6-12 against teams with a winning record. On three separate occasions this month the Hawks have found themselves trailing by 30 points.

Marvin Wiliams wants a trade. Or he doesn’t. Who really cares? Tracy McGrady wants more minutes? That’s hilarious. I know there have been injuries and I know they are still on pace to finish with a decent record, but very little about watching the Hawks play basketball these past couple of weeks has been enjoyable.

Polling the Power Polls
Apparently not everyone is as down on the team as I am. Just as he did the last time I assessed the Hawks, John Schuhmann of has the Hawks 13th in his Power Rankings and SI’s Britt Robson has the Hawks all the way up to 9th. Sam Amico of Fox Sports also has the squad in the upper third of the league, putting them in the 10th spot. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein has the team at 16 and his colleague John Hollinger, who I remind you does his rankings based on a complex formula and updates them daily, has the Hawks at 17th. In case you were wondering, every single one of these guys has the Heat in the top spot.

The Big Picture
Last month I wrote that "If you looked at things solely on paper (and maybe squinted a bit) you could talk yourself into the Hawks being amongst the East Elite with the likes of Miami and Chicago." Um, can we all just forget I wrote that? The team is clinging to 3 .5 game lead over New York for the 6th seed, but it would surprise no one if the Knicks don’t pass the Hawks on the combination of Carmelo Anthony’s return from injury and the emergence of Jeremy Lin (I refuse to even attempt a Lin pun). While the 7th seed looks to be the absolute floor for this team, on the most optimistic of days I can’t imagine anything better than a first round win over Orlando or Indiana followed by a humiliating sweep at the hands of Chicago or Miami.

Looking Ahead
A friend of mine that still watches The Office recently told me that he was openly rooting for Jim to cheat on his wife with Cathy while the two were stationed in Florida for a Dunder-Mifflin project. His reasoning? He was so bored by the show he wanted to see something interesting, even if it was something horrible (He loves the Pam-Jim marriage).

You don’t have to watch the Office to get the analogy. I love the Hawks. I can remember going to games in the Omni when I was 7 years old. Is it wrong that part of me is openly rooting for this current iteration to bottom out this year so management has no choice but to blow things up?

This team is made up of one star (Johnson) that doesn’t want to be a star and another (Smith) who will never be a leader. The one potential star (Horford) that wants to lead and maybe could, is playing out of position and will never take a game over. Of course, I openly admit that it’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and point out all that is wrong with the team without offering any solutions. And to be honest, I don’t have them. Too many mistakes, all of which have been addressed and discussed ad nauseum (whiffing on the Chris Paul draft, Joe's contract, the ownership situation) have put this team in a tough spot. I honestly don’t know what major changes I would make, I am just curious if there is anything that can happen in the second half of this year to make those changes happen.

Whatever happens, I will be watching.

Matt Tanner formerly worked the missing kitten beat for a small daily newspaper in Milledgeville, GA before eschewing the journalism world for a corporate gig. Recently he eschewed that gig to sell popsicles. He is an Atlanta native and lifelong Hawks fan.


Unknown said...

Great piece, Matt.

Honestly, at the beginning of the season, if someone had told me Horford would go down for the season within the first two weeks and the Hawks would still be 20-14 at the All-Star break, I'd say it's a pretty impressive first half. Sadly, within the context of other teams in the East either coming into the season more talented (Heat, Bulls) or improving during the season (76ers, Knicks), it places us back at the realization of an honest evaluation of our minuscule chances of a championship. It remains to be seen if the Hawks management is willing to unload and begin a rebuilding process, possibly damaging the already reserved fanbase, or continue to tread water for strictly business purposes.

Peedyoj said...

Love my Hawks, but unfortunately I can't disagree with much of what Matt least we can take solace in the fact that we have a chance to make it to the 2nd round of the Playoffs again........a lot of franchises would take that happily......

pointguardslim said...

Horford a potential star? He'd never make the All Star team as a forward and does nothing to stand out as a forward. He has no post moves, relying almost solely on transition and pick and pop guard play to get him wide open and thus disappears in the playoffs.

Smith is the one playing out of position. Here's a guy who actually has the ability to post up smaller defenders, get fouled, drive and can defend them at the other end.

On the star end, can anyone look at his numbers and say that he wouldn't have made the All Star team if he was classified as a SF? Or that he would take as many long 2s when he can back down, drive and/or get a hook shot on smaller defenders?