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.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012 Hollinger: Horford's return could swing series

John Hollinger on how Al Horford's return improved the Hawks' spacing and ball-movement:
Horford's return was palpable at both ends, but especially offensively. Atlanta had been killing a power play on offense with Boston ignoring the Hawks' centers, but Horford made them pay. Joe Johnson said Boston's strategy of crowding him didn't change, but the result did; Horford was constantly open and he either scored on his own, found the open man (three assists), or facilitated a pass to open up a previously clogged offense.

The telltale sign: Open corner 3-pointers. They'd been as rare as chowder in these parts, but Atlanta got several Tuesday night and converted 7-of-16 from distance. Marvin Williams, instated as a starter to guard Boston's Paul Pierce, made three of them, tripling his total from the first four games.
The Hawks have won two games in this series. In those games, they've made 17-45 (37.8%) of their 16-23' two-point jumpers and 14-36 (38.9%) of their three-point attempts. In their three losses, the Hawks have made 13-50 (26%) of their 16-23' two-point jumpers and 14-64 (21.9%) of their three-point attempts.

This team has to make jump shots to win, even against a similarly limited offensive team. Al Horford's ability to make open shots and create open shots for his teammates with his passing increases the Hawks' chances of making jump shots, even against an excellent defensive team.

The Curious Case of Marvin Williams

By Buddy Grizzard

With the Hawks' season hanging in the balance last night at Phillips Arena, possibly the most unexpected thing happened: Marvin Williams erupted for 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. The Hawks needed every point as they barely survived to force a Game 6 in Boston on Thursday. Al Horford's triumphant return to the starting lineup for the first time since January had nothing on this story line.

Prior to Game 5, Marvin averaged 18 MPG, 4 PPG and 5 RPG while shooting 22% from the field and 20% from 3-point territory for the series. Once picked ahead of All-NBA point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul, Marvin's value to the Hawks franchise had sunk to such a low that I proclaimed, "It's too bad the Hawks can't use the Amnesty mid-season" after his performance in Game 2.

How did we get to the point where 15 points from Marvin is shocking? It wasn't always like this. The Hawks organization must have seen something in him to extend him for around $8 million per season. The last time the Hawks played the Celtics in the postseason in 2008, the first playoff appearance for the present core, the jury was still out. The 3rd-year player came into the playoffs averaging a career-high 14.8 points per game. In three Hawks victories he averaged just under 25 minutes and 13 PPG on 57% shooting from the field and 100% shooting on 15 free throw attempts.

Even in the 4 losses at Boston he was a factor, averaging around 8 PPG and 4 RPG on 32% shooting. But like Benjamin Button, Marvin's development has seemed to go backwards since then. For the past three seasons he's hovered around 10 PPG. For two of those seasons, Jamal Crawford's volume shooting seemed a convenient scapegoat. This year everyone one from Tracy McGrady to Ivan Johnson to Vladimir Radmanovic has cut into Marvin's minutes and shots.

If we want to truly get to the bottom of the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is Marvin Williams, we've got to go back to when the legend was born. Please humor my gonzo journalism as I must insert myself into the tale in order to tell it fully.

It was the Summer of 2005 and the Hawks hadn't had a team worth following since Mookie, Smitty and Deke. As the Hawks prepared to pick second in the upcoming draft, I was producing a sports talk program on Braves Radio 640 WGST for Art "Madman" Mehring. During the first break of my first show, Art looked past guest host Mark Lemke and asked me, "Are you gonna talk?"

From then on, I talked.

I was years removed from caring about or seriously following sports (Mark had to correct me on when Bobby Cox took over as manager from Russ Nixon). I only took the gig because it was more interesting than my day job, which consisted of calling cop stations on the Gulf Coast and asking where the wrecks and stalls were. Thus, I was sort of a precursor to Dominique Wilkins' broadcasting career, a guy who got on the mic and blathered about sports without actually knowing anything about them.

One of our recurring guests was AJC columnist Jeff Schultz, whom I greatly admire and had read since he joined the paper’s staff. He came on the show and informed us that the Hawks would most likely draft the kid from North Carolina, based on his superstar potential. We put our heads together and it must have sounded like a bowling alley, because none of us knew who Marvin Williams was. I was a Tech fan and ACC snob (yes, my late cousin Lewis Grizzard just rolled over in his grave), but I hadn't watched the NCAA Tournament that year. To this day I swear Jeff feigned forgetting Marvin's name to see if we actually knew anything about college basketball.

Although my hoops knowledge wasn't up to date, I had grown up watching Magic Johnson. I later witnessed Kenny Anderson's freshman year at Tech (the only season he was ever relevant as a basketball player), and saw Jason Kidd play as early as the McDonald's All-American Game. I knew what an elite ball-distributing point guard looked like. I'd watched Chris Paul play at Wake Forest, and I thought he was special, but I didn't project him as an All-NBA point guard.

Nonetheless I felt the Hawks were well stocked with wings and had been desperate for a point guard since Mookie's departure. Deron Williams was my pick because I thought he was tougher than Paul. Schultz did not venture an opinion regarding whom the Hawks "should" draft (it was beat writer Sekou Smith who told me emphatically that the Hawks should draft Marvin), he only speculated on who they would draft.

All these years later, I have a theory that's been gnawing at me and it's time to call Jeff out. I have information that leads me to believe that the GMs of the Jazz and Hornets secretly flew to Atlanta in 2005 to meet with Schultz. In this meeting, I believe they informed Schultz that they would provide him with a lifetime's supply of Mickey Mouse PEZ dispensers if he would help them disseminate the legend of the "superstar potential" of a player who didn't even start for North Carolina.

Whether my theory proves true or not, or whether the events are far-enough removed for Jeff to finally come clean, I believe it's not too late for Marvin to reverse the Benjamin Button process. I believe he can resume his former 15 PPG glory. Imagine what would happen if Marvin showed the same professionalism this off-season as Josh Smith displayed when he showed up for camp last year. Imagine if Marvin Williams came back next season in the best shape of his life.

In the meantime, there's Game 6. I already predicted Celtics in 6 in Hoopinion's 3-on-3 series preview. I'm certainly not predicting two strong games in a row from Marvin. That would be the most unexpected thing that could possibly happen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Initial Feedback: His Name Is Al Horford

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: The Hawks needed every bit of offensive efficiency they could muster and every miss they could encourage from the Celtics. Teague scored 16 points on 11 shots, earned five assists against 3 turnovers and again had a role in many of Rajon Rondo's 11 misses and 5 turnovers. 7/10

Joe Johnson: He got his touches, generally to the team's detriment. There was almost a one-to-one correlation between Joe Johnson dribbling and the Hawks having an empty possession in the second half. He's not a bad player, just overmatched as a shot creator against a good defense.

Four points on six shots (and no free throw attempts), two assists against a turnover, and zero rebounds while playing the entire second half. The other four starters scored 43 points on 25 shots, got to the line 10 times and earned 10 assists in the second half. If Al Horford doesn't bail him out with a runner to put the Hawks up 87-83, this recap could have a very different tenor.

Another mediocre defensive performance, but it included a good, meaningful challenge on Paul Pierce's airball. 4/10

Marvin Williams: He caught a break by getting to defend a gimpy Paul Pierce and generally gets a pass for Garnett posting him up because Marvin Williams shouldn't be asked to guard Kevin Garnett in a playoff game. Caveats out of the way, 15 points on 9 shots is huge in this series and most unexpected given Williams' playoff history. 7/10

Josh Smith: Deserves credit for toughing it out on one leg to grab 16 rebounds and earn six assists, but has to take responsibility for the bad decisions he made: six jumpers and six turnovers, none worse than that on the final inbounds pass. I don't expect this injury to get any better for him, so he needs to adjust to his temporary physical diminishment. 6/10

Al Horford: 19 and 11 in his first full game back. Three assists and three steals and three blocks. 17 second half points on 10 shots. Lockdown perimeter defense on Rondo to finish the game before the final turnover could end the Hawks' season. Once again asserted himself as the team's best player with actions during the game rather than words before. 9/10

Kirk Hinrich: Had a really nice first half stint, knocking down three shots in just under seven minutes and playing respectable defense. For some reason, Willie Green got the reserve guard minutes in the second half. 4/10

Tracy McGrady: It's been about 40 minutes since he last scored in this series. 1/10

Willie Green: Six-and-a-half odd, impact-free minutes. Unless you count the 11 points the Hawks were outscored by with Green on the court. 1/10

Erick Dampier: Entered the game with 3:42 left in the first quarter. Made a shot. Played a little more. 2/10

Jason Collins: His 10 second appearance as a defensive sub for Al Horford was an absurd bit of tactics. Incomplete

Ivan Johnson: His 10 second appearance as a defensive sub for Tracy McGrady only poured salt on the wound of the 15 ineffective minutes McGrady and Dampier played in his stead. Incomplete

The head coach
Pros: Got over his mooted minutes limit for Al Horford early and necessarily. Played his four best players at least 40 minutes each. Didn't play Jannero Pargo at all. Motion offense looked sublime for much of the second half. Excellent play call coming out of a timeout led to Horford dunk, ending 7-0 Boston run and putting the Hawks up 85-83 with 2:220 left.

Cons: Played Erick Dampier in the first quarter. Preferred Willie Green to Kirk Hinrich in the second half. Let Joe Johnson dribble away many a second half possession despite the exact opposite working a treat repeatedly. Team couldn't inbound the ball successfully in two tries on the final possession. 7/10

A thought regarding the opposition
If the Celtics were a good offensive team, this game could have been over before halftime. If the Celtics were a good offensive team, they wouldn't be the fifth seed in the East. With the teams so evenly matched (even the injuries seem to happen at times to keep the teams tight), I'm not sure if home court means anything. Or maybe it means more than normal. Either way, first team to 80 will win again on Thursday and whichever team has two stretches where they make shots as opposed to the other team's single stretch will win the game.

Hawks Go Big For Their First Last Chance

Finally. Not finally in the "What took you so long?" sense, rather finally in the "It took a long time for this to be possible" sense. With Al Horford missing three games, Josh Smith missing one game, Zaza Pachulia missing four games (and counting), Marvin Williams and Tracy McGrady giving Larry Drew little reason for extended minutes, the Hawks haven't had anything close to a full complement of frontcourt players, forcing Joe Johnson into an unflattering matchup with Paul Pierce for much of the series.

Combine the short-handed squad with Larry Drew's unwillingness to ride his best healthy players and an inability to figure out a point guard rotation that doesn't include Jannero Pargo and you've largely explained the 3-1 deficit.

On the evidence of Sunday night's game, neither Josh Smith nor Al Horford are near 100%. Marvin Williams has been thoroughly befuddled when tasked to guard Paul Pierce. The Hawks have yet to score 85 points in a game in the series. Still, the Hawks (two-point favorites tonight, mind you) have a very real opportunity to make a business trip to Boston before the week ends.

Smith and Horford don't have to be 100% to be far more productive than the alternatives and if Williams could manage to be only as ineffective as Joe Johnson in defending Paul Pierce, then the Hawks might be able to take advantage of Johnson posting up Avery Bradley or Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen, might force Doc Rivers to use the deeper recesses of his bench. Kirk Hinrich doesn't have much left but Jannero Pargo never had much to begin with.

The most shocking thing about Sunday night's debacle was not that the Hawks lost by 22 points but that the Celtics scored 90 points in three quarters. That's highly unlikely to happen again.

Predicting the Hawks is a fool's errand. Doubly so in the playoffs. Marvin Williams might plumb previously unexplored depths of playoff incompetence. Smith and Horford may be physically incapable of outplaying Kevin Garnett. Joe Johnson might post up a smaller Celtics defender only to retreat dribble in order to take the shot Boston wants him to take in the first place.

Even a victory tonight might just postpone playoff elimination until two or four days hence with some soon-to-be unfortunate self-aggrandizing post-game quotes to boot. But victories are good. No amount of frustration should make a team's failure the more attractive option.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Wherein Joe Johnson and I Are Largely in Agreement

Chris Vivlamore reports on Joe Johnson's assessment of Game 4:
A day later, Joe Johnson was at loss for words about the Hawks’ embarrassing Game 4 loss to the Celtics that has the team on the brink of playoff elimination.

His one-word answer to a question on his number of shot attempts spoke volumes.

Johnson took just eight shots in Sunday’s 101-79 loss to the Celtics, who are up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 5 Tuesday at Philips Arena.

“I don’t think they are doing anything different defensively on me,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just, basically, getting an opportunity to touch the ball. That’s it.”

When asked if he was not happy with his touches, Johnson answered with a simple, but emphatic, “No.”
I didn't think the Celtics did anything different defensively on Joe Johnson, either. Nor am I happy with his touches.

Joe Johnson's touches, a word picture by Bret LaGree

Remain stationary

Receive the ball
Dribble laterally to or away from the basket
(second Boston defender arrives)
Take contested jump shot or pass to teammate Boston purposely leaves open

I mean, come on. Based on his playoff performances as a Hawk, Joe Johnson would be expected to score 14 whole points in 31 minutes of action, not a mere 9.

Joe Johnson wants touches so badly he's resorting to getting his fix on the defensive end, touching, lingering even, on almost every screen a Celtic sets to free Paul Pierce.

Only 4 years and $89 million to go.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Initial Feedback: Whoo Boy

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
: When the ball is taken out of his hands when he's playing exceptionally well, as in Game 3, I have some sympathy for Teague's efforts to force matters when things are going terribly poor and the guy who dominates the ball when Teague is keeping the team in the game, as in Game 3, shies away when the going gets tough. There's no suitable explanation for Teague's role, nor that of any of his teammates, in the defensive performance. Consider that assumed in every comment below. 3/10

Joe Johnson: Put in his place by Paul Pierce. A complete non-factor everywhere except the balance sheet. 2/10

Kirk Hinrich: The team-wide meltdown rendered the discussion of minute distribution between role players and bench players moot. That the game got out of hand while Hinrich was on the bench is the best thing one can say about his night. 2/10

Josh Smith: Deserves credit for playing hurt but was clearly limited in every facet of his game. That he was still the team's best player says more about the healthy Hawks and their head coach than Smith. 5/10

Jason Collins: It says more about Boston's limitations that it took four games for Jason Collins to be an obvious liability. 1/10

Marvin Williams: Marvin Williams ineffective in playoff game is the "dog bites man" of Atlanta Hawks analysis. 2/10

Jannero Pargo: He was on the court when the game got out of hand. Surprising no one other than Larry Drew. It's tough to score 8 points in 8 minutes and have your team go from 8 points down to 19 points down. Pargo managed the feat. 2/10

Al Horford: Despite the outcome, it is nice to have him back. After a very rusty first stint, he didn't look half bad if one considers the game context and his long lay off to negate each other. It says multitudes about both Horford and the organization that, in the playoffs, having missed four months the immediate question following the game is whether he's the best or second-best player. 5/10

Tracy McGrady: Continued in the ineffective vein of the bulk of his Game 3 performance. Were he to acknowledge his current limitations, he might be an effective role player when physically able. He does not and he mostly is not. 1/10

Willie Green: Even in a series between two mediocre playoff teams at less than full strength, Green looks out of his depth. 2/10

Erick Dampier: Garbage time All-Star. 2/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Garbage time Non-Star. 1/10

Ivan Johnson: This is how the Atlanta Hawks reward a good regular season. If you want minutes in the playoffs, come back when you're in your thirties, take more jump shots, and don't fight through screens. 2/10

The head coach
Larry Drew pversaw a complete and utter disaster which only makes the previous games' missed opportunities more bitter. After writing about this team for five seasons, it's somehow appropriate that the game Drew decides to stagger rest for Johnson, Teague and Smith is the one the Hawks trail by 13 after one quarter, 23 after two quarters and 27 after three quarters. It's not a risk to take in close games, but rather a desperation move to ride your best players whilst one is playing hurt, one is criticized after playing the best game any Hawk has played in the series, and one is retreating into his shell. This game, unwinnable part-way through the second quarter, is the game Larry Drew rested his best players for during Games 2 and 3. 1/10

A thought regarding the opposition
Not enough good can be said about Paul Pierce's dominating offensive performance, Rajon Rondo far surpassing his triple-double performance in Game 3, Kevin Garnett's activity on both ends of the floor within the team concept, and the entire roster's defensive performance. Where the Hawks looked like the legacy of Mike Woodson's man-management with Larry Drew's tactics, the Celtics looked like the legacy of Tom Thibodeau's defensive tactics with Doc Rivers' man-management. Such an investment in coaching is not possible in Atlanta.

Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen were all better than Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Al Horford will ever be. Perhaps I underrate the ability to draw on past greatness when the occasion arises, but there appears to be a cultural difference between these two evenly-matched teams. The Hawks experience the events of the game, where actions good and ill seem at the periphery of their control. The Celtics recognize they can't control events to the degree they once could and focus on how they can overcome their newfound limitations to win games.

For the Hawks the outcome of the game is in doubt and that's just the way it is. For the Celtics, the outcome of the game is in doubt and they hate that fact.

Return On Investment: Kirk Hinrich

By Buddy Grizzard

In Game 3, Kirk Hinrich failed to score in 26 minutes and registered only 1 assist. Given that he was relatively productive in the first two games, and given the fact that the Hawks traded two first-round draft picks to obtain him, one might question the wisdom of sitting Hinrich for the 4th quarter and overtime. Although Willie Green made two huge baskets, for the series both he and Jannero Pargo are under-performing relative to Hinrich and to their own offensive numbers during the regular season.

During the regular season, both players had respectable shooting numbers against opponents who made this year's playoffs. However, both also had worse +/- numbers against playoff teams than against all opponents.


The +/- shown is aggregate vs. playoff-bound opponents for the season. I have previously noted that Green's aggregate -75 for the regular season is the worst on the team by a wide margin, as you can see at Jerry Stackhouse, at -4 for the season, is the only other Hawk with a negative aggregate +/- for 2011-12. As you can see from the numbers above, Green's +/- numbers are even worse against playoff-calibre foes. Pargo likewise goes into negative territory against playoff teams, as compared to the aggregate +40 he posted for the regular season.

Against the Celtics, Green and Pargo have failed to duplicate the offensive numbers they posted against playoff-bound opposition in the regular season. The Hawks have also been outscored by an average of over 6 points per game with either on the floor. The following is a comparison of Green, Pargo and Hinrich's numbers against the Celtics, including assist and turnover totals for the latter two.


Although Green outscores Hinrich on a per-minute basis, the +/- numbers simply can't be ignored. Green's numbers are predictably bad (indicating that his offensive production cannot make up for the defensive deficiencies that exist while he is on the floor). Meanwhile in 25 playoff minutes for Pargo, the Hawks have been outscored by more points than they were in 354 regular-season minutes against playoff teams.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A Thought Exercise

Said exercise asking:
For how long would Joe Johnson need to be an ineffective offensive player in the playoffs for the Hawks to stop forcing the ball to him even when at least one other effective option is available?
One possible answer is "more than 44 games over five years."

In the regular season, Joe Johnson is no franchise player but he's a good offensive player. In the playoffs, he is neither:

Joe Johnson 2007-122PTFG%3PTFG%FT%Pts/36A/36TO/36
Regular season47.736.182.619.34.82.1

Joe Johnson 2007-12Usage RatePERWS/48
Regular season2617.9.115

This is not strictly a Joe Johnson not making positive plays issue. This is also an asking Joe Johnson to do things he's simply not capable of doing issue and a building a basketball team around Joe Johnson as if he were something he's not issue.

The Hawks are 18-26 in the playoffs over the last five seasons. Often, the Hawks have been taken apart by better teams. But the Hawks are just 9-8 in the playoffs against the teams with worse regular season records they've faced: the 2008-09 Milwaukee Bucks, the 2009-10 Miami Heat, this year's Celtics team. In the playoffs, the Hawks don't beat the teams they're supposed to beat with anywhere near the regularity or ease with which they get beat by the teams who are supposed to beat them.

This is a not learning from your mistakes issue.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Initial Feedback: Game 3

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: Carried the Hawks in the third and fourth quarters. His teammates took the ball out of his hands repeatedly down the stretch anyway. Good defense on Rondo for the most part. Struggled to chase Ray Allen around screens which only exacerbated the problem of Jannero Pargo being in the game.8/10

Kirk Hinrich: Defended Rondo well himself. Didn't make a shot and that (barring an unreported injury) got Jannero Pargo, Willie Green, and the husk of Tracy McGrady preferred to him for the final 17:06. 3/10

Joe Johnson: If you take enough difficult shots and a teammate plays as well as Jeff Teague did, then eventually a couple of those difficult shots will be big makes. 29 points on 28 shots (with 2 assists and 2 turnovers) isn't that bad in the context of this inefficient offensive series. But it's not enough to mitigate the absence of the Hawks' two best players. 6/10

Marvin Williams: I don't know if his 11 defensive rebounds did anything other than drive home the point that Boston really doesn't care about grabbing offensive rebounds. Another thoroughly out of sorts postseason performance. 3/10

Jason Collins: The two early buckets were a pleasant surprise. The four turnovers were not. Garnett has stopped foolishly trying to post Collins up. He and Bass both made easy spot-up jumpers when Collins couldn't close out. 2/10

Tracy McGrady: Larry Drew couldn't count on Tracy McGrady to play regular minutes this season because McGrady couldn't count on his body. A strong first half ended with a contact-free turned ankle. In the second half and overtime, McGrady played 24 minutes, was 0-5 from the floor with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers. 4/10

Erick Dampier: Tripled his season total of made field goals. Grabbed six rebounds. Didn't expire on court. The Hawks couldn't ask for anything more. 3/10

Ivan Johnson: Much like Kirk Hinrich, an inability to make an impact offensively saw much of the roster pass him in the fourth quarter. 2/10

Jannero Pargo: The only Hawk on the court for the scoreless 4:20 stretch of the first half and the fourth quarter meltdown. Took (and missed) bad shots, couldn't defend Rondo, and his presence forced Teague into a bad matchup against Ray Allen. 1/10

Willie Green: I don't know if 5 points in 15 minutes is sufficient return given the dearth of non-scoring contributions Green offers, but he was a far sight more effective than Pargo. 3/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Put in the game to spread the Boston defense. Boston never seemed to notice and Radmanovic barely touched the ball. 1/10

The head coach
The Hawks are now up to almost 15 minutes of playoff basketball with none of Teague, Joe Johnson, or Josh Smith on the court. The Hawks were scoreless during tonight's 4:20 stretch of Teague and Johnson both on the bench in the first quarter, keeping the total number of Atlanta points scored in those self-restricting conditions at 7. In ridiculously low scoring games, possessions can't behalf-wasted before they begin.

Same goes for the refusal to put the ball in Teague's hands on every possession down the stretch. There would have been scoreless possessions then, too, but it would have tested Boston's defense more than isolations for Joe Johnson or Tracy McGrady did.

A thought regarding the opposition
The Celtics won because their coach went all out to win and because their highly-paid, poor shooting players do other things (get to the line in Paul Pierce's case, Rondo's 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and 4 steals) Joe Johnson simply cannot. Johnson's limitations, relative to his contract, are unfairly highlighted in the absence of Atlanta's top three post players (as well as Marvin Williams' rather empty presence) but they're also material to the result.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Quote of the Day -- May 3, 2012

Larry Drew:
"I want to make sure if I can get guys proper amount of rest. I do want to ride my starters but I don’t want to wear them out. It’s going to be a long series. I could probably stagger them a little bit more but I have to make sure I don’t wear guys down and run them in the ground. I have all the confidence in the world in my bench. They’ve been good for us all season and I’m not going to give up on them now."
Could. Probably.

Rest your hope on those two words.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Oh, Yes, It's Been Bad

The drop-off from Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Jeff Teague to the rest of the healthy Hawks has been noticeable. BasketballValue helps make that drop-off measurable. Here's the on/off numbers (per 100 possessions) for the trio through two games against the Celtics:

PlayerOn CourtOff Court

For some reason (rest for games that aren't guaranteed to take place?) Drew has seen fit to use more than 10 of the series' 96 minutes to see what would happen if none of Smith, Johnson, or Teague were on the floor. I ask anyone under the age of 18 or with a delicate constitution to stop reading immediately. Smith, Johnson, and Teague have joined Drew on the sideline for 17 possessions of this series during which the Hawks have been outscored 19-7.

The makeshift starting lineup? +20 over 71 offensive and 68 defensive possessions.

Swap in Marvin Williams for Jason Collins? The Hawks are still +1 over 12 offensive and 15 defensive possessions.

Remove all your above average players from the floor at once? Disaster, not so surprisingly, strikes.

At this point, Larry Drew might run out of good players to rest, making a lesson learned practically impossible in the short term. Which makes the choice to handcuff himself with what turn out to be most talented and complete roster he had at his disposal in the playoffs so disappointing.

Doc Rivers has not yet rested Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett simultaneously in this series.