Monday, April 30, 2012

HoopSpeak: Jason Collins Doin' Work

50 Seconds of Thunder: The Jason Collins Mixtape, a short film by Beckley Mason:

4/29/12. Never forget.

Quote of the Day -- April 30. 2012

Larry Drew:
"We knew we had to win the energy game. We had to win the hustle game. I think we did that."
And so it was.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Initial Feedback: One Down, Fifteen To Go

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: He couldn't have played better offensively on a night when the Hawks desperately needed an effective offensive player over the final 38 minutes of the game. On the other end of the floor, Rajon Rondo was really effective, but 40% of his makes were jump shots. The Hawks will be satisfied with that ratio whenever Rondo rejoins the series. 7/10

Kirk Hinrich: I put the break-even point for the diminished Kirk Hinrich at two open shots made per game. He reached that mark 189 seconds into the game and just kept going, not just knocking down shots others created for him, but creating a couple makes for himself while also rendering Avery Bradley ineffective. 7/10

Joe Johnson: Had Paul Pierce made basically any of the open jump shots Joe Johnson gave him, there might have been second-round intensity boos for Johnson during the player introductions Tuesday night. In the second half, Johnson dominated the ball like it was cap space, missing all six shots he took, turning the ball over twice and scratching only in the final minute of the fourth quarter on one of the two technical free throws Rondo gifted the Hawks. 3/10

Josh Smith: Given the Celtics' disinterest in their own missed shots, a lot of those 16 defensive rebounds were discretionary (especially with Jason Collins playing more than 31 minutes), as were many of the 12 jump shots Smith took. But he set the tone early, making several high-percentage, aggressive offensive plays in building the lead the Hawks clung to for the final three quarters and his defense was excellent all night. 8/10

Jason Collins: Everything's a bonus with Jason Collins. All six points. All five rebounds. Every time Kevin Garnett posted him up. The Celtics attacked him effectively in the pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter. After banking this win, let's hope Larry Drew ponders his Plan B. 4/10

Marvin Williams: Perhaps Game 2 of this series will feature Marvin busting out of his career-long playoff disaster. Many of those 31 Jason Collins minutes will have to go somewhere. 2/10

Tracy McGrady: Without that offensive rebound and dunk that fell in his lap, this would have been a comprehensively poor and selfish Tracy McGrady performance. His other make was an early, fall-away 20-footer and both his turnovers were train wrecks. 3/10

Willie Green: Made a shot. Gave up a made shot. Will get a chance to make a difference later in this series, I suspect. 3/10

Ivan Johnson: Energy incarnate and constantly under control. The Celtics figure to get more familiar and less pleased with his presence as the series progresses. 4/10

Jannero Pargo: I have no idea why he played so much when both Teague and Hinrich were effective. That he did was not his fault, and he wasn't bad so much as himself. Which doesn't comfort in a playoff game you're trying to hold on to. 3/10

The head coach
The rotations were weird and the third quarter offensive struggles all too familiar but Larry Drew wasn't the head coach having his team make Jason Collins' one defensible reason for being in the game relevant or overseeing some abysmal transition defense in the first half. If the Hawks score 83 points in every game in this series, they have a legitimate shot at winning three of the next six. I don't think they can necessarily do that by repeating their Game 1 performance six more times, but they took the first step. 5/10

A thought regarding the opposition
Boston would gladly take their chances on Paul Pierce scoring more than 12 points on those particular 19 field goal attempts again. Same goes for Josh Smith attempting 12 jump shots or Joe Johnson jacking up 250 feet worth of three-pointers in a single game.

However, with 41 seconds left in the Game 1, Rajon Rondo probably killed their chances of successfully playing the percentages over the rest of the series. Rondo kept the Celtics in this game. Without him, the Celtics won't be able to improve on missed chances. They'll have to conjure quality chances from some other source. Ray Allen's last hurrah appears the only marginally plausible worry for the Hawks.

Larry Drew: Lessons Learned From His First Post-Season

By Buddy Grizzard

Larry Drew has only coached two playoff series but he already built a catalogue of highly-scrutinized postseason moves. As the Hawks prepare to face the Celtics and well-regarded coach Doc Rivers, here's a list of five of Drew's rookie playoff miscues. If coaching in the playoffs is a process of trial and error, Drew certainly has a wealth of research material.

5. Josh Powell, first big man off the bench

In Game 2 of the Atlanta-Orlando series, Al Horford picked up his second foul with 9:49 to play in the first quarter. The first big man off the bench for the Hawks was...Josh Powell. Remember Powell? He played in China earlier this year before reported that he had signed to play in Switzerland, then Puerto Rico. He is not presently on an NBA playoff roster. Surprised?

As previously noted, Zaza Pachulia is one of only 5 players to rank in the top 10 in playoff rebounding rate in 2 of the last 3 postseasons. Josh Powell (surprise!) is not on that list. Meanwhile, in Horford's absence, Pachulia has made a significant contribution to the team's success (which I speculated was possible in January).

Wrote John Hollinger of after the Hawks loss:
I was talking to two NBA front-office types before a game this month and we were trying to come up with the worst player in the league. Without any prodding from me, both of them nominated Powell.
4. Jason Collins, over-utilized

In Game 4 of the second round series against the Bulls, Drew tweaked his starting lineup by moving Marvin Williams to the bench, starting Jason Collins at center and moving Horford to power forward. This move seemed initially successful as the Hawks outscored the Bulls during Collins' 1st and 3rd quarter appearances on the way to a 2-2 series tie.

In Game 6, however, Drew stayed with the same substitution pattern for the third consecutive game and Bulls coach Thom Thibodeau made him pay. The Bulls clearly game planned to attack Collins' defense. Carlos Boozer pulled Collins away from the basket and hit jumpers until the Hawks were forced to switch defenders. With Horford guarding Boozer, the Bulls isolated Joakim Noah at the top of the key on Collins. Noah drove around the slow-footed Collins for a layup and a 19-11 Bulls lead en route to the series-clinching win.

Powell may have been named the worst player in the NBA by multiple NBA front-office types, according to Hollinger. But as I have noted, statistically, Collins has been one of the worst players in the NBA for the last 7 seasons.

3. Jamal Crawford, point guard

Just before Noah's layup, with the Hawks trailing 17-11, Drew sent Jamal Crawford in to replace Jeff Teague. The Bulls then outscored the Hawks 10-6 to close the first quarter with a 27-17 lead. The Hawks never recovered. The Portland Trailblazers, with Crawford playing significant minutes at point guard this year, missed the playoffs entirely.

2. Riding the cold hand

In Game 4 as the Hawks tied the series, Crawford shot 5-for-11 (1-for-5 from 3-point range) for 12 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Zaza Pachulia played 26 minutes, scoring 5 and pulling down 9 rebounds. It would be Crawford's last decent shooting game as a Hawk. In Game 5, Crawford played 27 minutes, shot 1-for-9 and scored 2 points with 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Pachulia scored 13 in 23 minutes on 5-for-6 shooting and added 4 rebounds.

Finally, in Game 6, Crawford shot 2-for-10 for 8 points in 25 minutes. Pachulia played 23 minutes, scored only 1 point but led the team with 13 rebounds. Crawford made a driving layup with 5:41 to play before halftime. It would be his last field goal as a Hawk. It's hard not to think that more minutes for Pachulia, who led the team in +/- for the postseason, or allowing Crawford to play off the ball and focus on making shots, might have made a difference in this series.

1. The Horford Treatment

After Horford, as mentioned above, picked up his second foul 2 minutes into Game 2 against Orlando, Drew left him on the bench for the rest of the half. The Hawks led 32-22 with 9 minutes to play before halftime, but the Magic closed the half on a 26-10 run as Horford, the team's most efficient offensive player, sat the entire second quarter.

Horford never picked up his third foul as the Hawks lost to even the series 1-1. Hollinger wrote:
There is no way to sugarcoat it: This is the most indefensible coaching decision I’ve seen this season.
He further noted that Horford, who has one of the lowest foul rates in the league at his position, was never in any danger of fouling out.

One of the unintended consequences of losing Game 2 was that the Hawks, winners of 3 of the first 4 games in the series, missed a chance to sweep Orlando and gain valuable rest before the Chicago series. Instead, the series went 6 games and Kirk Hinrich was lost for the second round after suffering an injury with just over 3 minutes remaining in Game 6.

A further consequence of Hinrich's injury was Jeff Teague's breakout series as the starting point guard in the Chicago series. However, this fortunate circumstance cannot be used to justify bad coaching. Indeed, the belated discovery of Teague's value stands as a further indictment of Drew.

Lessons learned

Looking ahead to the series against the Celtics, the following are lessons that I hope Drew has learned from the 2011 playoffs. Firstly, Drew must stop giving significant minutes to scrubs and washed up veterans. This means that Collins, Erick Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse and Vladimir Radmanovic should only see spot or emergency minutes.

Second, Drew must trust Teague and let him be himself. He's not going to morph into Steve Nash or Rajon Rondo any time soon, but the Hawks cannot succeed if Teague sacrifices his offense so Joe Johnson and Josh Smith can launch more jumpers.

And finally, Drew needs to realize that Ivan Johnson, not Collins, is the only hope at center. Johnson, the reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April, has outplayed or held his own against Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert this season. Collins hasn't come close to playing at that level, and if Drew thinks he's the answer, then he hasn't learned anything.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

3-on-3: Wherein the Gang Previews the Series

My series preview has been posted but for the full scope of opinion we need to empanel those who have kept Hoopinion running this season:

1) What is the key to Atlanta winning the series?

James Goeders: Bench scoring. In the two losses to Boston this year the Hawks' bench averaged 10.5 points in games decided by 5 points total. In the win last Friday (albeit mostly against the Boston reserves) the bench put up 30.

Buddy Grizzard: Desire. In 2008, an up-and-coming Hawks team came of age by pushing the eventual champions to 7 games. Four years later, the Celtics are old and the Hawks are in their prime. Will this be a repeat of 1988 when an aging Celtics team defeated a Dominique Wilkins-era team at its peak? Does Joe Johnson care about his legacy, or does he only care if the checks clear? Injuries are no excuse because Boston has been hit just as hard as the Hawks.

Mark Phelps: Rebounding and Penetrating. With the absence of Horford and Pachulia, the Hawks will need big games on the boards from Josh, Marvin, and a Rent-a-Center. The ability to draw fouls and force the Celtics to play their second line could also be a big swing in the Hawks’ favor.

2) What is Boston's greatest potential advantage?

James Goeders: Guard play. In the two Boston wins, Rondo averaged 10 points and 16.5 assists. Even in the Hawks victory Avery Bradley had 28 and Keyon Dooling had 17. Can Teague and Hinrich slow down Rondo and Ray Allen?

Buddy Grizzard: Playmaking. The Hawks consistently take low-percentage shots because busted isolations lead to Joe Johnson shooting a fadeaway over a double team or Josh Smith chucking a 22-footer as the shot clock expires. Rajon Rondo's ability to set up teammates allows the Celtics to score more efficiently. Jeff Teague, like Rondo, is great at attacking the basket. Both are suspect outside shooters. But Teague will likely never approach Rondo's ability as a floor general.

Mark Phelps: Rondo. In the two games he played against the Hawks, Rondo doled out an amazing 33 assists. In one game, he was able to make up for a poor shooting performance with 20 dimes. With the Celtics at full speed, Rondo’s the pilot.

3) Series prediction: Who wins? In how many games? Why?

James Goeders: The Hawks in 7. I think people will overplay the experience angle, especially since the Hawks have now advanced to the second round the last three seasons, and overlook the youth and matchup problems that the Hawks provide (Josh Smith vs Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson vs Paul Pierce).

Buddy Grizzard: Celtics in 6. First of all, this is the biggest coaching mismatch in the postseason. Secondly, the Celtics will get inside the Hawks' heads and control the tempo and tone of the series. Josh Smith will be frustrated trying to score inside against the Celtics defense and float to the perimeter, exactly where they want him. Joe will try to play hero ball and fail.

Mark Phelps: At the risk of being too much of a homer, I’ll say Hawks in seven.
This should be a dogfight to the last second, but the home court advantage and surges in April by Josh and Marvin make me (cautiously) optimistic.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Series Preview: Atlanta Hawks v. Boston Celtics

In a series between two teams not only evenly matched but also similar, slight aberrations can have significant effect. This is a series where Zaza Pachulia's left foot or Ray Allen's right ankle might be as important as home-court advantage. That this is a series where neither team can be expected to score 90 points in a game unless the fix is in only exaggerates the importance of events on the margin between winning and losing. At that margin, Jannero Pargo or Willie Green or Vladimir Radmanovic or Keyon Dooling or Mickael Pietrus or Sasha Pavlovic might play a greater role, in the moment, than Josh Smith or Joe Johnson or Jeff Teague or Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo.

It's going to be a tight series. Be prepared not to be satisfied with the explanations. Why may lie just beyond the grasp.

However, there are three factors which seem like probable flashpoints for the series:

The Hawks must take advantage of the shots they make: Sometimes stubbornly simplistic analysis carries the weight of truth. In a series between two teams who don't try to rebound* their own misses, possessions figure to be very binary. Beyond that, the Hawks are going to take jump shots. The Celtics are capable of encouraging the Hawks to take jump shots (but not three-pointers) while still contesting the shots.

The Hawks are going to make shots the Celtics are happy with them taking. The Hawks have to take advantage of that and win the games where they make low-percentage shots. Hard done though they were by injuries, the Hawks were very fortunate to have Willie Green and Jannero Pargo shoot as accurately as they did over 66 games. If they can keep it up for as many as seven more games, this series becomes even more difficult for the Celtics.

*Atlanta ranks 26th in offensive rebound percentage (with Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford posting the highest rates on the team). Boston ranks 30th.

Larry Drew has to figure out the best available lineup and ride it hard: Pachulia's health will determine how tied Drew's hands end up being. There's not a Hawk who can close out effectively on Kevin Garnett. There's not an interior pairing that can close out effectively on both Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass without encouraging one of those two to head into the post. There's not an interior pairing that will be uniformly capable of defending the pick-and-roll.

Related, the Hawks have the option of playing two small guards, better to defend Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. In doing so, they aren't forcing Rondo or Bradley to defend Joe Johnson on the other end. With Kevin Garnett sure to bait Josh Smith into taking as many jumpers as possible, Joe Johnson can't come a clear second to Paul Pierce in this series if the Hawks are going to win. Johnson doesn't necessarily have to best Pierce, but the typical Joe Johnson playoff performance (poor shooting, reduced scoring, fewer assists, more turnovers) isn't going to cut it.

All that being said, if the Hawks find something that works, they're in great shape because Boston cannot score consistently. Especially if Ray Allen is limited physically.

In a battle between mediocre offenses and good defenses, the team that converts turnovers into transition points will prevail: Only five teams turned the ball over on a higher percentage of their possessions than the Celtics did this season. Converting those into scoring chances before Boston's defense gets set, either by mitigating the low-percentage shots they figure to take in the half-court or by getting some free points they don't typically get at the free throw line, will be key for the Hawks.

The Hawks don't turn the ball over very often. Boston, however, was fourth in the league in forcing turnovers this season. If Boston turns the Hawks over, then an Atlanta offense that struggles to score against good defenses will collapse entirely against the Celtics. The Hawks could get invaluable offensive contributions from Pargo, Green, reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Ivan Johnson, Tracy McGrady or Vladimir Radmanovic. All of those guys, save Green, also turn the ball over on at least 14% of the possessions they use.

The prediction: The only things that would surprise me in this series were for it to last fewer than six games or for a team to score 100 points in a game that lasts less than three overtimes. Neither team has the offensive firepower to control a game, much less the series. With a healthy Zaza Pachulia, this series would be, from Atlanta's perspective, at worst a toss up. I'm not confident Pachulia can have a positive impact on the series.

If he can't, that puts tremendous pressure on the undersized Ivan Johnson, the oversized Jason Collins, the physically inconsistent Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic, and the thoroughly inconsistent Marvin Williams to be as productive in doing the dirty work as Pachulia managed in Al Horford's absence. Absent Pachulia, it also puts tremendous pressure on Larry Drew to make good use of mismatched pieces. Against Boston's defense, against Pierce's and Garnett's remaining talent and desire, even wise or clever decisions are not certain to pay off. Celtics in 6.

Wishful Thinking Part II: Steve Nash

Reader comments for my previous piece exploring the Atlanta Hawks' renewed prospects for pursuit of Dwight Howard indicated I should maybe stop daydreaming so much. Instead, I've decided to help you, the Hoopinion reader, get ready for the post-season by looking past it completely. In Part II of an occasional series, I hereby recommend that the Hawks pursue Steve Nash as soon as the present season concludes.

Indications are that Nash may have played his final game as a Phoenix Sun. Peter Vecsey reported in March that Nash was upset that the Suns had not more aggresively pursued Boris Diaw, who was bought out by the Charlotte Bobcats and later signed with San Antonio. Diaw's presense in Phoenix could have conceivably helped the Suns avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Instead, Nash heads into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent likely seeking a multi-year deal with a contender.

Enter the Atlanta Hawks.

First question, can the Hawks contend? I'm sure some of our gentle readers will have a chuckle at that thought. But ask yourself this. With a 3-guard rotation of Nash, Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague (basically this year's rotation with future Hall-of-Famer Nash replacing the under-performing Kirk Hinrich) combined with a healthy front-court rotation of Al Horford, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson, would you then find the question laughable?

Second question, would Nash's perception of the Hawks be more favorable than his current perception of the Suns organization? The answer is obvious. If the Hawks wish to be seen as aggresively pursuing the talent needed to contend, the first step should be to aggressively pursue Steve Nash.

The sexy destinations for Nash such as the Heat, Knicks and Lakers all have formidable salary cap constraints. The Hawks do as well, but with some creative math and a willingness to take risks, I think the Hawks could get it done. I'm neither a cap expert nor a mathematician, so feel free to audit my results in the comments.

Next season, Kirk Hinrich's $8 million salary will be coming off the books. However, scheduled salary increases for Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Smith, Horford and Teague totalling $4,653,478 will cut into the cap room created if the Hawks let Hinrich walk. The Hawks are presently in the luxury tax and would do well to avoid it next season due to increased penalties for repeat taxpayers. Why are the Hawks in the luxury tax? Because of the luxurious additions of Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier. Had the Hawks not made the decision to carry the maximum of 15 players for the entire season, the tax (and the need to sell off a draft pick to pay for it) could have been avoided.

Looking at the minimum salary veterans who will finish the season on the Hawks roster (Damp, Stack, Tracy McGrady, Jason Collins, Vladimir Radmanovic, Willie Green, Jannero Pargo), I think it's safe to say the Hawks can survive next season without at least two of them. Personally, I would only retain T-Mac, Pargo and Green, but I'm sure Rick Sund has other ideas.

Nevertheless, should the Hawks decide to keep the roster minimum of 13 rather than the max of 15 next season, that could potentially save two veteran's minimum salaries of around $1.3m each, creating additional cap space. The real trick is what happens with Ivan Johnson, who will be a restricted free agent subject to the "Gilbert Arenas Rule." This rule stipulates that the most other teams can offer Ivan is the midlevel exception around $5m per season. Assuming that no other team signs Ivan to an offer sheet, the Hawks could retain him for one more season at the qualifying offer of just under $1m. I think chances are good that Ivan will receive an offer for the full midlevel exception. The Hawks would either have to match or see their diamond-in-the-rough go to another team.

If the Hawks are forced to throw up to $5m a season at Ivan Johnson, that eats up a chunk of the space created by Hinrich's departure and carrying fewer players. A little bit more blood could be squeezed out of the turnip by replacing a couple veteran's minimum salaries with undrafted rookies making less than $500,000, as Ivan is this year. But that still doesn't get us anywhere close to the $8m or more a season Nash is sure to command in his final productive years. Where do the Hawks find that money?

Well, you may have noticed in the healthy front court rotation I mentioned above, there was no mention of Marvin Williams. If the Hawks were to use the Amnesty Clause on Marvin, they would have enough money to match any offer to retain Ivan Johnson AND offer Nash a multi-year deal around Marvin's roughly $8m salary. I don't actually believe this is the wisest course, as I feel it's very important for the Hawks to save the Amnesty for Joe in a couple of years. But the Hawks, if they know Nash will sign if the money is there, can find the money. Remember the Hinrich trade? Throw in a couple first rounders and the Hawks can surely find Marvin a nice home.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Initial Feedback: Hawks Clinch Home Court

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.

Joe Johnson: Started cold but it didn't matter with the way the Hawks collectively were shooting in the first half.  Finished hot and got into double figures in only 24 minutes of action.  Was nice to see the starters get a lot of rest before Boston comes into town on Sunday. 5/10

Josh Smith: Incredible first quarter where he was nearly perfect from the floor and was a rebounding and assist machine.  Was 10-of-14 from the field for 23 points, and 1 rebound and 3 assists away from a triple double in a game that he only played 28 minutes. 8/10

Kirk Hinrich: Had some definite hot and cold streaks shooting but finished in double figures while playing the most minutes of any starter by a large margin.  Hopefully Pargo is back on Sunday to spell Kirk so his legs can stay fresh. 3/10

Jason Collins: Don't look now, but over his last 4 games Jason Collins has averaged 5.75 points and 3 rebounds.  Now if only he was putting up those stats as the third of fourth option off the bench at the 5 it might be more reason to celebrate, but perhaps he will show his worth battling Kevin Garnett. 2/10

Jeff Teague: This game showed flashses of the player we all wish Teague would become.  Someone who is both confident taking the open jumper and driving to the basket and finishing strong.  On fire from behind the arc, hitting 3-of-4. Didn't have to contend with Jason Kidd, and Rondo is a slightly better player than Rodrique Beaubois. 7/10

Marvin Williams: Marvin's hot shooting over the past few games cooled off tonight as he only managed 6 points on 9 shot attempts.  Hopefully it was just his rhythm being off due to the blowout and seeing the rest of his teammates throwing up bad jump shots once the game was out of reach. With a short bench lacking in true scorers Marvin will need to keep putting up 12 and 5 on 50.5% shooting (38.5% from behind the arc) like he has in April. 2/10

Ivan Johnson: Seriously, why is Ivan not starting over Jason Collins? Is it just a worry about him getting into foul trouble?  Left over bad feelings over his alleged chewing out of teammates leading to the suspension? Drago was going after everything with intensity tonight and even showed the touch on a few jump shots.  How fun would it be to have Ivan and Zaza coming in behind a healthy Al with Dampier and Collins only a memory? 6/10

Tracy McGrady: TMac was only able to score two points in limited minutes, but had 8 rebounds and 4 assists in his role as court manager of the second unit.  If we're only going to get a single basket each night from TMac, we can only hope it's always as emphatic a dunk as he showed tonight. 3/10

Willie Green: When he makes his shots he's not a bad option for the second unit.  Please keep making your shots. 4/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Had a monster dunk and a sweet touch pass inside to J-Smoove in an otherwise quiet 9 minutes of action.  1/10

Jerry Stackhouse: With no Pargo, Stack got to see some minutes with the starters in the first half.  An atrocious showing shooting ended that experiment after only 12 minutes. 1/10

Erick Dampier: It was in total garbage time, but Damp did grab 4 rebounds in only 5 minutes.  Also was able to get in some practice delivering a hard foul to a guy going up for a layup.  Perhaps his most useful skill. incomplete

The head coach 
You lose potentially your best all-around player in the 11th game of a lockout shortened season and still finish 40-and-26 and with homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Even if Larry Drew is a coach that no one else would want, that's a pretty good season. The injuries have been abundant (10 of the Hawks 15 players have missed time this season), and there have been some poor decisions made both by coaches and players, but this team is about to begin postseason play for the fifth straight season with a chance to do some damage.  The two losses to Boston were both close games (before the blowout win last Friday), and there's no reason to think that we won't see more close games in the upcoming series.  Game 1 tips at 7pm Sunday night in Atlanta. 7/10

A thought regarding the opposition 
Once Atlanta got out to their huge lead in the first quarter Dallas paraded out the reserves.  The Mavericks needed a Denver loss in order to have a shot at the 6 seed, and the Nuggets made sure their game with Minnesota was never in doubt winning by 29.  Instead the reigning NBA champions get to play Oklahoma City in the first round starting on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mavericks Anticipate Motivated Hawks In Finale

With the Celtics defeating the Heat Tuesday night, the Hawks must either win their season finale Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks to secure home court advantage in the first round, or Boston must lose in its finale to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Hawks already put an end to the Clippers' chances of winning the Pacific Division. Now the Hawks must face a Dallas squad that still has a chance to overtake the Denver Nuggets for the 6th seed in the West.'s Jeff Caplan wrote yesterday that Dallas coach Rick Carlisle anticipates playing a Hawks team that will be motivated to win.
"There's a very good possibility that they [the Hawks] will be very motivated to play and win that game," Carlisle said. "Either way, we've got to go into it with the idea that it's an important game for us; how we compete, we want to win. The Hawks have had some injury issues. There's a chance they'll get [Al] Horford back for our game and so we're going to see a team out there that in all likelihood will be very motivated." 
So the Hawks will have no opportunity to rest before the start of the playoffs this weekend. On the positive side, should Al Horford decide to play in Thursday's game against the Mavericks, he will get a taste of meaningful basketball before the playoffs begin. Horford told's Marc J. Spears that he will play against Dallas, although the AJC is reporting that the decision to play Horford has not been made.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Initial Feedback: Home Court Magic Number Down to One

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.


Joe Johnson: Joe had a team high 28 points and was 6-of-9 from 3 (including the incredibly lucky 31 foot bank shot as the shot clock expired). Absolutely lethal when left completely alone behind the arc and consistently made the Clippers pay for leaving him out there. His 7 rebounds helped lead the Hawks to a number of second chance points.  8/10

Josh Smith: Able to successfully attack the basket against Griffin, going for 18 and 10, but had trouble on the defensive side of the ball. Too many jump shots, but led the team in assists on a night where it seemed everyone was looking for the open man. 6/10

Jason Collins: Does give the Hawks a warm body that can commit personal fouls against the opponent's big men. 2/10

Kirk Hinrich: It'd be nice to say that it was Kirk's defense that helped hold Randy Foye scoreless, but it was probably more Griffin and Paul combining for 70 points and no one else doing much of anything offensively. Would be great if he could keep hitting from 3 at a 50% clip. 3/10

Jeff Teague: Teague's not as fast as Chris Paul, but he looked all pro compared to the effort Pargo gave. Really turned it on offensively at the end of the 3rd and during the 4th quarter which made up for his deficiencies defensively. Perfect from the line to guarantee the victory. 7/10

Marvin Williams: Marvin's still hot hand helped anchor the second unit that played perhaps a few minutes too many and kept the game interesting until the end. Even still, the reserves all finished in positive territory and played at least 19 minutes in a game that had the Hawks with a short bench. 5/10

Tracy McGrady: At times it would be nice to see TMac finish at the rim when he drives, but the respect he gets with that penetration leads to wide open jump shots by guys like Joe Johnson. 3/10

Willie Green: Got a friendly bounce off the rim on a first half three that later betrayed him when it rejected him on a breakaway dunk attempt. Had a quiet 9 points in his 19 minutes.  3/10

Jannero Pargo: Absolutely abused by Chris Paul, which happens to most second unit point guards. Would have helped if Pargo's jump shot was falling instead of him only making 1-of-7 from the floor including missing all four three point attempts. 1/10

Ivan Johnson: Ivan played decently on the defensive end against Griffin, but it was his two sick blocks and two monster put-back dunks that most stood out this game. Fun to dream of the days when Horford is back starting and Ivan can help anchor the second unit with Zaza. 4/10

The head coach In the second quarter it was the second unit that went on a run and got the Hawks a lead, as well as helped maintain that lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, in both instances Drew left them in a few minutes too long leading to runs by the Clippers putting the game in doubt. 4/10

A thought regarding the opposition Losing tonight cost the Clippers a shot at the Pacific Division crown, and now they need to win Wednesday in New York to guarantee home court advantage against Memphis.

Hawks Could Be Back In Hunt For Dwight Howard

With Stephen A. Smith's report that Dwight Howard will demand a trade at the conclusion of this season, the Atlanta Hawks could be back in play as a trade partner for the Orlando Magic. Marc Stein reported in December that the Hawks entered discussions with the Magic about a potential trade scenario.
"Sources told that the aforementioned Hawks, meanwhile, engaged Orlando in trade talks for Howard earlier this month with an offer believed to be headlined by $124 million guard Joe Johnson and swingman Josh Smith. You have to figure that the Magic, though, would insist on Al Horford if such discussions ever got serious.
The Hawks are not on Howard's short list of preferred trade destinations alongside the Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, even though Atlanta is his hometown. That's presumably because Howard wants no part of Atlanta's perpetually unsettled ownership situation. The Hawks nonetheless took the risk of pursuing Howard anyway without any assurances about how long he’d be willing to stay and, according to sources, felt like they were making some semblance of progress before the Magic shut down talks."
The way the season-long drama with Howard has played out could ultimately make the Hawks a more attractive destination than was originally believed. Howard's agent was given permission to speak to the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks regarding trade scenarios. Nets center Brook Lopez was injured subsequently, dampening any enthusiasm on the part of the Magic to make an immediate deal. Horford was then injured, which appeared to take the Hawks out of the running as well.

However, after the trade deadline passed and Howard opted in for the final year of his contract, a report surfaced that the Magic had used a threat of trading Howard to the Lakers as leverage.

"Sources for months maintained Howard wanted no part of the Lakers, that he did not want to follow the legacy of Shaquille O’Neal. Orlando leaders had one other reason for the threat: They favored the Lakers’ package of Andrew Bynum, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake over the Nets’ offer."
The New York Post further claimed that Howard, despite an initial short list that included the Lakers, was adamant that he wanted to land with the Nets. By opting in for the final year of his contract, Howard may have ensured that he ends up with neither team. The Lakers are unlikely to part with Andrew Bynum if Howard has decided he doesn't want to play for them. And by opting in for the final year of his contract, Howard has provided the Magic with additional leverage to seek a better offer than what the Nets or Mavericks could assemble.

I previously questioned what benefit in terms of wins and loses was produced by Stan Van Gundy's decision to throw Howard under the bus and brand him a coach killer. If Smith's report proves to be correct, Van Gundy will have done irreparable harm to the Magic franchise. Was Howard really so averse to spending a few weeks as a Laker before becoming an unrestricted free agent that he opted in? The idea that Howard sincerely wanted to do right by Magic fans is plausible. But now he faces what must be kryptonite to a would-be superhero: the prospect of spending the rest of his career as a villain.

Thus why the Hawks suddenly become a more attractive destination. Howard desperately wants to be loved, and Atlanta presents a unique opportunity to push a team into contention while providing a prime NBA market with the superstar it has been dying for. A package of Joe Johnson and Horford for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu's poisonous contract is really the best solution for all parties. Magic owner Rich DeVos is elderly, not interested in a lengthy rebuild and willing and able to take on payroll. A 6-time All-Star guard plus the reigning 3rd-team All NBA center (who won an NCAA title at Florida) is probably the best package Orlando will be offered. And for those who point to Johnson's inevitable decline as his salary increases, keep in mind that the Magic took on Gilbert Arenas' contract when the latter was years removed from playing at an All Star level.

Meanwhile Howard gets the opportunity to single-handedly raise Hawks attendance out of the cellar while earning the adulation of the city where he was born and raised. For the Hawks there is a great deal of risk unless Howard signs long term, but the upside is too great to ignore. For one thing, landing Howard may be the best chance the Hawks have of retaining Josh Smith beyond next season. Present signs indicate Smith may be counting the days until he can leave the Hawks. But one season in Atlanta with Howard as a teammate could be so magical that it convinces both to sign long term.

Assuming the above trade scenario, if Howard played the last year of his contract without signing an extension, he and Josh would be unrestricted free agents after next season. The Hawks would be free of salary commitments other than a qualifying offer to Jeff Teague and player options for Marvin Williams and Turkoglu (further assuming the Hawks had not signed Ivan Johnson to a long-term deal). If both Turk and Marvin opted in for their final year, the Hawks could Amnesty Williams and try to find a taker for Turk's expiring contract, making the team salary-free. Indeed, the threat of using the Amesty Clause on Williams might be enough to convince him to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent rather than end up on a high-bidding lottery team. This would put the team in position to emulate the Miami Heat by bringing in a third star such as Chris Paul and rounding out the roster with a mix of minimum-salary veterans and low cost/high value players such as Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson.

Sound like wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I challenge Hoopinion's readers to come up with a trade scenario more beneficial to the Magic, with the presumption that the Lakers and Andrew Bynum are off the table.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Initial Feedback: Joe Johnson's Face On A Fourth Quarter Milk Carton

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: First it was Kevin Garnett with his "that guy's a nobody" comment. In this game, Teague was obviously getting under Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony's skin. As good as Teague looked taking the ball away from Baron Davis and getting to the basket, he looked just as bad on defense allowing Davis, not one of the faster players in the league, to get uncontested layups. 5/10

Joe Johnson: Shut down by Iman Shumpert on consecutive posessions at the end of the fourth quarter. Add Shumpert to the list of wing defenders that Joe has nothing for when it counts. 5/10

Kirk Hinrich: They traded two first round picks to get rid of Mike Bibby, then Kirk Hinrich became Mike Bibby. 1/10

Josh Smith: Shot 1-for-5 outside the paint. With one of the game's best interior defenders absent, you would have liked to see Josh do more damage inside. The five turnovers didn't help either, and his technical foul for arguing with the refs provided New York with the winning margin. 4/10

Marvin Williams: Easily Marvin's best game of the season, but it comes against a team missing its starting center. This allowed Marvin to attack the basket, something he doesn't have consistent success doing. Was fouled by Anthony on the final drive to the basket. I'm not sure why the Hawks didn't protest the fact. 9/10

Willie Green: Matched Ivan Johnson for the worst +/- on the team. 3/10

Ivan Johnson: Although Ivan scored only 1 point in 13 minutes, he drew two charges and made Stoudemire work for every bucket in the first half. In the second half, Stoudemire had had enough and started attacking off the dribble. Ivan looks better defending against players that try to power through him, a near-impossible task. On face-up plays, you see how far Ivan has to go as a defender. 3/10

Jannero Pargo: As good as Pargo looked knocking down threes, he looked completely helpless trying to guard a bigger, stronger, faster Shumpert. When Teague finally got back into the game before halftime, he immediately matched Shumpert's athleticism with a highlight block. 5/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: When you can't even box out a guard, Landry Fields, on a missed free throw and prevent a follow layup, what exactly is the point of having Radmanovic near the basket? 1/10

Tracy McGrady: In a tight game in which McGrady could have made a contribution, he did very little in his 13 minutes. 2/10

The head coach
Letting Teague play the entire first quarter without the early hook was an unusual and welcome change, but Larry Drew waited too long to get Teague back in before halftime. Drew left Pargo on the floor because of hot shooting but let his poor defense get exploited before getting Teague back in. The second half was like groundhog day. Teague was ready to check in after a Stoudemire dunk created when Baron Davis got by Pargo. Next play the Knicks exploited Pargo again for a wide open Davis three. Going back to last year's Chicago series when Drew was late to react to the Bulls deliberately abusing Jason Collins' foot speed, Drew has been consistently slow to make adjustments. 3/10

A thought regarding the opposition
This was a nice win for the Knicks, who still have a chance to finish 6th and avoid Chicago or Miami in the first round. The Hawks blew a chance to go two games up on the Celtics in the loss column, and may not get a chance to rest the starters in the season's final two games.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Initial Feedback: Of Possums and Sheep Dogs

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.

Joe Johnson: When Josh Smith and Joe Johnson checked out of the game with 20 seconds to play and the win finally secure, Hawks public address announcer Ryan Cameron tried to pump up the crowd to give them an ovation. I was reminded of a Monty Python movie: “And there was much rejoicing… yay!” 7/10

Josh Smith: The Hawks’ body language throughout this game showed how much of a humiliation it was to need a full effort to beat a team missing 5 of its top 7 rotation players. 6/10

Jason Collins: Ivan Johnson has had nice games this year against All-Star centers Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert, and a relatively-healthy Andrew Bogut. Jason Collins had a nice game against Greg Stiemsma. 6/10

Kirk Hinrich: We can only take comfort in the fact that the only player on Boston’s roster slow enough for Kirk to guard, Ray Allen, did not play in this game. 3/10

Jeff Teague: We can only hope that Teague was playing possum and that he will flip the switch in the playoffs. Otherwise this Jekyll and Hyde routine is a bad horror movie I don’t care to watch. 2/10

Tracy McGrady: T-Mac has had a series of strong performances that seemed to say, “I’m shaking the rust off and ready to contribute in the playoffs.” That series ended with a 1point, 4 rebound, 5 turnover performance in 14 minutes. 2/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Watching Vlad try to check a player like Keyon Dooling on the perimeter is like watching a fire hydrant try to check Keyon Dooling on the perimeter. 4/10

Jannero Pargo: Shot only 1-for-4, all from three point range, but had three assists against only one turnover in 17 minutes. I’ll take it. We know Jannero can hit shots. 4/10

Willie Green: I talk bad about Willie for having the worst aggregate +/- for the season for the Hawks, but he has won several games with his shooting. This was another. 6/10

Ivan Johnson: Ivan was building a bit of a legend for himself as a player with a burning desire to win and willingness to call out his teammates for lack of effort. Failure to cross the half court line for an entire defensive possession will not help build that legend. 3/10

Marvin Williams: The box score says he played 23 minutes. I didn’t notice. 3/10

The head coach
Larry Drew often paces the sideline whistling like a manic shepherd with 5 blind sheep dogs. In this game he pointedly disdained to rise from his chair and act as if he was coaching against Doc Rivers. Drew told the AJC he didn’t want to “tip his hand” about offensive and defensive changes he has prepared for the playoffs. It’s good to think we won’t see one busted isolation after another in the postseason. I was starting to wonder if the Hawks have an offense. 3/10

A thought regarding the opposition
As Joe and Josh checked out to their rousing ovation, Doc Rivers stood on the sideline, clipboard in hand, ready to draw up another play trailing by 7 with 20 seconds to play. He came close to beating the Hawks with two starters and players 8 through 15 in the Celtics’ rotation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hobbled Hawks Meet Short-Handed Celtics in Possible First Round Playoff Preview

As Joe Johnson told Atlanta Journal-Constitution Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore following the Hawks' 116-84 victory over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday, "We control our own destiny. We just have to win out and everything else will take care of itself."

This is true, as the Hawks remain one game ahead of the Boston Celtics in the loss column. The Hawks must finish with a better record than the Celtics to win home court advantage in the first round since Boston owns the tie-break, having won the season series.

So, as Joe said, the Hawks just need to win out. Easier said than done. The Hawks finish the season with 4 home games against teams that have clinched playoff berths. Starting with tonight's matchup against possible first round opponent the Celtics, the Hawks close the season against the Knicks on Sunday, The L.A. Clippers on Tuesday and the defending-champion Mavericks on Thursday.

Should the Hawks fail to secure home court advantage, they may come to regret their failure to show up against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Meanwhile, Orlando remains a game behind the Hawks and will have a hard time overtaking them for the 5th seed. The Magic, after news of Dwight Howard's season-ending back surgery, face road games against Utah, Denver and Memphis (all in playoff position) with a single home game against Charlotte.

Thus, tonights game at Phillips Arena against the Celtics has a reasonable probability of being a preivew of the Hawks' first round playoff series. A win tonight would put the Hawks two games ahead of the Celtics in the loss column, allowing a slightly greater margin for error. In that scenario, the Hawks would need to go 2-1 against their remaining opponents to finish with a better record than the Celtics.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat's 83-72 win over the Chicago Bulls Thursday night has tightened the race for the top seed. Chicago remains a game up in the loss column, but if the teams finish with identical records, the tie break could be interesting. The teams split four regular season games and both won division titles, eliminating two potential tie break scenarios. The third tie break would be winning percentage against Eastern Conference teams (Chicago is currently 36-10, Miami 35-10), followed by winning percentage against playoff teams from the Eastern Conference, then the Western Conference. The final tie break would be net points from all games played.

The significance for the Hawks of the tight race for the top playoff seed in the conference is that the Celtics will play a motivated Heat squad Tuesday after facing the Hawks. A loss to the Heat by the Celtics would provide the Hawks with additional margin for error.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Initial Feedback: Current Expectation Levels

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.


A thought regarding the opposition
The Detroit Pistons helped render any discussion of tonight's basketball game meaningless. Therefore, player and coach ratings in tonight's initial feedback post are indicative of season-to-date performance. The playoffs can't arrive fast enough.

Jeff Teague: Provide an offensive alternative as an intermittent one-man fast break and by running the pick-and-roll adequately when Jason Collins isn't on the floor creating a man disadvantage. Passing up many open three-point shots. Steals and blocks to make up for points allowed when beaten. 6/10

Kirk Hinrich: Keep his man in front of him the majority of the time. Needs to make more than one open, spot-up jumper a game. 3/10

Joe Johnson: Make a high percentage of open shots. Make a relatively high percentage of difficult shots late in the shot clock. Keep his man in front of him some of the time. Make quicker move when on the block so his post ups don't always turn into 20-foot Josh Smith jumpers. 7/10

Josh Smith: Remain a tremendously productive player while exercising terrible shot selection and never, ever blocking someone out before going after defensive rebounds. The fascinating favorite. 8/10

Jason Collins: Obstruct the path to the basket. Keep Erick Dampier on the bench. 1/10

Marvin Williams: Rebound 18-20% of opponent misses while on the floor. Keep toes behind the three-point line. Attack the basket three times a game. 5/10

Ivan Johnson: See the ball, get the ball, put the ball in the basket. Don't even think about getting in foul trouble until either Zaza or Horford returns. 5/10

Willie Green: Continue to focus solely on scoring. Remain efficient enough in doing so to earn 15 minutes a night when you've got it. Be able to put it behind you following the nights when you play seven minutes because you've got nothing. 4/10

Tracy McGrady: I have no expectations for Tracy McGrady and have no idea if consecutive productive, out-of-nowhere performances in blowouts against bad teams portend playoff contributions or are just indicative of the occasional night when McGrady feels good. ?/10

Jannero Pargo: Take shots, make shots. If not, get off the court before the turnovers start to hurt. 3/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: When the back abides: spread the floor, shoot on sight, help on the defensive glass. 2/10

Jerry Stackhouse: Intangibles and nothing but. 1/10

Erick Dampier: Not applicable. 0/10

The head coach
Consistently put effective defensive lineups on the floor. Ride his top six or seven players until they collapse once the playoffs begin. Live or die on the basis of making jump shots. Never forget that's why you need to put effective defensive lineups on the floor. 6/10

Monday, April 16, 2012

Initial Feedback: Joe, Are You Ready?

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.


Joe Johnson: Johnson has made some half-hearted attempts to call out his teammates to the press, but his comments after last night's humiliation at the hand of the Raptors took the cake. Joe claimed that Hawks players were "not ready" in a game in which Joe wasn't even ready to check in after a dead ball, leaving the Hawks with 4 players on the court. It's not known if Joe included himself among the players who were "not ready." It seems nobody asked Joe the simple question, "Joe, were you ready?" Between the homer broadcast team and the fragmented print coverage, it's hard to know anything about the Hawks (see Ivan Johnson below). No Magic City in Toronto. Joe goes for 18. 6/10

Jeff Teague: The fact that Teague is capable of 2 points and 2 assists one night and then 19 points and 10 assists the next night against the same badly-depleted team does not speak well of the organizational culture of the Atlanta Hawks. 6/10

Kirk Hinrich: Scored 6 points with 1 assist in 27 minutes. With news that Zaza may be lost for the season with a foot injury, the Hawks will need to finally get a return on its investment in Kirk. 2/10

Josh Smith: Showed up two nights in a row. 6/10

Jason Collins: The Hawks' optimal lineup at this point is Ivan starting at center, Josh at power forward, Marvin back into the starting lineup at small forward (to add rebounding and size to help replace Zaza's production), Joe back at shooting guard and Teague at point. Look for Collins to start the rest of the way. At least it gives the Hawks a better chance of dropping to 6th and avoiding the Celtics in the first round. 2/10

Marvin Williams: Maybe he wouldn't be so apathetic if he hadn't grown up on a team with Joe Johnson as its team leader. 6/10

Ivan Johnson: Toronto Raptors color analyst Sherman Hamilton said during the broadcast that he had spoken to several people within the Hawks organization to ask why Ivan Johnson was suspended. He was told that Ivan "got into the entire team" about effort during a timeout in the loss at Boston. As you can see, this isn't a message the Hawks need to hear, thus the suspension. Thank you, Raptors broadcast team. We don't get that type of coverage here in Atlanta. 10/10

Tracy McGrady: Scored 11 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 21 minutes. With Zaza lost for the season, we "should" be seeing what T-Mac has left in the tank. That is unless Larry Drew decides to give Collins 30 minutes a game. 5/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Will likely be seeing a lot of minutes at power forward, despite his distinct incapacity to play the position. Shot 1-for-1 on 3's. The Hawks will need him to hover around that percentage in future games. 3/10

Jannero Pargo: Marked present 2/10

The head coach
In light of what Drew suspended Johnson for (essentially to protect the egos of guys like Joe Johnson who has a max contract and doesn't want his effort questioned by a minimum-salary rookie), I retract every positive comment I have ever made about Drew. Any competent head coach would have immediately made Ivan a team captain. Also, as noted above regarding Teague, competent NBA head coaches get consistent performances from their teams without undrafted rookies having to preach effort. 1/10

A thought regarding the opposition
As I told National Post writer Eric Koreen in an email last weekend, "Glad to see [Dwane] Casey getting props... wish he was in Atlanta."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Initial Feedback: Dwane Casey, Huh

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: A victim of Aaron Gray's one-man zone clogging the lane in the first five minutes but Teague did nothing to redeem matters once Jason Collins left the game. Ben Uzoh's inability to shoot (What are the odds 'Nique had no idea he'd already seen Uzoh, while with the Nets, play against the Hawks this season?) should have given Teague a similar freedom to have an impact defensively. It did not. 2/10

Kirk Hinrich: Rushing back from his shoulder surgery somewhat overshadowed the apparent reality that Hinrich just doesn't have much left. Gave a game effort defending DeRozan in the post and, yes, the Hawks should have sent him help in those situations but, at the same time, his involvement in Alan Anderson's early Crawford rather set the tone for the game. 2/10

Joe Johnson: A good season doesn't entirely disguise the fact that he can't really contribute when he's not making shots. 3/10

Josh Smith: Far and away the Hawks' best player. His early jump shots were as much a function of Jason Collins' presence as Smith's own predilections. His third quarter jump shots go in the "Never Trust the Hawks" file. Both because the team's comeback centered around sets wherein Smith had the option to take six jumpers in a quarter and that Smith took that option six times. 6/10

Jason Collins: Given the injuries to Horford and Pachulia, Jason Collins might have needed to play five minutes in this game. One hopes, if put in that situation, one would postpone that eventuality as long as possible. Instead, the Hawks, upon including Jason Collins in the starting lineup, seemed determined to have him touch the ball on every possession. Dig your own hole. 1/10

Ivan Johnson: More than just not Jason Collins yet not enough to anchor a second unit. 5/10

Marvin Williams: Competent but unable to impact games consistently. Poor cap management and lack of depth gives him an outsized importance to the team. 3/10

Jannero Pargo: Just because he's having a career year doesn't mean he's a good player. This could get ugly in the playoffs. 1/10

Willie Green: See Jannero Pargo. Scored half of his 14 points in the final three meaningless minutes. 3/10

Vladimir Radmanovic: Pargo and Green minus having the carer year. 2/10

Jerry Stackhouse: This game was so enervating that Jerry Stackhouse didn't attempt a shot in garbage time. 1/10

Erick Dampier: If Erick Dampier can't get on the court when the team's top two centers are hurt and almost an entire quarter is treated as garbage time, then why is he on the roster? Related, what do you think Erick Dampier weighs right now? No rating

The head coach
Once again, the injuries aren't his fault but the unrelentingly below average offense and reluctance to adjust defensively are. 2/10

A thought regarding the opposition
The case was made for Dwane Casey's ability to scheme and convince his players (not even really his players in this case, given the prevalence of 10-day contracts) to execute defensively. That the Raptors players have every reason to go get theirs offensively, the relentlessness with which they played to their (rather limited) strengths impressed as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hawks Need 76ers' & Bucks' Help to Finish 3rd

I had pretty much written off any possibility of the Hawks catching the Pacers after the loss to the Celtics. Indiana has a number of games against mediocre teams remaining. However, I hadn't looked very closely at which teams those opponents were. Over their next 5 games, the Pacers play Milwaukee twice and Philladelphia twice, two teams that are battling for the final playoff spot in the East. The other opponent is Minnesota, which is struggling. But in those 4 games against the 76ers and Bucks, nobody is going to lay down for the Pacers.

Meanwhile, between now and April 21st when the Pacers play the last game of that 5-game stretch, the Hawks play Toronto twice, then the Pistons, and then the Celtics on Friday, April 20th. Let's say, just for laughs, the Hawks go 4-0 in those 4 games while the Pacers go 3-2. The Pacers would be 40-24 and the Hawks 39-24, a half game back. At that point, the Hawks would control their own destiny as they would be even in the loss column with Indiana. If the Hawks finish with the same record as the Pacers, they own the tie break by virtue of winning the season series.

As for the upcoming home-and-away set with Toronto, the Hawks can take nothing for granted after a massively-depleted Raptors squad stunned the Celtics last night. Here's a piece by Eric Koreen in the National Post that is yet another example of how Dwane Casey continues to get rave reviews even as his team has struggled. Quoth Casey:
"They’re playing for home-court advantage. We’re playing for pride. We’re playing for culture. That’s about it. Everybody who was in uniform tonight contributed to that. This win was huge."