Monday, November 07, 2016

Explore Your Limitations

At some point Monday night, I saw the future and it was ironic. May 2017: A 50-win Hawks team loses in the first round of the playoffs (despite excellent defense across the 6 games). This is the punchline, many pitch their own setups to the joke about the team that maximizes its potential over six months, then submits to variance over two weeks.

Two nights later the Hawks, as a 12-point favorite and -1000 to win outright, allowed 123 points on (approximately) 102 possessions to the Los Angeles Lakers. They lost a home game, as overwhelming favorites, wherein Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway, Jr. combined for 57 points (on 26 shots, no less!). This result did not assuage my fears* about how the team might struggle once the schedule gets more difficult.

*This result recontextualized things for me a bit.

Based on the evidence of their professional basketball careers, the Hawks have two good offensive players: Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver. I suspect that will become an issue, above and beyond collective tactical buy-in and competence, once the playoffs begin AT THE LATEST. 

One could argue it became an issue another two nights later when the Hawks followed up the 13 points on 16 shots from Millsap and Korver in the Lakers game with 19 points on 23 shots from them in Washington. Add in a team effort of 16-57 from beyond the arc (11-47 for non-Hardaways) across the two games and the margin for error bends toward definition.

This is a really good defensive team. The Lakers game proved that doesn't guarantee 82 instances of success, but the Hawks will be difficult to score against more often than not. Many nights, they will be absurdly difficult to score against. Especially as long as Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala provide enough decent offense to solidify themselves as (offense) consequence-free primary reserves.

The Houston Rockets may or may not turn out to be a good team this season. I suspect they will be the inverse of the Hawks, perhaps even more extreme in their lack of balance between offense and defense. The Rockets, despite the brilliance of James Harden, could not score easily against the Hawks. This is a very good sign. Scoring against the Rockets moves me not a whit. Preventing them from scoring? That warped optimism from Monday returned.

Bonus rational thought section
Showing my work, here's the Hawks against the closing Pinnacle moneyline through six games:
Date Opponent Closing xWin% Result xWinSum Wins Diff
27-Oct Washington -172 63.2% 1 0.63 1 0.37
29-Oct at Philadelphia -365 78.5% 1 1.42 2 0.58
31-Oct Sacramento -290 74.4% 1 2.16 3 0.84
2-Nov LA Lakers -1000 90.9% 0 3.07 3 -0.07
4-Nov at Washington 102 49.5% 0 3.57 3 -0.57
5-Nov Houston -155 60.8% 1 4.17 4 -0.17

Four wins is roughly par against this schedule, per the betting market. Fair enough.

On the other hand, the Hawks have lost two games by 10 points combined while not winning a game by fewer than 11 points yet. They're +63 through 6 games (+31 in non-Sixers games, which is, perhaps, an over-correction given that the Sixers haven't lost any other game Joel Embiid has participated in by more than 6 points). The schedule will get tougher, but, however you cut it, that's a pretty nice margin of victory rate against any other professional collective.

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