Saturday, November 19, 2016

Friday Night Playoff Preview

The fourth quarter in Charlotte on Friday night wasn't a portent of playoff doom, but I suspect we'll see something similar again in April. Not the spectacle* of Dwight Howard getting ejected, but the mostly empty offensive possessions the Hawks managed from 5:54 to 1:17 of fourth quarter.

*Howard wasn't playing especially well before the ejection, his frustration with Cody Zeller causing him to call for the ball in the post which, at best, wasted several seconds of half-court possessions. The Hornets could afford to over-defend Howard, fronting him in the post and sagging toward him from weakside because the only Hawk you absolutely can't help off of (someone tell the Bucks this) is Kyle Korver.

Mike Muscala missing everything on a wide-open corner 3, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schröder losing the ball in the lane after working to beat the initial defender aren't examples of a flawed process, something that can (or needs to) be fixed. They're examples of useful players butting up against the limits of their abilities. Sometimes they will convert those opportunities but more often they simply won't be able.

Swarm Millsap, don't help off of Korver, and force the other Hawks on the floor to make plays will be the default defensive strategy against this team on every possession that matters. Dwight Howard's freedom to go after offensive rebounds offers something the Hawks have not previously had on the back-end of initial possessions that end in a missed shot, but he doesn't add much on the front-end* of them.

*The Schröder/Howard pick-and-roll may develop enough to change my mind, but right now, teams can throw one to one-and-a-half help defenders toward it safe in the knowledge that Schröder largely operates on a binary - shoot or throw a lob to Howard - decision tree.

Running out Malcolm Delaney, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Muscala, and either Paul Millsap or Dwight Howard to grind down opposing second units is a good thing, and a viable path to 50 regular season wins. An effective second unit will be less valuable in the playoffs, where the margins are narrower*, and the team's inability to put multiple multi-dimensional offensive players on the court simultaneously will strangle a fair number of crucial offensive possessions.

*Unless you draw a clearly inferior version of yourself, as the Hawks did in the first round last season.

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