Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Brief Preview Advocating Something Extreme

The Hawks are deserved underdogs (about 33% to win the series at this writing) -- they were worse in the regular season than the Wizards and Washington is a bad matchup for the Hawks to boot. John Wall and Bradley Beal* are too productive for the Hawks' dynamic offensive duo of Dennis Schröder and Tim Hardaway, Jr to get away with their "What if Lillard and McCollum weren't especially good?" act. Instead of playing out the string conventionally and losing on merit, why not make bold choices in an effort to win and, failing that, at least lose** interestingly?

*Who is actually good year-round at this point which should allow me to leave behind (finally) my weird tendency to overrate the Wizards every October despite thinking Beal isn't very good.

**Easy for me to say as my employment situation will be entirely unaffected by the results of this series.

Ideally, the Hawks would put their best perimeter defender, Thabo Sefolosha, on Washington's best perimeter offensive player, John Wall, and figure out the rest from there. But Bud has extensive previous in not regularly cross-matching Paul Millsap and Al Horford on LeBron James so expect to see Schröder get toasted by Wall. To be fair to Bud, Schröder isn't that much less likely to get exposed chasing Beal around the perimeter or resisting the urge to ball-watch and losing track of Otto Porter, Jr. (Samesies for Hardaway, Jr. trying to guard either of Washington's wings.) 

Such is the fate of a playoff team that gets outscored by 70 points in the regular season: putting one of the best perimeter defenders in the world, blessed with length, strength, and quick hands, on a ball-dominant player (Wall) whose career eFG% outside of the restricted area is 36.8% offers but a partial solution.

What, then, can the Hawks do to pull an upset?

The Wizards have four good players plus Markieff Morris*. They will lean heavily on their starters, but they can't reduce their pitiful bench's contribution to 0 minutes played. On the other hand, how pitiful can a bench look if they get to play almost exclusively against Jose Calderon, Kris Humphries, and Mikey Dunleavy?

*Who renders the good/bad binary insufficient.

Marcin Gortat is the only one of the aforementioned good Wizards the Hawks can profoundly inhibit via a tactical decision by relentlessly going small/playing five-out. Gortat's a fine matchup for Dwight Howard, but vice versa. Making Gortat extend to guard Millsap or Mike Muscala (or Taurean Prince if Washington chooses to cross-match Morris onto Millsap) puts pressure on one piece of a superior starting five. If it encourages Scott Brooks to use the vastly inferior Jason Smith more, all the better. (Considering the Hawks don't have the option of putting more than three good offensive players on the court at one time, getting the opponent to remove one good defender might be their best shot at overachieving their putrid regular season standard of offensive production.)

Conversely, if Dwight Howard plays his typical 30 minutes a night, Jason Smith getting the injured Ian Mahinmi's minutes creates a small danger Scott Brooks could exploit: uncontested Jason Smith (36.6% career three-point shooter) three-point attempts. 

Dwight Howard doesn't close out on shooters. 1) He isn't really physically capable of doing so, and 2) He's more focused on getting defensive rebounds than forcing misses at this point in his career. The Hawks already struggle to take advantage of basketball math due to their dearth of good shooters. They can't exacerbate the talent differential on the perimeter by giving up multiple open threes per game to Jason Smith while Dwight Howard points in his direction.

The truly nightmarish first quarter timeline would be:
  1. Howard draws two early fouls on Gortat, makes one of the four resulting free throw attempts
  2. Jason Smith checks in, makes consecutive threes
  3. While Dwight pulls faces, Dennis Schröder, unsolicited, offers his opinion
  4. Hawks timeout
Advocating a thorough (yet temporary) marginalization of Dwight Howard isn't a referendum on his general usefulness. There are still things he can do to contribute to winning basketball games. However, due to poor roster construction, those things don't complement the majority of his teammates, who need helpful spacing and passing to accomplish even slightly below average things on offense.

I doubt Bud will demonstrate the humility and short-term flexibility to give Dwight Howard two weeks off in order to increase the chances of playing a second round* of playoff basketball, but the opportunity exists to be unafraid

*Presuming the Celtics win a playoff series for the first time since 2012, the second round would offer a better matchup than the Wizards for both the Hawks (not just because they would have the best player in that series), and Howard, who would have a legitimate opportunity to exploit a Boston weakness by crashing the offensive boards while generally getting to stay within his sphere of defensive influence guarding Amir Johnson on the other end.

Prediction
  • Wizards in 5
Alternative, conditional prediction
  • Hawks in 6 (if Dwight Howard plays less than 75 total minutes in the series)

1 comment:

nich obert said...

I watch too much wizards and i I can't remember the last time I felt more comfortable with Gortat on the floor than Smith.

It always feels like i'm being irrational, but then Smith pickpockets a guard on the perimeter, dunks and drains a 3 in like 45 seconds and my brain shuts down