Friday, November 27, 2009

Fifty-Four, Twenty-Five

First of all--Happy Thanksgiving. And we mean that.

Now, if you want to know about the game tonight, then 54-25. That's all you need to know.

54-25 was the score of the second half of the 93-76 home embarrassment on Thanksgiving night, courtesy of the can't-beat-em-or-join-em Orlando Magic. 

54-25 represented the worst of what this team can be. It was an accumulation of errors and poor play that turned an energetic, hard working team in one half into a lost, clueless bunch in the other.

What 54-25 displayed was a turn in the game on the Orlando offensive end, as the Magic stopped settling for outside shots and blasted a hole into the lane and creating shots and second chance opportunities that were not there in the first half. Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, and even Rashard Lewis came out banging and stunned the Hawks into submission. That frontcourt outscored the Hawks 57-22 for the game.

This led to a deterioration of shot selection on the Hawks end, as the inability to keep Orlando out of the hoop in the second half led to more time to settle in defensively for Orlando on the other end and much, much harder shots for the Hawks. In the first half, some outside shots were falling, which probably gave the hosts a significantly false sense of security as they tried to shoot their way out of the slump and instead lost more energy and momentum in the process.

54-25 showed the Hawks that they can't be so careless with possessions as they have been in previous seasons. Too many good opportunities were there for the Hawks in the first half that were frittered away by needlessly flippant passes. As the Magic battened down the hatches in the second half, the Hawks probably would have liked to have had a few of those ops back.

As the Hawks settled in for a parade of one-on-one possessions and eschewing most of what had led them to a double-digit halftime lead to begin with, they also lost the energy that permeated their production in that half.

That the Hawks shot a shockingly low (7) free throws serves to underline the passive nature of the team. There was hardly any movement, any drive/kick out and reversal of the floor to create space, any semblance of a team approach to the offensive end of the floor and the results grimly portrayed the effect of such play.

Side Bets

Kenny Smith of TNT at halftime spent the majority of his take lauding the team offensive approach the Hawks used in the first half, saying that they "finally had an offense". He took the time to show that the number of passes exceeded the number of dribbles in most possessions. Somethings tells THHB that the Hawks failed that particular litmus test of offensive prowess in the second half. Just guessing.

Smith noted that the Hawks hadn't been on national TV on a holiday in part to their lack of approach on the offensive end. If that truly is the standard of excellence by which teams are placed on that network, then Atlanta's second half performance may have exiled the team for quite a while--at the very least it showed that they are only half ready for such a forum.

While we're on the TNT telecast, we have to say that they can keep the Birds on NBATV or whoever versus having Dick Stockton do anymore Hawks telecasts. Stockton is a legend, but he is approximately (27) steps too slow in his calling of the game or even the in-game, ready-made graphics that require a peppy narration. It hinders the enjoyment of the telecast when two guys can't keep up with the flow of the game.


We liked the new jerseys--and it's a shame that they couldn't be worn in a more celebratory manner. With Josh Smith and Al Horford flying and dunking in the first half, it looked like the ATL alternatives would be winners---Now, they are just as dastardly as the ill-fated McDonald's jerseys which when worn brought not-too-much success as well.

The team was sloppy, but aggressive and took care of the defensive end which allowed the Birds to get out to that (12) point halftime lead. But when the Magic adjusted with an aggressive attack inside on the Hawks, the team went into the collective fetal position and never recovered.

It showed how strong and weak the team can be---all in a (48) minute span.

THHB ignored Coach Woodson's warning about the effects of a heavy meal before the game. Demerits and other penalties can be assessed in the Comments Area.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bursting Bubbles

Funny thing about winning streaks, especially one like the Atlanta Hawks have been on lately,  is that you can never see them coming to an end.

Logically, THHB could never see any scenario where the club would finish 80-2, but we were well into the streak enough to lose track of how they can lose a game. After all, it hasn't exactly been precision playmaking at every part of every game that had gotten the Hawks to that point--so what kind of combination could?

Well, as the New Orleans Hornets showed (rather rudely we'll add--play like you want to win---harrumph to that) if you play with a lot of hunger and hit all your outside shots while the Hawks can't even finish a layup--hey, you may be in the business of a regular season upset.

The Hawks started the game 10-2 and then stopped doing anything consistently enough to stop the Three Train from the Hornets. New Orleans hit a ghastly 12-17 of their longer range attempts--some of them wide open/some not---while the Hawks hit only 4 of 22.

When the shots stopped falling from the outside, the Birds headed inside--and found little relief. Layups, missed runners, nothing was going in. Soon the Hawks started standing around wondering if anyone was going to be able to make a basket.

From there on the Hornets had the Good Night mojo and the Hawks were never able to wrestle that away from at any point the rest of the way. The Hawks would make an aggressive move on the offensive boards (where they scored 20 of those jobbies) but would miss the shot somehow only to see the Hornets whizzing by on the way to the hoop for a score of their own. Nice.

Hoopinion favorite Darren Collison had himself a tasty night and Marcus Thornton did the same as they attacked the Hawks all night. It was not a good night to compare the Hawks draft selection to those two, as Jeff Teague barely got off the bench and was invisible in comparison to the Hornets productive duo.

So the seven game win streak (remarkable in itself that the fact that it was a seven game win streak barely registered here) is over, as a 96-88 loss concludes, but we're willing to chalk it up as one of those nights---as if we could remember what those were.

What We Liked

When someone is dropping (4) 3pt anvils on your squad in the first quarter, there isn't much to smile about. (Hey, by the way, a big thank you to Tim Floyd for "advising" to get Peja Stojakovic off the floor when he couldn't have missed from the street.) But we have to say that despite Peja killing the Hawks with those bombs, the sight of the three Pejas-on-a-stick (shown after every three) across the bottom of the screen were worth noting for its entertainment value.

When are we going to see Peachtree Hoops fire up a picture of Marvin Williams in his "bench wear" collection? Maybe we've just been missing the boat (plenty of those missed in our careers) before tonight but the shots of  Marvin in full "sealed for freshness" mode on the bench made us say "Nerd Alert!" Come on, PH, there's humor in that thar get-up, eh?

We liked that Josh Smith stayed active to the hoop, and continues to draw fouls (leads the team in draw foul rate). We saw in this game, however, that he was teetering a bit--couldn't resist launching  more bad shots--yelping at the officials--more out of control than in the first dozen or so games. Stay in the light, Josh, stay in the light.

We like that it's clear Mike Bibby still has value---as his departure after landing on Collison's foot (5) minutes into the game showed that, while Jamal Crawford can score, score, score, Bibby is the point guard for this team and his presence was missed as the Hawks attempted to get back in front.

Most of all, we like that we are off until Thanksgiving Day, when we will gather together and break bread for the traditional Turkey Day game on TNT featuring the Hawks. Wait, what? Orlando v. Atlanta at 8pm EST on TNT to cap off a day of feasting for THHB team?

Oh yes--we like.

THHB wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Cooking ideas and broken streaks can be left in the Comments Area.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It Ain't Over Until Billy Ocean Sings

It could have been over when...

...Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady was unavailable for the Houston Rockets.

...the Hawks won the opening tip and (6) seconds later was watching Josh Smith jam-in an alley-oop.

...Marvin Williams scored (13) first quarter points.

...Jamal Crawford hit a three and the Hawks started moving away late in the first half

...Marvin hit a three at the end of the first half, capping a (20) point half.

...the Hawks finished off a sluggish third quarter by actually extending the lead to (5) after Zaza Pachulia's third block of the game.

...Marvin grabbed his fifth offensive rebound of the night--doing so while he flew in from the baseline and slammed home an errant Joe Johnson fall-away--finishing off his (29) point night.

...Horford was rewarded for running the floor and slamming a charitable Joe Johnson fast break pass.

...Crawford cashed in another Johnson assist (he did have nine of them) for a three pointer that stretched the Hawks fourth quarter lead to (10) with just under two minutes left in the game.

...the Hawks blocked (11) shots to the Rockets (0) and outshot the visitors 50-43 percent and 8-20 vs 7-22 from 3-pt range.

It could have been over---but it wasn't.

No, the game was only over when Josh, shackled by foul trouble and likely only on the court because of Horford's foul disqualification seconds earlier, saw a Mike Bibby missed jumper come right to the front of the rim. In seeing it, Smith instinctively guided the ball to its home through the net with (7/10) of a second left on the clock. The timely eighth and ninth points of Smith's night ensured there would be no overtime in the Highlight Factory and the Hawks a 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

Why was it close?

The Rockets, even without their All-Star injuries, are a pain in what the kids near THHB call "the derriere". (Well, THHB main offices are on a unique block--don't hate.)

They play energetic, physical, and give you nothing easy. At times in the game tonight, it looked like the entire roster was under the basket at both ends. Such presence led to a mind boggling (20) offensive rebounds and a whopping 52-40 advantage in points in the paint. Outshooting your opponent means little when they can simply collect the change and stick it in the toll.

Trevor Ariza made life somewhat more difficult for Joe, who had a 6-18 shooting night when he wasn't helping others score. Josh had trouble inside too--as the Rockets had made it clear the Hawks would have to find other ways to win other than simply driving into the paint.

The difference maker for the Birds was the inspiring play of Williams, who simply blew up as the Hawks made sure they made good on the old Mike Glenn adage "Feed Him and Fan Him". Marvin played some Stacheketball on the Rockets--taking it inside, hitting effortlessly from the outside, and making that oh-so-sweet putback late in the game that looked like it might deflate the Rockets for good.

It didn't, but on a night where the Hawks were like a pitcher that should have been knocked out in the third inning because they didn't have their best stuff, they stayed with it and outlasted a well coached Rockets team--like good teams do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Making A List, Checking it Ten Times (So Far)

Going into Wednesday night's divisional tilt against last year's first round nemesis, the Miami Heat, the Hawks showed the East's best record at 9-2. To post such a mark the Birds have been following a winning formula, one they wished to continue to use to add yet another win to the ledger.

How did the Hawks do? Let's check the recipe.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

(Color Key: Green means Good, Red means Bad)

1. Take care of the defensive glass.

Both Josh Smith and Al Horford hit the glass for double digit rebounds to win the battle of the boards for the Hawks---and while the Heat ended the game with (9) offensive rebounds, two of those came late after the game was no longer in doubt.

Smith has (47) rebounds in his last three games, the most in any (3) game stretch in his career. Yummy.

2. Josh Smith stays true to his new found form (active, aggressive, under control).

In addition to Smith's (14) rebounds, Smith had (7) assists, (2) blocks, and a pair of steals. Oh, he scored (16) points as well and despite getting attacked inside every time he got in the paint, he maintained good control and was still able to finish showing patience inside.

Defensively Smith was active and aggressive going after many shots. We have to believe now that last year's dip in blocked shot percentage was significantly impacted by his early season injury. In the game tonight, Smith made a great athletic play as he stuffed a Jermaine O'Neal layup attempt, took the ball down the court and when he found little resistance, he finished the break with his right hand on a layup. Splendid.

He did teeter at times however, getting a technical foul over a call he felt he didn't get and attempting a couple of insane passes. But in total it was a Josh Smith performance that one might hope (pray) be called typical at some point this season.

3. Use Joe Johnson to lock down the other team's best perimeter player.

The difference between Johnson and other team's best players is that Joe is often used in exactly this capacity. Dwyane Wade entered Philips Arena with a 23-game streak of scoring (20) or more points. Wade left sporting a 6 for 18 night and a broken streak, mainly due to a steady diet of "uh-uh" from Joe and constant attention from Joe's teammates.

Wade was never a positive factor in the game and though he leads the league in free throws attempted per game (12.5), he shot a mere (2) for the whole game. This was due in part to Joe's ability to stay in front of Wade and the Hawks' strategy of getting the ball out of his hands quickly by sending solicitors to Wade's dribbling door. Out of sync and unable to get inside, Wade stayed around the perimeter and therefore also off the free throw line.

4. Use Joe Johnson as a lethal offensive weapon.

Johnson became the 6th player in (11) games to score over (30) points against Miami, using an 11-21/5-11 game to do it. Whereas Johnson covered Wade like a blanket, Joe found himself way more open than a shooter of his caliber should be, assisting his efficient shooting night.

5. Get a lot of points in the paint.

The Hawks scored a strong amount of points inside, despite the Heat collapsing inside on many occasions to keep Smith and Horford from easy hoops. The Hawks ended with (44) points in the paint and while that below their raw number average (54), it was enough to be able to play inside-out basketball very well to which the team's 8-20 three point shooting can attest.

Horford, Smith, and Marvin Williams all collected 3+ offensive rebounds, helping improve the PIP number. Williams sported another negative +/- night, but showed signs of life by being active inside--finishing with a season high (14) points.

6. Take care of the ball.

The Hawks came into the game 3rd in raw turnovers per game and also 3rd in turnover %. Eight turnovers later the Hawks showed themselves again what can be accomplished by not wasting possessions.

Tell Us We're Not Dreaming

With all the boxes checked, and in spite of a (21) point game for Michael Beasley and a 9-21 game in 3-pointers for Miami, the Hawks fairly easily dispatched the Heat 105-90.

With their current approach, the team is rolling right now, earning a lot of respect and adulation in the tiny NBA world---all without a "superstar" to spotlight.

10-2, atop the NBA, and near the top of every meaningful NBA category, the Hawks have relevance in a way they haven't enjoyed since the 11-0 start of 97-98 season, which happens to be the last time the Hawks won (50) games in a season.

But while they are enjoying similar statistical glory as their 90's brethren, this team is doing it in a much more exciting manner. Where the Lenny Wilkens coached teams won, their style was rather bland and garnered little enthusiasm (in context---we realize it's better than losing. Really. We know.). This team, especially when the wheels are rolling, is exciting to watch on both ends, due to the athleticism of Horford and Smith and the precision and timely shooting of The Backcourt.

If they keep on keeping on and remember the things that they are doing that is allowing this terrific run, and keep their heads on straight when teams adjust or throw odd things at them to slow them down, they will be following their checklist right on into the postseason.

THHB marvels at how strong the team looks. Pinching and other forms of dream-checking are allowed--but only in the Comments Area.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Best in The East?

The Hawks attempted to make the case in back-to-back games this weekend against the Celtics and the Hornets.

Now the standings say so.

Going into Sunday's games, (12) percent of the way into the season, there stand the Atlanta Hawks at 8-2, top record in the East. It's a small sample of games, but taking it as a progress report, who wouldn't take that grade?

But the question is can the Hawks make it last?

They have the win in Boston, but they also have the loss in Charlotte. With the exception of that upset to Larry Brown's crew and a momentary lapse of being in Los Angeles, the Hawks have shown a new side to them--one of strong rebounding, active defense, and even more firepower than before and haven't been beaten.

We were skeptical that this version of the team could improve on a (47) win season and a second round appearance against the conferences' best before the season.

Now? We might be willing to believe.


Wrote a Blog About It---Like to Hear It, Here it Goes

There are (3) big reasons we have seen that helps the Hawks chances at advancing their cause this postseason.

3. Improved Firepower

The Hawks were suspected to have more depth and so far the substitutions of Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith for RFM and Solomon Jones have been well received.

RFM had a good year last year, but it's clear that Crawford is at least Murray on Jamal's bad days and a level above Flip on his better days. Crawford's PER is currently at (20), which would be the best of his career, which logically poses the question if he can keep up this level of efficiency.

As has been well documented, Crawford has never played a single playoff game. The win totals of the teams he's been on are (15, 21, 30, 23, 33, 23, 33, 23, and 29).

The best players and their PER for those corresponding seasons:

2000-2001: Elton Brand, 20.4
2001-2002: Brad Miller, 19.6
2002-2003: Donyell Marshall, 18.4
2003-2004: Jamal Crawford, 15.9, then Jerome Williams, 15.4
2004-2005: Stephon Marbury, 21.9
2005-2006: Channing Frye, 18.1
2006-2007: David Lee, 20.2
2007-2008: Zach Randolph/David Lee, 18.0
2008-2009: Andris Biedrins, 19.1

What does it mean? Well, Jamal may not have played with as much talent as the Hawks have had collectively, but indiviually speaking it's no different from a top-end perspective than the Hawks (Joe Johnson, 18.2). Can Crawford's game improve so strongly based on a stronger team? So far, so good.

2. Attack!

While the Hawks haven't made a commitment to the post, they have been heading toward the hoop more, reduced their dependency on the 3---rate from (20) to (17) per game, and raised their offensive efficiency to second in the league. (All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference) They are among the leaders at points-in-the-paint and that has resulted in more open looks for The Backcourt, especially against lesser comp. Their game pace is faster, too---8th in the league right now compared to 24th a year ago. 

1. Josh Smith and Defensive Rebounding

Maybe the most obvious example of the above, Smith has taken his game to another level thus far this season. Always known as the biggest X in the x-factor, Smith's PER is at (25) so far and has stayed firm to the commitment to playing around the hoop on the offensive end and has taken his game up a notch all around.

Between Smith and Al Horford's improvement, the Hawks have jumped to 10th from 24th in defensive rebounding percentage, a huge area of opportunity going into the season. The difference that these two have made has put the Hawks in the discussion of best in the East right now.

Bravo and Encore

For further evidence to defy THHB's skepticism, The Hawks are on top of Basketball Reference's Simple Rating System for the entire league and are playing so well together right now, they even seem to walk off the court in unison.

Even if you don't believe that it will last--if you are a Hawks fan, enjoy this run. How long has it been since the Hawks have been the best even over a 10 game stretch?

THHB recognizes that Hoopinion is doing a much more stellar job tracking season long themes statisically than in this space. More fuel for the fire can be provided in the Comments Area.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Second Chances

After losing what seemed like (20) games in a row to the Celtics and especially in Boston, there were no expectations that the Hawks could swoop into the C's back yard and take a Friday night, ESPN-televised win back out of there.

Apparently, the Celtics didn't expect that either.

Using a truckload of offensive rebounds that turned into precious second-chance points, the Birds got ahead early, gave it back, and then traded punches with what some have labeled the best team in the league--on their way to a surprising 97-86 win.

Al Horford, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia (or as Hubie Brown says--Pachoola), and Joe Smith all had at least (3) offensive rebounds apiece as the Hawks embarrassed and frustrated the Celtic frontline. It was the first such impact for the elder Smith, and he showed some nice versatility scoring inside as well as knocking down from the elbow. Adding in (2) blocks and (6) total rebounds gives the Hawks some versatility to the front line.

Together, the Hawks out-rebounded the C's 47-29--an unthinkable result last spring--and it was that performance, along with timely shooting from The Backcourt (55 points), that showed--for at least this night--that Atlanta's best five players were better than Boston's.

When the Hawks were cooking, they were active inside--challenging everything the Celtics shot and limiting their talented team to only (6) offensive boards. On the other end, the Hawks went to the hoop and found every loose ball. The times the offense struggled were when Joe Johnson would hold the ball too long or the offense limited themselves to forced shots instead of moving the ball. But, in what might be growth, those time-spans weren't lasting too long. Late in the game, after a few possessions that the Hawks held the ball way too long to get a good shot, Johnson reversed the floor and the Hawks started to loosen up again. Soon Joe would be slipping the ball to Josh, who put the Hawks ahead by double digits and the hosts never really challenged again.

When the Celtics would hit, the Hawks would hit right back---be it a Bibby three or a Johnson/Crawford runner inside--Boston couldn't get too far ahead without the Hawks making their way back out in front. It was a surprising effort not because this team can't put forth this kind of performance on the road against a good team--just because they hadn't.

Can't wait for the next one.

Worst of Both Worlds

Not only did the Celtics get their clocks cleaned on the boards, but they couldn't make an outside shot either. The Hawks did make sure they had a hand in face on every shot, but even the biggest hands in the game couldn't have predicted a miserable 1-15 from 3-pt range.

Boston looked anxious and puzzled by the Hawks well-known habit of switching---and just like when a team that doesn't zip up and down the court falls into the trap of doing so against a team who does, the Celtics disrupted their regular offense to take advantage of certain switches--and while they got inside enough to shoot almost (50) percent, there was never any flow to their show.

A known sniper such as Eddie House wasn't immune either, as he hit one shot out of five and was covered tight in the first half by Jeff Teague in a bit of inspired matchmaking by the Coach.

Upon Further Review, the Ruling on the Court Stands

Some has been said about Shelden Williams' revival in Boston--and that he has found a place to "fit". We at THHB say that a winning team is always a good fit, given that they already have enough talent in place so the expectations for what a player has to do are pretty low.

Williams is the same player he was in Atlanta--and we're guessing Sacramento and Minneapolis as well---a below the rim player with suspect hands and a good personality. We're glad we got Bibby back for him and, while we here wish him well, we're not seeing anything other than replacement level skills out of him.

How Bizarre, How Bizarre

We have to admit--it's weird and we like it. It being the fact that it's the Hawks that have more weapons, more athleticism, and more and more wins. Atlanta is the team that leads the league in points in the paint. The Hawks are near the top in (gasp!) free throw percentage. The games where (13) turnovers occurs renders furrowed brows and is called "out of character" for the good guys.


The Hawks, for at least this first stretch of games, have not abandoned the outside-inside game and the isolots, but they are getting things done inside on both ends--and the results have been obvious.

In a good way.

THHB continues to run the energy bill higher early Saturday morning in appreciation of a fine win. Smiles and High-Fives are more than welcome in the Comments Area.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Horford Takes Game, Lee's Lunch Money

At the University of Florida in 2004-2005, David Lee went up in practice against the likes of freshmen and future national champions Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, and Al Horford. Lee and the other upperclassmen were known to have their hands full in such practices, but liked to have their way with the young bucks.

We hope he enjoyed those days, because they are no more.

Against the New York Knicks, in The Great Building, the Atlanta Hawks took control of a sloppy game with a (37) point third quarter and cruised to a 114-101 win.

In that third quarter, the Hawks rode the back of the aforementioned Horford, who scored (14) in the quarter, on his way to a game high (25) on the night. As the Hawks searched for control after falling behind by double digits at halftime, suddenly the team discovered the ever-active big man.

First was a running jump shot off a pick/roll with Mike Bibby (with bonus!). Then, as the Namesake was saying on the telecast that they should get the ball to Horford (a novel concept with no real big men present on the Knicks), the Hawks fed the ball to Al, who had Lee on his back.

Not for long.

Horford took the ball at Lee by backing down on the baseline. Then Horford sealed him on his left hip, swung right towards the baseline and found nothing between himself and the rim. The one-time backup to Lee completed the ownage by launching a two-hand slam and leaving Lee left to pick up the remains.

It was a play that brought the entire HHB Viewing Party to their feet, with multiple requests to honor the strong move by rewinding and making sure he would do it again. And he did.

The dunk brought the Hawks down to a (5) point deficit, but it established that the Knicks had nothing that could stop the Birds from nesting near the rim. Horford would get the ball again against Lee and this time drew the foul going hard to the middle.

Horford's prowess got the Knicks attention and the next time Horford got the ball in the lane, he drew the defense and dished to a baseline cutting Josh Smith, who dropped in a reverse layup. Next it was Smith's turn to return the favor and, when an Al Harrington three missed the mark, Smith got the ball ahead to a waiting Horford, who dunked first and asked questions later. When Al sank the bonus, the score was tied at 71 and the Hawks never trailed again.

As the Knicks started to lose their composure by launching quick shots instead of leaning on what got them their lead to begin with, a steady diet of ball movement and attacking the rim, the Hawks pulled away. Horford added four more points in the quarter and the Hawks began to lock down the win.

David Lee might be in line for a big payday next offseason, but Al Horford just owned him.

Seven Seconds is a Sham, but Toney Douglas is a Man

We know that courtside guest Lang Whitaker was happy about what he saw. Not just that the Favored Team won and that he got to call the game, but that he got to see the man he touted throughout the draft process play a great game.

Toney Douglas was not well thought of going into April of last year--that is until Lang called all those fools out in his April 1st Links column. (Hint to the experts: He wasn't fooling.)

Douglas shot and shot and shot his way to (22) points and was the only Knick that earned a "heat check" on the night. (Yes, we know that Harrington scored -22- also, but he scored inside--and who asked you, anyway?)

All Those Who Think They Deserve a Spot on the All-Star Ballot, Step Forward---Not So Fast, Marvin

So the All-Star Ballots came out Tuesday and the Starting Five are on the ballot in the East. Horford, Smith, Johnson, Bibby, and Jamal Crawford.

(record scratch)

Yup, no Marvin Williams on the ballot, and the newly contractually extended member of the Hawks family protested by having more fouls than points (5 to 4) and going quietly into the New York City nightlife. Williams struggled so mightily in this game that he spent the night defensively trying to prove Hoopinion's statistical analysis of his early season.In fact, we thought we saw the Hawks switching Horford onto first half Knicks star Harrington with great success. Then, when Lee scored inside on Williams, they switched back, and then back again, as if trying to hide Marvin. We love Williams, but the Mustache is not as obvious this season, and his game is much less comfortable right now---as if there isn't any room for him out there.

Just like the All-Star Ballot.

THHB would also like to honor Mike Bibby for his game (19 and 9, 6-8, 3-4, 4-4). Well done sir. Flowers and cards can be left for Mike in the Comments Area.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Points Per Game and RBI Are Cousins

We're not the most mathematically astute folks over here at THHB, we leave that to fine folks like John Hollinger, Bret LaGree, and the like.

But we couldn't help but chuckle, as did our fellow Bird Watchers, when Joe Johnson won Player of the Week in the Eastern Conference in the NBA.

Well noted over at Hoopinion is that perhaps it would have been better that the to-the-basket revival that Josh Smith deployed was rewarded than Joe's voluminous efforts and anyone who saw the Nuggets game would likely agree.

But it's not surprising that there are few that look so deep as to uncover the perhaps ultimately worthy folks for such awards--after all, it's just a Player of the Week, it's not like it's an end of the year award or anything.

Except that even in those prestigious ceremonies often big counting stats that get recognized. Points Per Game has long been the industry standard for looking for the easiest way to identify top players. All-Stars, All-Conference, you name it---only the NBA draft has become safe haven for those who offer more than just a hefty number in the PPG column.

It's not constrained to basketball, either--Wins and RBI have long determined Cy Young and MVP voting, often leaving the more deserving candidates without the hardware and accolades. Wins, RBI, PPG, and their brethren are valuable when understood in context, and it takes effort to sort that kind of stuff out.

We remember when Stan Kasten tried to get us excited over the signing of Rico Brogna. "He had 100 RBI two years in a row!" Kasten exclaimed. We had to remind him that Brogna was getting a lot of opportunities to drive in those runs, given the presence of Scott Rolen hitting in front of him, and perhaps a hitter with a better that sub-800 OPS might have driven in 125 runs where Brogna barely broke 100 batting cleanup those years..

The fact that Brogna bombed with the Braves that season wasn't proof that we were right to be cautious, it was that we looked deeper to determine actual value and not settled for the comfort of a fat number without context. It was because of such investigation that we were left underwhelmed by the signing and unsurprised about the eventual result. (Ooooh---Aren't we smart?! Wait, don't answer that.)

There is no doubt that Johnson has been as solid as he's ever been for the Hawks, and there will be weeks where he will earn his place to be considered for Player of the Week---but in this case we think that looking deeper, even on his own team, might have yielded a more worthy result.

So there.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Exhibit A

Through all the times we've pulled our hair out watching him, Atlanta's Saturday night 125-100 victory over the suddenly staggering Denver Nuggets showed why you just can't give up on a player like Josh Smith.

Smith's was omnipresent throughout the dominant home team win on both ends of the floor. He consistently challenged the Nuggets interior on his way to an 8-10/2-4, 22 point night on the one end while stamping the defensive effort of the evening with his (6) blocks and a level of activity that had the Nuggets either settling for outside shots or looking over their shoulder.

The Nuggets had no answer for Smith's ridiculous athleticism and new found respect for attacking the hoop. He is one of the best finishers in the league now and he made the case over and over again against anyone Denver threw at him. He was also part of a team-wide effort to share the basketball and move, leading to (7) assists against a single turnover for the night.

Smith commitment was not isolated, as the entire crew showed up to the arena displaying an intent to reverse the zero-energy effort provided in Charlotte the night before. After accruing (10) assists for the entire game against the Bobcats, the Hawks had that number covered early in the first half, well on their way to their final total of (30). In all, the Hawks ended up with (7) players in double figures, with all three members of The Backcourt getting in on the action, combining for (58) points.

The energy and aggressiveness to which the team played was obvious and well rewarded, washing away the sick feeling the beating in Charlotte had given leading up to tip-off and providing a snapshot of what could be if able to provide the same approach every night.

Meanwhile...At the Hall of Justice

While Carmelo Anthony still scored (30) points the effort to which he had to put out to get to that number was heavy. If he were a running back, he would have had to carry the ball (30) times to get to the (100) yard mark in this one. The Hawks made Anthony work extremely hard for his points on offense and went at the All-Star at the other end as well in an apparently successful attempt to slow him down.

We gotta say, we like Mr. Teague. His jump shot is ill-suited for the Iso-Thon the Hawks can get engaged in, but his speed with the ball, his ability to set up a play, and his fearlessness towards the hoop gets us excited. He also showed some quick hands on defense and when compared to the former lottery pick that was his predecessor, Acie Law, Teague comes across as more dynamic and a cut above--and the fact that we felt this way on a night where he shot 1-9 says a lot about all the other things he can do on the court.

It's becoming clear that the Hawks are going to prefer having all three members of The Backcourt on the floor down the stretch, and so far that doesn't seem to be a bad idea. The addition of Jamal Crawford, who had a team high (27) points, has allowed fewer Iso-Joe plays in crunch time. Crawford gives another player who is a double threat (shooting outside or penetrating) in a one-on-one situation. All of which means that the Hawks should get an open look in a single play scenario, which is better than a 1 on 3 scenario seen many, many times.

That the Hawks can now rest Bibby if they want to for the fourth quarter (where he is perfectly cast as a stone cold assassin from long range), or plug in Crawford to see if he has it and ride him if he does, or use the depth to rest Joe more has certainly raised the level of optimism within the walls of THHB that Woodson can mix and match to create havoc for opposing defenses---and give the Hawks a better shot of succeeding come playoff time.

Maurice Evans did his best Josh Childress impersonation against the Nuggets, being efficient offensively and being around the offensive glass more than his (2) offensive rebounds may indicate. Evans is proving to be a more than capable finisher and, given all the other folks on the floor to take attention away for him, he continues to get good looks from the perimeter--on which he has happily cashed in.

It wasn't much, but the (4) minutes that Joe Smith gave at the end of the first half was a testimony to the notion that he will be a much more solid option in the fourth big man spot that the late Solomon Jones was. Smith was in all the right places on both ends of the floor, giving the Hawks (4) quick points and a block in that limited sample size.

And Now---One More Thought

This effort was just what the team and the fans needed after the game Friday night in Charlotte. It was well executed and showed almost all the best that the team had to offer leading to the (25) point final margin. It restored some faith that, with the proper amount of energy, that there is a lot to have to account for in this team--and that they will be tough to beat on any night.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ghosts of Success

In Friday's night matchup between in Charlotte, one team moved the ball effortlessly, used their athleticism to play good team defense and initiate fast break/transition opportunities.

The other team was the Hawks.

Absent of everything that has led to their early season success, Atlanta allowed what was one of the worst statistical teams so far this season to beat them silly, fully earning the 103-83 beatdown offered them by the Bobcats.

The Hawks lacked energy on the offensive end, defensive end, the glass, and the bench. Even the logo looked a little droopy tonight. Who knows how the Hawks thought they could win with such a complete zero of a game, but they spent (48) minutes trying to do it. 

If Kelly Dwyer thought the Hawks really wanted the win earlier this week against the Blazers, then this was the polar opposite, as the Hawks never did anything that resembled what it would have taken to gain a win. They settled for standing around all night forcing shots from the outside and then, when that got boring, they forced inside shots as well. This allowed the Bobcats to feast on a steady diet of run-outs and open looks, and they happily went about doing it.

It was fitting that the Bobcats beat the Hawks in every quarter---because, you know, they really did.

We feel obligated to mention the ridiculous 56-35 margin on the glass (oof!) and the 47/61/78 shooting effort for the home team against the splendid 40/13/65 egg the Hawks laid. We're also not forgetting the 24-10 assist deficit the Hawks authored. Hey, at least they won the turnover battle! Yeah! Take that, fundamental basketball!

Silver Lining--Oh Alright, Aluminum

Jeff Teague can play. We're impressed with how fast he is with the ball--definitely the fastest the team has had since JT raced around the Philips Arena floor. His passing touch is good as well---and if he can get that runner to be consistent, he's going to be tough. Now, if we could just get Terry to loan the rookie his jump shot.

The Hawks unveiled their new Twin Towers of Jason Collins and Randolph Morris with expected results. It was an awesome thing of something watching those two titans on the court at the same time. They were both +2 for the night. Well done, guys.

We heard The Namesake mention that Marvin Williams needs to be more effective in games like this one, but we (very) respectfully disagree with THHF. Marvin needs motion to be a positive force in the game, so when the ball begins to swing around, and by that for the Hawks we mean one pass, and then stops up at the top, you've taken away the weakside shooting game in which Marvin excels. Tonight, even more so that on other nights, there was zero interest in moving the ball, and Williams did very little offensively because of it.

Block Shot-a-Rama-Rama continued for the Hawks this season, as Marvin and Josh Smith had (3) each and Al Horford got (2) more himself. The (11) blocks for the team on the night was the extent of the effort tonight for the Hawks. That is all.

The starters got some rest tonight, with no starter playing more than the (31) that Joe Johnson played. Mike Bibby only got (20) to earn low man status, minutes wise. Though the minutes were low, if the Hawks were going to completely mail in a game like this, you almost wish they'd given some like Joe the entire game off. Alas.

The refs were on their game---they even called an illegal screen away from the ball with (90) seconds to go in a (20) point game. Bravo.

There is another game tomorrow that has the potential to usher this one out as quick as it has entered---an NBATV special with a very tough Denver Nuggets team that Atlanta can't possibly try to slough their way to victory against, so we're hoping there is more than just the tin lining to reflect on tomorrow night.

THHB still has to check which Collins the Hawks have on the roster--we usually pretty sure it's not Doug or Chris. Suggestions on how to remember (or to forget) can be left in the Comments Area.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


It's something when THHB can sit back and stroke their collective long, gray, novelty beards while the Good Guys appeared to be conserving energy and effort throughout a game, allowing an inferior team to hang around until the final quarter, where their good friend "Defense" waited for them to arrive. Then they conspired to close out their hosts and send the other team away rather unhappy.

No worries. No doubt. That's progress.

The Hawks played for quite a while as the equivalent of a sparring partner for the home team Sacramento Kings, trading punches without much regards for taking care of the ball (17 turnovers) or protecting their own rim or glass (19 offensive rebounds allowed).

Then, as the game began to take its final shape, the Hawks applied their pressure, got control of the game, and used a 30-18 fourth quarter to beat the Kings, 113-105.

We feel a difference than in years past when we would get worked up about how much the team was winning/won by. This team has caused such peace of mind because the have proven that they can accomplish that which they did tonight. Not that any team would want to get into a habit of such a high-wire act, but for the Hawks being out on the West Coast, on the rear end of a back to back, coming off a strong showing against a good home team like the Portland Trail Blazers, and being prime for a letdown, THHB felt the team could be allowed to pace themselves in this game--as the Kings are not up to the calibre of the either the Blazers or the Hawks--and still pull out the victory.

When they needed to, they turned up the defense, as they can do against lesser competition. It's when they try to deploy such tactics against the better teams that taking three quarters off defensively doesn't scale.

The goal is to advance to the playoffs--games like these are simple stairs on the way up. You take them one at a time and it doesn't really matter how you do it, just do enough to take that step and compile wins. That's what the Hawks did tonight. No two wins have to be the same--they don't give you extra credit for blowing your bodies out to win by (22) instead of (8).  In the L, you need only win to get that mark in the column and the Hawks most certainly earned their incremental success tonight, getting them one more win closer to their goal.

Waiting to Be Killed---Waiting to Be Killed

Okay. We're getting pretty used to Jamal Crawford making The Backcourt a 3-person endeavor. Once again the new acquisition paid dividends late, offering another calming offensive presence down the stretch where he scored (9) points in the final (13) minutes, including a huge three to give the Hawks a 108-101 lead with (2) minutes left.

We're waiting for the other Jamal Crawford we have heard about--the one where we cringe when he has the ball late in games or becomes so obviously exposed that we are asking why he's in down the stretch. We're waiting because we haven't seen that guy. It's similar to the expectation most had when RFM started strong for the Hawks last season. We were told that we would "want to take a bag of Fritos" for Murray last in his season---but that time never came. Instead we were treated to one of his top 3 seasons and was so valuable to the team's success last season that Rick Sund made the move for Crawford to ensure that level of production was maintained.

So what are we saying? Maybe we are seeing the Jamal Crawford of 2009-2010--and we can stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, the winds to change, and other hopefully irrelevant expressions of another side to Crawford's contribution to the Hawks this season.

P.S. We Love You

Joe Johnson finished with a terrific (26) points on fifty percent shooting (11-22) to go with his (8) rebounds and (4) assists. He added his usual late game daggers from the outside, helping to lock down the victory there and with his defense.

He's great, we love him, etc, etc, etc....

Somebody Start a Block Party?

The night after Zaza celebrated his 30th game with 2 or more blocks, the Dynamic Duo of Josh Smith and Al Horford doubled up the efforts of the Georgian, each swatting (4) Kings shots away. Smith did his damage early in the game and Horford knocked away two big shots in the last two minutes to deny any chance of a Royal comeback.

Kevin Martin, Hawk Hater

Martin made a notion to get into the Hawk Hater club by scoring (29) points against the Hawks, giving him a an average of a little over (30) point per game average in the last (3) games he's played against the Birds. . Tonight, most of Martin's damage came in the earlier quarters, as in the fourth Martin was held to (4) points and could not use his scoring to hold off the Hawks fourth quarter dominance.

Another Fond Farewell

Just as we had bid goodbye to Hawks Web Guru Micah Hart, Wednesday night came word that Sekou Smith, the terrific Hawks bea(s)t writer for the AJC is leaving his post to work for the L in an capacity.

Smith came along in a dark time for Hawks coverage in the paper, as Michael Lee had long since left for the Washington Post, the team was completely rebuilding, and the paper was assigning very unqualified staff writers to cover the game.

All Smith did was inject a real beat writer mentality to the position, offered sometimes extremely strong opinion with the "pages" of his AJC blog, and roped quite a few people into good conversation about the franchise. Smith never pulled a punch, offered great material and asked the questions Hawks fans wanted answers to.

Good luck, Sekou--You'll be missed in the land you call Hawksville.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Toast(ing) of Portland

The star of the 97-91 Hawks win over the Portland Trailblazers was Jamal Crawford, who proved more than capable of borderline criminal distribution with his (7) assists off the bench to go with his game high (27) points.

That Crawford was able to score the basketball wasn't a surprise, after all--it's been more than well documented that Crawford has scored 50+ points (For three different teams! Have you heard?!), it was that he has already been able to intergrate himself into the RFM role on the team and take it a step further.

As you recall, Jamal was brought in to be Bibby insurance and a replacement for the production that RFM provided last season---a fair bet since Crawford's PER has been, on average, about the production level that Murray yielded last season. But Crawford flashed glimpses that he might be able to go above and beyond that level of play. THHB holds off gushing about him--but we do note that Jamal has not played on a team as together/successful as this Hawks team is.

Crawford has given the Hawks the same can-create-your-own-shot off the bench as RFM did, but also showed he can run the offense somewhat more efficiently than the miscast Murray would from the point. There were at least two occasions that Crawford could have taken buckets for himself and instead offered those free points to a teammate. We feel that's worth noting since RFM never seemed to pass up a shot on  the break, even if other options were flying in from the wing.

Thank you, Jamal--I left you an apple on your desk!

Al Horford had an uneven night on the offensive end, shooting 5-12, but with two of those baskets coming on those Jamal Crawford Christmas Packages at the hoop on the break.

We have to point out again that Horford is not progressing offensively against bigger players. Last night against the Blazers and Oden/Przybilla, Horford went back to shooting exaggerated fadeaways and quick hooks/layups, all of which missed. When he is aggressive and patient, he is efficient, but he lacks resolve against the titans he has been matched up against. Still, he didn't allow that to disrupt his hustle as he finished with (13) rebounds to go with his (11) points.

Somewhere, Tyrone Corbin is Smiling

There is no official stat that tracks it, but we're going to go ahead and say that Josh Smith is on pace to smash the all time record for shooting the ball with his foot on the line (known in THHB as a Ty Corbin three). Smith launched a couple more long shots last night and still looks like he could fall off the "don't fall in love with the jump shot" wagon at any moment on the floor.

Still, with the energy of the Hawks swallowing up the Blazers in the latter stages of the win, it was Smith who was the linchpin, especially his shot deterring activity inside. Smith could have derailed himself inside of his frustration with (2) quick fouls in the first quarter, but after Woodson put him back in the game (in the second quarter no less---whohoo!!), Smith went to work inside on both ends, and help rally the team back with his energy.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

Zaza Pachulia went for a clean basket and dunked without trying to pick up a foul first.

Zaza Pachulia blocked (2) shots in a game. It was the 30th time he has done such thwarting in his (7) seasons.As a comparison, Horford has done this feat (53) times in his (3) seasons and Josh Smith (248) times in his (6) seasons with the Hawks.

Joe Johnson's Homemade Killer Sauce

Joe Johnson ho-hummed his way into the fourth quarter where he casually pounded a couple of long range nails into the Portland coffin.

Thanks, Joe!

Margin of Error

The road win.

It's one of the more cherished pieces of the NBA season---a statistical mirror into a team's growth and their standing in the league.

You can see the curve: A bad team can hardly hold their own home court, much less get away from that comfort zone to pluck victory from another team's home. A better team will begin to hold it's own and then measure themselves as to their own advancement by seeing how many times they can invade enemy territory and come away with the "W". Growing teams start by hitting the road and beating lesser teams and go from there. A win against an established upper level team on their own home court is a badge of progression; a trophy of their own development as a team and franchise.

To acquire one of these treasures, teams have to play more mistake free than ever, and must be mentally sound to avoid even the slightest of lapses in team concentration, lest their efforts previously in the game be rendered moot.

As the Atlanta Hawks hit such a road journey last Sunday, they faced the toughest of foes, the defending champs, and put their progression as a team to the test. All it took was a span of 4 1/2 minutes in the 3rd quarter of that game to undo the other 40+ minutes of basketball. In that time, the Hawks had (9) possessions and turned it over (5) times, yielding (7) layups or dunks on the other end.

In the chase for that road win, especially against quality competition, the type the Hawks struggled against last season, such a stretch of basketball will always equate to a loss. A lapse that is so extended and so fruitful for the opposition is to hard to overcome.

Tuesday night, in Portland, such recent history threatened to repeat itself.

The Hawks came out and allowed the Blazers to move freely and get open looks while doing none of that on the offensive end themselves. Such play led to an early Portland double digit lead and us to wonder if the Birds had it in them to tighten things up and get back in front of the game.

For the remainder of the half, the Hawks fought back through the power of the bench, using the energy of Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia to weave in with the starters to begin to build momentum and chip away at the Blazer lead, leaving the Hawks down a single point at the half.

Throughout the second half, the score went back and forth, but it was seldom that the Hawks lost their focus, the type of lapse that had cost them the Laker game two days prior. The Hawks attacked more as the game wore on, using their speed to get out in front of the Blazer frontcourt (Greg Oden, Joel, Przybilla) and get a couple of easy baskets along the way. The defensive rebounding effort was sound and helped lead to those running opportunities as Al Horford overcame an uneven offensive night by leading the Hawks effort on the glass (11 defensive rebounds, 13 total).

Ardent Bird Watchers as we are, THHB wasn't sure whether the Hawks could pull off the win until deep into the fourth quarter. But, with every Crawford play (6 points, 4 assists in the final Q), Horford finish (6 fourth Q points) and with Joe Johnson applying the killer sauce to the closing recipe (2 critical answer shots in the last two minutes), we were made to believe---as were the Blazers.

The tasty result? The sweet pastry known as the road win--coveted, appreciated, and in the case of the Hawks 97-91 win in Portland---well deserved.

(Check back here for player breakdowns and more THHB commentary later including our take on the Crawford's impact on the game and what it might mean moving forward.)