Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking Care of Business--Weekend Style

There was a time not too long ago when a Friday and a Sunday game would mean that Hawks fans would have to find something fun to do on Saturday to compensate.

But these (17-6) Hawks are not the same weekend killers as their aughts sharing brethren. These Hawks took two undermanned, underdefensive teams (Raptors, Nets) and disassembled them with aggressive play on both ends, solid rebounding, and depth.

The latter part is amazing to those who have seen the Hawks pinch a penny over the last two decades when it came to quality minutes off the bench. As long time Hawk Mike Fratello marveled from the Nets broadcast booth Sunday night, "This team is deep and talented!" We know, we can't believe that Mr. Fratello was talking about the hometeam either.

Yet, there they were, doing as top reserve Jamal Crawford said a few games ago---wearing teams out. The Nets came out Sunday shooting far above their 41 percent standard for their woeful season and had the lead by two points with a little more than (5) minutes to play in the half. Then the Nets turned their head and were down by (12) when the half ended.

Yup, the Hawks are that kind of team. The team that kills you for settling for jump shots all night. A team that makes you pay when you go 1-7 over a stretch when your hot hand cools. You know, a strong playoff caliber team.

The Hawks showed poise and patience over the weekend and have (2) wins over lesser teams and have given the starters some extra Gatorade time as a reward. In previous seasons, these were games that might have had to use Joe Johnson and company 34+ minutes each to put away, but on both occasions the only players to log major minutes were off the bench, something that has to be better come April/May than in seasons past.

You Know They Call Him The Streak

Mo Evans hit seven of nine threes over the weekend and displayed some seriously quick hops on a pair of finishes. Just saying. When he is going like he was against TOR and NJ, he is mighty fine luxury to have bombing away out of that corner he loves so much.

Teams are gameplanning for Josh Smith's game inside. That's a major development for the Hawks this season and is a result of the change and maintaining of a "I'm better on the inside" in hardwood attitude for Smith. It's the reason his assist rate (8 more assists over the weekend) and many other numbers are at career highs this season. Hoopinion has done a great bit on monitoring on his site around just how much of a difference it's making on his productivity---and is answering a great deal of folks who hypothesized that the Hawks would be much better off if Smith dropped the Reggie Miller act and used his size and length to get easier hoops. Now--on to making free throws.

(Sidenote: The play of the weekend for THHB was the run-out 3 on 1 against the Nets when Josh could have tried to force a drive to the hoop and would likely have been fouled but missed a shot, but instead threaded a perfect bounce pass to Mike Bibby who quickly offered up a return to Smoove for the jam. To say it was picture perfect is saying too little--hopefully a snapshot of even more growth from Smith.)

We wholeheartedly agree again with Mike Fratello that the culture and execution of this team improved significantly when the Hawks made the move to get Bibby. Yes, he's a thorn in the defensive flesh, but wow--having a real point guard on the floor has made everything go. We all know this, which is why few were surprised that the Hawks re-upped with the vet, but it bears a reminder that his introduction to the team is when the franchise turned the corner.

Speaking of point guards---Jeff Teague continues to impress in his minutes off the bench. His quick hands are lethal (his steal from Rafer Alston and subsequent throw down was a close second to the Smith/Bibby play on the THHB corkboard) and his confidence is growing. He got a little loose late in the game against the Nets and made a rare careless pass, but he is getting better with every game out there. He reminds us of Jason Terry---as quick as Jet, a lesser shooter, but a more convincing distributor/decision maker/point guard than #31. How much of an impact he will make ultimately (meaning career) will probably be based on how dependable his shot becomes, but he is making us less morose about missing out on Ty Lawson every game.

The Nets had some success early getting inside and scoring on the Hawks until they lapsed (translation: forgot to keep doing it) and the Hawks took advantage. Atlanta was below their seasonal shot blocking average over the weekend games and in particular against the Nets, both Al Horford and Smith shied away from contesting aggressive drives to the hoop due to foul trouble. Not having Joe Smith off the bench to thwart shots didn't help as the Hawks elected to go small (three guards) without Smith and Marvin Williams (upset stomach) to go to.Something to keep an eye on against better teams with size.

Horford plays the bigger guys fine defensively, but still rushes his shot or takes awkward angles when against a big--though he made an adjustment against Brook Lopez (who has game) and started to use his nice face up jump shot to lure the big out and then go around him and get contact. Yet another piece that's improving for the Hawks and is making for difficult matchups for the opposition. And credit the Hawks backcourt for being very good in these games in recognizing mismatches and going right to them to exploit. And yes, once again, it's odd to watch a game and hear the opposing announcers lauding the Hawks as the example of a fundamentally sound team doing those "little things" to win.

Odd in this case = good. As in a really good weekend that made Saturday seem to drag. THHB calls that another nice development.

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