Friday, February 26, 2010

DAL-ATL Game Review: Broken Record

We'll make this simple.

Hawks start slow.

Hawks come back and lead game.

Dallas goes zone.

Hawks shoot jump shots.

Dallas scores, and scores, and takes the lead.

A late technical foul helps game into overtime.

Dallas stays in zone.

Atlanta remains outside, missing jump shots.

Dallas remains outside, making jump shots.

Dallas scoring, Hawks snoring.

Game over.

Atomic Dog

It's fitting that Jason Terry was in the house tonight, because we have to give a Jason Terry tip-of-the-cap to Jason Kidd, who absolutely, without question, won this game for the Mavs.

Yes, yes, Dirk Nowitzki was great--(37 points on 15-26 shooting). But Kidd had an unreal triple-double, laying down a 19/17/16 line--the first of such kind since Magic Johnson did the trick in 1989.

When Kidd entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Hawks held an 86-71 lead with 8:23 left to play. From that point on, the Mavericks outscored the Hawks 40-17. Kidd had (9) points and (7) assists the rest of the way, including a sure-to-be-discussed play where Kidd saw Mike Woodson directing his team on the court, ran full speed towards the coach, then threw a forearm into Woodson while he had just barely made it back off the court. Not only did Kidd get away with initiating contact like that, the Mavericks were awarded a technical foul for interference on Woodson.

Some call this veteran or savvy. We call it a "jerk" move.

Woodson was off the court, Kidd initiated contact, with a forearm shiver no less. It's not basketball, yet there it was.

Still, it had nothing to do with Kidd killing the Hawks with threes (3 of them in that run) or leading the charge of standing around in a zone while the Hawks continued to try to shoot over it with no success over and over again. And it certainly didn't take away from the statistically incredible night Kidd had. Bravo.

Blame Game

There will be plenty--there often is in games such as this. You can point to Woodson for his lack of adjustments to the zone or his sojourn onto the court which led to the Kidd nonsense.

Al Horford was terrible all night---losing Haywood on the glass, shooting 4-16 and missing a free throw down the stretch. He had his shot blocked (4) times, making himself awfully small around the hoop. His ineffectiveness was especially painful given the shooting struggles the Hawks had late.

Joe Johnson had a statistically tremendous game (27 points, 10 assists, 11-21 shooting), but he forced shots late and had a forgettable bit of basketball late that helped force overtime. Johnson was backing Barea down in the post, leveraging more than one forearm to Barea's chest in doing so, and then missed the short range shot. Johnson jogged back down and then, with his feet out of position, lost Jason Terry as the Jet took the ball baseline. Josh Smith rushed down to help only to watch Terry zip the ball back out to the top to Nowitzki, who slung it over to Kidd who hit yet another three pointer to give the Mavericks a two point lead.

Jamal Crawford took nine 3-pointers and missed seven of them. His coldness enabled a team high (low?) -14 for the night.

The team's transition defense was shaky throughout the game, which especially hurt when those long jump shots (The Hawks attempted 26 threes, 9 more than their average per game) went the other way.  The ESPN TV team of Dan Shulman and Hubie Brown were calling them One and Done and the Mavericks were taking advantage the other way.

When teams go zone, one of the keys is to attack the middle, penetrate, get to the line. The Hawks decided they would shoot over it, and it failed. At the time that Kidd checked back into the game, the Hawks had attempted (18) free throws. For the last (13) minutes of the game, they would attempt (3) more and make only one.

Any NBA player will tell you about how teams always make runs, which is why it's so surprising that those same players on the court seem to forget that when they have a big lead. It's too bad tonight, because the Hawks had overcome their early game misery to play fantastic basketball, especially Josh Smith, who put an 18/11/8/7 (steals) up for the home team, only to watch himself fall into the same traps the team falls into--the chase for the glory of the made jump shot. They were in position to drop the 4th best Western Conference team--and let it go.

Zones, Jump Shots, and Jason Kidd.



THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Four

Haven't seen our Countdown of the Top 10 Hawks of the Decade? Check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7, #6, #5

Our next player arrived as a part of the Pete Babcock "rebuild while staying relevant now" plan, which, umm, yeah.

Our Number Four Hawk of the Decade is:

Shareef Abdur-Rahim

The Hawks had the #3 pick in the 2001 draft and worked out a variety of players who could continue the rebuilding started by the recent drafting of guards Jason Terry (#10, 1999), Dion Glover (#20, 1999), and DerMarr Johnson (#6, 2000).

It was a big man draft, which worked well for the Hawks, given the guard heavy draft focus above. The high school quartet of Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, DeSagana Diop, and Kwame Brown were all targets of then GM Pete Babcock, as was Duke straight man Shane Battier. Less known to all was the potential impact of Spaniard Pau Gasol. And, if the backcourt were still an option for Pete, Jason Richardson and a guy named Joe Johnson would be there, if wanted.

In the days leading up to the draft, Grizzlies GM Billy Knight was wanting to shed costs and one of the biggest salaries he could shed was that of sixth year forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Shareef was going into the third year of a 6 year, 70.88 million dollar deal and the Grizzlies were going nowhere. Babcock saw the opportunity to snag a young (25 at the time) 20/10 caliber power forward. As he stated after the deal was struck for Lorenzen Wright, Brevin Knight, and the Hawks pick in the 2001 draft, "We felt we could either draft someone who might become an All-Star or acquire someone who was already there." And so the deal was done.

Immediately upon arriving, Abdur-Rahim showed what had made him a productive player in VAN; a fundamenally sound, workman like post approach and a nice, if a little robotic, jump shooting style. Abdur-Rahim counting stats, constantly referenced in the tidy PPG/RPG format (as we did just above), were a product of high minutes and high usage, and his time in ATL was no different, trailing only Joe Johnson in Usage for the decade (25.4).

Despite the production and efficiency (20.2 PER), Abdur-Rahim's numbers rarely had the impact one would expect with stats (and contract) such as his. He produced, but it was as understated as he was and rarely had a take-over effect on games.

One fantastic exception was the Thanksgiving break explosion in 2001 against the Detroit Pistons, when Shareef dropped the magic (50) on their visitors in a 106-99 win. It would be one of two times Shareef scored 40+ points in his career, both with the Hawks. He had a great spin move to the hoop, great touch around the basket, and had an unusual way of dunking despite looking like he was (27) feet underneath the hoop.

He was recognized in 2002 as an NBA All-Star and, while his production validated his presence there, his ho-hum approach to the game didn't translate to that particular exhibition.

He played on a youthful, rudderless roster with questionable coaching and never complained, he just worked, and played solid basketball. He was never the star Babcock might have thought when acquiring him to grow with his young guards,and they never had a winning record with Shareef. His time as a Hawk ended when he was sent packing again by Billy Knight, now the Hawks GM, as he scrapped Babcock's roster and started over in 2004.

Despite his mild-mannered appearance, impact on the game and the team's record, Shareef led the team in PER for the decade, was near the top in total rebounding rate (6th, 13.3), defensive rating (4th, 105) and TS% (4th, 55%). In the traditional stats, he was 2nd in PPG (20.4), 3rd in rebounding (8.9), first in free throws made per game and attempted per game (5.5/6.6), 4th in FG% (47.3), 2nd in FT% (83.5), tied for 4th in steals (1.1), and was the best post presence the Hawks had before Al Horford showed up in the ATL. He grinded out efficiency and production every night he was here---not too high, not too low--much like his post game demeanor.

His consistent, dependable, high level production makes him THHB's Number Four Hawks of the Decade.

(Video Note: Looking around the webbage, there appears to be no video evidence of Shareef's time in the ATL, save for this TNT footage from '02-'03. So we've included a highlight package that has bits of him playing for everybody but the Hawks. Go figure.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MIN-ATL Game Night (Now w/Quotes!): Smoove Just Like Silk

Returning home from a long break from the circus-infested Philips Arena, the Atlanta Hawks took care of the business of winning, outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-92 Wednesday night.

Leading the way was the all around excellent play of Josh Smith. Smith led all scorers with a season-high (27) points and then added (10) rebounds, (5) assists, (2) official blocked shots, and a number of Jonny Flynn and company's shots altered in fear of heartbreaking rejection.

"He changed a lot of shots and helped everybody," said a thankful Mike Bibby about Smith's deterrent presence around the net.

Maybe it's because he doesn't always do it as smooth as his nickname suggests, but Smith's production is borderline prodigious. Because he doesn't shoot the ball well (though tonight he seemed as on as his skill will allow) he'll never be the type to snap off a scoring run as grand as Kevin Durant. Still, his omnipresence can lift the team to victory, a characteristic present in the game tonight.

"He was all over the place," beamed Coach Woodson afterwards. "He was blocking shots, scoring for us, made his free throws, rebounded the ball---he was solid from beginning to the end."

"You don't realize all the things he's doing," said Al Horford about his teammate's performance. "He's quiet in putting up those numbers, but he's been doing it for us all year long."

"It feels good," allowed Smith about his effort. "Any time I can help the team win in any way; points, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists--it puts a smile on my face."

In addition to his aberrant effectiveness in jump shots on this single night, Smoove took it to the free throw line for a total of (11) free throws, with (9) made. His efforts on the glass helped limit the top 10 Offensive Rebounding Wolves to a mere (7) for the night, a pre-game objective met by the Hawks.

"Keeping (Kevin) Love and Al Jefferson off the glass--they're beasts on the glass and live for second chance points, boxing them out and limiting those offensive rebounds, that was good," acknowledged Smith.

Horford agreed, "We made a conscience effort to keep them off the glass. We know how dominant Al Jefferson and Kevin Love can be, so we really tried to limit them. It helped to have our guards coming in and helping us with the rebounds." Horford added, laughing, "(Mike) Bibby stole a couple from me--he's been telling me he's trying get his rebounding percentages up."

Horford pitched in with (13) rebounds and (5) assists, helping make his unusually deficient night from the field (a rushed 5-14) less painful.

"I just tried to stay with it. I didn't have the shooting night that I usually have," Horford admitted. "But I made sure that I stayed in it and do the other things like defending and rebounding. Once the game got going I was able to handle it, though." (Horford was 3-6 in the second half)

Joe Johnson was a steady-as-he-goes (21) and (5) assists, getting to the line for (7) throws of his own. He gave the Hawks a solid hand along with Mike Bibby, who emerged from a slump to hit 5/9, 2/4 for (12) points. He added (5) rebounds of his own--says Woodson, "We're going to need Mike to continue to step up, knock down shots and run the ball club like he's done the last two years."

Bibby's effort was needed in what was easily Jamal Crawford's worst game as a Hawk. Crawford was oh-for-seven and had a mere point, leaving him wondering (in jest) about his standing as the frontrunner for Sixth Man.

"It was probably his worst game of the season," said Woodson. "But he's entitled to that. He's been solid all season for us."

Nothing's Easy

The Hawks took a (12) point lead into the final quarter--not even close to comfortable, we know---but quickly gave it back thanks to a less than stellar second half effort from the second unit.

It's too bad because one of the best parts about the first half was the play of the recently slumping bench. The second unit scored (18) first half points, led by Joe Smith and Mo Evans. Zaza Pachulia, who has been a bit salty about his own play and the lack of time on the court to work through it, had (6) rebounds in the opening half. "We were concentrating on limiting their second chance buckets," said Pachulia.

In the second half, however, the bench was able to only add (5) points (all Evans) and Pachulia a single extra rebound.

"I was hoping to go with our second unit the rest of the way," explained Woody when talking about the slow fourth quarter start. "They didn't get it done and I had to go back to our starters."

Included in that first half goodness was the solid play of Jeff Teague, with whom THHB visited with before the game. Teague ran the offense well in the first half, garnering his (4) points, (2) rebounds, and an assist for his work. On one bucket, Teague took a long outlet pass and finished strong at the hoop, taking the play right into the chest of Corey Brewer.

Kevin Love is an offensive rebounding machine. Despite the overall effective effort of the Hawks in keeping MIN off the offensive glass, Love still managed to make his mark, getting (4) of the (7) for the team. Love, who lacks only the three point shot to officially look like every church league superstar, was unable to display his well chronicled passing skills, as he had zero assists.

As rated as Love's skills are at passing, J-Smoove's skills are underrated. Among power forwards who play 25+ minutes per game, Smith is first in assists and weighted assists (which gives bonus for assists leading to a three). He is also 4th among power forwards in assist to turnover ratio, with 1.84, which is by far his best in his career.

Enjoy the highlights:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ATL-UTAH Game Review: Adam Keefe This

Cross off another "since".

Not since the days of The Namesake, Kevin Willis, and company had the Hawks won in Salt Lake City. (17) years had come and gone since the last time the Hawks walked off the floor in Utah victorious.

So it's fitting that, in a season of sinces, this streak should fall as well in a 105-100 win over a shorthanded Utah Jazz team that fought the Hawks to the very end.

It wasn't perfect, to be sure. The Hawks scored (20) points in the paint in the first quarter, then managed only (16) more the rest of the way. They allowed (19) offensive rebounds, which helped the hosts to a ridiculous amount of second chance baskets. Also, the Jazz took advantage of some spotty transition defense from the Hawks, getting (17) fast points as well as taking it to the Birds in the middle for (58) points in the paint.

In spite of the lack of lane buckets, defensive rebounding, and shoddy transition D, the Hawks can count themselves as winners for two overriding reasons:

1. Their shots, especially Joe Johnson's, went in.

The Hawks shot (54) percent from the field, including 8-16 from three point range. Johnson was responsible for 12-19/2-3 of that shooting, adding (6) rebounds and (6) assists to his game high (28) points.

We don't like when the team goes away from something that they do really well (score inside) and roll the dice on jump shots going in---but we'll take them happily when they do.

2. Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko didn't play.

The energy that Utah's replacement crew played with may have not seemed like the Jazz lost much, but not having those two, and after playing a tough game the night before, had to help the Birds cause.

But it wasn't easy even without those two in the Jazz unis for the night. The Hawks started strong by moving the ball around and getting those points in the paint. Marvin Williams showed a lot of energy by driving to the cup and slamming home some easy baskets on his way to (8) first quarter points, but scored only (3) more total after that opening salvo.

The Hawks came out and played with the intensity and desire that comes after one gets embarassed as they were in losing to Oakland last night, yielding such a large, late lead to a team that had not overcome such a fourth quarter deficit since 1978.

But, as these things do in a (48) minute game, that emotion wears off and teams are left with choosing to come up with energy to build on what was started or being to relinquish that momentum. Alas, the Hawks began to grow weary of moving the ball, getting inside offensively, and moving on the defensive end as well, and their early game momentum waned.

The Hawks gave back their early lead and treaded water for the next two quarters, going a long period of time in the third quarter without points in the paint, second chance or fast break points. The Hawks bench showed that if in the game as a full unit at a time, the results could be disastrous. One need only look at the (-17) number accrued by Jeff Teague in a little more than (3) minutes of floor time to understand that observation.

As the fourth quarter began the Hawks began to show more life and diversity on offense, using Josh Smith as a channel for their offensive attack. Smith, who had aided and abetted the Jazz with some shaky shot selection in those middle quarters, and some loafish defense in transition, as well a couple of poor passes to begin the final quarter, was magnificent the rest of the way. Smith tallied (5) points, (3) assists, and (3) rebounds in the last quarter, as well as winning a critical jump ball that gave the Hawks possession up (4) with (30) seconds to play.

The Jazz are so hard to pin down in their own building that despite all of that, the Hawks still needed a bit of loose ball luck, some close range misses from Utah, and the calls to fall on behalf of the non-red-jerseyed Birds to manage to break the decades long madness. What a relief.

Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again

Al Horford must have drawn the short straw in the locker room before the game because the efficient all-star only had (4) shot attempts on the night. Oh, he still managed to score (13) points on those four shots, due in large part to his 7-8 shooting from the free throw line (game high). Horford was also game high with his (+24)---good things happen when Al is on the floor--and there might have been more if Al hadn't tied for sixth in shot attempts on the night.

The bench, as we stated earlier, was a problem, as Zaza Pachulia joined Teague as almost equally leaky (-16), though it took Zaza double the minutes to accomplish that. We're puzzled as to why the Hawks either don't play the reserves beyond Jamal Crawford at all or they play them together as a unit for long periods of time. Seems like those are the only two options instead of notion of mixing in starters with the reserves so that they aren't out there on their own for a long span of time. The lack of firepower and execution on both ends by the second unit was obvious and the Jazz took control during the four minutes or so they were in there together.

The Hawks ended up with a split of the four games on their West Coast swing, though the configuration of those wins and losses didn't quite come together as expected. Atlanta have not played at home since before the AS break, but they return home to play the Timberwolves on Wednesday, a game which gets THHB treatment as we will be making our first trip inside the Arena this season.

Let us know if you'll be there--and in the meantime enjoy the highlights of the Hawks first win in Utah since 1993.

Monday, February 22, 2010

ATL-GS Game Review: It Says Plenty

We're sure there will be a lot of folks who will take the result of the Hawks' 108-104 loss at Golden State and say how it doesn't mean much, it's one game, it's a long season, etc.

Certainly, Sunday night's loss won't cost the Hawks a playoff berth, likely not home court for the first round, etc--there won't be any long term ramifications as a result of this one loss to the Warriors.

Still, the blueprint and DNA of this loss is one that is marked across the franchise at this point, with these players, and these coaches. The refusal to play fundamental basketball and eschewing of what has proven to be successful even throughout the course of the single game that they are playing has served and will serve as their ultimate escort from the 2009-2010 season.

After three quarters, the Hawks led 90-73. ESPN, the entire THHB staff, and stray dogs were commenting how the Hawks, after playing loose basketball and settling for long shots, leading to what Golden State does best, run a bunch of guards in the open floor to get easier shots, finally took control of the game.

Don Nelson said as much during his post third quarter (which the Hawks dominated 38-22, with 24 of those points coming in the paint) interview with the Worldwide Leader, expressing how they were able to get the Hawks to play their way for the first half, but Atlanta used their size advantage well in the third to take control.

Apologists tonight might make mention of being in the third game of this West coast trip, and how fatigue might have set in, but THHB has to, has to, call foul on that. We're talking about (12) more minutes to play the same fundamentally sound basketball that was played the prior (12) minutes. The Warriors didn't get taller. The Warriors did nothing different defensively. It was the Hawks that applied the cruel poison to their own game by taking the game back out to the perimeter for their final bow.

Don't tell us how there was a possession here or there that didn't work in the paint, or through Al Horford, etc. We can fill a canyon full of possessions that don't work the way the Hawks insist upon doing their business on a consistent basis. They lost sight of what was working,  lost their focus, and eventually lost the game.

Again, we realize that this doesn't make the Hawks a losing team. This outcome doesn't automatically invert their record or weigh more than the single stroke in the loss column. But, it does continue to color in the fact bubble that this team cannot be counted on to play consistently to the strengths that have led/will lead to their greater success.

And Furthermore

The Hawks came apart mentally in the fourth quarter after being shaky throughout, save for that aberration that was the third quarter. They were scrambling, unsure of what, where, or how to get the ball in the basket. After taking (24) free throws through three quarters,  they attempted merely (4) in the final quarter. Jamal Crawford lost his mind with an inexplicable technical foul in a tie game, on the road, after a play that led to the Hawks retaining the basketball with (35) seconds left to go in the game. Mind boggling.

Sure, statistically the Hawks look great. Al Horford had 26 and 11, Joe Johnson had 31 points, Josh Smith 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 assists. We're sure it feels as hollow to them as it rings empty to us.

We were going to say something nice about Stephen Curry, who is part of a marvelous renaissance of shooters in the league, with Kevin Durant leading the way, but we can't find the heart right now. Suffice to say, we love his shot, and his 32 points on 13-18 shooting was impressive.

Adding insult to the injury is the fact that the Warriors had eight men ready to play this game, health-wise.

To put the Warriors away, especially as short handed as they were, requires an offensive skill set that the Hawks don't have, both in the players and the coaching system. Teams like Golden State can be licked by moving the basketball from side to side, patiently moving without the basketball and getting the shots you want as a team. The Hawks, as we all know, prefer to dribble and let the defense rest a bit, and dare you to outdefend their isolatory skills. This is the case in the post, perimeter, whatever, it's what the Hawks do. There is occasional movement without the ball, set plays where the Hawks execute nicely, but nothing that resembles the drumbeat consistency of a team like Utah, who most recently beat the Warriors, in Oakland, by logging (32) assists.

The more the Hawks misfired from the outside, the more the Warriors ran and got easy shots, to the tune of (54) percent shooting to the Hawks (45) percent. The Hawks did exactly what it took for Golden State to win the game, and the hosts graciously accepted. The end.

Here are the highlights, if you can make it through them. Good luck.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

ATL-LAC Game Review: The Big Three-Oh

Some Al Horford numbers:

31 points. 15 shots.

6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals.

12-15 FG, 7-9 FT, game high +22.

Suffice to say, it was a good night for our favorite former Gator now Hawk big man. Horford was on all night long and scored in a variety of ways. Horford wore out Clipper big men Chris Kaman and Deandre Jordan by running the floor and taking advantage of many of the Clippers' generous 22 turnovers.

But it wasn't just the Hawks' 34 points off turnovers that Horford feasted on, he scored in the half court as well, taking it to the taller Clipper big men. Yes, it helped that the Clippers had just dealt Marcus Camby leaving the hosts one shot blocker down, but Al stayed true to his pre-game objective---stay aggressive. That aggression led to his game high 9 free throw attempts as well as a number of in-close baskets made.

Al has to share the glory on the night with Josh Smith, who enabled many of the early Horford buckets with his unselfish, timely passes around the bucket. J-Smoove got his (20 points) as well, along with 9 rebounds and 4 steals, but it was many of his 7 assists that set the Hawks off.

It was great to see the Hawks take advantage of their front court advantage by getting Smith and Horford a lot of touches, not relegating their fortunes on the night to whether Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were hot or not. With those points off turnovers, 19 fast break points, and 70 (!) points in the paint, the Hawks took control of the game early on and never let the Clippers fully back into the game despite giving up a 50 percent shooting night to their hosts.

Taking Care of Business

Helping the Hawks was their signature trait of the season, protecting the basketball. The Hawks had a mere 9 turnovers against a whopping 27 assists. A 3 to 1 ratio will win a lot of games unless it's only 3 assists and 1 turnover. 

Along with Crawford, who had an inconsequential 12 points himself, was the return of Zaza Pachulia. Zaza had a tidy 8/7/1/2/1 line in his 18 minutes and shook of rust right away by getting the ball and diving into the Clippers on his first possession. He missed both free throws, but he settled in nicely after that, furthering the Hawks "attack" approach even with the second unit in the game.

If you looked at the traditional lines on the Clippers' Bobby Brown, Craig Smith, and Eric Gordon, you might be led to believe they were a big reason they were still in the game. But their awful turnovers (14 between the three of them), especially those from Brown, were major catalysts in their undoing.

The Hawks scored 70 points in the paint, made zero 3-pointers and allowed only 8 Clipper offensive rebounds.

Chris Kaman can score the ball, he proved that again by making a series of jump shots and hook shots, but for the Hawks to score 70 points in the paint and for the biggest guy on the court to have a single blocked shot seems subpar.

The Hawks didn't have to win this game, but it would have felt like such a missed opportunity to take a road game from a weakened team (oh, Baron Davis didn't play, either). For a 4-game road stretch which included winnable games such as this one and the defensively challenged Golden State Warriors, it behooved the Hawks to get things going the right way.

And, for THHB, attacking the opponent's weakness--even if it didn't involve making jump shots, forcing turnovers, scoring in the paint, keeping them off the glass, and taking care of the ball was the right way to start.

Well, that and 31 points on 15 shots for Horford. That was good, too.

Enjoy the highlights:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Five

Before we begin, you encourage you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7, #6

Our Number Five Hawk of the Decade is:

Al Horford

For those Bird Watchers who witnessed Al mesh seamlessly into the high talent fabric that was the 2010 All-Star Game, you had to feel pride.

There was your guy, your player hitting jump shots, running the floor, finishing strong, rebounding, provide (what?!) defense at an AS game. Al proved he belonged on a stage where few Hawks have proved worthy.

This season, Horford became the first drafted Hawk to represent the good guys in the All-Star game since Kevin Willis in 1992.

Still, as the 2007 NBA Draft approached, and as Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were already penned in at the top 2 positions, what the people wanted to do with #3 pick was hotly contested as seen here, here, and here among many channels of opinion.

In the Hawks Blog-o-rama, ESPN's Hoopinion thought very highly of Al in his two opportunities to evaluate their options. We had our sights set on Al from the get-go and are thrilled things have worked out better than if the team had cast their lots with Jianlian or Conley as were discussed in those circles.

Right from the beginning, Horford was a team favorite due to his hustle, attitude, and plus level abilities. He was drafted to fill the need for a post playing big on both ends, and to date he has not disappointed statistically--and has delivered when called upon. His immediate acumen in the front court allowed the Hawks to divest themselves of the previous fellow drafted to fulfill such desperate needs, Shelden Williams, in the trade that brought the #6 Hawk of the decade into the fold.

Horford ranked second in the decade in Defensive Rebounding Rate (24.2, second to Mutombo), and in Total Rebounding Rate (16.8) while also being the only Hawks to rate in the Top 5 in both Offensive and Defensive Rating (114/105).

There has been much discussion around how historically little Horford is used offensively, but more recently Coach Woodson has seen fit to include Horford more. Still, as Hardwood Paroxysm showed in their PER/Usage report, and as Matt Moore himself thought enough of to invoke all caps, AL HORFORD NEEDS MORE TOUCHES. End quote.

Horford has acquitted himself nicely in being a power forward in a center universe, something he admitted to us he wasn't sure he was able to do and still be the player he thought he could be. But he has and he continues to grow, meaning that this may not be the only decade that Horford resides in the Hawks Top Ten.

His growth has helped the Hawks rise from the depths of the lottery to deeper and deeper into the playoffs. His professional approach and attitude has come to define him and are likely the reasons, along with his production and talent, that the coaches voted him in as a reserve in this year's all star game.

Will he have a Derek Harper like consistency to his statistical improvement? We hope so, and look forward to seeing Horford in a Hawks uniform for a long time.

After all, he is our Number Five Hawk of the Decade.

Friday, February 12, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Six

If you haven't heard, you can check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8, #7

Number Six is a player upon whose arrival the improvement of the franchise kicked into high gear.

Our Number Six Hawks Player of the Decade is:

Mike Bibby

Bibby came to the Hawks in the 2007 deal that sent Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Lorenzen Wright and 2006 Hawks' first rounder Shelden Williams to Sacramento in a salary dump trade.

The trade marked two things:

1. The Hawks were finally the team buying at the trade deadline instead of selling. A wonderful statement on the state of the franchise.

2. Bibby marked the first real point guard the Hawks had rostered since Mookie Blaylock was dealt in 1999.

Neither of these things should go understated, as they were significant marking points of the team's direction. That the Hawks were able to get a player of Bibby's caliber for nothing more than a collection of salaries was a position that the Hawks hadn't been in a while.

But what made Bibby's arrival most weighty, as well as garnering the #6 slot on our list, was that the presence of his consistent, long range shooting and leadership at the position that needs it most---and those two things drove the Hawks to the next level--the playoffs.

Last season, Bibby turned in a terrific performance at the point, stated somewhat awkwardly by THHB here, prompting a 3 year, 18 million dollar deal for a job well done and some continued stability at the point.

Bibby provided a needed relief for Joe Johnson, one as another shooter in the backcourt who is cold-blooded when it comes to taking late game shots, another as an outlet to pass to when double-teamed, and finally as the needed locker room voice---not just to the media, but to teammates and Coach Woodson as well. THHB makes the point that without that steadying influence in the locker room, the team doesn't mature into the home court holding playoff team it is right now.

This season, Bibby's role is reduced due to age, defensive erosion, and the presence of Jamal Crawford. Bibby's numbers are down---including rate numbers---and his skill set is more role playing facilitator and long range sniper than 35-40 minute-per-game workhorse, but he still provides the leadership and playmaking abilities at the point that the team needs there.

Bibby's arrival on the team, and the leap of success that followed, along with his production since he joined the team, makes Bibby our Number Six Hawk of the Decade.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MIA-ATL Game Review: Stumblin' In

One of the nice things about the laid back atmosphere at the Official Headquarters of THHB is that, when faced with a game that so throughoughly grosses the game review team out, such as the Wednesday night home tilt versus Miami, we don't have to get into the nuances of such an epic fourth quarter fail.

No, Hawks Nation should be thrilled to have ESPN's Hoopinion, Yahoo/SBNation's Peachtree HoopsFansided's Soaring Down South, and fellow indie bloggers Hawk str8talk and CoCo's: The Vent around to bring the noise on those nights when THHB get grumpy and doesn't want to bring themselves to work after such a game--preferring to ignore the stink and watch "Caddyshack" for the 101st time together.

That way we don't have to recap such things as an (84) possession slush fest that looked as if the Hawks were trying to shoot out of the (50) inch snowdrifts they avoided in the nation's capital over the weekend. If we did break it down, we would find that---


---are the reasons why the Hawks never could get momentum, dog paddled for three quarters, and then gave way in the fourth. Hope it was enlightning.

Location, Location, Location

Since we don't have to deal with the cold weather or the powder (no, not the Chris Washburn kind), we can freely give our other thoughts about the individuals associated with Wednesday's game---all without a jacket.

Joe Johnson may have collapsed (without the partnership of Jamal Crawford, out with a shoulder injury) under the previously common, but recently unique offensive focus the Hawks left him with, but THHB is not going to pin it on the (trumpets) FOUR TIME ALL STAR. No, we don't blame Iso-Joe, Joe-on-Five, or any of the other (fair) nicknames for the previously default Hawks offense. No, in this game it was his teammates inability to make, get, or take good shots that left the ball back in Joe's hands to try and save the day.

Al Horford, for what looked to be the third game in a row, was doing a dang-good Boris Diaw impersonation, at times not even looking to attack the hoop though he has had great success dealing with the Heat frontcourt in the past. And some times that he did, he looked like his first option was to pass, not shoot, much like the former Hawk first rounder now located in CLT. This is not the behavior that the team needs, especially on a night like Wednesday when the outside shots were not there. In a typical bad-game moment for the team, though, when Horford did finally shake the Diaw-blues and make a couple of strong buckets in the fourth, the team went away from getting him the ball. Alas.

The entire team struggled to get baskets at the rim, shooting a (45) percent clip, the team shooting (38) percent overall. Marvin Williams was 1-4 at the rim while attempting to recreate the 6-6 bonanza from the night before and help the effort, but finished 3-11. Not helping were the (10) turnovers shared between Joe Johnson and Al Horford (14 for the entire team). On a night when possessions were few, and the shots aren't falling, tossing (12) percent of them away between these two guys made it a difficult task to win. Between that and the shooting, it was just a bad night.

The Hawks were still treading water, hoping to get by on a C+ night, when Daequan Cook played the role of Jamal Crawford in a Heat uni and shot the Hawks down in the fourth quarter. Cook for the night went 7-12 with every shot happening from the outside. Maurice Evans let his guard down for a tick in the final quarter, and when Cook was done making Evans and the Hawks pay, the game was figuratively over.

If the Hawks are wondering how they can more consistently conquer their division mates (they are now 4-6 in the Southeast) they can look to the wisdom of ESPN's Hoopinion, who wrote this excellent passage (which of course needed to be explained to the brainiacs here at THHB).

---but it's clear that an average rebounding team (which is what the Hawks are overall) can maintain a healthy +5 or +6 point per 100 possessions differential. They certainly can as long as they turn the ball over less often than the other 29 teams, and, should they start turning the ball over more often, they could maintain said healthy differential by improving their rebounding, or shooting a higher percentage from the floor, or getting to the free throw line more often.

They turned it over more than the Heat, shot worse than the Heat, and rebounded worse than the Heat. So, using this formula (which ironically is exactly what Bret said there wasn't---ha!), the Hawks needed another (57) or so free throws to overcome the nastiness.

Another Amazing Gesture by a First Class Franchise

The aforementioned members of the Hawks Blogging Nation were invited to ask questions to Hawks GM Rick Sund before the AS break/Trade Deadline at some point before/during the game between the Heat and Hawks. We look forward to seeing what questions they asked as THHB had to decline due to our tax-friendly location for our HQ here in Florida.

The event is another example of how the Hawks have long been ahead of the curve when it has come to the internet generation of sports coverage, as long as you are there to do your work with a level of respect, courtesy, and some professionalism--well, that doesn't really explain our inclusion, does it?


Here are the highlights:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ATL-MEM Game Review: Sorry Memphis, No Slumpbusters Here

You could feel for the Grizzlies, you really could.

Memphis is experiencing a good season, one in which their throwaway off-season acquisition (Zach Randolph) has turned into an All-Star and their young core (Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley) is beginning to come together. However, coming into their Tuesday night home game against the Hawks, they were in the throws of a three game losing streak, something that in the Western Conference can drop you behind teams very quickly. As it was, Memphis woke up Tuesday and found themselves at the bottom of the (12) teams in the West above (.500).

However friendly these Hawks are face-to-face, they were not in any position to offer on-the-court charity to the Grizzlies, chasing the Magic in their own division and not wanting to fall any further under .500 on the road (they entered the game a single notch below). In the end the Hawks would use an aggressive approach on offense, a tight second half defense, and Jamal Crawford to nab a quality 108-94 win in Memphis.

The game started with Joe Johnson hitting (5) points on the first two Hawks possessions. If THHB told you that Joe would score (6) more for the other 47:44 minutes in the game, you might have thought we had the wrong result in the previous paragraph. But trust us---our eyes hath not deceived us.

The Hawks played good enough offense in the first half against a team that, while they are offensively exciting at times--especially in transition, is a borderline bottom five defense in the league. Defensively, the Hawks struggled as Memphis took off in transition after makes and misses, scoring some easier points as Atlanta was slow to get back and defend. When Gay made a free throw with 2:19 left in the first half, the Grizzlies led 53-44. What came next was a (9) point run by Marvin Williams and Al Horford and when the horn sounded, the MEM lead was down to 55-53.

Williams was the aggressor all night, taking the ball to the basket and scoring on six of his eight shots inside the three point arc. He also helped keep the league's leading Offensive Rebounding Rate team down to moderately low (10) offensive grabbing (6) defensive boards of his own to go with his (15) points on the night.

The Hawks outscored the Grizzlies by (9) in a third quarter that saw the Atlanta defense quicker back on defense, rebounding well, and getting Memphis to shoot more from the outside. The margin might have been larger if not for some extremely careless ball handling by Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford (3 turnovers) in transition opportunities. But after Smith committed his third turnover with 4:22 left in the third quarter, the Hawks would not lose the ball again until Woodson emptied the bench in the fourth, a 13:32 span.

During that stretch, the Hawks turned the Grizzlies over (4) times and outscored their hosts 37-18 with half (OK, more than half--19) of those points coming off the considerably warm fingertips of Jamal Crawford.

Well, now me and Homer Jones and Big John Talley
Had a big crap game goin' back in the alley
And I kept rollin' them sevens
Heh heh, winnin' all them pots
My luck was so good I could do no wrong
I jest kept on rollin' and controllin' them bones
And finally they jest threw up their hands and said
'When you hot, you hot'

-Jerry Reed, 1971
Folks, Crawford was hot. 7-10 with (2) assists and (19) points in those deciding minutes of the game. That streak included (3) threes, but he was just as crafty getting to the rim as well. He is fun to watch when he is on---you expect to hear the old NBA JAM announcer bellow "He's On Fire!" when he gets going as he was in Memphis Tuesday night.

Riding the Fiery Trail Through Graceland

Separate from Crawford, the rest of the Hawks had a good shooting night as well, putting a (55) percent field goal number up on the board. In all, (5) Hawks joined Crawford in double digits, including Mike Bibby--who put 11 points/6 assists up in a half a game's work (22 minutes).

Al Horford won the battle of the efficient, yet underused centers battle with Marc Gasol, despite the latter's attempt to channel his inner Sabonis with hooking arms chicanery and lower body shoving as Horford swept through the lane offensively. Horford scored his usual (15) points on a mere (7) shots, blending the inside with the outside fluently. He also made inside life difficult for Gasol, who managed to only make (3) of his (7) shots. Horford was a game high (+21) while Gasol was a game low (-23). Yahtzee!

The Hawks blocked only (3) shots on the night, but two came on what has to be considered the play of the night for the Hawks. Early in the second half Memphis got ahead of the Hawks in transition and OJ Mayo was ready to lay it in for the finish. When he let the ball go Marvin came from behind for the block. Sadly, the ball landed in the hands of Zach Randolph, who was ready to quickly finish his gift for two points. That was the plan, until Josh Smith quickly got between the rim and the ball and put the whammy on such plans. Nice.

In the shadows of Crawford and the team's excellent shooting night was the all around numbers that Josh and Al put up in the game. Smith finished with 7-10, 17 point, 6 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steals, and a block night while Al countered with his 5-7, 15 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steal night of his own.When the frontcourt is active and involved, that makes it easier for Johnson and Crawford, especially against a willing defense like Memphis, and nets the Hawks a lot of wins.

Friday, February 5, 2010

THHB's Top 10 Hawks of the Decade: Number Seven

If you didn't already know, we invite you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),

Top Hawks by Statistical Category

THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8

Our next entry is a player that was undoubtedly the face of the Hawks in the 90's, post Dominique. His presence, statistical acumen, and unique personality carried him through the last days of Lenny Wilkens and into the dawn of the Lon Kruger era.

Our Number Seven Hawk of the Decade is:

Dikembe Mutombo

When folks think of Dikembe Mutombo, they usually conjure up the image of a blocked shot followed by a wagging finger followed closely by a variation of his signature Cookie-Monster like voice and laugh. What THHB remembers about the 7'2 giant is his tremendous productivity as one of the best ever to play for the Hawks.

Those who read us regularly know of our fondness for the shot-blocker---that's no lie---and Mutombo was terrific at it. Even though he was 33-34 years old during the first two years of the aughts, Deke's block rate was still top 10 in the L. For his career, Mutombo has the eighth best block shot rate, the seventh best blocks per game, the second most blocked shots total. He was a massive deterrent inside; his presence alone made driving opponents think twice while they shot inside against Dikembe.

Man did not fly in the House of Mutombo.

While his shot blocking was all-time level, what made Mutombo statistically special was his outstanding rebounding on both ends.

Mutombo easily distanced all Hawks in the aughts in Defensive (31.9) and Total Rebounding Rate (21.9). In the two seasons in Atlanta that decade, Deke led the NBA in DRR in '99-'00 and won the rebounding triple crown (ORR, DRR, and TRR) in '00-'01. For his efforts, Mutombo won the Defensive Player of the Year Award for 2000-2001.

Included in that terrific '00-'01 campaign was Deke's fourth trip to the AS game as a Hawk. In that game, Mutombo helped the East overcome a (19) point fourth quarter deficit to win the game in Washington DC. In it Mutombo blocked (3) shots and grabbed an astounding (22) rebounds. The performance complimented the scoring of Sixer star Allen Iverson and was played out in front on then-Philly coach Larry Brown.

The Hawks in 2000-2001 were clearly in a rebuilding period with the purging of Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock before the previous season and Mutombo had over (30) million dollars coming to him in his Age 35 and 36 seasons in the two years left on his contract. Those variables plus the impression Dikembe left on Larry Brown made it no surprise when the Hawks dealt Mutombo to the Sixers for Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, and Pepe Sanchez--just (11) days after that AS game.

Kukoc was tailing off already after years of pro ball dating back to his teen years and battled back problems up to the point where he was dealt in the Glenn Robinson deal two season later. Ratliff blocked shots like Mutombo, but wasn't near the rebounder the Hawks had come to know in Dikembe. Mohammed became a solid piece and tied for #10 on our All-Decade list.

In the end--understanding how it all played out--it would have been nice to be able to keep Mutombo around as a defensive presence and rebounder--even into the early part of Josh Smith's years--but it's unlikely the big man would have signed with the rebuilding Hawks, especially as the team shuffled through the Kruger and Terry Stotts years. Still, his presence here would have held down the since hard to staff position of center and personally given Dikembe significant momentum for his own Hall of Fame chances.

Mutombo's fantastic production and like-ability was sensational for his time with the Hawks, but is ranked seventh here due to the brevity of his time as a Hawk in the Aughts (131 games). Had he continued---he may have been number one.

Here is a reminder of the fun that was watching Mutombo--the greatest free agent signing ever for the Hawks:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

LAC-ATL Game Review: Turnabout Is Interesting Play

Wednesday night in Philips Arena, the Los Angeles Clippers were oh so close to claiming back-to-back wins in Atlanta's basketball home before giving way late in the fourth quarter to lose 103-97 to the Hawks.

Throughout the game, the Clippers controlled the contest, using their size inside with Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman to control the glass and make shots difficult for the one-on-one Hawks.

The Clippers got the early lead on their hosts, though neither team had much going on offensively. The Clippers held the lead for much of the first half, but emerged from the locker room in a funk, allowing the Hawks to turn them over (4) times in the first couple of minutes of the second half, allowing the Birds to finally take the lead in that stretch.

But, as they did throughout the game, every time the Hawks pulled close to the Clippers wagon, the visitors would hit the gas and extend the lead once more with aggressive play and good outside shooting. The Clippers got the lead out to (13) on back-to-back dunks by Rasual Butler with (2) minutes left in the third quarter.

The Hawks then went on a shooting spree, knocking down consecutive threes from Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford and adding in a layup from Josh Smith. Then, with the Hawks down (5) in the closing seconds of the quarter, Crawford completed his 24th four-point play, tying him with Reggie Miller for the all-time NBA record and bringing the Hawks to within a single point of the Clipper lead.

But just as before when the Hawks caught up to the charging Clippers, Los Angeles pulled away yet again, extending the lead back out to (9) with nine minutes to go.

In games past, the Hawks have been called out for resorting to a Joe-centric offensive game plan, especially when times got rough on the offensive end. The Hawks could hardly be criticized for doing so the last couple of games, as Johnson has been among the hottest scorers in the league, yet the team has sought to diversify during the last few games and avoid the now-infamous Iso-Joe sets that opponents have been sitting on when chasing down the Hawks.

In the fourth, while attempting to once again pull even with the Clippers, the Hawks spread the ball around getting the ball into Al Horford for some inside points and Crawford for some mid-range magic. Meanwhile Johnson continued to scope for scoring opportunities himself, getting to the line for a couple of free throws, getting the Hawks back to within a point.

The Clippers had done a wonderful job of contesting many of the Hawks shots, especially inside. holding the Hawks to below (50) percent on shots at the rim to that point. But, incredibly, the Clippers let their defenses down late in this game as Johnson took his man off the dribble and got to the square for (3) close range baskets, the last of which accounted for his 29th and 30th points and gave the Hawks a (4) point lead.

Then, after Horford knocked down a pair of free throws to maintain the advantage that Johnson had previously provided, the Clippers took a page out of the much maligned Hawks playbook.

The Clippers had built their lead for much of the night by attacking the Hawks defense in its undersized middle, moving the ball from side to side, hitting cutters to the basket, and taking advantage of the Hawks switch-a-roo defense by grabbing (14) offensive rebounds, (10) of which were attributed to Marcus Camby (who had 20 boards for the game).

They had scored (52) points in the paint to this point in the game when Baron Davis, who had a modest game going, took on the Hawks defense one-on-five, an Iso-Baron, if you will. Davis took an ill-advised layup and fade-away in consecutive trips, missing both, allowing the Hawks to build the lead out to (7) before Davis came down and hit a three, completing his triumvirate of self-serving possessions down the stretch. Johnson played out the fouling end game, making four free throws, thereby sealing his game high (34) point performance and the Hawks win, a steal of a win as any home game could be.

Thoughts as Random as Eric Gordon's Shot Selection

THHB applauds two unique stat lines in the game: Camby's 6 point, 20 rebound, 6 assist game and Mike Bibby's 4 point, 4 board, 3 assist, 4 steal effort. Bravo.

We're going to go ahead and place that wager that says the Hawks will win all games when Johnson and Crawford have more than 1.2 points per possession used---though this game was close to beating those odds--even with Johnson @ 1.29 and Crawford @ 1.28.

Count us among the happy ATL masses that only saw Al Thornton (4-6, 8 points) on the floor for (21) minutes. Maybe we were still dizzy from the (13-22, 31 point, 7 rebound, 6 assist) performance Thornton laid down on the Hawks last season while the Clippers blew Atlanta out in Philips last year. Hey, Mike Dunleavy, were not mad at ya--thank you!

Somewhere in the second half, Horford started going straight up against the Clipper front line, accepting the contact and getting his points from the line. Every bit of his 16/10 night was needed to get the job done, as was the double digit rebounds efforts from his front court mates (Marvin Williams-10, Josh Smith-10).

With the terrific height advantage and success they were having in the paint, we're surprised the Clippers deferred and took as many outside shots as they did. They were 10-37 from further than (16) feet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ATL-OKC Game Review: Have The Thunder Passed the Hawks?

Among the many items to consume in the 106-99 Hawks loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder is whether the young upstarts from Oklahoma are really already beyond the Hawks in terms of their progression as a team.

Yes, as Mike Prada over at Bullets Forever noted to us over on Twitter after the game, the Hawks are further ahead in the standings than the Thunder, and while that calmed the veracity of our opinion, it didn't stop us from looking further into the numbers to change our minds for sure.

Looking into the Fabled Four Factors we see the following:

Team A:  102/100 Off/Def Efficiency, 48.63/47.33 EFG% (Own/Opp), 32.6/30.1 FT Rate, 14.58/14.21 Turnover Rate, 28.35/27.36 Offensive Rebounding Rate

Team B:  108.4/103.5 O/D Effic., 50.47/49.73 EFG%, 27.8/28.8 FTR, 11.38/13.72 TO Rate, 27.58/27.07 ORR

Pretty close, and those who watch the Hawks know that Team A is the Thunder and Team B, with the low own turnover rate, is Atlanta.

That turnover rate is the only thing, statistically, keeping the Hawks ahead of the Thunder at this current juncture, as it impacts both efficiencies. With the Thunder's age/experience difference, you might expect them to have a higher turnover rate than the more seasoned Hawks.

Weigh in that the Thunder are still rising this season, while the Hawks are tailing off a little bit from their league leading start. Even in the Basketball-Reference stat, SRS, the Thunder are closing in, ranking 10th while the Hawks have slipped from 1st to 5th.

Now look on the court, where OKC has taken care of the Hawks twice now. They are active and long defensively, out Hawks-ing the Hawks, giving ATL all kinds of fits inside, especially on the glass, where the Thunder outworked the Hawks for (17) offensive rebounds, including (5) from PG Russell Westbrook. The Hawks started the season faring better on the defensive glass, but have slipped back into the familiar twenties (21st before Tuesday's game) in that category.

Offensively, the Hawks, despite THHB's harping on sharing the ball more and working inside-out for better shots, still outpace the Thunder in Assist Rate, though OKC shoots a considerable lower percentage of three point shots per game than does ATL.

The Hawks have the great Joe Johnson, whose ability to score was on display again against OKC, under control for (37) points, with (4) of his (13) buckets assisted. Johnson hit on some iso, but the ball found him in good positions to score and Joe took advantage of a shifting defense to get in the lane and get higher percentage looks. All (4) of his assisted baskets occurred from the outside (16) feet.

They also have Al Horford who, while being recognized as one of the league's best as an All-Star, still plays timid at times around the rim. Horford shot 2-6 at the rim against OKC, and hasn't lost the habit of bringing the ball all the way down below his waist when preparing to hoist himself up around the rim. The process takes so long that the opponents can collapse on him and block his shot. This has caused Al to get into a habit of trying to sneak the ball into the basket, resulting in--on one occasion, sending the ball quickly and inaccurately way too high and hard off the glass versus trying to stuff it home or draw a foul.

Josh Smith, who became the youngest player in NBA history to reach (1000) blocked shots, had a nice game as well (15/6/3), gives the Hawks a nice triumvirate of talent, but neither he (5) nor Horford (2) got enough defensive rebounds to hold the Thunder in check. The (6) extra shots and (7) extra free throw attempts were enough to make the difference between winning and losing against the Thunder.

On the Thunder roster are a number of solid, young players. Jeff Green and James Harden provide toughness and shotmaking, and Westbrook is an energetic playmaker. But what has moved the Thunder so far, so fast, is the continued improvement of (surprise) Kevin Durant, and his ascent from potential to arrival.

Nobody has to be reminded that Durant is a superstar. His offensive prowess is evident, with his 100 rating stroke, but all of his rates are going up as well: rebounding, blocks, steals, etc. What we're seeing in OKC is the power of the superstar making the water rise to new levels. He's getting to the free throw line more and more, earning (14) throws against the Hawks.

It's the presence of the superstar that can lift franchises to greater heights than the team that is built around a number of fringe all-star caliber players. We've seen Cleveland go to greater heights than the roster around LeBron James would indicate---and OKC seems to be built much more efficiently than even that squad.

Looking back at the numbers, at this moment in time, the Hawks maintain an edge based on their ability to take care of the basketball. But the Thunder are right there statistically, and it won't be long before the star of Durant and the rest of the Thunder carries them above what even the talented Hawks can muster.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

THHB Conversation With: Mike Woodson on Offensive Pace

We've heard it from Mike Woodson before---the Hawks are better when they run.

And though we believe the coach believes it when he says that, as he did again with THHB before the Orlando game, we had to challenge Woodson that the Hawks play slower than most teams in the NBA, an accusation supported by the 8th slowest possession pace in the league (93.6 possessions).

Says the coach, "Ideally, we’d like to be able to score before the other team gets set up, especially the stronger defenses like Boston, Orlando, Cleveland, LA. But it isn’t always that way---you gotta be able to execute in the halfcourt sometime."

According to, the Hawks take a shot within the first (10) seconds of their possession about (39) percent of the time, tied for 9th in the league, but just one percentage point ahead of six other teams, putting them pretty close to the median.

When pressed further, Woodson clarifies that to get that score before the other team sets up, the Hawks must play......defense.

"I want us to milk possessions and get the best shot possible—but when we win big, it’s when our defenses generate a lot of easier opportunities for us offensively."

"That’s when we’re at our best—when we’re capitalizing defensively on the turnovers and not turning it over ourselves. When we’re making stops, then rebounding the ball, getting deflections and things of that nature, that’s when we’re really at our best. Any team in the league is at their best when they are doing that."

The Hawks were much better at this earlier in the season, when they were ruling the roost in the advanced statistical categories, but recently Atlanta has seen their defensive rebounding (a bugaboo in past seasons) slip again, now down to 9th worst defensive rebounding rate. Should the Hawks continue their slide, it will be hard for them to maintain their high offensive efficiency, and to execute on their coach's idea of their most effective offensive possessions.

Woodson differentiates that the when he says he wants the Hawks to run, he doesn't mean pace for pace's sake, like say the Golden State Warriors, who routinely have a faster pace, but less efficient over 100 possessions.

"There’s nothing sloppy about how we play. If it was, we wouldn’t be where we are today, leading the division. When we are taking care of the basketball—when you don’t turn it over, you get more shots. We don’t get a lot of possessions, but we don’t turn it over, either."

We wonder about Woodson's theory, while it makes sense, does it make as much of an impact as he might think? His team does enjoy a fantastic (11.36) percent turnover rate and a quick tap at the official THHB abacus tells us that, the Hawks net (83) possessions per 100 when removing turned over possessions. How does that match up with, say, the 3rd fastest rate team, the Minnesota Timberwolves? Minnesota drops from (98.9) to (84.61), lending some weight to Woody's "effective possessions".

Regardless of what words he chooses to use about pace, it's not the speed of possession that truly matters, but the manner of care to which it is treated. Woodson's style is still more Larry Brown than Doug Moe and the results are there---the Hawks are still in the top 5 in many of the advanced offensive team statistics .

THHB thanks Coach Mike Woodson and the Atlanta Hawks for their time for this interview. Opinions and theories (as well as challenging our University of Florida math) can be done safely in the Comments Area.

Monday, February 1, 2010

THHB Conversation With: Al Horford

Much to our surprise, delightfully so, last Thursday Al Horford was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. THHB was all set to explain why we thought Al was going to go unrecognized at that level. We were going to point to the obvious underuse, the lack of looking past at raw numbers to decide merit and standing in the NBA. We now happily send that opinion to the Recycle Bin.

So, what happened? Well, it looks as if the hard work and efficiency doesn't get lost in the stats. At Florida, Al also posted "low" numbers due to the amount of talent and distribution of offensive wealth among the back-to-back champions. Horford was confident as he entered the NBA that he could do even more at the pro level, but was immediately met with challenges with his new job.

In addition to adjusting to the speed and power of the pro game, Horford had to deal with playing where he called "out of position" in the center spot. This move caused Al to temper his perception of how far he could go in the league.

"Playing out of the position can be difficult to reach certain goals," noted Horford. He was unsure, even going into his second season, that staying at the center position was going to benefit him in terms of statistics and efficiency.

After Horford's rookie season, GMs changed, with Rick Sund replacing Billy Knight. Sund, however, firmly believes that Horford can be a difference maker--at center---and set about, with the help of his head coach, in convincing the willing big man that he can achieve his goals--even at center.

"Talking with GM Rick Sund and Coach Woodson they always had confidence that I could play in this position and be an all star," confirmed Horford.

Horford has excelled, though he routinely gives ground in height and weight most every night out. Still, in Atlanta's uber switching defense, Horford just as readily defends guards as centers. His quick feet and lower body power helps him on defense, but Al still is troubled by going up against taller, longer players when he gets the ball offensively.

Horford agrees: "No question—but I feel like I have gotten better playing them (taller guys)---there’s still a size disadvantage but I feel I try to use my size and quickness little things that those guys aren’t able to do."

THHB has been campaigning for the Hawks to work the ball inside out for the last couple of seasons---and now such a strategy involves including Horford as a channel through which to work the ball. His good hands, nice passing touch, and growing ability inside makes him an efficient method for which the Hawks could create good possessions. Recently, Mike Woodson has seen fit to push the ball more through this route--and Horford is ready.

"Coach has shown confidence in me in key parts of the game. He wants the ball in the post and he wants me (and Josh Smith) to be able to make plays," says Horford.

"I don’t think that my rookie year these are the things I was ready to do."

In all, Horford has made his mark in three short seasons, at a position he didn't know for sure if he could be this kind of success. His hard work, energy, and athleticism has gotten at least the coaches' attention. While he may have had more Usage elsewhere, he has definitely benefited from being on a talented, visible, growing team--an advantage he does not ignore.

"I’m thankful for all my teammates for making it easier for me. We try to make each other look good—I set them up and they set me up in return."

THHB thanks Al Horford and the Hawks Media Relations Staff for access for this interview. Follow up questions and opinions can be filed in the Comments Area.