Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots)

We could take the time to break down the Hawks' breakdown against the Cavs in back to back games, but we've chosen a much darker place--a recap of the Top Events of the Aughts, The 2000's, or whatever history chooses to call this last decade, one which saw many changes for the Hawks, for good and bad.

First we'll list some of those that didn't quite make the Top 20---we call these the Best of the Rest:

  • Dikembe Mutombo, Roshown McLeod traded to PHL for Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed
  • Shareef scores 50 against DET on Thanksgiving 2001
  • Jason Terry scores 46, Dirk Nowitzki 40 in epic scoring battle in 2002 (Hawks lose)
  • Hawks trade Kukoc, Lorenzen Wright, and Brevin Knight for Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson
  • DerMarr Johnson critically injured in early morning Mercedes accident in 2002
  • Hawks use pick acquired for trading 2001 pick to trade with SAC; draft Dan Dickau
  • Jason Terry signs 3 year, 22.5 million dollar offer sheet with Jazz, Hawks match
  • Steven Jackson, Bob Sura, and company win big in April---and cost the Hawks draft positions while the Clippers tank in 2004
  • Stephen Jackson signed and traded to Indiana for Al Harrington
  • Peja Drobjnak signed, named smelliest player alive--literally
  • Hawks win (13) games in 2004-2005
  • Hawks sign Zaza Pachulia to 4 year, 16 million dollar deal
  • Hawks miss on Sam Cassell, sign Speedy Claxton to a 4 year, 24 million dollar contract
  • Hawks 2009 offseason a big success (draft Jeff Teague, resigned Bibby, Marvin, Zaza, sign Joe Smith. Hawks trade Acie Law, Speedy Claxton for Jamal Crawford)
  • Hawks start season 21-10, best start since 1997
Now, on with the countdown:

20. Philips Arena Opens

The Hawks had played the previous seasons split between the Georgia Dome and Georgia Tech and left homeless in the process.

As the 1999-2000 season opened, the Hawks had a new home where the old Omni once stood. Philips Arena is still one of its kind with all the luxury boxes on one side and with new locker rooms and practice court, the Hawks were finally home.

The arena would go on to host the 2003 All-Star game, Michael Jordan's last, and later ride the excitement of Josh Smith and others and get dubbed "The Highlight Factory".

19. Josh Smith wins the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest 

Josh Smith, World. World, Josh Smith.

Fans were introduced to the Hawks high flying, exciting rookie when Smith slammed his way to the trophy. Smith dunks were great, but what folks remember most was when Smith donned a Dominique Wilkins throwback jersey and completed the signature windmill slam. It gave the Hawks a face for the franchise, even if it wasn't the best player on the team, he was the most noticeable and exciting, something that holds true to this day.

18. The 2007 NBA Draft

 The 2007 NBA was shaping up to be a good one. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant had declared for the draft, as had Mike Conley, Jr and Yi Jianlian. Adding to the flavor were the early entries of the back-to-back national champion Florida Gators, featuring Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford.

Despite the depth of the draft, the Hawks were on the verge of losing their pick, as they had to finish making good on the Joe Johnson deal with the Suns. If the Hawks didn't draw a top 3 pick in the lottery, they would lose the pick to the Suns and potentially miss out on adding another key piece to the mix.

Fortunately, the Hawks would indeed land the third pick in the draft and while it seemed for a while that there was a steep dropoff from Oden and Durant, the Hawks settled in on Horford, who gave the Hawks a low post presence on both ends they did not currently have.

Some fans weren't convinced, claiming the pick reminded them of the Shelden Williams pick from the year before, but it wouldn't be long before Horford would win everyone over with his fundamental play, athleticism, and hard work. Horford's rookie season was so impressive that he was a solid second place in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Kevin Durant.

17. Hawks "guarantee" playoffs for their season ticket holders

"Good afternoon, thank you for calling your playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks. How can I help you?"

This was an example of a greeting you would get for calling the Atlanta Hawks offices in 2002-2003. The team, led by coach Lon Kruger, decided that they would guarantee that the team would make the playoffs or offer a check or discount on the next season's season tickets.

Billboards were erected and mainstream media hyped it up, but mostly jokes were told at the Hawks expense. Expectations were high with the acquisition of Glenn Robinson in the offseason, and it was probably those, along with a cast of misfitting skill sets, that cost Lon Kruger his job in December as the Hawks were headed to a (35) win season---not enough to make the playoffs.

16. The Hawks Coaching Carousel

When the decade began, the all time winningest coach was at the helm. After the 1999-2000 season, Lenny Wilkens was gone and the Hawks were out to get a new coach. Byron Scott and Isiah Thomas were among those who were available at the time, but the Hawks set their sights on another big name coach.

Tom Izzo was offered a 5 year, 15 million dollar deal to leave Michigan State, but ultimately wasn't convinced he could succeed with a franchise in such disrepair. Jilted, the Hawks didn't pursue one of the successful former coaches available, but instead stayed on the college trail and brought in Illinois coach Lon Kruger.

Kruger was a good guy, but wasn't respected well on the professional level, despite the presence of strong assistants such as Eric Musselman, Rick Mahorn, and Gar Heard. Kruger also struggled with success, winning (25) games in 2000-2001, and (33) in 2001-2002.

Kruger was launched in December 2002, after starting the season 11-16 and seeing his team somewhat quit on him on a couple of games just before being replaced.

Terry Stotts, who became a lead assistant after Eric Musselman took the Golden State job, took over from Kruger and finished the season and coached the 2003-2004 season as well. Stotts was a firm believer in the establish-the-outside-and-that-will-open-up-the-inside coach.

In the summer of 2004, Billy Knight wanted to make a change and hired top assistant Mike Woodson away from the Pistons. Woodson took on a roster that was stripped down to the bone, with the exception of holdover Antoine Walker, who would be traded later that season.

After so much turnover, it's a wonder that Woodson has been kept ever since, starting with (13) wins and improving every season after.

15. Pete Babcock resigns, Billy Knight takes over as Hawks GM

There were many who celebrated the passing tenure of Pete Babcock, who had been the Hawks GM since 1990. Pete oversaw the end of the Mike Fratello era and all of the Lenny Wilkens era.

Pete had a flair for the trade or free agent signing, bringing in Dikembe Mutombo, Christian Laettner, Steve Smith, Mookie Blaylock, and the like--and was always an accessible figure in the organization, quick to claim ownership of any negative setback for the team.

Unfortunately, Pete also oversaw an era where the Hawks never quite got where the fans thought they should be with the Lenny teams, and the rebuilding effort in the early part of this decade which never did payoff with a winning record. More importantly to the fans of Atlanta, he also was "the one who traded Dominique Wilkins." and few of those folks were sorry when he stepped down.

14. Josh Smith signs an offer sheet with Memphis

Smith was a restricted free agent and Hawks GM Rick Sund was letting the market dictate the contract Smith could earn. The Sixers had shown interest, but they chose to pursue Elton Brand instead. Next were the Clippers, but they made a deal to acquire Marcus Camby and closed that door. The only team left were the Memphis Grizzlies if Smith wanted some substantial long term contract before the 2008-2009 season, and the team obliged, offering Smith a 5 year, 58 million dollar deal.The Hawks took nearly a second to match the offer and secure Smith through his mid-twenties.

13. Josh Childress moves to Greece

Childress saw low offers from a league that assumed the Hawks would match any reasonable number for the restricted free agent's services and made good on a threat to seek greener pastures elsewhere---even if that elsewhere wasn't even in the NBA.

Childress was a Billy Knight selection, sixth overall in 2004 ahead of Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala, but bristled at being relegated to bench status by Mike Woodson and what he felt like was inferior treatment from his teammates due to his being pigeonholed as "the energy guy". So when new Hawks GM Rick Sund wanted to let the market dictate proper compensation for Childress, Josh's agents did just that---in a league where there is no salary cap.

Childress made headlines for crossing over, and might still be the most interesting case of a player bucking the restricted free agent process. The Hawks maintain his rights by offering the same qualifying offer the last two seasons, but it seems that due to his personal reasons for not wanting to return to ATL along with the team's continued leverage in the situation, that Josh's return to the NBA will have to wait and will likely not be with the Hawks.

12. Dominique Wilkins comes back to the Hawks, Hawks retire Wilkins' number

After an acrimonious contract negotiation that led to his being dealt to the LA Clippers in 1994, Dominique Wilkins finally came back to the Hawks organization in many official (and unofficial) capacities.

After officially announcing his retirement from the NBA, the Hawks made plans to retire his jersey in January 2001, setting off a series of events surrounding the retirement, including a dinner in which THHB broke bread with Spud Webb.

Fittingly, the retirement ceremony took place on the night the Hawks played against the Clippers, and the fans lustily booed President Stan Kasten for his role (and Pete Babcock's) in dealing the legend away all those seasons ago.

Wilkins took the podium and told the fans how he'd taken his status in the city for granted, thanked the organization for welcoming him back, and seemed to soak in the fact that he was back in the Hawks fold. His jersey rose to take its place next to Bob Petitt and Lou Hudson in the Philips Arena rafters.

It just felt right having 'Nique back and it seemed good karma was following as The Namesake when to New Jersey for the 2001 Draft Lottery and pulled the Hawks the third pick overall.
Since then it has been a joy seeing Wilkins around the franchise and is fantastic filling the analyst role in the Hawks telecasts. Wilkins is just a tremendous ambassador for Hawks basketball and we would have missed a lot if Kasten and company hadn't reached out to 'Nique in 2000.

11. Hawks get back into the winning record business, wins first playoff series since 1999

They hadn't had a winning record since the short season of 1999, nor had they advanced in the playoffs since they sent Joe Dumars packing for good and then got blitzed by Latrell Sprewell and the Knicks that year.

They started 6-0 for the season, then rode that out to a (47) win season and matched up against the dangerous and hot Miami Heat, led by Dwyane Wade. It what was the most bizarre playoff series of the season, both teams took turns playing awful until Joe Johnson hit some huge shots in Game 7 and sent the Heat packing.

10. The 2001 NBA Draft

Pete Babcock posed the question, "If you thought you could draft a guy who you thought might end up an All-Star or trade that pick for a young guy who is an All-Star, shouldn't you do it?"

And there, in a nutshell was the reasoning behind trading the #3 pick in the 2001 draft to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the #27 pick in the draft.

That the Hawks passed on Pau Gasol or Shane Battier to land Shareef was only part of the legacy of this draft. The other was in the pick that the Hawks didn't ever use.

The #27 pick was earmarked for a point guard, of which there were a number of solid choices available in this draft. Babcock said that he would use the 27th pick as long as "his guy" was still on the board. As the draft wore on, point guards were not coming off the board and by the time the 27th pick was up, only little known Raul Lopez was selected from the point guard pool (Jeryl Sasser was also selected by considered a SG by many).

Certainly Babcock's "guy" was still on the board as choices such as Iowa State's Jamaal Tinsley and Arizona's Gilbert Arenas. But when the time came, the Hawks passed and dealt the rights to that pick to Indiana, who scooped up Tinsley. So went the chance for the Hawks getting a point guard, a legacy that would see more heartache later.

Later, Babcock would tell us that his guy was indeed still on the board---France's Tony Parker. And the reason the Hawks missed on that tremendous talent was that he just didn't get enough from his scout abroad that Parker could handle the NBA game.


9. Billy Knight Starts Over

As Knight took over full time after the departure of Pete Babcock, he intended to rebuild the roster based on his vision of what a roster should be. He took over a team that was over the cap, talented, but with lottery results.

He soon divested the team of all functional parts, taking back picks or expiring contracts in his quest to start over.

First Glenn Robinson was sent packing for the insurance controlled contract of Terrell Brandon and a future first rounder.

Next, Shareef Abdur-Rahim ,Theo Ratliff, and Dan Dickau were headed to Portland for Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person. 

Then, after one game in New Jersey, Wallace was packaged to Detroit for Bob Sura, Zeljko Rebraca, Chris Mills, and a #1 pick.

Over the next summer, Knight would send complete the purge, sending Jason Terry and Alan Henderson off to Dallas for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk. Walker would be sent out at the trade deadline to Boston for another future pick.

Whereas Babcock tried to stay competitive while retooling the roster earlier in the decade, Knight tore it all down and started from scratch, and those deals laid the groundwork for Knight's vision.

8. Hawks trade Shelden Williams, Anthony Johnson, Lorenzen Wright, and Tyronn Lue to Sacramento for Mike Bibby

The Hawks were a young, growing team in need of direction. The Hawks had been searching for a true point guard since dealing Mookie Blaylock. In what would be Billy Knight's last bold move as Hawks GM, he swung this trade deadline deal, stealing a player that would soon be a catalyst for the Hawks playoff runs to come.

When Bibby joined the team, all things clicked and, despite not being completely ready physically to play the minutes needed, the team took shape and flight and drove the Celtics to that seven game limit.

The next season, with the veteran point guard in for an entire camp and his body ready to go, the team took another step forward to their first winning record in almost a decade.

7. Hawks use pick from the Rasheed Wallace trade to select Josh Smith.

It was the ultimate hit or miss pick. Josh Smith, who had been slated in the top 10 in most mock drafts for the previous season, had started to slip based on the raw nature of his talent. Smith, entering the draft as a high school senior, had been talked about with the Hawks #6 pick in the 2004 draft (Knight chose Stanford's Josh Childress) and when the chance came to take him with the #17 pick they owned, Knight grabbed the local product.

From the very beginning, folks could see that Smith had athletic gifts that the fans hadn't seen since Dominique was a Hawks, but lacked a lot of basic skills.  Over time and not without a lot of "why does he do that?" questions from fans and coaches alike, Smith has proven to be a special talent, one capable of winning or losing games based on his level of play.

6. Hawks sell to David McDavid, wait, no--to the Atlanta Spirit Group

In 2003 AOL/Time Warner was interested in divesting itself of the Hawks, Thrashers, and Philips Arena and looked like they had the person to sell it to---Texas auto dealership tycoon David McDavid. But through a loophole in the letter of intent deal with McDavid, AOL/Time Warner instead sold to a group that was thown together to take advantage of a very small purchasing window, a group that consisted of ownership groups from at least (3) different geographical locations.

At the press conference, there were smiles all around as the Atlanta, Washington DC, and Boston groups all were giddy over their sudden entry into the NBA and NHL. Bostonian Steve Belkin bragged of "deep pockets" to us when we asked how the franchise would pursue top free agents and if they would be hesitant to go over the cap.

The honeymoon would be short, however, as quickly rumors of discontent between the groups began to spread and would ultimately show itself to the public--causing harm and humiliation to fans and staff for both clubs.

5. Hawks trade Boris Diaw and (2) first round picks to Phoenix for Joe Johnson; bring down the ownership curtain for all to see.

This deal was huge for two reasons. One, it brought an all-star level talent to the Hawks to build around--and whether you believe that Johnson is or isn't a franchise player, he was a player that the Hawks could build around until their draft picks developed.

The other was that it brought to the forefront something that had been discussed since the Hawks were sold two seasons before---that the multiple owners in the ownership group didn't get along, and that those problems were ultimately hurting the franchise from within.

As soon as Knight was ready to do the Johnson deal, NBA governor Steve Belkin wanted to nix it, citing the price to pay was too heavy as Hawks were going to spend the picks plus a max contract for Johnson. The other owners sided with Knight as this was a needed move and that they had to overpay contextually to get it done.

What happened next was a series of lawsuits and power plays that left the Hawks (as well as the NHL's Thrashers) in court and in financial limbo. The classic photo of Belkin offering his hand to Knight after a particular courtroom episode and Knight choosing to not look at Belkin and certainly not shake his hand was symbolic of the discontent that was prevalent.

T3. The 2005/2006 NBA Drafts

Billy Knight made a lot of good choices during his run as Hawks GM. He successfully stayed away from franchise crippling deals (Kenyon Martin, Erick Dampier) and built a team of long, athletic players which make for tough matchups for most teams that has proven to be successful.

But in many circles, he will be known for his draft choices or, better stated, who he didn't choose as well was who he did.

In 2005, the Hawks were coming off their abyssmal 2004-2005 campaign which had seen the Hawks win a putrid (13) games. The Hawks had long been characterized as having no point guard since the trade of Mookie Blaylock and had since dealt Jason Terry to the Mavericks. So as the Hawks approached the 2005 draft with the #2 pick, and with number one Milwaukee choosing between Utah's Andrew Bogut or North Carolina's Marvin Williams, it looked as if the Hawks were home free in their pick of a really good point guard litter, Wake Forest's Chris Paul, Illinois' Deron Williams, or North Carolina's Raymond Felton.

But it should of come as no surprise that Knight turned away from that position and selected another long, athletic forward (he had drafted Josh Childress and Josh Smith the season before) in Marvin Williams, rather than look to fill a position of need (and talent) as the point guard position. Knight implied that he gone for the best player available with the pick.

Knight had long noted that "guards are guards" and had no need for labels such as "the 1, 2, 3, or anything". Maybe he felt empowered because they were scoping out Joe Johnson at the time and felt this wasn't actually a need, but whatever the reason the Hawks missed out on drafting a floor general.

Almost immediately Hawks fans knew their franchised had missed. Williams looked like an underclassman who needed a lot of work to realize his potential, and Paul and Deron Williams looked strong from the get-go, especially Paul, who showed leadership and a flair for making plays for himself and his teammates.

Compounding the pain of that miss was that the Hawks next draft in which they had the fifth pick overall. Not as snazzy as the previous class, and void of an obvious point guard selection, Knight selected Duke's Shelden Williams to the surprise of many draft experts and Hawks fans, who had been hoping for the best player available in their minds, Villanova's Randy Foye or Washington's Brandon Roy. After the draft, Knight raved about Williams' makeup and how it fit the Hawks need for a big man up front, a 180 degree turn from the previous draft.

Once again Hawks fans felt immediately that their team had again missed. Williams looked very shaky in an NBA frontcourt, almost instantly showing bench player potential only, no matter how good a guy he seemed. Roy, who meanwhile had ended up in Portland, showed All-Star caliber play from the first game.

2. The gutting of the last Lenny Wilkens Playoff Team

True, this began after the 1999 short lockout season, in the summer,  but since the last season bled (appropriate word chosen) into 2000 we're counting it.

After being swept by the Knicks in the '99 playoffs, looking old and nonathletic in process, then-GM Pete Babcock decided it was time to nuke the aging bunch, which had seen a number of good seasons and playoff visits, but never threatened to go deep in the playoffs and lacked anything that resembled pizazz.

Beginning in the summer of '99, Pete launched Mookie Blaylock to Golden State with their own first round pick in return for the Warriors pick, which was #10.

Then Babcock traded two more #1 picks to LA (no, the Clippers) for a sign and trade deal for young PF Lorenzen Wright. Wright signed a 6 year, 42 million dollar deal as a part of the trade.

Finally, the coup de gras, Babcock made what he later said to be "the biggest mistake of my career" by sending crowd favorite Steve Smith to Portland for Jim Jackson and Isaiah "JR" Rider.

Blazer employees were said to be celebrating the fact that the oft-troubled Rider would now be Atlanta's to deal with, and from the very beginning, the Hawks found out why.

First, Rider missed the team plane to camp because he didn't want to fly on a prop plane and it went downhill from there. He missed practices when he lived in the hotel inside CNN Center, reportedly got caught smoking pot in a hotel, and so on until his release from the team in March 2000 and impromptu press conference afterwards where he sported some hat that looked straight off the Gorton's Fisherman's head.

All of which led to the poorest Lenny Wilkens coaching performance of his tenure in Atlanta and, ultimately, his exit--setting the stage for the decade to come for Hawks basketball.

1. Hawks make playoffs for first time since 1999, play epic seven game series with the Boston Celtics

Despite the fact that the experience was used far too much in the next season as grounds for improvement, this was still the biggest happening for the Hawks in the past decade.

This series had it all---drama, unlikely survival, the eternally fantastic Zaza Pachulia/Kevin Garnett episode, Al Horford telling Paul Pierce that he would be best off staying on the Philips Arena floor, Mike Bibby calling out an entire city (that would be Boston), and a Dominique guaranteed Game Seven.

Most of all it signaled that the Hawks, who had made the playoffs by the skin of their sub .500 teeth, could compete with the biggest of the big boys (The C's were a juggernaut and did win it all, after all.) even in the playoffs. They got throttled, forgotten, and then clawed their way back.

We can still remember the feeling of making the playoffs and the rush of forcing the overwhelmingly favored Celtics to go the full seven games. It signaled the return to relevance for Hawks basketball and bolstered the maturing core's confidence, a pivotal step to where the team resides today.

THHB wishes to thank all involved with us over the past decade. Special thoughts go out to Arthur Triche, Jason Roose, and John Steinberg, as well as Pete Babcock, Billy Knight, Steve Holman, Bob Rathbun, and all the coaches and players that put up with our questions and our general lack of knowledge. And special thanks to The Namesake, THHF, Dominique Wilkins for always taking the time to talk to us and for all the years, energy, and passion he has dedicated to the franchise.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

THHB Interview with HOOPDATA

We have to admit that, despite our educational epicenter (University of Florida) and the fact that whenever we try to use statistics to make a point, it's like listening to Carl Lewis singing the national anthem, we love the way that basketball is beginning to embrace the discovery around advanced mathematical analysis and using it to understand what's going on in the game.

We have long been enamored with the work of Bill James in baseball, and love to read Football Outsiders and their breakdown of the gridiron. We even offered our services to John Hollinger when he was scribing Basketball Prospectus and wasn't the ESPN branded guru as yet.

So it seems obvious then that we would be in numerical intoxication with the advent of Hoopdata (after being brought to our attention by their use in the Hoopinion recaps), a palace for advanced statistical basketball analysis, highlighted with their day after box scores complete with Usage Rate, Rebounding Rate, and Points Created/Points Used and their sortable database which makes our usual shoddy research more credible. In fact, we were in so deep this morning diving into the stats and fuming about Al Horford's criminal underuse that we failed to note that Josh Smith was one steal shy of a 5 X 5 which, while being part of the old style of box score, is an impressive feat nonetheless.

From their About Us, Hoopdata was launched in October 2009 and is dedicated to making basketball statistics more accessible and understandable for the common fan. It was founded by Joe Treutlein, who has some extensive basketball background listed in his bio, and it was he who THHB tracked down and was gracious enough to allow us a few questions so we can get to know him, his partners, and their site.

What is the origin and purpose of Hoopdata?

Hoopdata was basically born out of me playing around in excel with a bunch of numbers and realizing that all of the advanced stats sites out there were missing a few crucial features (namely league averages and sort options). From there, I talked with Matt (Nolan, co-owner, programmer, and analyst) about getting the numbers online, and we then figured out with his programming skills, we could also parse play-by-play information to record stats that aren't available anywhere else. Everything else really grew from there.

Are there any mentors or inspirations behind your work?

Mentors, no, but there's no denying that all the work we do is heavily influenced by the likes of John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, David Berri, and all of the great members of the apbrmetrics community. Funnily enough, though, I don't really consider myself a stats guy. Phil Jackson and Dean Smith's books have probably had a greater impact on my perspective of basketball from an analytical standpoint, for example.

Is this a full time job, full time passion, or both?

For me, it's part of a full time passion, which is the analysis of basketball, something I intend to make my career, and have been working towards for the past five years through my work at DraftExpress and Synergy Sports Technology. As for full time job, it's a good deal of work, but not to the point I'd call it a full time job, and I don't think either of us ever plan to make this a primary source of income.

What’s the most important thing for readers to understand about Hoopdata?

We're just trying to give our readers as much information as possible to be used for analyzing the NBA, and present it in a format that is highly accessible and easy to understand. The important thing to remember, though, is that basketball is a highly contextual game, and stats only tell a small part of the story. I think using our site is a great way to supplement what you see on the court, but statistical analysis will always be just that.

Where do you see the future of statistics and basketball analysis?

The NBA is a copycat league, and as teams like Houston continue to have success with their 29 million dollar rotation that has no lottery picks, just one former lottery pick, and only two players making the league average salary, eventually teams will catch on and try to emulate their decision-making. That said, while plenty of teams are likely to devote more efforts to statistical analysis in the near future, there will certainly be those that stubbornly leave themselves behind, and probably just as many who will misuse statistics in their attempts to emulate, leading to failure.

THHB thanks the entire Hoopdata team for their work and Mr. Treutlein for his time in responding to our questions. We wish them all the best in their efforts and look forward to their future work and features.

Starting Five Too Much for Any Amount of Pacers

On Saturday night in Indianapolis the Atlanta Hawks hit the rewind button to the game at home against the Utah Jazz, using an insane early defensive blitz to force the Pacers into early turnovers and themselves some easy baskets en route to a fairly simple 110-98 win over the Indiana Pacers.

The starters jumped out to a 33-16 lead using that energy and the work of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Al Horford. Smith used the passing lane as his personal Steal to Dunk Current, Johnson had the hot touch, and the Pacers had no answer at any point for Horford during his 40+ minutes on the court.

The Pacers were able to keep the game close by providing an immense amount of bench production in a way that has been trending badly for the Atlanta Hawks. TJ Ford, Tyler Hansbrough, and Luther Head were part of the Pacers (63) point bench effort. After the Hawks jumped out to that early lead, these guys helped chip away with aggressive play, close shots, and second effort. But every time the Pacers would launch a run, the Hawks starters would be back out there to push it back and allow for yet another game that they would not have to be on the court when the final buzzer sounded.

Deeper---Deeper---You are Getting Sleepy---Sleepy

Al Horford was seriously undefendable by the Pacers, as when the Hawks decided to go into him, he time and again delivered. He was too quick and strong for any of them, resulting in the best defensive play of the night by Troy Murphy when he was resigned to trying to push Al when getting to the middle to shoot instead of actually trying to defend---Al made the shot anyway and hit the free throw on his way to a team high (25) points. Horford also led the effort on the glass, grabbing (19) of those along with (5) blocks.

Both Horford and Josh Smith can thank the Pacers for force-feeding Tyler Hansbrough on the Hawks interior. Hansbrough had a Usage Rate that Horford can only dream about and he used all of those possession to gain his (19) point night. Tyler is what we thought he was--a below the rim player who will have to use trickery, traveling, and forearm clear outs (which weren't called last night) to score inside. Otherwise, he will have his shot blocked continuously, which he did (6) times last night. much to the statistical delight of the aforementioned Al and Josh. Tyler also displayed a nice face up jump shot, which he will likely depend on throughout his NBA career, and his well chronicled motor, which does allow him the ability to give his team second chances to score.

The lack of efficiency of the bench has now been upgraded to a trend as once again a nice early advantage has turned south as soon as Woodson has his second unit standing on the floor. Primarily troubling is the play of rookie Jeff Teague, who has hit a stretch of play that has seen him completely lose his control of the floor. Teague had, early on this season, showed a nice command of running the point and getting good shots for the team. Now we see Teague as looking lost offensively at times and not having a positive impact or any control at all on the floor. Whether this is due to Jamal Crawford feeling the need to lead the second unit by isolating and scoring on his own (we'll be watching this closer in games to come) or if teams have made some sort of adjustment to Teague's quickness, we're not sure, but it bears watching as what looked very strong early on this year (bench production) has fallen off.

We hadn't seen it before Saturday night, but we've been waiting for it---the first Jamal Crawford (4) point play. We believe we saw this happen against the Hawks twice in one game while Crawford was a member of the Knicks, and this is a well known Crawford special--the art of being fouled while making a three pointer. Crawford did indeed complete a 4-pt play against the Pacers and now has (21) all time, three short of the all-time mark set by former Pacer Reggie Miller.

Calling All Fans

We were very surprised to see the Hawks fans being called out all over the Hawks Blogging Nation this season considering the high level at which the team is playing, especially at home. Peachtree Hoops and Hawks Str8Talk have noted it and so have we as we have seen many empty seatwatching from the comfort of THHB Official High Definition Viewing Center. Now the Hawks attendance is being noted and discussed in areas outside the ATL.

CBS Ken Berger discussed the NBA as a whole declining in ticket revenue (which are tickets actually sold, not giveaways/distributed) including this note specific to the Hawks.

The Atlanta Hawks (15-6), long challenged in the attendance department but off to their best start in a decade, have seen a league-high 26.8 percent increase in net gate receipts – to $468,036 per game, up from $369,157 at this point last season. Atlanta is selling an average of 10,573 tickets per game, up from 7,900 at this point last season.

Still, as Bill Simmons notes, this still has Atlanta in a less than enthusiastic club:

Eight teams (Philly, Sacramento, Charlotte, Memphis, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana and Atlanta) already reside in the dreaded "We Make Less Than $500,000 Per Game" Club.

Finally, Bill Shanks, in an item for the Macon Telegraph, says the Hawks need to do more to reach outside the boundaries of the I-285 perimeter.

Well, let’s think about this for a second. They aren’t filling the seats with people from Atlanta, and then they don’t draw well from outside the metro area either? Sounds like they may need to reach out to the fans and say, “Come see us!”

When’s the last time you’ve seen or heard anything from the Hawks in Middle Georgia promoting their team? Do you see billboards or hear or see advertisements? Nope.

THHB is still cleaning up from an fun-filled but very messy company Christmas party. Happy Kwanzaa to those who began celebrating yesterday--hope your cleanup is less dreadful than ours.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Working Hard, But Hardly Working

The Atlanta Hawks wiped out the Denver Nuggets earlier in the season in Atlanta---and Wednesday night the Nuggets returned the favor.

When the teams played last, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin did not, with Smith serving a suspension. In their 124-104 blitz of the Hawks in Denver, JR Smith was making up for lost time.

Smith became the epitome of the player who is "on fire"--making a back breaking (10) three pointers in a Kama Sutra like variety of poses and left the Hawks, who worked hard at trying to overcome an early lapse, panting and eventually waving the white flag of defeat.

To win on the road against a club that is actually winning, you must protect your possessions offensively and make teams miss defensively. Early on, it was clear the Hawks were not on the right tracks.

The Hawks came out and found an energetic Nugget defense who was more than willing to dare the Hawks to take jump shots, of which the Hawks made some early and then tailed off considerably. Meanwhile, Denver was busy getting to the rim and softening up the Hawks defensive underbelly. In a coincidentally bad merging of events, the Hawks seemed gun shy defensively after being in severe foul trouble the night before in Minnesota, allowing any size Nugget a free shot inside the paint. In fact, it was reported before the game by James Verrett that Woodson told his guys not to "pick up fouls" as a result of the issues in the previous game.

So as the Hawks missed jump shots the Nuggets, who allowed the Hawks only (6) offensive rebounds for the game, got into transition and blistered the Hawks to establish an early lead. In fact, despite the long range bombing and general jump shooting prowess of the Nuggets on the night, the home team outscored the #2 team in the league of total points in the paint 50-40 inside.

The Hawks continued to work, but never were able to galvanize their defense long enough to make a significant run. The Nuggets simply outdid the Hawks in almost every category---they shot better, rebounded more, had more assists, and easily won the turnover battle (15-8). That's a recipe for protecting home court--well, that and a Dennis Scott like eruption from Smith--and it's not the formula for road success against playoff teams.


The defensive malaise, fraidy-cat, and laissez-faire approach Al Horford and Josh Smith took to the defensive end stung the Hawks. Smith still ended up with (5) fouls and Horford had (2)---glad they didn't foul out---whew!

Maurice Evans, who has played very well so far this season, made his first shot of the night---and then proceeded to put up a string of very bad shots, one so bad it hit the side of the backboard. Soon after that Evans hurt his head and then picked up a technical. As Woodson mercifully pulled Mo from the game, it was clear Evans, while sitting on the bench now, asked Woodson "Why did you take me out of the game?" Woodson turned and gave an unknown response to which the coach turned and shook his head incredulously. Not a good game for Mo.

Joe Johnson was eliminated from this game by the Nuggets double-team strategy. THHB thought the team had graduated to the point where the Hawks made teams pay for such strategy, but again the Hawks were lured into making them pay with outside shots from Marvin Williams, Evans, and Mike Bibby, who were not nearly as hot as Mr. JR Smith (2-10 combined vs 10-17 for Smith). The Hawks weren't completely addicted to the three, but were cold enough from the outside for the Nuggets to make them pay every time they missed.

In conjunction with that, we would like to see Marvin take advantage of his length and strength and take it inside more when the ball swings around to him. Too often Marvin seems to have 10 yards of daylight in front of him but goes ahead and takes the lower percentage shot. We know he can get to the line--just ask Larry Brown last season--but Marvin seems to have it in his head that he is a spot shooter---and that just doesn't do his talent the most justice. His new range should be used to lure defenses out so he can whip by them and get better shots, not the other way around.

Meaningless stat or Harbinger of Doom?

The Hawks are now 2-5 in games where they attempt (21) 3-pointers or more which, if our University of Florida education still holds up, means that they are 18-3 in games where they shoot under (21) threes a game. (Hey, the math works--we still got it!)

Here Comes Santa Claus Right Down the Middle of the Lane

Offensively, Al Horford played a great game (18 points to go with 11 rebounds) and the Hawks should have taken their time and run the offense through Al more tonight. (We know--don't stop us even if you've heard that before.) Horford was 7-9 and had good matchups--Al is only less effective (read: rushes shots and moves) against taller guys--Nene and Chris Andersen were neither tall enough (Nene) or strong enough (Andersen) to stop Horford, and while the Hawks weren't ignoring that channel as much as in years past, they weren't dedicated to that approach either. Going to that early on instead of taking the jump shot bait (fool's good as The Namesake calls it.) might have changed the tenor of the game.

The Hawks didn't play too badly---just not efficient enough on either end to beat a hot shooting winning team in their house. Better luck next time, eh?

THHB wishes everyone a marvelous Christmas Vacation and we'll see you all after the Indiana game on Saturday. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Against These Teams, There Is Only One Enemy

This season the Hawks have taken their team basketball to another level. And that's not really saying enough---it more like another galaxy.

For those who have watched the Birds for longer than--oh---this season, we realize that going on the road, even in cities such as Chicago and Minnesota, and to play winning basketball as the Hawks have done this season, is a remarkable step forward.

(Sidenote: Ok, we realize they didn't actually win in Chicago, but they should have. If not for deciding that, with six minutes or so left to go in the game and a three possession lead that it was a good time to take the air out of the ball and then roll back the clock to a year ago and stand around and watch Joe Johnson go one on five down the stretch--no matter how hot he was---the Hawks could have closed the deal. Anyway, much like the Hawks over the weekend, we digress.)

Tuesday night in Minnesota, the Hawks got ahead early with a lot of energy and then seemed content to keep the Wolves at arms length for the rest of the game, sealing the deal with a 112-87 win over the Timberwolves. The Hawks forced a lot of turnovers, went strong to the basket, and shot the ball well---in fact if not for a lot of interesting foul calls on the Hawks big men, it might have been another soft fourth quarter for the starters.

As it was the foul trouble gave Josh Smith a short night (20 minutes) and fouled out Zaza Pachulia and Randolph Morris. That meant the weight of defending Kevin Love and Al Jefferson (who, um, can play a little bit) fell on the broad shoulders of Al Horford.

Horford played the most minutes of any Hawk by far (41--Joe was next with 34) and spent such extended play time being omnipresent, posting a 16/11/4 game with (2) steals and a block. Horford challenged shots inside, even when the officials made it hazardous for any Hawk to do so. He set an amazing amount of solid screens, freeing The Backcourt to light it up with (65) points between the three members. On one great play in the fourth quarter, Randolph Morris came down with a rebound and, with all the little men safely down on the other end of the court and nobody to bring the ball up, he flipped it to Al, who calmly dribbled down and started the offense. No problem.

The Hawks' only enemy right now is themselves--as they showed in Chicago by their odd decision making offensively and again at times against Minnesota. The Wolves showed they had little interest in actually defending Atlanta, allowing the Hawks to get wherever they wanted to on the floor. They sent soft double teams which the Hawks exploited with open shots, they let Johnson, Horford, et al dance into the lane, where the Hawks did score (42) points. But there were also many times where the Hawks bailed the defenseless Timberwolves team out by taking jump shots when the paint was wide open. Such decisions ultimately led to a large discrepancy in free throws, only somewhat blunted by the endgame garbage free throws. There was no reason tonight why the Hawks couldn't have exceeded their seasonal average in points in the paint (almost 50) and toed the line more than their ultimate total of (25).

Look, we understand that no team can exclusively rush the lane, but the Hawks tend to get away from it too easily, especially frustrating when such a strategy has led them to the advantage they now wish to exploit by going jump shot and allowing the other team to gather themselves defensively and get back into the game. With the way they are playing defensively (especially rebounding), this is the only thing that can hold them back from winning every game from lottery bound and lesser teams such as the Wolves and the Bulls.

Fortunately tonight the Hawks made a lot of those jump shots (9-20 on threes) and they did get into the paint and use Horford enough to make sure that the Wolves were never really in the game (their largest lead was zero, after all).

Stocking Stuffers---But You Can Keep the Kisses

Randolph Morris has had a fine year towards the end of the Hawks bench--but we saw why Woody is most comfortable using him when the game is not really in doubt. Morris inspired myriad gesticulations from his head coach on his way to a 3 point, 2 rebound, 6 foul night in (10) minutes.

Mo Evans may not have had much, and Jeff Teague may be playing a little loose lately---but we might have liked to have seen them in the game when the Hawks bigs got into trouble than the Jandolph Show we were treated to. Oh, and change that might to definitely. Sorry, Jandolph.

So he's stopped (for the most part) launching jays, so the next step in Josh Smith's Incredible Basketball Maturity is to stop the crying and campaigning after every foul called on him. Heck, even when he bowled over the Wolves in the fourth quarter on the way to the hoop and was obviously charging, he seemed to have to tell himself that, yes indeed, he did foul. THHB has seen a lot of basketball and we haven't seen an instance yet where berating, scowling, swearing, or anything other negative message has won an official over. Maybe Smith believes he can pioneer the effort, but we think that in doing so he'll accumulate a Rasheed Wallace amount of technicals while testing the theory. Pretty selfish behavior there for a guy who has taken things seriously enough in the other areas to make himself potentially visible in the actual All-Star game.

BTW, if you haven't voted yet, we've installed an easy to use widget on the sidebar that will assist you in stuffing the virtual ballot box, China style, for the home team. THHB showed no shame across the board in saluting Johnson, Crawford, Horford, and Smith. Sorry, Mike Bibby--couldn't vote for the entire Backcourt.

Speaking of Bibby, he managed to log in an (18) and (6) game throughout his (27) minutes. Bibby has amazingly taken his True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage up some notches this season. He might, and history shows that he likely will, slow down from this current rate, but he's also being used less than ever, so maybe less quantity is leading to more quality this season.

One last note---we love Corey Brewer, but there is a reason many Gator fans called him "The Drunken Dribbler" while in Gainesville. It was a nice trip back to those championship seasons Tuesday night watching Horford dunking, Hollins flailing, and Brewer dribbling---it was like nothing changed.

THHB would like to offer the Hawks a sincere Christmas gift of thanks for such a fine first (27) games of basketball. It's been a blast thus far. Napkins and Party Favors can be setup in the Comments Area.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dispensing With Formalities

THHB loves roller coasters.

They go up, down, upside down, and really fast.

So, it seems we love and follow the right team.

This season the Hawks spin themselves to deliriously delicious heights with terrific execution on both ends, but then our stomach drops when the team falls back into some destructive habits and so on until we arrive back at the station with either a win or loss. This season, there have been many smiles after the train has pulled up.

The 96-83 win at home Friday night over the Utah Jazz gave the home fans maybe the most dominant defensive stretch we've seen in the Mike Woodson era certainly, and maybe we've ever seen.

From the tip, the Hawks appeared to anticipate every pass the Jazz were about to make, stealing pass after pass, deflecting balls, and generally making the back cutting Utah team irrelevant for the entirety of the starters time on the floor. In doing so, it kept the Jazz as a jump shooting team who was stuck isolating to create shots and in turn had a miserable night. This from a team that is Top 10 in offensive efficiency and Effective FG% and Top 3 in assists per game (despite rocking a top 10 slowest pace rate).

Consider that a fully healthy Deron Williams joined the Frustrated Hawks Opponent Stars Club (too wordy?) founded this season by Chris Bosh, by shooting a brutal 1-8 with (4) assists and (4) turnovers. Carlos Boozer was swallowed up by the Hawks All-Star caliber front court, doubling Williams' field goals (2) but also contributing (4) turnovers with his (6) points.

We didn't check, but we're pretty sure the Jazz lose all games where Deron and Booze combine for less than (10) points total. Ok, make that very sure.

The suffocation was a total team effort, but led by the team's signature player---Josh Smith. Smith covered the Jazz passing lanes like Deion Sanders, and then soared down the court for a couple of easy 3-pt plays as the Hawks were firmly establishing that there would be no Jazz festival at Philips Arena.

Smith nearly pulled off a rare 5 X 5 with his (16) point, (8) rebounds, (5) assist, (5) steal, and (2) block night. Might have happened too, but the Hawks blitzed the Jazz starters so completely that, for the second time in a row a coach pulled his starters in the third quarter, never to return again, leaving all Hawks starters below (30) minutes.

Another brief game meant that while Joe Johnson got more rest than he has ever likely had while healthy, it cost him a shot at a luxury statistical item as well, the triple-double. Johnson rang up (9) rebounds and (7) assists with his (12) points against a single turnover.

The Hawks hardly took advantage early on as, after jumping out to a quick double digit lead, they fell into the jump shooting trap and allowed the Jazz to gather momentum as the bench underproduced relative to their usual stellar efforts. However after the full starters returned, so did the energy and the momentum. After the Hawks returned from a halftime break that saw them up by (10), they took it upon themselves to make sure the game was no longer in doubt by the time the third quarter was over.

In that third quarter, the Hawks scored (17) fast break points alone and overwhelmed the visitors by a 37-17 margin. It was a clinic in how not to play against Atlanta--settling for jump shots and not getting back to stop the tidal wave of ATLiens rushing towards the hoop. It was a stunning display that served to whet all Bird Watchers appetites of what could be when this team revs up the defensive machine.

We've long stated it: All scoring runs start and are sustained through defensive effort. It triggers long rebounds, turnovers, and in turn--easy basket opportunities. The Hawks delivered even when being locked into a half court game with some terrific ball movement which led to such a number of open shots that Jerry Sloan had to be wondering what he was watching from his team. Their team was so discombobulated that Deron Williams played through Sloan's attempt to call a time out. He missed a shot, went down to the other end and got a rebound and this time yielded to his coach's desire for a stoppage of play. He and the rest of the starters would not return.

So When Do We Give The Bench a Break?

We could nit pick and describe how the remainder of the (17) minutes were spent watching the Hawks bench play so poorly that the Jazz got the game back down to the final margin, but just because the other Hawks played like they wanted to join the starters on the sidelines for the company Christmas party doesn't mean we'll spend time analyzing that. They have been terrific all season and, hey, maybe they're overworked.

If you haven't seen Jeff Teague's block of Wesley Matthews' layup, you should check it out in the NBA recap embedded below. Good times.

Off to Chicago to hopefully continue to take advantage of the dysfunction junction that the Bulls have been thus far this season--and a team the Hawks leveled by (35) the last time the teams hooked up.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grizzlies Surrender to Hawks

Folks might say that nobody would have any business taking issue with anything in a 110-97 win at home over the Memphis Grizzlies. After all, Memphis was coming into the game winning some road games, including a destruction in Miami, and they also played quite well against Boston though eventually bowing. OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, and noted Hawk Hater Zach Randolph had turned the Grizzlies into a mild surprise in the season thus far.

Our issue is simple (and facetious): The Hawks are making it look too easy.

Not that THHB is complaining, as we have seen quite often over time that the home team can make things way more interesting than it needed to be. Recently, however, the Hawks have been handling these types of games (Toronto, New Jersey) and giving the starters a lot of rest late in the games. That's a good thing.

Against the Grizzlies, the Hawks took it to another level. They made Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins feel so defeated that he conceded the game when the lead reached (20) for the first time. This bit of generosity is common during the holiday season, but not often in an NBA game, where runs are common and quitting when there is 8 1/2 minutes left in a game seems a little premature.

Hollins threw in the towel too early, especially considering THHB didn't feel as if the Grizzlies weren't giving the effort needed to win--in fact we felt the Hawks coasted quite a bit throughout this game and it was Memphis that was outworking the Birds in general.

The only Hawk really playing somewhat above par was Joe Johnson, who was definitely on Wednesday night, scoring (26) in (28) minutes and pitched in (8) rebounds, (3) assists, and a pair of steals as well.

But overall the first teams were fairly evenly matched---the Hawks really struggled keeping Mike Conley in front of them and Randolph logged a quick double-double. Toss in that the Grizz energy combined with the Hawks lacking the desire to get out of third gear and the Hawks racked up some quick turnovers. It was the difference in the second teams that gave the Hawks an edge--as it has often this season.

Gay and Conley left the game with 2:25 left in the third quarter and the lead was (12). Randolph left the game soon after and the lead was (15). For these guys not to even sniff the fourth quarter was surprising, even with lead breaching (20) with 10:19 to play.

This is the NBA, after all, and as Rick Mahorn once snorted to us, twenty points is only ten possessions, at most--and with the quick pace and runs teams go on in the NBA, it's not insurmountable even with that much time left. The Grizzlies would have (23) more possessions after the Grizzlies starters left for good.

We've shared it before, but noted statistician Bill James authored a cute way to determine if a lead is safe in college basketball. Putting this lead into his formula with the amount of time and possession, the lead the Hawks had was only (74) percent safe.

Mike Woodson was clearly eager to acknowledge Hollins' white flag of surrender, because he quickly dispatched Randolph Morris and Othello Hunter to seal the deal.

With both teams emptying the benches, the Grizzlies got the lead down to (14) with 4:39 left. But whatever lesson Lionel was teaching, he ensured that the class would continue and the Hawks were on their way to another light minute game for the starters.

It was strange to watch as there was a general, "Hey, did somebody call this game and we missed it?" feel to the middle of the fourth quarter. We watched thinking maybe someone will wake up and realize there is a lot of basketball left to be played, but apparently both sides were satisfied with the terms of the game and it's inevitable result.

Nobody on our side is complaining (not really), but we can imagine more than a few Memphis fans (and players) are wondering what's up.

When a Blowout Doesn't Feel Like a Blowout

As we stated, nothing about this game felt like the Hawks were dominating. Yes, the Hawks did appear the more polished offensive engine as they got great shots but missed some open looks and layups early on, but the early turnovers showed that the Hawks were not in full throttle action in this game.

The times that they did appear on top of their game were when they ran--and run they did. The Hawks had (31) fast break points and they ran the 3-man break like the teams from the 80's did. Quick outlets, good passes, and easy buckets were a tasty roundball smoothie--the best of which was a Zaza Pachulia led break in which he served up a perfect oop to Al Horford. Yum!

Mentioning the bench, it was their efforts that broke the game up in some runs (12-0 in the second quarter, 20-10 to end the third) after the starting units had drawn near even early on. The execution on both ends when the Hawks have their second unit on is playoff caliber. Same plays, same effort---this is what wears other teams out--as long as the Hawks keep their collective pedals down, other teams will struggle with the depth of athleticism to match.

It didn't mean the starters stunk (Smith with (4) blocks--Horford with his own double-double) just that there was an absence of outstanding save for Johnson--and that's odd considering the blowout treatment the fourth quarter received.

The Hawks were patient, maybe even too laid back at times, but ran when Memphis handed them the ball (20 turnovers) leading to (33) points. Between this and Joe Johnson's strong night the Hawks made their case to Memphis that they should just quit trying to win.

And so they did.

THHB doesn't advocate forfeiture--unless you're the one doing the forfeiting, then we're onboard. All the wins you can hand us can be stuffed into the night slot in the Comments Area.

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


As we viewed the Atlanta Hawks 118-83 basting of the Chicago Bulls all of the tired and travelled members of THHB shared a single common emotion.


The Hawks did everything they could have wanted to do in this nationally televised felonious assault on another NBA team.

The Bulls hobbled into the ATL in a bad, bad way. They recently got booed while getting killed by the Raptors. They lost another home game to the Nets, who left Chicago celebrating their first road win of the season. The only time that the Bulls have grabbed any headlines was for Joakim Noah's rebellion against Dance Dance Lebronalution in Cleveland---another loss, by the way.

Being that the game against the Nets, a hard fought one we must add, was the previous night and that the Hawks had not played since their weekend victory over the Mavs, the scene was set for the Hawks to take care of the business of putting away an injured, less successful team in their own building.

And so they did.

The Hawks, save for a few early Joe Johnson-esque possessions, moved freely about the court, moving the ball through the high post with fantastic success. Josh Smith and Al Horford both had (4) assists, most of them early, as the Hawks set the tone and attacked the hoop early and relentlessly against their guests.

The game began to snowball on the Bulls when the Hawks second team sprung into action late in the first quarter. The entire second unit was on the court when the Hawks trailed by one and by the time the first team started to trickle back onto the court, the Hawks had opened up a (5) point lead and never trailed again.

The second unit portrayed exactly the kind of aggressive, energetic play that was going to flattened an already thin and tired Bulls squad. Joe Smith grabbed (3) offensive rebounds in that span of time. Jeff Teague made an early appearance and looked like Tree Rollins swatting away a John Salmons layup attempt. Zaza Pachulia made his presence felt.

But the main man was Jamal Crawford. Crawford attacked Kirk Hinrich with a grudge and scored (16) first half points, inspiring the Bulls to lay down and play dead. Crawford noted at halftime that the Hawks want to "wear teams out" with their depth--and the bench play in the first half laid the foundation for that to happen.

The Hawks came out from halftime with a (14) point lead and kept the pressure on. The defense moved their feet, the ball moved on offense (32 assists for the night), and the energy remained high. Many nights the Hawks have rested on an early lead and left the locker room flat, but that was not the case Wednesday night.

The Bulls became so stagnant offensively they made the Hawks ball movement look like the Harlem Globetrotters. We kept waiting for someone to spin the ball on Taj Gibson's head and then toss a bucket of confetti on Vinny Del Negro.

Soon the Bulls emotionally and spiritually waved the basketball white flag, but the Hawks played on as if the game was still very much in doubt. They pressed the ball on inbounds passes, swarmed around on the defensive end to ensure nobody was open for long, and continued to control the glass. Only after the bench was emptied did the Hawks really waste any second half possessions. And we say this because, honestly, any shot Jason Collins takes is a wasted possession. In fact Collins gets our nomination for the Ricky Vaughn Memorial "Does He Need Glasses?" scholarship--and even he made one against the Bulls.

The Hawks looked like a team that is headed for good things this season while the Bulls look like they are headed for a year in the lottery. It was a game could that presented itself as a trap or at least a let down game, but the Hawks came out with the right approach and kept at it all the way after the game was no longer in doubt.

By the time the ESPN crew used up all of their filler material--and some for the collegiate game that followed---The Official HD Viewing Center of THHB was filled with smiles, laughs, and pride.


We do give Collins credit for one particular thing---he has made Randolph Morris look fantastic by comparison. Morris looks improved over last season when he couldn't seem to make good even in garbage time. Now he shows some decent post moves--no lift mind you---but some decent production in slop minutes.

We point out that the Hawks did their damage without relying on the three point shot--hitting six of their nine threes after the bench was cleared---including some fun run-up-the-score bombs from Mo Evans down the stretch.

We enjoyed that the Hawks cleared the bench before the fourth quarter even began, giving more quality time off for the starting five. No starter played even (30) minutes, with Johnson getting (29) and the rest of that crew significantly less. This has to be a good trend this season---hopefully the Hawks won't have to waste that rest capital on the upcoming schedule, which is heavy on sub .500 teams.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Torn Between Outcome and Philosophy

To have not won in the state of Texas since Josh Smith was 18 (he turned 24 Saturday) and to beat a team like the Dallas Mavericks, 80-75, one would think THHB would be somewhat euphoric to have slain an annual beast such as that.

Yes, it's a good thing to win--as one fictional pitcher once so eloquently stated---it's like better than losing. Still there was something oddly unsatisfying about the game--something missing that prevents this from being put in the first couple of pages in the Hawks Successbook.

Perhaps it was the (20) consecutive missed field goals that spanned the second and third quarters. The Hawks were persistent in insisting that the jump shots they continuously attempted would indeed go down. Alas, it was an Al Horford layup that ended the futility. Rushed shots, lack of ball movement or in some cases, strange ball movement--like getting into the lane for a good shot only to chuck it wildly back to the perimeter with little left on the shot clock to work with---was the soundtrack for the odd streak.

Or maybe it was the odd way the Hawks picked up fouls in the fourth quarter, mostly hand checking 20 feet from the hoop or away from the ball altogether. Al Horford entered the final frame with (2) fouls but in a span of five minutes, he was one foul away from disqualification. Josh Smith would join him (2) minutes later and the Mavericks were in the penalty (5) minutes into the quarter.

The fourth quarter execution altogether was remedial--the defense as indicated above along with the usual Hawks deflating of the basketball when leading by an "insurmountable" lead. The Hawks led 74-65 with 7:29 left when the Hawks popped their own balloon by "working the clock" and as a result, getting poor shots down the stretch.

The Hawks would only get (2) field goals the rest of the way. Those field goals? One was a me-against-the world fall-away 18 footer from Joe Johnson and the other was a 20 footer from Josh Smith. Not exactly the offensive firepower you want to display every night for the last 8 minutes of the game.

Also troubling was that the Hawks were, at one point, killing the Mavs on the pick and roll--and then almost as quickly as they realized it's success, they went away from it---in fact just as THHF was commenting on the telecast that they were getting great shots every time from that set (in a game where neither team was taking great shots), Joe Johnson ended their own run by dribbling down the shot clock before attempting a difficult shot. It was not a pick and roll.

Mostly it was unsatisfying because the Hawks played the type of game that won't win many (7) game series, a low shooting percentage (by choice) game dominated by one player, Joe Johnson. As Hoopinion so perfectly commented on Hardwood Paroxysm Friday---Joe doesn't have to do that anymore for the team to win--in fact, to win at the highest levels, he shouldn't. The type of game doesn't scale deeper in the playoffs, so to see the Hawks embrace it even for a single win leaves THHB shaking our heads.

There were some very good things in the game--such as the rebounding on the defensive end, mostly by the aggressive efforts of Marvin Williams on that end, collecting (14) defensive rebounds and (15) overall, a career high. The Hawks limited the Mavs to (7) offensive rebounds and their defensive efforts (combined with a total lack of inside game in Dallas) left the Mavericks settling for a mere (10) points in the paint.

Joe Smith was also very good off the bench, hitting some really big shots and putting up a 9 point/ 7 rebound effort in his (18) minutes of work.

Yes, there were things that the Hawks did well and yes it's a good thing that the Hawks won, but there were most certainly those others that left us holding our noses while chalking up the "W".

You know, because we care.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Do The Opposite

A single game ago the Hawks played a team (Toronto) not known for good defense and they exploited them to perfection, gaining 30+ assists, moving the ball, attacking the rim, and playing enough defense to win the game easily.

To begin on Friday night, Atlanta appeared to be in the frame of mind to do it again, hopping out to an 11-0 start against the hated Knicks.

And then---they did the opposite.

Defense ceased to exist, allowing Chris Duhon and Al Harrington to put up grotesque productive numbers in the first half against a team that allegedly cares about defense. The Hawks found themselves watching the ball fall through their defensive basket over and over again with little sense of urgency to affect change on the matter.

As often happens in those scenarios, the Hawks followed those baskets by walking the ball up the court, dribbling with a defender sleeping comfortably in front of them and then taking ridiculous jump shots and forced shots. The shot clock would often wind down before someone would lob a well defended (hold your chuckles, Knicks fans--it happened) attempt at the hoop. Forget that nobody on the Knicks even poses as a shot blocker, the Hawks did the opposite of what you would expect a team to do in such a situation.

Then, explicably, Josh Smith began to be enamored with his second favorite basketball vice, the complaint. After making a tough shot with a slight bit of contact, he blew up at Bob Delaney, earning him a technical foul. The Hawks were so de-focused as a team that they allowed Smith to continue to unleash venom at Delaney to the point where his services were rendered disqualified for the rest of the night. So on a night where the Knicks were ramming the ball down the Hawks' throat offensively, Atlanta's strongest lane deterrent chose obscenities over participation. The other Hawks seemed amused by this, but THHB was not. Not by Smith's actions, nor his teammates inaction.

In the second half, the Hawks flipped the script and did the opposite from the first half, turning up the defensive pressure and holding the Knicks down significantly enough to erase a double digit halftime deficit. With the good defense came easier shots on offense as the ball moved freely and the Hawks attacked the lane, often making the shots or at least getting to the line.

Much of this was due to Al Horford, who played outstanding defense on Harrington in the second half, moving his feet exquisitely to defend and confound the Knicks' scorer.

So Bird Watchers everywhere should assume that the Hawks, now with their beaks on straight on how to conquer this game, would begin to pull away.

But once again, they did the opposite.

There was less defense, more isolation, more forced shots, certainly less made baskets.

With Josh Smith safely showered and out of the game for the Hawks due to his petulance, and Horford having to stay outside on Harrington, the Knicks picked and rolled their way down the lane, often scoring without so much as a cursory check from the other Hawks to see the Knicks' lane pass. It's a shock to see the Hawks have (2) blocked shots when they average 6+ per game and the Knicks were shooting inside so much (60 points in the paint).

So even though the Hawks outscored the Knicks in the paint, had fewer turnovers (12-6), and outrebounded the visitors (42-38, 18-7 on the offensive glass), the Hawks still lost by (7) at home because they allowed an amazingly hospitable (58!) percent shooting and took (23) 3-pt attempts themselves.

Why the Hawks felt like shooting more threes than their average (23 vs 19) against a team that doesn't block shots or even defend well is puzzling.

Well, unless you consider that they learned what it took to put away a lesser team that doesn't play defense against Toronto---and then did the opposite.

There, it all makes sense.

THHB wishes to return the birthday gift of this loss at home to the hated, hated Knicks and their ATL fans. You can come in, but there is nothing left but blown out candles in the Comments Area.