they aren’t who we thought they were

After a long, long hiatus from the blogosphere, I’m back on the world wide web to talk Hawks basketball.  The reason for my near three week long recluse was two fold: (1). I was busy at work and could not find as much time to write; and (2). I needed to step back and examine this Hawks team from a more objective basis.  You see, I have been harsh on the Hawks, mainly because I want them to succeed so bad.  But my passion for the team sometimes overrides any possibility of an objective perception.  For those who read Sekou’s blog on the AJC, they’ll find much of the same problem.  When the team hits a rut, it seems as though the sky is falling and an inescapable hurricane is imminent.  

Well folks, it isn’t.  In fact these bipolar Hawks are in the four spot right now in the East, with a solid three game lead.  Their only true threat is Philadelphia, who has experienced a classic case of “addition by subtraction” as seen from their improved record after the injury to Elton Brand.  Brand slowed what was (and now is) an athletic team down.  The Sixers are scary, although I do believe that the Hawks are a better, more well rounded team.  As for the division rival Heat, Jermaine O’Neal may be a “sexy” name but he’s injury prone and isn’t nearly the same type of player he used to be.  I think this deal doesn’t really help or hurt the Heat and I would be surprised if they eventually take over the 4 spot.  

With the trade deadline looming, its unclear if these Hawks are going to make a move to bolster their position.  A move to increase their depth on the bench would make sense.  The Hawks are undersized and when Horford and/or Pachulia get into foul trouble (see any game vs. Dwight Howard), the lack of size becomes crystal clear.  I haven’t heard a ton of big men rumored, but we all know Chris Wilcox, Brad Miller, and David Lee are names that are out there.  Personally, I could do without Miller, who at this point in his career is a big man masquerading as a shooting guard.   But Wilcox and Lee, although undersized power forwards, are tenacious rebounders who could provide some great energy off the bench.  

What has impressed me most over the last three weeks has been how these Hawks have weathered the injury bug.  Horford, Williams, Bibby and Johnson have all managed to miss time yet they have still been able to persevere.  The Hawks found a way to win two huge games without their All-Star and leading scorer.  It almost seemed at times as though they missed their floor general – Mike Bibby  – more than JJ (although I think we can put this theory to rest).  The Hawks in recent years past have simply folded upon a little resistance.  While the Hawks of 2008 have gotten blasted on occasion (see that horrific performance to an atrocious Clippers team), they have managed to stay upright and come back from poor performances to win games.  In an 82 game season, the ability to come back from defeat is essential to surviving.  

FERNANDEZ GETS SCREWED: I wasn’t really sure about Rudy Fernandez’s entrance into the Slam Dunk Contest, but upon seeing what he pulled off, I thought he deserved a little better.  Fernandez’s first dunk was mediocre at best; however, his second dunk may have been one of the top three of the night.  For those who missed it, Fernandez had Pau Gasol throw the ball off the back of the backboard.  Fernandez then came in from behind one side of the rim, launched himself to catch the ball and dunked the ball as his body was moving to the other side of the rim.  It scored a 43, but it deserved a 48 or better.

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Filed under February (Atlanta Hawks)

trade chip


Josh Childress could prove a valuable trade chip.

Josh Childress could prove a valuable trade chip.

Sekou Smith recently interviewed Josh Childress about his time in Greece.  Childress is back in Atlanta to undergo sports hernia surgery.  While the lanky former 6th man may have been gone, he certainly was not forgotten in Atlanta.  Hawks fans made sure management knew of their displeasure after the team failed to sign Childress in the offseason, being outbid by the Greek franchise Olympiakos.  The Hawks called Childress’ bluff and they called wrong – he was serious in his intent to sign in Europe, and perhaps Sund and company underestimated the thirst for culture of a young Stanford grad.  

6 months later, however, the landscape has changed a little, and we are left with the following questions: Will Childress return to the NBA?  If so, will it be with the Hawks?  and if not, what can the Hawks get for him?  I personally have no doubt that Childress will return to the NBA.  While he may be enjoying his time in Greece, it’s not home and it’s not the NBA.  The Europeans may be equally passionate about basketball, but the NBA is still the premier league in the world and every athlete who can play in it tends to do so.  (There are exceptions obviously – Spanish shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro could have stayed with the Grizzlies, but instead he opted to go back to his home country to play; but then again, he was in Memphis where the Spanish population is not the highest.)  Look no further than Serbian power forward Nenad Krstic, who was a solid role player on the Nets before bolting to play for the Russian league team Triumph.  But after only less than a half a season, Krstic returned to the NBA, inking a three deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.  

Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but not only has Childress opened the door to a return to the NBA, but there’s still a slight crack open for a return to the Hawks.  Childress loves Atlanta and for good reason.  It’s a larger city with a high African-American population.  It’s the epicenter of hip-hop culture and fans are starting to care again about its professional basketball team.  Throw on the fact that Childress’ mother lived ten minutes away from him and cooked all his meals and you have to think Atlanta is at least a possibility.  And boy, could Atlanta use him.  While the Hawks have survived with a less than average bench through 42 games this season, it will catch up to them at some point.  Childress brings a slashing and offensive rebounding skill set which the Hawks lack off the bench, and if they could somehow find a way to bring him back, the pine would be much approved. 

In the event my optimistic predictions prove less than prophetic, then the Hawks are looking at potentially trading the rights to Childress to another team.  There will be a number of takers.  The Spurs (and others), for one, were interested in signing Childress in the offseason but could not offer him more than the mid-level exception.  The Hawks figured NBA teams were the only ones they were bidding against, and thus they told Childress to go seek a better offer.  Unfortunately, they never thought “outside the box” like Childress to realistically consider a European team swooping in for his services.  The Hawks could likely steal a first round draft pick for the swingman, or possibly pull the trigger on a player for player deal.  Regardless, unless the Hawks decide in the coming months to relinquish Childress’ rights – a move I would beg the Hawks to not even consider – we could be looking at some interesting trade scenarios down the road.

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now you know…


Mike Bibby had his defining game as a Hawk Tuesday vs. Chicago

Mike Bibby had his defining game as a Hawk Tuesday vs. Chicago

ATL 105 CHI 102: If you wondered why the Hawks traded for Mike Bibby right before last year’s trade deadline, now you know.  If you wondered if the Hawks need to resign the veteran point guard after this season, you better know.  Mike Bibby was up to his old tricks Tuesday night in Chicago, single handedly willing the Hawks to a victory over a young but competitive Bulls squad.  Bibby poured in 31, a sizeable amount of which came from the outside deep down the stretch.  Bibby nailed four of the Hawks last five baskets, all clutch jumpers which he created nearly by himself.  Perhaps Bibby has slowed since his Sacramento days, but he still has that magic and veteran savvy this Hawks team not only craves but needs. 

Anyone could see it in his eyes down the stretch: Bibby knew he was having an “on” night and he was conducting his teammates to simply move out of the way.  Bibby put the final dagger in the Bulls with 18 seconds remaining, driving hard on Joakim Noah only to step back and drop a deuce right in front of the UF alum.  Not only was the point guard  rainbowing jumpers from outside, but he was also exceptional on the defensive side of the basketball.  Bibby had five steals, three of which came from “laying in the weeds” as Bulls announcer Stacey King so aptly put it.  Bibby baited two outlet passes and one pass across halfcourt, only to “jump” and intercept them.  His halfcourt steal was the largest, as it occurred in the waning moments of the fourth when the Bulls could have cut the lead further or tied. 

With the injuries to Horford and Williams, the Hawks needed a big night from their backcourt and they got it.  It was clear from the start that both Bibby and Johnson wanted to assert themselves on the offensive end.  Johnson proved relatively ineffective, finishing the night 5 for 18 and missing some wide open jumpers he typically can be relied upon to make.  (Johnson, however, did well hounding Derrick Rose on the defensive end, who had a relatively quiet night when it was all said and done.)  Bibby, on the other hand, got hot early and never stopped.  He dropped 17 in the first half and kept the Hawks in the game as the Bulls started to pull away with a small lead in the middle of the second.  Until the injuries to the Hawks’ key players heal, the team has no choice but to rely on heavy minutes from their backcourt and Josh Smith.  Bibby will need more games like Tuesday for the Hawks to weather the current storm, but if his performance against the Bulls was any indication, perhaps the Hawks are equipped to ride out the current injury bug smoother than in year’s past. 

PACHULIA CHIPS IN: Although the Georgian back-up had a brutal stretch in the middle of the fourth in which he blew an easy dunk, almost was charged with an offensive foul and then travelled (this all in two possessions), Pachulia for the most part played an outstanding game.  The center dropped in an efficient 18 and 4 in 39 minutes and was the Hawks second leading scorer on the night.  Aside from a rocky start to the season, Pachulia has been a relative model of consistency.  Perhaps this wouldn’t seem surprising to the average fan, but Hawks fans definitely have to be pleased.  While Horford’s return is imminent, Pachulia will continue to play a big role down the stretch and he must remain consistent.

GARDNER NOT CONVINCING:  For the second game in the row back up guard Thomas Gardner earned playing time and for the second game in the row he put up an airball.  This time it was from a three at the top of the key, which badly missed.  Although replays showed that the ball was not tipped, it badly missed the rim by a solid two feet.  Gardner partially redeemed himself by hitting one three in the game, but his comfort level is clearly not there.  In his defense, however, there has been an extreme pressure to perform and Gardner has to know his window of opportunity is just a sliver wide.  

PLAYING FOR THE BULLS?: Oh boy.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Chicago Bulls television announcers Neil Funk and Stacey King won’t be petitioning for the team to bring in Flip Murray at the end of this season.  The tagteam announcing duo kept asking “which team Murray was playing for” after Murray went on his typical mind-numbing rampage of poor shots, horrendous fouls, and turnovers.  Murray finished the night 4 for 13 with a +/- of -13, including a crucial missed shot with 3:15 remaining in the fourth that he had no business taking.  Ouch.  Murray’s worst play of the day?  His inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds on the clock, where he tried to loft the ball over Ben Gordon to Maurice Evans with the Hawks up 105-101 and the game seemingly in hand.  Woody looked as if he was about to blow a gasket on the sideline after the errant pass and stormed off the court after the game.

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Filed under January (Atlanta Hawks)

phoenix rising

ATL 102 PHX 107: The Hawks put forth a decent effort Tuesday night on the road against Phoenix, only to fall short again for their fourth loss in a row.  In what is becoming suddenly routine, the Hawks fell behind by a double digit deficit in the first quarter forcing them to expend mass amounts of energy to work themselves back into the game.  Sekou Smith pointed out that Joe Johnson may be gassed given his 4-21 performance.  I couldn’t agree more.  Johnson’s energy was noticeably down early in the game and at times the shooting guard looked to settle for shots, seemingly content to take fadeaway 18 footers.  

Folks, that’s what happens when you play 40 plus minutes on a regular basis.  You wear down.  Unfortunately, its happening alarmingly early for Joe Johnson, who clearly hit the wall last season right after the All-Star break.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby helped take some of the load off Johnson late last season, but its clear an aggregation of the past three seasons has taken a tolling effect this season.  

While I admittedly harp on the ineffective coaching of Mike Woodson, I think it bears mentioning again here.  Woodson has said recently that he needs to get his rotation “set” and utilize more bench players in order to stretch the rotation to nine or ten deep.  At this point, it may be too late.  Woodson has benched Acie Law for the majority of the season, and despite relative effectiveness from Solomon Jones, the lanky power forward has rarely seen the court after the return of Josh Smith.  Woodson needs to realize that these back-ups do bring something to the table, and if anything, will serve to boost the effectiveness of Joe Johnson late in games even if their +/-‘s are lower.  Barring a trade, now is the time to stretch the rotation and go ten deep.  The Hawks are right in the thick of the season, 37 games in.  The starters need to be fresh for the stretch run and they simply won’t be if Woodson continues to run them into the ground. 

GROW THE CHEST HAIR: Say what you want about Zaza – he’s a bull in a China shop, he’s a bickering head case, he needs to stop shooting the foul line jumper – but he has straight up performed the last few games.  In one specific instance in Tuesday’s game, Pachulia literally moved Leandro Barbosa three feet away with one hand to grab the rebound and dished off for the assist.  Pachulia was everywhere, crashing the boards on both offense and defense.  Moreover, the Georgian proved useful on offense sets, finding his niche for easy lay-ins.  10 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes is typically what we see from Horford.  To get those numbers from a back-up is huge for the Hawks on the road. 

CHOKE JOB: While Marvin Williams has been very solid this season, his two missed free throws late in the game proved the difference in the loss to the Suns (much as Bibby’s blown layup was last Wednesday vs. Orlando).  Williams has definitely had his clutch moments this season – the three pointers to win it vs. Washington and take the lead vs. Boston on the road come to mind.  However, Williams’ two misses proved that this is still a young Hawks team not sure how to react in crunch time situations.  Although I get the sense this team is more ready to face playoff caliber teams on the road, they aren’t all the way there yet.  

POOR SHOT SELECTION: Josh Smith had an awful first quarter only to rebound through the second, third and most of the fourth.  But Smith’s shot selection in the game’s waning moments was downright awful.  As I have stated time in and time out, Smith has been maddeningly inconsistent and Tuesday proved no different.  After missing from outside early in the first, Smith clearly made it his mission to get to the hoop.  But not when it mattered.  With 52 seconds remaining and the Hawks down three, Smith found himself 16 feet out with his defender purposefully backing away.  Smith took the bait, launched the jumper, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Clank.

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Filed under January (Atlanta Hawks)

when it rains…


Williams' shoulder isn't all that is ailing in the ATL.

Williams' shoulder isn't all that is ailing in the ATL.

Go ahead and finish that ever-popular phrase.  Stick it in your head, turn the key.  Set it and forget it.  It’s pouring in Hawksville and the weather forecast is uncertain.  The Hawks are in unchartered territory: sporting a 22-14 record but seeing their level of play dissipate fast.  Three losses in a row shouldn’t seem too alarming.  After all, you play 82 games in the regular season in the NBA and odds dictate losing streaks.  Just ask the Celtics, losers of 5 of their last 7 before beating up on Toronto Sunday.  

But it’s not just the losing.  It’s how the Hawks have gone about the losing, getting pounded by Orlando in back to back games and not even putting up a fight against an Elton Brand-less Sixer team.  What about the defense that had these Hawks soaring to a 6-0 record early in the season?  Non-existent.  Ball movement and rhythm on offense?  Gone.  Just after I had written about this young team’s recent knack for finding the flow and consistency necessary to be successful in the NBA, it vanished in a heartbeat.  Sekou Smith described the Orlando loss on Friday as the “worst beating he had ever seen,” to paraphrase.  Since I lack the censorship he does, I will gladly rephrase.  That was an ass-kicking.  I have seen matadors in Spain take less of a demolition.  To be down 50 to your supposed “division rival” is to say goodnight to any potential challenge for a #3 seed and a division title.  

I have a theory.  Losing in the NBA is easy.  The Hawks have proven that for past decade.  With losing comes little to no expectation.  Win one here and there, and you’ve done your job.  Make the playoffs when you’re not expected to, and you may draw applause.  Perhaps a city awakens, as Atlanta did during the playoffs last season.  But when a team starts creating the expectation of winning – as the Hawks have done so this year – the entire outlook changes.  The pressure shifts like tectonic plates preparing for an earthquake.  Balance yourself accordingly, and perhaps you learn to survive with the added weight of expectation.  Step forward unprepared and who knows, you may fall just as quickly as it took you to rise.  

My point is this.  The Hawks are calibrating themselves like a fish swimming in new water.  They now have the expectation to win, and it has forced many of the younger players into a position they are unused to.  The Hawks were simply not ready to challenge Orlando, a more “veteran” team.  They felt the pressure and fell to the ground like a runaway prisoner shot in the leg.  But they will get up, and they will continue to challenge for the 4 seed in the East.  Make no mistake, this is a talented team.  A team which when it puts its mind to it and focuses, can play with just about anyone in the league.  

The Orlando back-to-back also exposed one another clear weakness which GM Rick Sund needs to address: depth.  The Nuggets recently bolstered their frontcourt with the addition of center Johan Petro.  Perhaps the Hawks can also inquire with the Thunder about Chris Wilcox or Joe Smith.  Chris Kaman (and to a lesser extent his teammate, Marcus Camby) is also a possibility, although I suspect given the ownership situation the Hawks will avoid such a long term commitment.  The Hawks, too, have assets to trade.  They may be willing to part with Acie Law, who has found his way into Mike Woodson’s doghouse through no apparent fault of his own.  And let’s not forget Speedy Claxton, arguably the worst free agent signing in Hawks history who has given them little other than one horrific season and a neverending stream of injury updates.  There’s also the rights to Josh Childress, which may have more value than you think since it is almost a foregone conclusion the lanky swingman will return to domestic play. 

Brace yourself Hawks fans.  The next few games may be rough.  But trust me on this: they will be better for it.  And while they are not ready to challenge the Celtics, Cavs and Magic for superiority in the East, they are still capable of doing damage, at which point, we just may see the sun peak out.

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Filed under January (Atlanta Hawks)

winning cures everything


J Smoove and the Hawks are starting to fly to new heights.  (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

J Smoove and the Hawks are starting to fly to new heights. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

HOU 100 ATL 103: Consistency.  It can be evasive.  Or when you’re the Spurs it can be as reliable as a six year old’s favorite blanket – always there, ready to wrap itself around you to commandeer you through some of life’s most inglorious moments.  For the Hawks, consistency is a word too unfamiliar for a professional basketball team, at least when the term is used positively.  Not anymore.  After a decade of impotence on the basketball court, Hawks basketball is back and with a vengeance. 

Don’t look now but the Hawks sit at 22-11, 3.5 games behind the Southeast Division leading Orlando Magic.  With a home and home upcoming this Wednesday and Friday against those division leaders, the Hawks could slice that lead down to a game and a half.  For those who don’t remember, the Hawks torched the Magic in the season opener in Orlando.  The Magic won’t be so kind as to dish out a repeat performance this week.  Not at all.  Orlando currently sits within the NBA’s “elite four,” joined by L.A., Cleveland and Boston. Expect two battles which should go a long way towards setting the tone for the race to the top of the division this year. 

But let’s take a step back.  How did these young Hawks get to this point?  In one word: consistency.  Something clicked on the Hawks most recent eight game home stretch.  They shared the ball and established the requisite “flow” on offense.  Joe Johnson decided he needed to put even more trust in his teammates, and that he has done, culminating in a ridiculous 14 assists in Saturday’s win vs. Houston.  (In the last 12 games, Johnson has averaged 7.1 assists/game.)  Josh Smith realized 99% of the time he’s the most talented athlete on the court and decided to use that athleticism to his advantage by attacking the rim (don’t tell me you missed his thunderous dunk off that putback vs. Houston).  And how can we forget the work Mike Bibby has put in.  The dude looks like he did in those deep playoff run days in Sac-town, where he was the only one man enough to take a shot with time expiring.  Bibby is the second clutch shooter the Hawks need, and one Joe Johnson can defer to when he’s double teamed down the stretch.

Even Zaza Pachulia, the international man of mystery is getting into the act, posting quality efforts in his last eight games.  Pachulia has always been a load on the offensive boards, but his game has surprisingly round into shape offensively.  The Georgian center has established a comfort level with using his left hand on drives to the hoop.  Moreover, he’s spotting up on offensive positions in locations where he can make a difference in the scoring column.  Pachulia has also been helped by consistent minutes, which (gulp) are a product of Woody’s now dependable rotation.  Now if Woody can only find a way to introduce Acie Law to the rotation…

I’m as big a stat geek as any.  Statistics generally don’t lie, and I view Hollinger’s PER as a strong indicator of the general value of an NBA player.  But stats aside, the Hawks performance on the court through the view of the naked eye has simply looked different.  Numbers cannot quantify “flow” and “rhythm.”  They cannot measure trust and familiarity.  Those, however, are the traits which have the Hawks on the rise.  Traits, which if the Hawks continue to exhibit, will have them consistently rising to the top of playoff seeding.

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Filed under January (Atlanta Hawks)

hiatus/falcons’ loss

Recently the blogster (myself) has been on a mini-vacation in the city of sin.  I’ll be back blogging regularly soon enough, and will have some thoughts on the Hawks win vs. the Rockets Saturday night.  Consistency is starting to find a place in Hawksville.  

FALCONS LOSE IN ARIZONA: I hope the Falcons realize that the media can turn from hot to cold in a milliseconds time.  The Falcons put together a tremendous season, one that I believe will be a defining point for a franchise that has seen more downs than ups.  The foundation is in place, not only from a managerial standpoint but also from a personnel standpoint.  But that foundation could only take the Falcons so far Saturday afternoon in Arizona.  I think once emotions settle, people will realize things are looking up for this franchise and that the coaching staff squeezed every ounce of talent from the roster they inherited and molded in one year’s time.  The Cardinals were better Saturday, but in the long run the Falcons have the brighter future.  That a Falcons’ playoff loss is “disappointing” speaks itself to how far this franchise has come from the depths of despair.  Lessons were learned in Arizona, but it is those lessons the Falcons will be thankful to have learned down the road.

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dirty bullets


The Bulls forgot about Joe Johnson and he made them pay.  (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

The Bulls forgot about Joe Johnson and he made them pay. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

CHI 117 ATL 129: Here are some game notes from the first half of Saturday night’s game.  (I missed the second half due to a previously scheduled engagement.)  

  • Joe Johnson got a lot of open looks, including a couple of wide open threes which he buried.  This was as “in rhythm” as I have seen Joe in a while.  It was a little surprising to see some of the Bulls’ defenders forget about him on defense.  If I were the opposing coach, my game plan would be to double team Joe and let everyone else beat me.  The Bulls apparently did not go with that strategy. 
  • Josh Smith played one of his best games of the season.  I was hard on him in my previous post, but against the Bulls he really attacked the rim.  Smith constantly drove the basketball and was able to draw a number of fouls from Nocioni (who in my opinion is a slow but underrated defender).  You could see “Noc” get under Smith’s skin at times, but Josh held his on and kept battling.  On one play in particular, Josh had the ball about 15 feet out, thought about the long jumper, pump faked and drew the foul on the way to the rim.  A perfect play on that possession. 
  • Pachulia came off the bench and provided some key minutes.  He especially looked comfortable on offense and has started to use his left hand more to finish at the rim.  Assuming the Hawks don’t trade for another big, he’s going to play a huge role down the stretch for this team. 
  • The Bulls set the tempo and Hawks matched it with no problem.  I think its a mistake to tempt these Hawks to run (as the Bulls found out).  There aren’t many teams as athletic as the Hawks who can match their game speed.  
  • Derrick Rose is the next superstar.  No doubt about it.  The dude attacks the rim better than anyone not named Kobe, Lebron and D-Wade.  I saw Marvin at times try to guard him, but Rose was simply to quick to the hoop.  It’s almost as though he’s capable of getting to the rim whenever he sets his mind to it.  If he had a supporting cast – he doesn’t – the Bulls would be legitimate contenders for the 8 seed in the East.  
  • Marvin Williams is quietly improving his game.  While I think his “aggressiveness” meter is turned up to about a 7 (out of 10), he’s playing with increased enthusiasm.  Moreover, he’s distinguished himself as the third scorer on this team.  I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game, which is scary given that he’s a pretty good player as is.  

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Filed under December (Atlanta Hawks)

the deterioration of josh smith


Although Smith remains an integral part of the Hawks, his output has diminished this season.

Although Smith remains an integral part of the Hawks, his output has diminished this season.

I touched on Josh Smith’s slow start to this season in yesterday’s post, but I wanted to go into a little further detail on his struggles as we approach the first “third” mark of the season.  First, a few caveats.  Smith injured his ankle early in the season vs. the Raptors and as a result lost a lot of the rhythm he was able to develop in the first three games he was healthy for.  Also, each starter’s numbers should have been expected to take a minor dip given the addition of Mike Bibby for a full season.  Whereas Anthony Johnson averaged 6.7 points/game, Bibby is throwing down 15.9 points/game.  That’s around a 9 point spike in production, some of which inevitably results in a dropoff in the scoring of the four remaining starters. 

(LACK OF) SHOOTING: With those two premises in mind, Smith’s overall production has nevertheless been a disappointment after inking a 5 year/$58 million contract.  Smith’s field goal percentage is down significantly, from close to 46% to 42.6%.  His free throw shooting has also followed suit, dropping from 71% to 67.1%.  This all has resulted in a drop in his scoring output, which has fell from 19.4 points/40 minutes to 15.3 points/40 minutes.  This is an alarming drop even for a player whose not exactly known for his offensive prowess.  

As an observer, a few changes in Smith’s game have been noticeable.  Early in the season and even at times recently, Smith has settled for long outside jumpers and three point shots.  Smith is anything but a gifted outside shooter, and opposing team’s game plan to let him take the longer outside shots.  Smith’s athleticism should allow him to attack the rim at will; instead, however, he’s settled and it has cost him.  The power forward’s propensity for the three point shot is maddening in itself because of his horrific shooting percentage (27%) from downtown.  In no instance should Smith take this shot – not even if there isn’t a defender in sight.  

Smith also has looked lost and uncomfortable in some of the Hawks’ offensive sets.  At times it appears he’s not sure if he should shoot, drive, or swing the ball.  Typically this results in a long jumper as referenced above or an awkward drive to the hoop where the ball is stripped.  For lack of a better phrase, Smith looks “out of the flow” on offense.  If his struggles continue for another ten games, Hawks fans have a reason to be concerned.  As of right now, its safe to assume Smith is still trying to assimilate himself after missing some serious time. 

REBOUNDING: What’s more alarming in Smith’s statistical output this season is his drop in rebounding, a sheer “effort” category which the 23 year old should easily control given his size and athleticism.  Smith’s rebounds/40 minutes has dropped from 9.3 to 8.4 and his overall rebound rate has dropped from 13.5 to 12.2 (rebound rate is the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds).  There’s really not one thing in particular one can point to for this reduction.  Marvin Williams has increased his rebound rate (9.6 to 10.3) but Al Horford’s has dropped dramatically (18 to 14.9), thus leaving more missed shots for rebounds.  It’s possible Smith’s effort has reduced this season since he is no longer in a contract year.  It’s also possible that Smith’s ankle has been limited.  What’s more probable than the both of these, however, is Smith’s positioning.  Smith sometimes gets in a poor spot on the floor coming off a missed shot, leading to tougher rebounds.  It’s not just Smith but also Marvin Williams, who should also own the boards.  Whatever the reason is, it’s clear Smith’s rebounding has suffered this season. 

BLOCKED SHOTS: Finally, although Smith will soon be fifth in the league in blocks (he’s currently not eligible given his game’s played), his blocked shot numbers have taken a dip as well.  Smith has gone from 2.8 to 1.9 blocks/game, another alarming drop-off given that his playing time has pretty much remained the same.  Perhaps opponents are not attacking Smith the way they used to now that the secret’s out on his ability to block shots.  The more likely theory, however, is that opponents have started to figure out Smith’s methodology for blocking shots.  Smith gives a ton of ground up on defense and tends to back pedal in hopes of eliciting a shot to block.  While he still gets a ton of blocks this way, its much less than before as offensive players have found a way to get their shots off. 

THE VERDICT: Smith’s production is down across the board.  There’s no other way to say it.  But at this point, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt given his injury early in the season.  If Smith’s production is still the same two months from now, however, it may be time to worry.  I have heard $58 million has a way of bringing out a sense of complacency in the best of us.  Especially when compared to trying to play for your next paycheck.

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revisiting the 2004 nba draft

2004 NBA Draft Selections

Dwight Howard | F | 6-11 | 240
SW Atlanta Christian Academy (Ga.)
Charlotte (from LAC)
Emeka Okafor | F-C | 6-10 | 252
Ben Gordon | G | 6-3 | 200
L.A. Clippers (from CHA)
Shaun Livingston | G | 6-7 | 175
Peoria Central HS (Ill.)
Devin Harris | G | 6-3 | 185
Wisconsin | 
Rights traded to DAL
Josh Childress | F | 6-8 | 210
Luol Deng | F | 6-8 | 220
Duke | Rights traded to CHI
Rafael Araujo | C | 6-11 | 290
Brigham Young
Andre Iguodala | F | 6-6 | 207
Luke Jackson | F | 6-7 | 215
Golden State
Andris Biedrins | F | 6-11 | 240
Robert Swift | C | 7-0 | 245
Bakersfield HS (Calif.)
Sebastian Telfair | G | 6-0 | 165
Abraham Lincoln HS (N.Y.)
Kris Humphries | F | 6-9 | 235
Al Jefferson | F | 6-10 | 265
Prentiss HS (Miss.)
Utah (from NYK/PHO)
Kirk Snyder | G | 6-6 | 225
Atlanta (from MIL/DEN/DET)
Josh Smith | F | 6-9 | 210
Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
New Orleans
J.R. Smith | G | 6-6 | 220
St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.)
Dorell Wright | F | 6-7 | 210
Leuzinger HS (Calif.)
Jameer Nelson | G | 6-0 | 190
St. Joseph’s | Rights traded to ORL
Utah (from HOU)
Pavel Podkolzin | C | 7-5 | 260
Russia | Rights traded to DAL
New Jersey
Viktor Khryapa | F | 6-9 | 210
Russia | Rights traded to POR
Portland (from MEM)
Sergei Monia | F | 6-8 | 220
Boston (from DAL)
Delonte West | G | 6-4 | 180
St. Joseph’s
Boston (from DET)
Tony Allen | G | 6-4 | 213
Oklahoma State
Kevin Martin | G | 6-7 | 185
Western Carolina
L.A. Lakers
Sasha Vujacic | G | 6-7 | 193
San Antonio
Beno Udrih | G | 6-3 | 203
David Harrison | C | 7-0 | 250

The Hawks’ reclamation project in essence began in 2004, when former GM Billy Knight had four picks in the draft total.  We all know how this turned out.  But,  just to remind you, Childress was taken 6th, J. Smith 17th, Donta Smith 34th, and Royal Ivey 37th.  Looking back on it, this might have been Knight’s best draft.  While the Hawks are not still enjoying the fruits of Childress’ skill set, Childress was arguably the second or third best sixth man in the league last year.  Smith has turned into a peripheral All-Star (although his numbers this year have in no way merited his huge offseason contract).  Donta Smith was utterly useless in the NBA while Ivey – to many execs’ surprise – has still managed to earn his paycheck through his sheer effort and defensive skill set.  

The 2004 Draft produced one clear cut superstar (Dwight Howard), two fringe superstars (Al Jefferson and Kevin Martin) and one budding All-Star (Devin Harris).  Outside of those four, everyone else’s place among the hierarchy is arguable.  Okafor, Gordon, Childress, Deng, and Iguodala are all above-average players, the majority of whom got overpaid last off-season for limited skill sets.  Okafor was hyped up prior to leaving UConn, but he’s been anything but a go to scorer.  Gordon, on the other hand, is nothing but a scorer.  He doesn’t really defend nor contribute in other areas of the game, such as passing and rebounding.  Deng would make a nice complementary scorer on a good team, but instead he’s a go to scorer on a bad team.  The decision to make him the go to guy may put GM John Paxson out of a job.  Iguodala re-upped to a massive deal in hopes of combining with Elton Brand to join the East’s upper echelon.  That just hasn’t happened.  As for Childress, well he’s playing in Greece and loving it (although I have a hunch he’ll be back in the NBA next year, perhaps even in a Hawks uniform).  Childress never justified his status as the sixth pick in the draft.  Not even close.  But on the flip side, he was far from a bust.  Childress was a very average scorer, but he was a great energizer on a young team, and he had an uncanny ability to be around the rim at all the right times.  Even though the Hawks are 18-10 and have dramatically improved from last season, don’t underestimate the loss of Childress.  It still hurts.  

Between Harris and the aforementioned group led by Okafor are three players who we still aren’t sure of.  They don’t qualify as All-Stars just yet, but their talent level indicates at least consideration of such a possibility.  That group includes Andris Biedrins, Smith, and Jameer Nelson.  Biedrins’ numbers have been limited because of Don Nelson’s propensity to use a “small-ball” line-up in Golden State, but even with this hindrance the 7 footer is posting a ridiculous 21.15 PER.  Smith has been somewhat of a disappointment this season, seeing a significant drop in his scoring output and shooting percentage.  In his defense, he was sidelined with an ankle injury for over ten games and has yet to fully figure out his role in the offense.  Smith’s 15.78 PER is being held up by his blocked shots and rebounding, but his offense has proved “un-seasoned” at best.  Still, Smith was a steal at No. 17 in the draft and his potential to grow as a player is still there.  Finally, we’re left with Nelson, the former St. Joseph Hawk who really had nothing left to prove after leaving college.  Despite his collegiate accomplishments, Nelson still dropped to 20th in the draft.  While Nelson was an average point guard since starting in the league, he has exploded this year.  Nelson is shooting 53% from the field and dropping 43+% from three point range, good for 17 points/game.  Throw in the fact that he’s contributing 5 assists/game, nearly 4 rebounds/game and only playing 32 minutes per contest, and you have the makings of a very above average point guard.  

As for busts, look no further than Shaun Livingston, who was picked at No. 4 by the Clippers.  You really can’t blame the Clips for this pick, as Livingston was a terrific high school prospect who many compared to Magic Johnson.  Livingston, unfortunately, has been sidelined by a number of injuries, the last being a horrific knee injury where the young point guard dislocated his kneecap.  Araujo, Jackson, Swift, Telfair, Humphries, Snyder, Wright, Podkozin, Khryapa and Monia were all busts.  Of that group, only Telfair (Timberwolves) and Humphries (Toronto) get any significant run, but that run is limited for the both of them. 

So back to the Hawks.  Was it a good draft?  Yes and no.  I like Childress and I’m clearly biased given my affinity for his skill set and what he brought to the Hawks last season.  But Deng, Biedrins and Jefferson would not only have made more sense than Childress, but would have been better for the team as well.  Deng is a better scorer and all around player.  Biedrins would have given them a center they still lack today.  Jefferson is a very solid low post scorer whose offensive skill set at this point in time outrivals that of Al Horford.  

As for the Smith pick, that one is impossible to discount.  I distinctly remember watching this draft and listening to ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas say “Josh Smith has the biggest chance of being THE bust in this draft.”  I think its fair to say Jay was wrong.  Very wrong.  And while Smith may prove turnover prone and “lost” on offense at times, he provides the necessary element of shotblocking to a Hawks team which has a tough time protecting the rim without him.  While one could make an argument that Nelson or Kevin Martin would have made more sense, Hawks fans have to be satisfied with the Smith selection. 

Hawks’ 2004 NBA Draft Grade: B+

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dee-troit baasketball

A quick note before I delve into this blog post.  Congratulations to the Atlanta Falcons, who have defied all odds by advancing into the NFL playoffs.  Proving all the critics – ahem, Sporting News – wrong, the Dirty Birds have helped get the city of Atlanta excited about professional football again.  While I still think they are a year away from truly being capable of playing for the hardware, I would be stupid to think they didn’t at least have a shot this year.  And a shot, my friends, is sometimes all you need. 

DET 78 ATL 85: Did the Detroit Pistons fall asleep on their way to Atlanta?  While the Pistons started red hot in the first six minutes of the first quarter, they stalled quickly and by the third quarter resembled a Ford Pinto begging to be kicked to the curb.  The Pistons did nothing to resemble the former crew which challenged for the Eastern Conference championship on a yearly basis.  Their proverbial “window” has indeed closed, and it could end up being a sad spectacle as the team races towards the finish line.  Was anyone else shocked to see A.I. disciplined on the bench in crunch time (only to be re-inserted after the Hamilton ejection)?  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t practice.  

While the score indicates a fairly close contest, the Pistons were truthfully never really in the game.  At times they looked lost on offense, not really having a go-to guy to attack the Hawks defense.  While Rasheed Wallace provided a spark down the stretch, he was the end all be all.  (Speaking of Wallace, I have no clue how Joe D. snagged the militant power forward for a mere first round pick from the Hawks; if you have that Rasheed Hawks replica from his one game stint, hold onto it and maybe you can trade it for a second mortgage.)  

What I noticed was simply a younger, better Hawks team running circles around an aging Pistons squad.  Mike Bibby was terrific, hitting a high percentage from deep and attacking the rim on occasion.  For Bibby, on occasion is significantly more than usual.  Anyone questioning Bibby’s importance need only look at his shooting percentage from three point land (.433; good for second best in the league) and the teams’ reliance on him down the stretch (if not Joe, then Bibby).  

While the Hawks really struggled in the fourth quarter, they played a flawless first half.  They played defense, shared the ball, and dominated what amounted to a lethargic Pistons team.  Granted, the Hawks were once again doing their damage at home, where they are 10-2 and for the most part on a tear.  But I think its fair to say the Hawks are here to stay and will challenge for a top 4 seed in the East for the rest of the season.  They could potentially give Orlando a run for their money, although Dwight Howard might have something to say about that.  As for catching Boston and Cleveland, I think it is fair to say that for now, they are in a league of their own. 

BENCH ME: Aside from Murray’s scintillating performance on Friday vs. Golden State, the Hawks bench has been practically non-existent and at times resembled a motley crew of NBDL’ers.  Specifically, Maurice Evans has struggled mightily, shooting 28% from the field and a disgusting 12.9% (4 for 31) from the three point line in the month of December.  I’m starting to think I might have to backtrack on my earlier post about Bill Worrell and his awful announcing for Rocket games (for those that don’t remember, Worrell criticized Evans’ shooting ability).  Murray hasn’t been much better, posting a paultry 6.8 PPG average in December with a .6 assist/turnover ratio.  That’s an atrocious ratio for a guy who plays point guard off the bench and tries to instigate the offense.  For those that were wondering, Acie Law has been permanently planted at the end of the bench next to Harry the Hawk.  In fact, I sometimes I wonder if he’s the one in that stupid Hawks outfit.

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kg’s taunting


Kevin Garnett makes sure everyone knows he plays with "heart."

Kevin Garnett makes sure everyone knows he plays with "heart."

As I’m prepping for a Sunday afternoon jolt between the Pistons and Hawks, I’ve decided to throw some choice words directed at Kevin Garnett.  I have been wanting to discuss Garnett’s incessant taunting for a long time, but never had the chance.  Now I do.  For those who haven’t familiarized themselves with Garnett’s extracurriculars on the court, the lanky power forward is known for pointing his finger at his opponents, barking at others without staring them down and even at times getting on all fours to make his voice heard.  (Garnett started barking at  Portland rookie Jerryd Bayless on an ESPN game earlier this year)


While Hawks fans may remember Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wags in the late 90’s, the Nigerian seven footer made a point of never waving it directly at his opponent.  If he did, he was T’d up quickly.  Garnett typically does the same, directing his jawing at the camera or thin air rather than subjecting his opponents to it.  But make no mistake, his opponents hear it.  In one instance this season, Garnett permanently scarred Randolph Morris in Boston when Garnett “facialed” Morris on a ferocious slam.  Garnett proceeded to pound his chest, mouth off without making direct eye contact with Morris, and bark as he ran down the court.  

I personally am not a Garnett fan.  His game cannot be questioned, and if he were on the Hawks I would probably love him.  But the NBA’s treatment of stars is arguably one of its bigger black marks (although not in the same league as the Donaghy betting scandal.)  Take for instance the refs treatment of Dwayne Wade.  Without venturing too far off topic, Wade is subject to “star treatment” every game with the numerous touch fouls called in his favor.  The same thing goes with Garnett.  If Artest or Rodman of year’s past performed the same antics, they would be leading the lead in T’s.  But therein lies the divide of a business and operating enterprise.  Garnett gets the NBA “I Love this Game” ads and he can bark all he wants.  Artest is one of the NBA’s black sheep and is under a tighter leash than my neighbor’s golden retriever. 

I leave you with this fruitful clip of the man they call KG: 

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upper echelon?


The Hawks still won despite an off night from Mike Bibby.

The Hawks still won despite an off night from Mike Bibby.

GS 99 ATL 115: It wasn’t the prettiest game ever, but the Hawks took care of business against the defensively challenged Warriors on Friday night.  This was my first real look at the Warriors and I was amazed with their non-chalant approach to playing the game.  They take poor shots, play absolutely no defense, and rarely try to contest shots.  

Despite the Warriors poor play, the Hawks were still scratching and clawing their way to the victory mark late in the third quarter before making a breakaway.  A breakaway that was in fact fueled by a bench player.  (Surprise)  Flip Murray came off the bench to drop 20 and help push the Hawks to a 16-10 mark. 

The Warriors were fielding what looked like a JV team Friday.  Starters Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette were out of action due to injury and former starter Monta Ellis is still recovering from a devastating off-season injury.  That left heavy minutes for the likes of Marco Bellinelli, Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Morrow.  Bellinelli and Morrow played surprisingly well, each showing strong outside shooting.  Bellinelli dropped a game high 27 points, but didn’t do it solely from long distance.  He was able to attack the rim and in one instance went right at Marvin Williams for a one handed reversal. 

Perhaps the Warriors remind some of the Hawks of old, but I’m not sure I quite see it.  Even in the first couple of years of the rebuilding process under Woody, the Hawks at least tried to play defense.  Moreover, the Hawks had a go to offensive player in Joe Johnson after the Phoenix trade.  I’m not sure the same can be said of the Warriors, although Stephen Jackson could arguably come close.  My point being while the brand of basketball the Warriors play may be fan pleasing and exciting to watch, I question whether it can ever be successful long term.  The Hawks are finally in the upper echelon in the East; I doubt we will the say the same of the Warriors in three years. 

RONDO’S LEGITIMACY: Watching the Hawks-Celtics game Wednesday night, the one player that really stuck out at me was Rajon Rondo.  He is a game changer and a humongous part of what the Celtics do on both offense and defense.  Although the big three are clearly aging, they have received a strong boost from their young point guard, whose uncanny ability to attack the basket on offense and disrupt plays on defense remains a perfect fit for the defending champions.  The Celtics are definitely beatable this season.  But they have all the makings of a seasoned, playoff tested team who can will themselves to win – on the home or on the road.  The last three minutes of Wednesday’s game resembled a boxing match in the 12th round, with each fighter exchanging blows again and again.  Kevin Garnett was nearly unstoppable, while Joe Johnson nearly proved to be his equal match until his final missed free throw.  Say what you want about Joe missing that shot, but I wouldn’t want anyone else on that line.  I guarantee you Joe will be back on the line in the final moments of another game this season: he won’t miss that same shot again.


Filed under December (Atlanta Hawks)

disturbing behavior

After watching the Falcons-Buccaneers game Sunday afternoon, I was reminded of the story of Tampa tight end Jerramy Stevens. He’s quite possibly the NFL’s best kept secret – in the worst way possible.

You see, Stevens has a proven track record of not only dropping balls but of running into the law. In 1998, he was arrested and charged with felony assault for breaking a kid’s jaw while in high school. Later, while at the University of Washington, Stevens was accused of raping a college student in an alleyway outside of a fraternity house. Despite a mountain of evidence, with the help of the University of Washington, members of the football team’s coaching staff, and many others, Stevens never felt much more than a prick on the finger.

Since then he’s had further run ins with the law, including multiple DUI’s, the latest of which occurred while Stevens was in the NFL playing for the Seahawks. I encourage everyone to read this fine article by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry of the Seattle Times. It is a bone chilling story which absolutely needs to be told.

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should I stay or should I go?

Mike Woodson's coaching has been long questioned.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Mike Woodson's coaching has been long questioned. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

It’s been a hot topic in Hawks nation for the past few seasons, and prior to the past two wins, it was gaining full steam: should Mike Woodson be the coach of this team? In short, he shouldn’t be. While the Hawks have increased their win total from 13 wins per season on up, Woodson’s methods have to be questioned.

Old School Mentality: While Woodson’s coaching pedigree may be his greatest asset (he was schooled under Bob Knight in Indiana as a player and under Larry Brown as an assistant in Detroit), it’s also his greatest flaw. Woody prefers to rely on vets and its showing this year, as Woody has chosen to go with Flip Murray ahead of Acie Law. (If you were wondering whether Brown relies on vets, just look at the Bobcats last trade of Richardson for Bell and Diaw as evidence.)

During his early years, Woodson was forced to go with rookies such as Josh Childress, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. He had no choice. But this year, he has been faced with the option of going with the veteran Murray or the younger, faster point guard in Law, who has the higher long term ceiling. Law has shown flashes of brilliance, driving to the basket at times with ease. His uncanny ability to attack the rim and finish with both hands should -in the long run- prove more valuable than the erratic Flip Murray, who can provide an inconsistent spark off the bench.

Yet Woodson has stuck with Murray and stunted Law’s growth. While Law has struggled with his shot, his penchant for driving and dishing and his sheer athleticism should alone be enough for him to earn minutes in the rotation. As of now, those qualities haven’t been enough. The same argument could be made with Randolph Morris, who hasn’t seen the light of day despite being highly regarded out of the University of Kentucky. While Morris is not as great an example, his potential should probably earn him a little bit more of playing time.

Bench Reliance: Woodson’s heavy reliance on his starters has shown the past two years, as he rarely has gone deep into his bench during either the regular season or the playoffs. Last season, he went only so far as playing Josh Childress and Zaza Pachulia down the stretch as the Hawks were gunning for a playoff spot. This year, it is more of the same. Woodson has essentially a three man rotation coming off the bench in the form of Evans, Murray and Pachulia.

What Woody fails to realize is that during an 82 game stretch, players get tired. Joe Johnson has been run into the ground the past three seasons, and his scoring output and overall efficiency have dropped significantly late in the season. While the addition of Mike Bibby at the trading deadline last year took some of the load off Johnson, Johnson still struggled at times due to fatigue.

Good coaching staffs recognize fatigue. Take Erik Spoelstra of Miami. He tries to limit Dwayne Wade’s minutes to between 34-38 minutes a game to maximize his efficiency. He studied Wade’s output over last season, and found out that Wade was much better when his minutes were managed. Who would have thought? Even if the Heat are down in a game (such as last Friday vs. the Hawks), Spoelstra will stick to this method of resting Wade.

Woodson, on the other hand, is like a flustered quarterback in the pocket. Instead of staying in the pocket and making an accurate throw, he rushes outside and throws the ball out of bounds. If the Hawks are in a close game, you can guarantee Woodson will press the panic button and put Johnson (and eventually Bibby and Horford) back in the game. It’s almost comical to see some of the box scores for this year’s games, where every starter has played over 35 minutes.

Johnson ranks fourth in the league in minutes at 39.3 minutes/game. Bibby is ranked thirteenth among point guards at 33.8 minutes/game. Marvin Williams is ranked twelfth among power forwards at 35.0 minutes/game. Horford is ranked eleventh among centers at 32.1 minutes/game. (I kept Josh Smith out of this discussion due to injuries which kept him out of a handful of games early in the season and his erratic play costing him playing time recently.)

In Woody’s defense, his bench is below average. But perhaps the head coach should take some of the blame for the bench’s inconsistencies. After all, it is Woody’s erratic handling of minutes played for bench players which have forced players such as Pachulia and Law to recalibrate their expectations of whether or not they will play in a game. (I’m not going to even touch Woody’s curious decision of benching Pachulia vs. the Wizards after he lit up the Raptors for 17 rebounds; I have already vented on that instance of Woody’s poor coaching.)

Vanilla Play-Calling: Woody’s inability to get creative on the play-calling end is a little curious given his tutelage by the aforementioned Knight and Brown. Yet I have seen this team repeatedly fail to execute out of time-outs where the sole purpose of the time-out was to draw up a play.

As much as I love Joe Johnson, the Bibby/Johnson pick and roll repeatedly down the stretch is either hit or miss. When it’s working, it can be unstoppable, and Johnson can absolutely take over a game (see last night’s game vs. Cleveland or Game 4 vs. Boston in last year’s playoffs). However, when it doesn’t work, the Johnson isolation play call can slow down the offense and leave the other four players on the court feeling like they are on an island on offense. There is no reason why this team shouldn’t run the offense down the stretch to keep the rhythm it was able to establish throughout the course of the game.

While Woody can somewhat justify the Johnson “iso” can he really justify the Flip Murray iso? Should there even be such a thing? When Murray comes into the game, it is almost a guarantee the ball will be in his hands on offense, typically resulting in the hoisting of some off balance shot. But what is more surprising than Murray’s early shooting barrage is the play that gets Murray to that point: an isolation play call where Murray goes 1 on 5 on his way to the hoop. Woodson needs to know that while the Bryant iso and the James iso work in LA and Cleveland, the Murray iso is a recipe for disaster.

Connecting With the Players: A good coach connects with players. A great coach connects with players and manages the locker room. Woodson does neither. While he may have the respect of Johnson, guys like Smith and Pachulia can only hide so much of their disdain for their head coach.

Smith and Woody have broken up and made up more than college kids doing a long distance relationship. While Smith is immature and a volatile personality, its Woody’s job to manage that personality so that it doesn’t destroy the foundation of the team. Woody has done a better job of this recently, benching Smith after dumb turnovers, mental lapses and technical fouls. But as some parents would tell you, it may be too late to discipline your child after you let it crap the bed for the past four years.

Pachulia – on the other hand – dislikes Woodson for his inconsistent playing time. I have to side with Zaza on this, although his fragile mental pscyhe leaves much to be desired. Woody needs to understand that Pachulia is a key cog in this line-up and can’t afford to “lose” that type of role player mentally. Yet Woody seems content keeping a distance from his big man, hoping that Pachulia will perhaps work up the inspiration to play for his head coach on his own.

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chopped and screwed

ATL vs. SA game update: It’s midway through the second quarter and the Hawks yet again have come out of the gate like wounded ducks.  If the Hawks have been consistent at anything, its lethargy early in the game and there are stats to prove it.  Some game thoughts:

  • The Hawks so far have been outhustled on the boards.   The Spurs doubled the Hawks in rebounding and that merely spells one thing: a lack of effort.
  • Jumpshots, jumpshots, and more jumpshots.  Instead of trying to attack the rim, the Hawks have continually settled for outside shots, especially at the beginning of the second.  Play by play man Bob Rathbun pointed out that the Hawks have not been to the line in over three quarters (including the last half of the Houston game), a stat which screams a lack of desire to get to the rim.
  • For once, the bench has seen an increase in minutes.  Acie Law,  specifically is getting an extended run and is making the most of it.  He’s making an effort to penetrate and is suiting up on defense.  He’s had at least one steal I have accounted for and almost just made another.
  • Smith just made a beautiful lob pass to Horford for the slam.  I didn’t think Horford would be able to size the pass up to dunk it in time.  Smith has struggled again early in the game, but at least he’s making an active effort to attack the rim.
  • If I talk any more about Pachulia, this blog may have to renamed.  But he continues to be the most mind-boggling player on this roster.   Perhaps Pachulia is a “space cadet” to steal the words of Phil Jackson, who used them to aptly describe Vladimir Radmanovic.  I simply don’t understand Pachulia.  As an aside, he needs to protect the ball better on offense.  Instead of taking two steps, leaving the ball unprotected and driving to the rim, he needs to dribble, use his body to protect the ball and attack the rim.
  • Bobcats just acquired J-Rich for Diaw and Bell.  I love Bell, but he’s old and past his prime.  Diaw is an enigma who I do not see thriving in Charlotte.  This deal has the potential to really help Phoenix, especially if Terry Porter decides to turn up the tempo at some point.

I’m going to put up a post in the near future on Woody, and whether or not he should be canned before this season progresses any further.  He may be the most divisive figure in Atlanta sports outside of MV7, and since Mike’s in jail, Woody’s future is more relevant.

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drinking the kool-aid

Hawks 84 Rockets 92: Sometimes you have to wonder if this Hawks team is perhaps too cocky for its own good.  What else can explain the team’s lethargic starts on a semi-regular basis?  Could they be drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid?

To steal Sekou Smith’s description of the opening quarter, the Hawks started off the game like “zombies” as the Rockets ran circles around them and built up a 13-0 lead.  The Hawks were slowly able to chip away at the lead, eventually leading by the third quarter and posting a solid 8 point lead with six minutes to play in the fourth, only to see everything fall apart.

While its easy to be critical of Josh Smith mainly because his game is so “maddening,” the fifth year power forward has still yet to learn how to play the game “under control.”  Smith shot a horrendous 5 of 19 and committed a key turnover down the stretch overthrowing Joe Johnson on a lead pass as the Rockets came roaring back.  Woodson eventually benched Smith, opting to go with Pachulia who was no better.  (Pachulia, by the way, may be even more maddening than Smith given his up and down output from game to game.)

Look, Smith is a fine player.  He’s arguably the most athletic player in the game right now and his contributions to this team are immeasurable.   But Woody needs to sit him down and explain to him that the NBA game does not need to be played at 95 mph.  Slow it down young fella.  Let the game come to you.  Don’t let defenders tempt you into 18 foot jump shots  and three’s when you can soar by them and dunk it in their face or get fouled.  The sooner Smith realizes his unique talents – his full plethora of unique talents that is – he will be an even greater force to be reckoned with.

BROADCAST WOES: For those who had to digest the Rockets broadcast team, I apologize on their behalf.  The team of Bill Worrell and Clyde Drexler may have been the worst I have heard all season (and that’s having heard the Celtics home team with Tommy Heinsohn).  Worrell went on record as saying Maurice Evans was an “awful” outside shooter.  Drexler, to his credit, tried to correct Worrell by pointing out Evans’ shooting percentage of 44% from behind the arc.  Even with those stats presented to him, Worrell still disagreed, pointing out that Evans was a terrible outside shooter at the University of Texas.

Bill, I hate to see people lose jobs, especially during these rough economic times, but you sir should just give yours up.  Either do your homework, and know the strengths of opposing team’s players or admit your mistakes.  It’s one or the other.  Evans shot nearly 40% from three point land last season and is up past 44% this season.  That – in no way – qualifies as a “horrible” outside shooter.   If anything, those are solid numbers.  Moreover, judging a player’s game based on what he did in college seven years before entering the league is non-sensical.  Chris Bosh didn’t have an amazing post up game at Georgia Tech nor did he have a great 15 footer.  Now look at him.  Worrell, do us all a favor and quit while you’re ahead.   Your broadcasting skills are beyond horrendous.

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playing with fire

It didn’t make headlines, but Zaza Pachulia’s DNP on Saturday night vs. the Wizards definitely bears at least a blog discussion. For those who missed it, Pachulia logged his first DNP of the season, even though the Hawks were still without the injured Josh Smith. That’s right, Zaza played exactly zero minutes. What makes Woody’s decision even more confusing is that Zaza was coming off arguably his best game of the season, logging 17 rebounds vs. the Raptors. (I wrote about Woody’s decision not to play Pachulia in the fourth quarter of that game, which also did not make sense at the time) Zaza dominated against the Raptors, piling up more than half of his rebounds on the offensive end.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into Woody’s decision to sit Pachulia in favor of Solomon Jones and a smaller line-up against the Wizards. (Sekou Smith disagrees with my take) But, really, are we supposed to believe that it’s just coincidence Pachulia got benched for five consecutive quarters? It’s not like Antonio McDyess was playing in front of him. It was Solomon Jones – a guy who has been a benchwarmer for most of his time in his league and although more effective this season, still lacks the necessary seasoning to see regular minutes.

Adding more fuel to the fire is Woody’s already dicey relationship with Pachulia. The two have not agreed on Pachulia’s inconsistent minutes, and it showed in the big man’s at times lacksidasical performances last season. Pachulia was able to turn it on in the heat of the playoffs, but that fire was missing for the better half of the 07-08 season.

Even if I’m wrong, and Woody really just wanted to play the matchups vs. the Wizards, doesn’t this seem like an odd coaching move if not for anything other than pure chemistry reasons? Pachulia has already proven that he needs positive reinforcement from his head coach to maintain his fragile psyche. But what does it say to a player when he comes off a dominating performance only to ride the pine for an entire contest? While I’m not the biggest Pachulia fan, so long as the Hawks roster doesn’t change, he occupies a large role on a squad which simply put, lacks depth. Woody may be getting a little too cute for his own good and soon could start to lose the confidence (and loyalty) of a key player.

BIBBY MAXING OUT: Lost in the Hawks 11-6 start has been the improved play of point guard Mike Bibby, who in a contract year is seeing his dollar figures rise by the minute (Bibby might not get $14+million/year again, but the dude can try can’t he?) Bibby never seemed to fully get it together last year, struggling soon after his trade to the Hawks and into the playoffs. Perhaps his reduced output had something to do with a multitude of injuries, including a sore thumb which kept him out for months in Sac-town and a bruised heel which he suffered in his first game as a Hawk in a blowout loss to the Lakers. Bibby’s injuries and lukewater play were exposed vs. the Celtics, where the “longer” Rajon Rondo (along with the Boston crowd) terrorized the playoff vet.

After using the off-season to recuperate, however, Bibby has come back blazing. He’s shooting 47% from the field and almost 45% from behind the three point arc. Moreover, he has significantly reduced his turnovers, averaging nearly one less a game in the same amount of minutes (2.5 vs. 1.5 a game). Bibby has been so strong at the point, in fact, that only five in the league rank ahead of him according to Hollinger’s PER (one being Jason Terry, who is more of a SG than a PG). Paul, Parker, Harris and Billups all rank ahead of Bibby, and all – except Harris – are considered “elite” point guards. (People – including the point guard’s own GM – are starting to take notice of Harris’ play by the way, who torced the Hawks in back to back nights.) While Bibby may never be considered a “true” point, perhaps it wouldn’t be out of the question to categorize his play as “elite” this season.

NFL PICKS: This blog isn’t about the NFL, but I thought I would throw out some picks for this Sunday’s games. I put some money down in Vegas on the following three games:

Baltimore -6 OVER Ravens

NY Giants -8.5 OVER Philly

New England – 4.5 OVER Seattle

And just for good measure, let’s not forget about those Falcons, who are rising from the ashes to alleviate all the pain from seasons’ past. They are three point dogs in New Orleans, and at this point, isn’t it hard to bet against Matt Ryan?

Atlanta +3 OVER New Orleans

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road woes

HAWKS 88 RAPTORS 93: Don’t look now, but suddenly the Hawks are struggling mightily on the road.  They have dropped their last five road games (Boston, Indiana, New Jersey, Cleveland and Toronto) and are starting to conjure up memories of last year’s road struggles where the home road dichotemy was almost unpalatable for Woody & Co.  As always, I will insert this lone caveat: there has been no Josh Smith, which after three weeks of basketball with him out has proven that he provides an essential element and dynamic to this team that no bench player can remotely substitute for. 

While the Hawks were blown out against Indiana and Cleveland, they put together a strong effort against a tough Toronto team.  Chris Bosh couldn’t be stopped, even though Zaza Pachulia was solid defensively for most of the first three quarters.  I say three quarters of Pachulia because the Georgian center was inexplicably benched in the fourth quarter as Woody decided to go with a smaller line-up (Evans subbed in for Pachulia and played the majority of the fourth).  By the end of the third, Pachulia had amassed 17 rebounds, 9 of which were offensive.  Why Woody decided to go away from playing Pachulia with the Hawks struggling to make shots – and Pachulia rebounding half the misses – is beyond anyone’s best guess.  I had the game on Toronto’s broadcast and they were giving Pachulia more love than ANYONE on the Hawks roster – they were even thankful that Woody was benching him!  Yet, another strange Woody coaching decision. 

Even with the Hawks shooting below 40% for the majority of the contest, they still managed to rally late in the game and cut the Raptors lead to three.  Off the timeout, Woody called a kick-out to Marvin who drove the ball and left it short at the rim.  I really have no problem with what amounts to a rather agressive play call.  More than 30 seconds was left on the clock, and if Williams makes the shot it extends the game and the Hawks potentially come back and tie with a two.  (As an aside, Williams may be the most difficult player I have ever tried to watch and comprehend.  His jumpshot is silky smooth.  He has added the three point shot to his repetoire.  Yet he still has trouble taking the ball to the basket despite standing 6’9 and being incredibly athletic.  He should be averaging 20 and 10 if he would just assert himself more.) 

The Hawks now have to turn it around quickly and play a Washington team which just picked up its second win of the season.  The Wizards have some solid post players, with Andray Blatche coming around and JaVale McGee being a nice surprise.  This is a dangerous game on the road for Atlanta, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Woody decides to greenlight Josh Smith for this one before the upcoming three day break.

BAD BAD FLIP: I have lauded Flip Murray for his bench scoring in post’s past, but Murray has been downright awful in three of the past four contests.  Murray was 0 for 5 against Toronto, turning the ball over twice – once on a drive in traffic and again on an awful pass out of bounds.  Over the last four contests, Murray has shot 9 of 29 with 10 turnovers (to his credit, he does have 6 assists, but a .6 assist/turnover ratio is absolutely nothing to be proud of).  Look, Murray is not this bad.  He’s a solid bench/role player.  But Murray, just like Pachulia, needs to understand his limitations.  He’s not Lebron.  He’s not going to drive through four people in traffic and hoist up some highlight reel layup.  He’s a jumpshooter who when matched up against smaller players can post them up effectively.  Flip, your team needs you, but know your limits.

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no longer turkeys

it's a dirty thanksgiving

it's a dirty thanksgiving

BUCKS 96 HAWKS 102.  As Thanksgiving Day has arrived, I feel its an appropriate time to reflect on where the Hawks currently sit in the NBA landscape, and more importantly the road they have traveled in the past few years.  The Hawks are no longer the lovable – or should I say hateable? – losers of years past.  No longer are they expected to win 30 games and compete for a top lottery spot.  Gone are the days of Jim Jackson, Isaiah Rider, Theo Ratliff, and Glenn Robinson.  A foundation has now been laid.  Instead of trying to build a house without a foundation, the Hawks have laid the foundation and now are trying to furnish the interior. 
After last year’s riveting seven game playoff series against the Celtics, the Hawks are suddenly expected to beat the lower rung teams and compete with those occupying the upper echelon.  This alone – after years of incompetence – should be enough for Hawks fans to be thankful for.  Fourteen games into the season, the Hawks are 5-1 at home, a respectable 4-4 on the road (including a buzzer beater loss at Boston), and for the most part have beaten the teams they should have beaten, the lone caveats being a surprisingly respectable New Jersey Nets team and an effective Indiana team (which has slowly risen up Hollinger’s Power Rankings despite a poor win-loss record).
Last year the Hawks were merely expected to compete for the final playoff spot.  While they were able to sneak into the playoffs, they did so with a sub-.500 record.  Heck, even the 76er’s, with less talent and depth than the Hawks of last season, were able to snag the 7 seed.  Now it’s clear the picture has changed.  The Hawks are no longer shooting to just make the playoffs.  No.  Instead, they are seeking a 4 or 5 seed, potentially giving them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. 
Not all, however, is fixed in Hawksville.  I still wonder if Mike Woodson is the right man for the job.  Too often this team seems unmotivated, as witnessed by their lethargic starts against New Jersey, Indiana, Washington, Charlotte and Cleveland.  Moreover, Woodson’s extremely conservative coaching has cost his team rhythm at key times during games.  Woodson is almost robotic in his substitution methods of benching any player on the Hawks roster with two fouls before the half.  Whether your name is Joe Johnson or Zaza Pachulia, you can guarantee you will be firmly planted on the bench if you pick up that second foul anywhere prior to the second half.  Woodson – in fact- has been so diligent in this tactic that he benched Johnson in Game 1 vs. Boston in last year’s playoffs even though the ’07 Hawks team (1).had absolutely nothing to lose and (2). had no prayer of pulling off an upset in Boston with their best player on the bench for most of the entire first half.  If this blog accomplishes nothing else, I simply hope Woody catches a read and merely considers changing his ways. 
As an aside, Happy Thanksgiving everyone – even you Woody!
ZAZA OFFENSIVELY CHALLENGED: While I am not a huge Zaza proponent, I believed coming into this season that Pachulia was going to be a big piece to the puzzle for the Hawks this season.  The team clearly lacked depth and size in its frontcourt, and with the injury to Josh Smith, Pachulia’s role figured to grow exponentially.  But after Pachulia’s two point, two rebound effort in ten minutes of game action Wednesday, its clear Pachulia hasn’t figured out his own strengths and weaknesses on the court.  While I disagree with many of Woodson’s substitution patterns, the coach had no option but to bench Pachulia vs. the Bucks.  Pachulia was simply awful, hoisting up an early first quarter airball after lifting off his right foot and throwing the ball up with his left hand.  Last time I checked Pachulia was not ambidextrous like teammate Acie Law.  At this point in his career, Pachulia needs to know what he is capable of giving this Hawks team: good work on the boards, energy, and limited offense when he is left wide open.  Too often Pachulia is caught doing too much, resulting in turnovers and offensive fouls.  With Jones putting together an energetic first half Wednesday (5 points, 6 rebounds – I’m stills skeptical on Jones, but his effort showed me something), Zaza may be playing his way out of the rotation upon the return of Smith.
LAW SHOWING SIGNS: While Law’s production Wednesday was limited, it wasn’t due to anything the second year point guard couldn’t do on the court.  Despite coming off a string of strong performances (notably vs. the Pacers and the Cavs) Law figured to get more playing time than his eleven minutes of action.  However, Woody chose to go with the more seasoned combo of Bibby and Murray down the stretch.  Perhaps I’m an optimist and believe that Woody will see the light, but Law figures to earn more playing time as the season progresses and eventually should see the majority of minutes at the back-up point.  Law – other than Johnson – is the only backourt player on the Hawks roster capable of getting to the rim for easy baskets.  In fact, while Law has been unable to establish his outside shot, his recent drive-to-the-basket game has resembled that of Devin Harris (another point guard who struggled early on at the point in his NBA career).  That element of Law’s game is something this entire Hawks team lacks.  While Murray’s bench scoring is a more than welcome addition to the roster, it is Law who should (and will) make a bigger impact down the stretch as his confidence (and Woody’s confidence in him) continues to grow.

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Solomon Jones may not have a steady role for much longer.

Solomon Jones may not have a steady role for much longer.

For those who haven’t visited, I highly recommend it.  82 games tracks a number of stats, the most important being every  player’s plus/minus rating.  The plus/minus rating rarely lies, and essentially values each and every player on an NBA team (and their relevant level of effectiveness on the court).  For our Hawks, the numbers aren’t too surprising.  Joe Johnson rates in at +6.6, second best on the team behind Josh Smith, who after four games clocked in at a team high 9.9.  Bibby has a respective +4.7 rating with Williams following closely at +2.7.  Al Horford, who has been a slight disappointment offensively up to this point in the season (and who has also been hampered by injury), has a +1.6 rating.

What’s interesting to note, however, is that while every Hawks starter has a positive plus/minus rating, every bench player has a negative rating.  While this may seem like it makes sense (after all, the five starters on the Hawks are their best players), not all bench players have negative +/- records.   Take for instance the Celtics.  Leon Powe, a highly effective (and underrated) bench player has a +4.6 rating.  In fact, the Celtics have two bench players (Tony Allen has a +5.3 rating) who rate in the positives.  Both Powe and Allen rate higher than Rajon Rondo (+1.8), a starter.

While all of the Hawks reserves have disappointing plus/minus ratings, the two which stand out are Maurice Evans (a surprising -7.1) and Solomon Jones (-8.9).  Evans, to the naked eye, has appeared to be a rather effective player off the bench.  He plays good defense and provides good touch from the outside, something this Hawks team lacked last season.  Jones’ atrocious rating, however, comes as no surprise.  Given Jones’ minimal offensive output, he would have to put up a staggering defensive output in order to boost his own plus/minus rating.  Such has not been the case.  While Solo may be seeing steady playing time with the injury to Josh Smith, its doubtful that time will last as we approach the trading deadline.  Solo is – simply put- the worst regular on the roster.

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a man’s night

Marvin Williams hits a huge three pointer down the stretch. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Marvin Williams hits a huge three pointer down the stretch. (AP Photo/John Amis)

WIZARDS 87 HAWKS 91 Woody called Marvin’s performance Wednesday a “man’s night.” Indeed it was. Williams did it from all angles, driving to the bucket, shooting it from the perimeter and owning the glass. So much of that talent that made scouts drool when Williams entered the NBA draft resurfaced in a game the Hawks had to have. Williams (along with unexpected battery mate Zaza Pachulia) provided the much needed energy the entire team was lacking in its four straight losses. In the end he was rewarded, draining a corner three that put the Hawks up for good.

Simply put, the former North Carolina product stepped up and played like a #2 pick in the draft. Being surrounded by talented players can at times have a negative impact on a young player. With Williams, it could be argued that a sense of complacency set in. He was never asked to take over games. Instead he was an above average “complementary” player who would chip in 15-16 points, grab 5 or 6 rebounds and call it a night.

For all the love I have for Joe Johnson, his competitiveness can at times drive him to do too much, causing him to forget about his more than capable role players (more on this below). With Johnson’s shooting struggles, however, and the injuries to Smith and Horford, complacency no longer was an option for Williams against the Wizards. It will take more nights like Wednesday for the Hawks to weather the current storm. And at some point, the fatigue of guarding bigger, tougher interior post players will set in (Williams guarded Rasho in Indiana and Jamison against the Wizards). By the looks of Wednesday night though, Williams appears up for the challenge.

GOOD JOE, BAD JOE: I’m going to preface everything I’m about to write with the following – Joe Johnson is the undisputed leader of the Hawks and he is by far the team’s most talented player. He is a top 5 shooting guard in the league, and if it weren’t for his quiet persona, perhaps the national audience would take notice. With that said, every player has a weakness, and Joe’s might be his overriding competitiveness. It’s hard to categorize a player’s competitiveness as a weakness, but for Johnson, his fierce drive to win has the ability to control his demeanor and disrupt his on-court rapport with his teammates.

With the Hawks losing streak picking up steam, it was clear Johnson was pressing against the Wizards (he hoisted 22 shots) and was growing increasingly frustrated with his teammates. On occasion he would try to get his shot off on isolation with over fifteen second left on the shot clock. Sometimes he would force passes after dribbling into trouble. Most notably, however, was his failure to make the extra pass. Joe has yet to fully trust his teammates (although he’s getting there – who made that pass to Marvin in the corner vs. the Celtics with 10.5 remaining?). For these Hawks to flourish, Joe will need to accept the double teams and believe that his open teammates – namely Bibby and Williams – can hit the open jumpers.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Eddie is as mad as a bee buzzing in a hive.” – Washington Wizards broadcaster Steve Buckhantz, after Wizards head coach Eddie Jordan was incensed by a non-call under the basket.

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survival mode

Joe Johnson gets his shot blocked by Danny Granger (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Joe Johnson gets his shot blocked by Danny Granger (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

HAWKS 96 PACERS 113: It’s a good thing the Hawks spotted themselves 6 wins, because they are going to need all of them. Coming off three straight losses (two against a below-average Nets team), the Hawks were confronted with yet another roadblock in this early season when Al Horford went down with a sprained ankle. X-rays were negative, but it is unclear how much time the power forward will miss.

Even more troubling, however, were the return of the recurring themes of the past two losses: (1) a lack of interior defense and energy and (2) an influx of turnovers. Without either, its virtually impossible to win on the road. The Hawks found that out the hard way. They were shredded yet again as the Pacers sprinted past the century mark, the fifth team to do so in as many games. While the Hawks cut it to nine in the fourth, the game was seemingly over at the half.

Power forwards Zaza Pachulia and Solomon Jones were systemically abused in the process by Troy Murphy and Rasho Nesterovic. First Brook Lopez and now Rasho? At least Troy Murphy has established himself in the league. In one spellbinding sequence, Rasho Nesterovic caught the ball practically underneath the basket as Pachulia seemed perfectly fine with the idea of giving up space in the paint. Solomon Jones didn’t fair much better. While Solo remains active throughout each contest, his game is non-existent offensively and his defense – again while active – is suspect. Solo is a classic “shadower” – he’ll shadow a guy defensively, but never get close enough to impact the shot effectively. Athough Solo is a “veteran” in the league, he seemingly plays more like a rookie as he appears extremely uncomfortable handling the ball on offense. (On a side note, I can’t remember the last time I saw Solo score from something other than a dunk.)

While there’s clearly no reason to panic ten games into the season, there is also no reason to take the last few games lightly. The Hawks have a crushing schedule in the forefront and they will have to focus on energy and defense to remain competitive. Moreover, Woodson is going to have to trust his bench (something he has struggled to do since he was hired), and give some minutes to Law and Morris.

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Horford drives the land (AP Photo/John Amis)

Horford drives the land (AP Photo/John Amis)

(Preview: Hawks @ Pacers, 11/18) Great teams have selective memory. In any sport. But in basketball, where each team guts it out through 82 contests, highs and lows are inevitable. One week you are on top the world, the next you are nothing but street trash in the media’s wasteland. The Hawks need what all great teams play with – amnesia.

In layman’s terms, the Hawks were spanked over the weekend and it wasn’t pretty. Coming off a competitive contest on Friday in which Joe Johnson single handedly kept them in the contest (he was flat out unconscious), the Hawks were abused Saturday at Phillips. Although the game was close at half, the Nets ran away with in the 3rd, courtesy of 8 three pointers, the majority of which came from former All-Star Vince Carter. (Carter by the way resembled a shell of himself the past season until the Hawks awakened him)

There were a number of striking developments in Saturday’s contest. The Hawks lost their ability to defend. While Harris weaved his way through traffic like Batman through Gotham, it was the Hawks inability to stop other players – namely Ryan Anderson, Vince Carter and Jarvis Hayes – which inevitably doomed them. Additionally, the losses of Smith and Pachulia were further evident as the Hawks ran a largely perimeter offense. Live by the three pointer, die by the three pointer. The Hawks may have well been stabbed.

The Hawks can ill afford to run a perimeter offense a la Chicago and Golden State. For one, as exciting as it may look at times, its too gimmicky to win a championship. Golden State couldn’t make the playoffs last season after stunning Dallas two years ago. Perimeter offenses by definition lack consistency – even the best shooting teams run into cold streaks. That’s why the Hawks need to feed the offense and continue to establish the presence of Horford, Smith and Pachulia in the paint. Easier shots means easier wins.

More than anything though, the Hawks need to maintain consistency on defense. Defense in the NBA is about effort. It’s not about scheme. It’s about desire. The Hawks need the latter and they need to keep it there for the entire season if they are going to remain relevant in the suddenly strengthened Eastern Conference.

WITH PRAISE COMES CRITICISM: Hawks GM Rick Sund deserves praise for his off-season free agent bargain signings: Flip Murray and Mo Evans. While Murray has been instant offense off the bench (Ian Eagle of YES referred to him as instant “coffee” – I believe there was even a Sanka reference) and Evans has provided hard nosed defense and perimeter shooting, a lack of depth still presides over this team. Sund correctly addressed the need for an added perimeter element and a veteran presence. But what Sund failed to see was the lack of interior depth. I was one of the first ones to applaud the Randolph Morris signing. Morris, however, has yet to get consistent playing time. Either (1) he’s not good enough to work himself into the rotation or (2) he hasn’t grasped the offensive scheme well enough to play in the game. Neither is good news for Hawks fans.

GARNETT SUSPENSION: Given the constant chest pounding that is Kevin Garnett, I thought Hawks fans would like to hear that the power forward has been suspended.  While Garnett hasn’t warmed the hearts of those in the Dirty (nor myself), Commissioner Stern yet again overreacted to what amounted to a game of pattycake in Milwaukee.  For those who missed it, Andrew Bogut -after being fouled by Garnett- had his right arm come down and whack Garnett on the shoulder.  Garnett shrugged him off and began mouthing back.  Seriously, if I didn’t know any better I would have thought Garnett has turrets given his constant shouting to thin air, but I digress.  The bottom line is Stern should know better than to suspend Garnett.  Garnett’s too smart to get in a fight, and if the Pachulia staredown taught us anything, Garnett wants none of one.

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not all is lost

VC puts up a shot over Solo

VC puts up a shot over Solo

It was a statement game, and the Hawks failed to make a statement. Facing a less than mediocre Nets team, the Hawks played little defense and in the end gave the Nets life in their home court. You know its a bad day when Brook Lopez (yes, that Brook Lopez) lights up your interior defense for 25 and 9. Not to mention some no name rookie named Ryan Anderson guns for 15 and 5 off the bench. (I’ll give Anderson this, he’s got a great feel for the game; a summer in the weight room and this guy has a role in the league – point blank)

Its not that the Hawks played a bad game. Offensively, they pretty much scored at will. Joe Johnson put on his best offensive performance of the season. The three ball that was non-existent in years past was again in full force. The Hawks nailed 15 of 27 from deep. But it was the foundation of the first 6 wins – defense (or at least timely defense) – which was missing from Friday’s loss.

In the Hawks’ defense, Carter was drilling fallaways with a hand in his face repeatedly in the fourth. However, it was the penetration of Devin Harris throughout the game which was more troubling. Harris is a good player, but he’s not an elite one. The Hawks made him look like potentially the best point man in the league. Harris attacked the rim whenever he wanted to and most of the time was able to draw a foul. He shot a whopping 12 free throws, twice as much as any Hawk. Moreover, this was all done on a bum ankle which almost forced Harris out two times in the game – once after Pachulia landed on it early in the game and again in the fourth when Harris faked the pass and hurt the ankle trying to replant his foot. Harris abused Murray on the penetration and while Murray had his way also on the offensive end, Harris was the greater overall offensive force.

Friday’s game made the loss of Josh Smith the most visible since he left the game early vs. the Raptors. While Horford has been a monster blocking shots recently, nobody else is a threat. Moreover, while Pachulia is a big body, he doesn’t intimidate too many big men (or little men) on the interior. Harris even tried to challenge Pachulia with two layups in the third – at least Pachulia made him pay with two blocks.

Overall, the loss against the Nets affirmed that the Hawks have yet to joint the East’s elite. (Charles Barkley on TNT repeated this sentiment on Thursday night, saying the Hawks were not going to challenge for the East’s best record) The Hawks, however, are not chopped liver. They were playing their fourth consecutive game on the road, their sixth road game in eight games. They lost an excruciating nailbiter Wednesday and were likely emotionally drained. As with any young team, every game is a test and tonight’s rematch vs. the Nets is no different.

RONALD “FLIP” MURRAY HAS THAT SWAGGER. I have heard all of the negatives about Flip Murray prior to this season – he shoots to much, he’s a ballhog, he’s a limited talent. They may all be true, but Murray doesn’t seem to ever have gotten the memo. Murray is in one word, fearless. He will penetrate into the teeth of the defense. He will shoot a three with 20 left on the shot clock. And he will keep shooting even if he’s started a game 0 for 6. While he may not have been a great fit on his most recent teams – see Indiana – Murray is just what the doctor ordered for Atlanta. While some could do without his turnovers and at times his incessant dribbling, Murray has proven a productive bench player through the first 8 games of this young season.

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