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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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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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+/-

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 82games.com, 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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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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no such thing as a moral victory

Pierce Winning Jumper (AP Photo/Courtesy of Michael Dwyer)

Pierce Winning Jumper (AP Photo/Courtesy of Michael Dwyer)

Mike Woodson refused to call it a “moral victory.” Joe Johnson acknowledged it was a loss. For all the grit the Hawks showed on Wednesday night against a tough Celtics team, they still came away empty handed and in the process lost their perfect record on the season.

While the Hawks may not have won the game, they proved they are a mature team ready to play on the road in an extremely tough environment. Throw in the fact that Josh Smith was out injured, Zaza left midway through with a sprained shoulder, and Horford was saddled with foul trouble and you have to feel good about the result. Not to mention this was a second game of a back to back on the road, and the team did not arrive in Boston until 2:30 AM. The national media is certainly impressed.

There are a number of different dynamics to consider when comparing the current Hawks team to last years. The one most striking to me is the three point weapon. Prior to the Bibby trade late last season, Joe was the only member of the Hawks who was able to drain threes. He was the only true threat from outside.

This year, the Hawks are second in the league in three point shooting (averaging 9.4/game, a considerable amount behind the Knicks), and doing so at a 41+% clip. Not only are Johnson and Bibby hitting threes, but so are Marvin, Flip and Mo. Lost in the Childress offseason drama was the added gain of Evans and his outside stroke. Evans shot nearly 40% from deep last season, and is doing so at a 52% clip this year. Williams has hit 8 of 11 to start the season, shooting an obscene 72.7% clip. Bibby is even stroking at higher rates, draining the three ball at a 41.5% clip.

While the 3 ball did not single handedly keep the Hawks in the game yesterday, it sure helped. The Hawks nailed 13 total, another game in which they surpassed double digits from outside. Good NBA teams have dimensions. They can post you up inside, drive the ball when needed, and make you pay with the 3 ball when you double their best player. Last year’s Hawks were mainly “slashers” with limited effectiveness from inside and outside.

Not this year. The Hawks have an improved inside game with the offense increasingly running through Al and Zaza. More importantly though, this team can light it up from outside and that added dimension has proven extremely valuable to date.

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