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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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

1
Orlando
Dwight Howard | F | 6-11 | 240
SW Atlanta Christian Academy (Ga.)
2
Charlotte (from LAC)
Emeka Okafor | F-C | 6-10 | 252
Connecticut
3
Chicago
Ben Gordon | G | 6-3 | 200
Connecticut
4
L.A. Clippers (from CHA)
Shaun Livingston | G | 6-7 | 175
Peoria Central HS (Ill.)
5
Washington
Devin Harris | G | 6-3 | 185
Wisconsin | 
Rights traded to DAL
6
Atlanta
Josh Childress | F | 6-8 | 210
Stanford
7
Phoenix
Luol Deng | F | 6-8 | 220
Duke | Rights traded to CHI
8
Toronto
Rafael Araujo | C | 6-11 | 290
Brigham Young
9
Philadelphia
Andre Iguodala | F | 6-6 | 207
Arizona
10
Cleveland
Luke Jackson | F | 6-7 | 215
Oregon
11
Golden State
Andris Biedrins | F | 6-11 | 240
Latvia
12
Seattle
Robert Swift | C | 7-0 | 245
Bakersfield HS (Calif.)
13
Portland
Sebastian Telfair | G | 6-0 | 165
Abraham Lincoln HS (N.Y.)
14
Utah
Kris Humphries | F | 6-9 | 235
Minnesota
15
Boston
Al Jefferson | F | 6-10 | 265
Prentiss HS (Miss.)
16
Utah (from NYK/PHO)
Kirk Snyder | G | 6-6 | 225
Nevada
17
Atlanta (from MIL/DEN/DET)
Josh Smith | F | 6-9 | 210
Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
18
New Orleans
J.R. Smith | G | 6-6 | 220
St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.)
19
Miami
Dorell Wright | F | 6-7 | 210
Leuzinger HS (Calif.)
20
Denver
Jameer Nelson | G | 6-0 | 190
St. Joseph’s | Rights traded to ORL
21
Utah (from HOU)
Pavel Podkolzin | C | 7-5 | 260
Russia | Rights traded to DAL
22
New Jersey
Viktor Khryapa | F | 6-9 | 210
Russia | Rights traded to POR
23
Portland (from MEM)
Sergei Monia | F | 6-8 | 220
Russia
24
Boston (from DAL)
Delonte West | G | 6-4 | 180
St. Joseph’s
25
Boston (from DET)
Tony Allen | G | 6-4 | 213
Oklahoma State
26
Sacramento
Kevin Martin | G | 6-7 | 185
Western Carolina
27
L.A. Lakers
Sasha Vujacic | G | 6-7 | 193
Slovenia
28
San Antonio
Beno Udrih | G | 6-3 | 203
Slovenia
29
Indiana
David Harrison | C | 7-0 | 250
Colorado

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.

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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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