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.