Tag Archives: 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)

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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Filed under Mike Woodson

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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Filed under December (Atlanta Hawks)

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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Filed under December (Atlanta Hawks), Uncategorized

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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Filed under November (Atlanta Hawks)

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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Filed under November (Atlanta Hawks)