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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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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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