Tag Archives: Mike Woodson

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

chopped and screwed

ATL vs. SA game update: It’s midway through the second quarter and the Hawks yet again have come out of the gate like wounded ducks.  If the Hawks have been consistent at anything, its lethargy early in the game and there are stats to prove it.  Some game thoughts:

  • The Hawks so far have been outhustled on the boards.   The Spurs doubled the Hawks in rebounding and that merely spells one thing: a lack of effort.
  • Jumpshots, jumpshots, and more jumpshots.  Instead of trying to attack the rim, the Hawks have continually settled for outside shots, especially at the beginning of the second.  Play by play man Bob Rathbun pointed out that the Hawks have not been to the line in over three quarters (including the last half of the Houston game), a stat which screams a lack of desire to get to the rim.
  • For once, the bench has seen an increase in minutes.  Acie Law,  specifically is getting an extended run and is making the most of it.  He’s making an effort to penetrate and is suiting up on defense.  He’s had at least one steal I have accounted for and almost just made another.
  • Smith just made a beautiful lob pass to Horford for the slam.  I didn’t think Horford would be able to size the pass up to dunk it in time.  Smith has struggled again early in the game, but at least he’s making an active effort to attack the rim.
  • If I talk any more about Pachulia, this blog may have to renamed.  But he continues to be the most mind-boggling player on this roster.   Perhaps Pachulia is a “space cadet” to steal the words of Phil Jackson, who used them to aptly describe Vladimir Radmanovic.  I simply don’t understand Pachulia.  As an aside, he needs to protect the ball better on offense.  Instead of taking two steps, leaving the ball unprotected and driving to the rim, he needs to dribble, use his body to protect the ball and attack the rim.
  • Bobcats just acquired J-Rich for Diaw and Bell.  I love Bell, but he’s old and past his prime.  Diaw is an enigma who I do not see thriving in Charlotte.  This deal has the potential to really help Phoenix, especially if Terry Porter decides to turn up the tempo at some point.

I’m going to put up a post in the near future on Woody, and whether or not he should be canned before this season progresses any further.  He may be the most divisive figure in Atlanta sports outside of MV7, and since Mike’s in jail, Woody’s future is more relevant.

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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

no longer turkeys

it's a dirty thanksgiving

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.

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Filed under November (Atlanta Hawks)

the mike woodson face

Mike Woodson Face - The Head Rest (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Mike Woodson Face - The Head Rest (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Look of Disgust - (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

The Look of Disgust - (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

This wouldn’t be a true Hawks blog without a dedication to The Mike Woodson Face. I have seen Woody smile three times, one of which was at his introductory press conference. As a fan without access to the locker room, it’s impossible to tell if Mike takes these looks home to his wife and kids. Regardless, it has already worn on Josh and Zaza, who have had tenous relations at best with their head coach. My personal favorite and the go to face: the headrest. Ahhh Mike, its OK to laugh and smile. Basketball is supposed to be fun, remember? Maybe not when your jobs been on the line from the time you took the job. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you The Mike Woodson face.

The Fingerpoint - (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Fingerpoint - (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

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Filed under Mike Woodson