Tag Archives: Atlanta Hawks

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Atlanta Hawks

2012-2013 W-L: 44-38

New Faces: Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Cunningham, Paul Millsap, Mike Budenholzer (Head Coach, San Antonio Spurs)

New Places: Devin Harris (Dallas),  Zaza Pachulia (Milwaukee), Josh Smith (Detroit), Deshawn Stevenson (unsigned)

Draft: Lucas Nogueira (16), Dennis Schroeder (17), Mike Muscala (44)

Danny Ferry did it again.

Just one year removed from ridding Atlanta of Joe Johnson’s contractual albatross and parting seas for the future, the Hawks were set to rebuild.  Josh Smith was leaving, Dwight Howard never coming and this franchise’s run of five consecutive playoff appearances seemingly over.  But Ferry had other plans, and in a fell swoop of prudent offseason moves improved Atlanta’s present and future trajectory by leaps and bounds.

This is what it’s like to have competent leadership, Hawks fans.  And though it might not pay immediate dividends on the court this season, Ferry’s ideal combination of patience and foresight surely will in ones to come.

It’s only fitting that Smith departs Atlanta the same way he arrived and endured for the past nine seasons – as a divisive lightning rod.  The market fought over Smith’s consensus value this summer before ever agreeing on it, and given his play for the Hawks it made sense.  For all his unique versatility and vastly underrated defensive impact, Smith’s aggregate influence has always been less than his talent suggests it should be.  The Hawks knew that first-hand, and seemed reluctant to retain him even before Smith made it clear he wanted a fresh start elsewhere.

But the question remained: was letting Smith walk the right decision for Atlanta? There was never a clear answer either way until both sides finally played their hand.  Smith agreed to a four-year, $54 million contract with Detroit on July 6th.  He won.  The Hawks came to terms with Paul Millsap on a two-year, $19 million deal on July 7th.  They won, too.

That swap in a vacuum is a boon for Atlanta; having to replace a cog like Smith is almost always a negative proposition.  But Millsap is a very good player in his own right, and savvy enough to know the extent of his game’s limitations.  If he’s not at or above Smith’s level, he’s just below it at the very least.  And considering the parameters of their respective contracts, Millsap could even be an overall upgrade  – certainly with respect to the cap and possibly on the floor, too.

The salary ramifications of exchanging Smith for Millsap are important, because Atlanta suddenly has the assets to make a major splash at the trade deadline or through free agency in coming seasons.  The Hawks drafted 19 year-old point guard Dennis Schroeder with the 17th pick in June’s draft.  Two weeks later, the precocious German maestro was everyone’s Summer League darling and had some suggesting Atlanta part ways with Jeff Teague this offseason.  While that talk was premature, Schroeder’s potential and Teague’s new, extremely reasonable contract – four years, $32 million – give the Hawks options at point guard.  Anywhere they go from here – trading Schroeder, trading Teague, playing it out – is a luxury of which teams always take advantage.

Schroeder’s summer play was was aided by his innate chemistry with Nogueira, a seven-foot bundle of arms, hair and energy.  The 21 year-old Brazilian needs weight and far more experience against elite competition, but he’s a very intriguing prospect.  Nogueira will eventually make his mark in the NBA; the question now is the scope of its extent and when it will actually come.  Ferry announced last week that “Bebe” will spend this season in Spain playing for Asefa Estudiantes Madrid.  Regardless, he’s another piece that makes Atlanta feel good about its future.

Even without Nogueira, the Hawks won’t lack for serviceable big men behind Millsap and Al Horford.  Atlanta signed Elton Brand in free agency and claimed Gustavo Ayon off waivers from the Bucks; each has deficiencies, obviously, but no doubt provide the Hawks with adequate post depth.  That both of them have enough size to play center – allowing Horford to play power forward on occasion – should not be overlooked, either.

Atlanta mostly elected to stay put on the wing.  The Hawks traded for seldom-used Jared Cunningham on draft day and signed versatile free agent DeMarre Carroll, but will mostly rely on those already on the roster to flank Teague and Schroeder.  Good thing for them, then, that Lou Williams is set to return after missing the second-half of last season due to a torn ACL.  He’s no star, but certainly offers scoring and playmaking punch from the perimeter that Atlanta sorely missed in his absence.  Sophomore sharpshooter John Jenkins is coming off a strong summer league and is primed for a bigger role, and Kyle Korver re-signed, too.

The Hawks don’t have a true impact player at shooting guard or small forward, but instead have a litany of established players that know their specific role.  That’s hardly ideal, but not every team can have a Kevin Durant, Paul George or even Gordon Hayward.  Atlanta’s counting on its whole to be greater than the sum of its parts on the wing, which is a microcosm for how the Hawks will have to win this season in general.

Horford’s a genuine two-way star, Millsap an underrated offensive crutch and Teague a solid lead guard, but they won’t push Atlanta to the playoffs alone.  Longtime Spurs assistant and new head coach Mike Budenholzer is known for his defensive mindset, but will likely implement San Antonio-esque offensive principles, too.  Basically, it’s safe to assume that what the Hawks lack in top-end talent will be somewhat supplanted by team-wide discipline on both ends of the floor.

There’s a ceiling to Atlanta’s success in 2013-2014.  They won’t win the East and are unlikely to gain home-court playoff advantage, either.  But another season of approximately 45 or so wins and a familiar first round exit won’t mean what it has the past several years.  So though this season might seem status quo on the surface, it’s really anything but; there are steps on the road to real contention, and the Hawks have finally begun to climb them.

 

 

 

 

 

In Hawks We Trust?

In which Jared and I discuss the suddenly exciting Atlanta Hawks

Jared: So we’re going to talk about the Hawks. They should be pretty Hawksy again this year. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford are back for anothe — wait a tick, these ain’t your slightly older brother’s Hawks. Budenholzer! Millsap! Carroll! Schroeder! Nogueira! Horford/Teague/Korver! This is an all new thing. Fun, right?

Jordan: Never Trust The Hawks is emblazoned upon the blogissist coat of arms. It is a mantra that has withstood the test of time — never failing, never false. And yet, after the moves the Hawks made this offseason, I can’t help but feel my allegiance to those words slightly wavering. I know I should remain steadfast in my distrust of the Hawks, but, for the first time in…well…ever, I’m cautiously excited about the Hawks.

The Horford/Millsap pairing up front has a few detractors yelling about a lack of size, but has the most of us giddy with the flexibility provided on both ends of the floor. While it may be a slightly odd pairing, it’s also somewhat fitting: both Horford and Millsap are wildly underappreciated on both offense and defense. Even if the pairing proves to be ill-fitting, it’s not that big of a deal, since Millsap’s 2 year/ $19 million deal is a ridiculous bargain.

But who am I kidding. That’s not really the reason I’m excited about the Hawks. No, the Hawks quickly jumped up the Jordan scale of Teams I’m Most Excited To Watch (name still in progress) when they selected Dennis Schroeder in the draft. I loved Schroeder before the draft, and that love only further deepened after watching him live at Summer League.

Have you ever seen a Presa Canario? It’s a member of the mastiff family, first bred in the canary islands to be a herding dog. Like other Mastiff breeds, the Presa is an enormous animal; a full grown adult can weigh upwards of 150 pounds. Where the Presa separates itself from its Mastiff brethren is in its walk. While the Bullmastiff pads, the Presa Canario prowls, its hips swaying from side to side with every step, not unlike a panther.

Dennis Schroeder’s predatory sway mirrors that of the Presa Canario, and like the Presa, it distinguishes him from the other breeds of point guards.

Usually, when we describe the qualities of point guards, we do so in terms of canine attributes: a bulldog mentality, a nose for the ball, the tenacity of a pit bull (however factually incorrect that simile may be), and so forth. And while Schroeder does display some of those canine qualities, there’s also something undeniably feline in the way he plays the game.

Schroeder bounds around the court, side to side, to and from even the smallest of distances. You can see it when he’s locked onto the opposing ball-handler, his hips swiveling in time with every one of his opponent’s ill-fated attempts at shaking him.

Russell Westbrook explodes out of the pick and roll; Dennis Schroeder slinks.

Schroeder’s not going to be the starter this year, which is a good thing. He may very well be ready to run an NBA offense, but I think a year coming off the bench will be terrific for his development and allow him to wreak a Bledsoe-ian style of havoc on the opposition from time to time.

Jared: There were any number of words in that email I did not understand. For example: Presa. Canario. Mastiff.

But I digress. Yes! I’m with you. I’ll actually go even further. I’m not hedging here; I’m excited about the Hawks. These dudes are gonna be fun. I know there are plenty of people who wanted Al Horford to move to power forward, but the dude has been plenty good as a center and a front court partnership with Millsap has all kinds of versatile potential. Both can shoot, both can post, and both can pass. The best word I’d use to describe the combination is “nifty.”

I know next to nothing about Schroeder. We discussed this in our pre-draft email chain with Jack. Everyone at summer league seemed to be in love with him though. I choose instead to captain the Lucas Nogueira bandwagon.

First of all, his nickname is Bebe. That is fucking awesome. Second of all, watch his DraftExpress scouting video and tell me he can’t be Tyson Chandler one day. Third of all, this picture from the draft.

Nogueira

 

Fourth of all, his nickname is Bebe.

Jordan: Jordan’s dream: Someone has switched Bebe’s locker to the one in the corner of the locker room. Bebe, being all of seven feet tall (eight feet when you include the afro) cannot comfortably extend whilst crammed in the corner. Budenholzer enters the locker room. He sees Bebe’s discomfort, gets upset, and yells: Guys! No one puts Bebe in the corner!

It scares me to speak of the Hawks with genuine excitement, but I can’t help it. We haven’t even really touched on Budenholzer, long thought to be the heir apparent to the throne of Popovich. I’m excited to see the sort of offense he installs with this team, and if he’s just as surly as his mentor in interviews.

If there’s one area of the Hawks that concerns me, it’s their wings (there’s a pun in there, somewhere). Who starts at these positions? DeShawn Stevenson? Because, no thank you. Korver’s best suited to come off the bench, in my opinion. I’m not that high on John Jenkins, despite his ability to shoot the absolute shit out of the ball.

Jared: So you went one for two on your puns there. I’ll let you figure out on your own which was a hit and which was a miss, although it should be fairly obvious.

I’m all about the Budenholzer hiring. Whether or not he runs exactly the same system they’ve been running the last few years in San Antonio remains to be seen, but the principles should be relatively similar, which should help both Horford and Jeff Teague immensely. That pick and roll/pop combination should be the center of most action the Hawks run, and then you can have picks or post-ups for Millsap, off-ball screens for Korver, and the spectacular Schroeder-Bebe combination off the bench.

Like you, my only concern is on the wings. Korver’s mostly fine as a positional defender, but he’s not stopper. Stevenson is ostensibly the primary wing defender, but he presents concerns on the offensive end of the court. It will be interesting to see what Jenkins can provide. But how could you forget about LOU WILLIAMS? He’s coming off an injury, yeah, but LOU WILLIAMS, man. He’s got some off the bounce creativity, can split some ball-handling duties with Teague and/or Schroeder while playing secondary or tertiary scoring option. You can’t forget about LOU WILLIAMS.

Also, LOU WILLIAMS is the kind of guy who always has to be called by his full name. Have you ever heard anyone call him anything other than LOU WILLIAMS?

Jordan: Wow. I really, truly did forget about Lou Williams. How in the hell does that happen? Still, that only solves the problem with one of their wings; the other is still somewhat clipped.

What’s really fascinating about this Hawks…resurgence? Revival? I’m not even sure what to call this phenomenon, but it’s remarkable that this all happened without the Hawks blowing it up. They may match last year’s record, but unlike last year, or any of the other past seasons in which the Hawks made the playoffs, that won’t reflect the maximized potential of this roster. This is a team that is going to get better, and has the pieces to do so. They completely skipped the rebuilding phase, but are still well-poised for the future; it’s incredible.

Jared: I would argue that Atlanta did “blow it up” over the last two seasons. The entirety of the recognizable Hawks core from the last 5-6 years is gone now (including both coaches and the general manager), with Horford being the lone exception. The blow-up phase just didn’t include bottoming out. It’s an Indiana style rebuild rather than an Oklahoma City style rebuild. They’ve reshaped the team from a capped out, tapped out group into a cap-lean, upside-heavy squad that is still of a similar stature as the previous version. Danny Ferry done good.

Jordan: Fair point, I didn’t think of it that way. Their style of tearing it down was such a gradual process, compared to the fire sales we usually see. So where do you see this Hawks team going this year? I’m thinking the fifth seed, just behind Miami, Indianapolis, Chicago and Brooklyn. I’m sure that you, as a Knicks fan, disagree with me, but I’m uncomfortably high on the Hawks.

Jared: I said sixth on the HP email thread yesterday. I think Miami’s got separation from the crowd, and then Indiana, Brooklyn, New York and Chicago are in a pack, then Atlanta’s got the 6, and then Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, and maybe Milwaukee are in the mix for the last two spots. That’s my hit on it.

Jordan: Either way, they’re a lock for the playoffs. And, for the first time in a long time, a lock for an entertaining season. We think.

Jared: We think. Never trust the Hawks.

 

Photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

A New Era in Atlanta

Photo Credit: Andrea Guandalini/Flickr

The writing had been on the wall for some time for the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith. As a part of a strong frontcourt tandem, Smith and Al Horford put the Hawks into playoff contention year after year. Yet, the Hawks closed the book on that era and ushered in the beginning of a new one with the signing of the Utah Jazz’s Paul Millsap for 2 years and $19 million, far less than what Utah had been offering. After allowing Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson to walk, it was wondered if the Hawks were rebuilding, but adding Millsap gives this more of a reloading feel than anything.

The change in direction is understandable. After years of fielding good-but-not-great playoff teams, the Hawks may have felt like they were spinning their wheels; and with Smith’s looming free agency, the team may not have felt that paying him the money he wanted long-term was the solution to that problem. Sure enough, Atlanta was able to get Millsap for some $6 million less per year on a shorter deal, saving the team’s cap space to continue to re-position the franchise.

Millsap may not be the defender that Smith is, but he will present defenses with a different look on offense than in recent years. Atlanta will now be able to run more post-up plays for Millsap than they could with Smith, freeing up Horford (who is a more proficient midrange shooter than Millsap) to stretch the defense, giving them a strong inside-outside game just in the post. According to MySynergySports.com, Millsap should be able to improve the areas on offense in which Smith was most strong — scoring in transition and offensive rebounds — while also not giving them a steep drop-off in areas such as cutting plays.

While Millsap may not be regarded as elite in the pick ‘n roll, Horford makes up for that, having posted a slightly above average 1.01 points per possession in such areas. With the variance in the games of Horford and Millsap, and Horford being more capable of stretching the floor and Millsap being personally strongest within three feet of the rim, the Hawks likely haven’t added a player whose skill set will duplicate that of their star player. Additionally, Horford and Millsap should be a formidable rebounding tandem, and Millsap will have to work much less on defense playing next to Horford instead of Al Jefferson.

The deal for the both parties make sense financially: the Hawks get to maintain longterm cap flexibility and Millsap will still be in his prime in two years when his deal expires, leaving it up to him to return to Atlanta or finish out his career elsewhere.

15 FOOTER, 4/29/13: Losing is not an option

Before we get to previewing tonight’s games, you really need to take a few minutes and read the incredible, powerful Sports Illustrated piece on Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay player in any of the “Big Four” men’s professional sports leagues. Today was undoubtedly a watershed moment in sports, and I would be remiss in my duty to cover the latest news going on in the NBA without linking to the article at hand. Now, on to the games tonight…

Chicago at Brooklyn (7:00 PM, TNT)

Interesting decision by the NBA as this will be the first ever day-night doubleheader in NBA history as these teams are expected to finish up Game 4 around 6:30 PM and then go right into Game 5 at 8:00 P…oh wait, I’m now being told that Saturday’s marathon actually did finish with the Bulls riding Nate Robinson to a stunning 142-134 3OT victory. It is a good thing that the Bulls were able to prevail in Game 4 because any time you have people comparing Nate Robinson’s performance to the infamous Sleepy Floyd Game in the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals, you pretty much cannot afford to waste that performance. We almost did not get to see most of the greatness, however. A blown dunk by C.J. Watson that would have put Brooklyn up 16 to play with 3:16 left in the game could have provided the dagger for Brooklyn and rendered Robinson’s performance irrelevant, but like the 3:16 verse in the Book of John states, instead it gave the Bulls everlasting life in a game that seemingly took forever. As we head into Game 5, the stakes are simple. For the Nets, it’s win or go home. For the Bulls, it’s win and head to Miami. I still think Brooklyn has one last gasp in them though.

Prediction: Brooklyn 96-91

Indiana at Atlanta (7:30 PM, NBA TV)

Surely the Law of Averages dictates that at least one of the games in this series will be relatively close, right? After the Pacers crushed the Hawks by 17 and 15 points in the confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the momentum shifted when the series headed back to Atlanta where Indiana only mustered a Celtics-esque 69 points in 21 point loss to the Hawks. George Hill and Lance Stephenson have to quickly block out and forget about whatever they were doing on Saturday night as they combined to go 2-15 from the field. Meanwhile, Al Horford was in Beast Mode as he busted out with a tidy little 26-16 performance. This is as close to a must win game as the Hawks could possibly face because there is no way they are taking three straight from Indiana if they lose tonight. Unfortunately for them, I see Hill and Stephenson’s performances as more of an aberration than a harbinger of things to come. Plus, I picked Indiana to win this series in five games, and I’m sticking by that.

Prediction: Indiana 98-88

Oklahoma City at Houston (9:30 PM, TNT)

As a basketball community, it is no secret that we are frequently driven by narratives. Whether it’s Tracy McGrady’s inability to get out of the first round, the Lakers problems that began in training camp and lasted through the end of the season, or a myriad of other talking points, we love looking at the same story through the context of different lenses and making it our own. Of course, one of the most popular narratives that we see over and over again is whether or not a team is secretly better without its best player in the lineup. Call it the Ewing Theory if you want, but just this year, we’ve seen it rear its head with Derrick Rose and the Bulls, Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, and now Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Let’s stop this right now; no, the Thunder, despite getting 41 points from Kevin Durant in Game 3, are not better off without Russell Westbrook. No, Westbrook was not holding Durant back in any way, shape, or form. Instead, what we saw in Game 3 was Durant putting a team that needed him on his shoulders and leading them to victory, even if he needed a little luck along the way. I mean, seriously, he broke eight laws of physics on this shot alone:

GIF via SBNation

So no, it’s not that Westbrook was getting in the way of KD; it’s just that the Durantula is really freaking good. And a majority of the time, the team with the best player on the floor wins the series. Houston, you have a problem, and his name is Kevin Durant.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 103-99

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/25/13: ONE GOOD GAME OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

 

Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARB85gVzHpQ

Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yVV-ugC-k

No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs

 

 

While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover

SICover

Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.

BONUS Lion Face: THAT PASS

GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: The Pacers-Hawks 2012-2013 Playoff Preview

Photo: The Wicked Reflectah (Flickr)

From October through April, thirty teams scratched and clawed their way for this opportunity. Who will make it out? Who will be disappointed? Who will shock and surprise? Who will hit an insane buzzer beater that will make us all collectively gasp so loudly that we will be able hear each other from six counties away? WHO? TELL ME, WHO? Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-2013 Playoff Previews.

Virtual Systems Analysis

by Brian Schroeder

What is Pacers/Hawks? On the surface, it is the most banal of the first round matchups in this most banal conference. As of now, it’s one of three series scheduled to have at least one game air on NBATV, an honor which it will certainly achieve again if it goes beyond four games. It’s not without interesting matchups, but those matchups are so much more predictable than even Nets/Bulls, that pointing out their novelty serves only to note how boring and nondescript the rest of the series is, like some sort of tautological imperative. It’s a point of interest merely because we want to find something interesting.

That being said, this is perhaps the only series devoid of any driving narrative, which I’m sure contributes to public. In a way, this might speak to our dependence upon narrative in sport, despite our complaints. Look at Thunder/Rockets. I know I’m very excited to watch it, even though it will almost certainly be a short series without much drama. The pull of Harden versus his old teammates is simply too powerful not to enjoy. Pacers/Hawks has no such drama, which leaves it to stand only on the merits of its basketball. Given the fact that neither team is particularly aesthetically pleasing certainly doesn’t help. Given that I just devoted nearly this entire section to this series as a philosophical representation of our collective addiction to narrative and not a best of seven basketball series, perhaps the fault lies with me, or with us.

At the same time, the Pacers thoroughly outclass the Hawks in nearly every way, leaving the Hawks’ only real shot at an upset in Jeff Teague or Josh Smith thoroughly outplaying their opposite numbers. Pacers in 5.

Food for Thought

by Eric Maroun

It’s a series that probably should be broadcast on ESPN 8: The Ocho, or if fans had their druthers, the Food Network. Appropriately enough, this series is akin to one of the Food Network’s signature shows: Restaurant Impossible. For those unfamiliar with the show, Robert Irvine visits a failing business and tries to turn it completely around in just a few days. Typically, it includes a total restaurant remodel, an education on business practices, and a complete overhaul of the menu because often times, the food is awful. Indiana-Atlanta represents the first 15 minutes of the show when we see everything that is wrong with the restaurant. After all, it’s during the initial sequence that we discover the food/matchup is bland, few people are willing to go to the restaurant/game, and there are much more appealing choices in the surrounding area/channels.

Of course, every once in a while, we get lucky and Irvine is actually impressed by one dish at the restaurant, typically a signature dish on which the food establishment has built its reputation. Unfortunately for the Pacers, even the special recipe that they are known for, their defense, has been made with lesser quality ingredients at the tail end of the season having posted a 105.3 defensive efficiency over their final 10 games of the year. Coupled with an offense that was struggling to score as well, the Pacers managed to find themselves facing a 20 point deficit in each of their final six games of the year. For the Hawks, they elected to 86 their best dish from the menu last offseason in dealing Joe Johnson to the mix, and have relegated Josh Smith to the equivalent of a seasonal item that will only be available for the next two weeks before leaving for free agency in the summer. This postseason, they will have to rely on Jeff Teague to keep up the trend of opposing point guards destroying the Pacers defense and Al Horford drawing Roy Hibbert out of the paint by converting midrange jumpers. Failure to get Teague and Horford cooking at the right temperature will result in a one-star rating for this series and make it anything but appetizing.

Through the Looking Glass

by Eric Maroun

As great as it would be to have this series turn into a memorable seven game tilt, it is simply not going to happen. Much like last year’s matchup with a Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic, the Indiana Pacers find themselves for the second year in a row playing in series that theoretically should not last past five games. In baseball, typically casual fans enjoying seeing high octane offenses engage in 10-9 type contests while “baseball purists” appreciate the nuances of a 1-0 pitching duel. Of course, more often than not, you wind up with completely unmemorable 5-3 games where neither pitcher gets rocked, but you don’t go into school or work the next day bragging about the incredible pitching performance you saw. Indiana v. Atlanta shapes up to be one of those 5-3 games. In this case, we get treated to an Indiana team who finished the regular season with the best defensive efficiency in the league this year allowing 96.6 points per 100 possessions matching up with the Hawks who finished smack dab in the middle of the league with an offensive efficiency of 102.7. Be prepared for a series 92-86 type scores that will assuredly have fans of college basketball insisting that this boring matchup is why the college game is better than the NBA. As far as individual games go, Indiana will continue to be a tough team to beat at home and build on their 30-11 home record by winning games 1 and 2. In Atlanta, the only playoff team with a worse home attendance than the Pacers, Indiana takes advantage of the Hawks distinct lack of home court advantage by taking Game 3 as well before falling to the Hawks in a win or go home game for Atlanta in Game 4. After returning home to the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers mercifully close out the series the series in five games setting up a 1990s retro throwback series with the New York Knicks.

Pacers in 5

15 FOOTER, 4/16/2013: HAIKUS FOR TWO (games)

Toronto Raptors vs. Atlanta Hawks. 8:00 PM ET. TNT.

If Atlanta wins
At home, does anyone see?
Attendance joke. Laugh.

Josh Smith wants the max
Hawks probably won’t give it
Unless, maybe, Dwight?

If Hawks win tonight
Closer to locking 5 seed
Hawks play Nets. We sleep.

Raptors have Rudy
Want to give him more money
No, Colangelo.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers. 10:30 PM ET. TNT.

The Blazers are hurt
Clips control own destiny
In quest for home court

Dame: Rookie of year
Crawford: likely not Sixth Man
CP3: Point God

Meyers Leonard runs
Like a gazelle or some shit
It’s just so pretty.

Statistical Anomaly: Sixers at Hawks

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Hawks’ win over the Sixers.

The Atlanta Hawks dominated early and coasted late on their way to a 107-96 victory over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. The final difference of 11 points was rather predictable, as the Hawks had one day to prepare and the 76ers played the night before. For the season, Atlanta averages 98.9 points in games played after one rest day and 100.2 points at home. Philadelphia, on the other hand, averages 89.4 points (the second lowest output in the NBA) on the second night of a back to back and 90.2 points on the road. By averaging out typical production for rest and location, the numbers would have projected a 99.6-89.8 Hawks win.

Over their last 49 games, the Hawks are undefeated when Jeff Teague records double digit assists at home. They are 20-22 in all other games over that stretch. Atlanta is full of inconsistent offensive threats, making Teague’s job as a distributor much more difficult than a team that has a “go-to” option. Teague has grown to not only accept this role, but thrive in it, as his decision  making has improved with experience. His assists have increased every season and his assist to turnover ratio is currently at an all time high. Decision making from a point guard also includes knowing when to be aggressive, and Teague has done just that by averaging more points with each passing season as well.

Kyle Korver made three two point field goals, his third straight game with at least three buckets from inside the arc. The last time he strung three such games together was the first week in December … of 2010. We are less than a week into March, but Korver is already one two point basket away from matching his February number of two pointers made in games in which he makes more two’s than three’s (11). Korver is clearly on the floor for one reason (two if you include “ability to make free throws”), and the Hawks ability to win games goes up when he sticks to the game plan. Atlanta was won 53.8% of the games this season when he makes at least as many deuces as treys as compared to 66.7% of games in which he makes more threes than twos. Here’s a breakdown of his baskets by month thus far in the 2012-2013 season:

Korver 3PM

A quick glance at the Hawks box score and it would be tempting to assume that Atlanta won in spite of a 1/6 performance at the free throw line by Josh Smith. But upon further review, the Hawks are as good as ever when their top player can’t cash in from the stripe. Since April 2009, Atlanta has won eight of nine regular season games when J-Smoove misses at least five free throws. Smith is not a great career free throw shooter (65.7%) so my theory on the Hawks succeeding when he misses 5+ free throws is simple: he is attacking the basket and looking to make plays. Even if he is fouled, he is playing a “Josh Smith brand” of basketball, a style in which he will help the team the most. I follow a similar train of thought with Ricky Rubio’s turnover issues; you need to live with the bad to get the great.

When watching in a game in Atlanta, you’ve got to be aware of some of the Hawk greats that have played there in the past. That being said, the 76ers Damien Wilkins did something last night that another D. Wilkins never did in Atlanta. Damien, in his ninth NBA season, scored 244% more points than his career average of 6.1. His uncle Dominique’s career high of 57 points was a mere 130% over his scoring average. Another fun stat for “the other D. Wilkins” is the fact that he hasn’t shot under 50% from the field and scored double digits in the same game since January 18, 2010.

Philly’s woes were another part of last night’s story. Evan Turner struggled to find any sort of open look against the athletic Hawks, making only one of his seven field goal attempts. Turner, a 42.3% shooter for the season (entering last night’s action) hasn’t shot 42.3% or better in a road game since the first of the year (11 games). Philadelphia has dropped all 11 of those games and will continue to struggle on the road if Turner doesn’t begin to take better shots. He plays a loaded position in the NBA (SF), but he needs to improve at reading defenses and not predetermining his plan of attack. Turner isn’t a part of the 1% of the league that can let their natural ability take over, so he needs to become more cerebral than ever before if he wants to become the team’s number one scoring option.

Balanced production for the starters is crucial if a team with a below average offense wants to win today’s high scoring NBA. The 76ers four starters not including their SF (Thad Young) shot a woeful 7/29 from field and scored only 21 points. On the flip side, the Hawks four starters not including their SF (DeShawn Stevenson) combined to make 29/53 shots from field for 67 points. Not only did Atlanta’s set of four starters make as many field goals as their counterparts attempted, Jeff Teague and Al Horford made more FG’s and scored at least as many points individually as 80% of the 76ers starting unit did as a whole. Philadelphia gets 52% of its scoring on a nightly basis from three starters under the age of 25, and unless you are the Thunder, that is tough to count on night in an night out. The 76ers are a solid team with plenty of upside, but until their young players gain consistency, they will be a fringe  playoff team at best.

Welcome to Atlanta, where we got options

rofltosh (Flickr)

rofltosh (Flickr)

The Hawks didn’t trade Josh Smith on Thursday. This was the closest thing to a blockbuster that could have feasibly happened before the deadline, and Danny Ferry opted to ride out the final year of Smith’s contract. This isn’t an ideal scenario for the Hawks, but it’s not a disaster, and in some ways could work to their advantage this summer.

Smith seems pretty unhappy in Atlanta, and Ferry is understandably not thrilled about giving him the five-year max it will probably take to keep him. The best solution for both sides would appear to be a fresh start, but there is one scenario in which bringing him back makes sense. The Hawks’ ultimate play, ever since Ferry unloaded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, has been the free agency of Dwight Howard. I’m not one to believe Howard, especially in light of his recent back and shoulder issues, will walk away from the extra year and $20 million he could get by staying with the Lakers, as miserable as he is wearing purple and gold. But if he does decide to leave, the Hawks have three things working in their favor. Dwight is from Atlanta, but who knows how much that will factor in. They have Al Horford on a phenomenal value contract that could make the Lakers extremely amenable to a sign-and-trade if it’s clear Howard wants out. And they have Smith, with whom Howard is notoriously tight. If it’s what it takes to get Howard to Atlanta, it would be difficult for Ferry to justify not maxing Smith out.

But let’s say Howard is staying in LA, the most realistic outcome. The Hawks still control Smith’s bird rights, which could be beneficial for both parties. Teams were unwilling to give up valuable players and picks for Smith before the deadline, because they had no guarantee that he would re-sign. Anyone negotiating a sign-and-trade with the Hawks this summer is doing so with the knowledge that he wants to be there long-term. This will open Smith’s options up beyond just teams with cap room, because the Hawks can take on salary in a S&T if it makes sense to do so. Their roster is undefined because they did not make a trade, but their options are not limited by it.

After the Howard pursuit, Ferry’s next-highest priority is Jeff Teague. Unless they have an opportunity to sign-and-trade Teague for Chris Paul (and it’s even less likely that CP3 would leave the Clippers than that Howard will leave the Lakers), they’re not going to do better on the market. The value for young, athletic point guards was more or less set in the $40-48 million range with last fall’s extensions for Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Stephen Curry. If Teague gets an offer in that range, matching it should be a no-brainer for Ferry.

From there, if they miss out on all of the big-name free agents, the Hawks’ best bet may be to simply rent their cap space, taking on short-term salary through free-agent deals or unbalanced trades, preferably while collecting picks and other assets, and gear up for the 2014 free-agent class. Ferry’s eagerness to dump Johnson and Williams makes one think this is his approach, but he needs to be careful not to screw it up by giving out another crippling long-term deal to a player who doesn’t move the needle. Not trading Josh Smith on Thursday doesn’t forward that plan, but it doesn’t necessarily hinder it, either.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?