Tag Archives: jamal crawford

Death Sets a Thing Significant

Stan Van Gundy was a bracing presence at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Neither a naysayer like ex-Toronto Maple Leafs GM and human Pluggers comic Brian Burke nor a fanatic booster intent on pushing process over results, Van Gundy offered something more than a counter-perspective to the advanced stats revolution: a humanist angle. Speaking at the Basketball Analytics panel, he reminded the audience that a coach is more than a conduit for an approach, whether analytical or not. He began by expanding on the way he treated 2-for-1 situations at the end of quarters while with the Heat and Magic:

I know that’s something that, by the numbers, we should do and we didn’t do it. And you can argue with this, but there’s another side to this that you have to at least consider. Whether you agree with 2-for-1 or not, [when] a guy races the ball up the floor and jacks up some horseshit shot, look at the other four guys on the floor. They don’t run back as hard. And now when you start the fourth quarter and a guy just did that in the third quarter, now the next guy gets the ball and says, “I’m jacking up the next one.” One of the things in coaching is you’re trying to create a style of play and a culture that this is how we play the game. Every time you make an exception to that and say, “This is how we play the game but not in this case: you’re allowed to throw up whatever crap you want,” then you’re breaking down your system a little bit.

It was an effective way to make the point that just because a coach has a set of data, and even a way to use that data effectively on the court, that coach is leading a team composed of individual players, all with their own approaches and ideas and prejudices and misunderstandings. Getting an entire team to buy into a philosophy takes more than strong support by data. It takes more than being right.

Coaches are, after all, professionals who have made their reputations by successfully getting diverse groups of people to buy into their idea about how to play the game, even when many of those people see it differently. You can’t tell me, for example, that the same approach to explaining analytics—or anything—is going to work equally well with Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea. In a way, truth doesn’t enter into it. It’s about belief.

But things got a little strawman-ish when he veered deeper into the territory of working with a team:

There are coaches that are stuck on their system and there are people who are stuck on their way of doing things like, “It’s all gotta fit my analytics” more than they are on winning games. And the mark of a coach is not understanding the analytics. That may help you. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to go out and get a team to perform, OK? I know how important it is as a coach—and probably there are several coaches that do—that we limit layup attempts, that we limit free throw attempts, that we limit 3-point attempts. But some coaches can get their guys to actually do that and others can sit here like you guys and play it like a video game, but can’t actually get people to perform. The goal is to win, OK? We’re not playing video games here.

He was actually circling back to an earlier point he made about the audience (“A lot of you analytics people think that the game is a video game and so players will always react as your models say they will react”). I find his use of video games as an example both fascinating and a little off.

He’s clearly using “video games” as shorthand for something simplified, basic, dumb—a thing that makes you feel superpowered when in fact you’re just some drooling teenager on a beanbag chair. People, he’s saying, aren’t pixels or polygons.

I have no idea exactly what kind of experience Van Gundy has with video games—whether he’s talking about Double Dribble or Blazers vs. Bulls or NBA 2K13 (he’s not talking about NBA 2K13)—but there’s something to it, if not quite what he intends.

There are plenty of players who are great in video games, yet somehow less than great in the real NBA: Michael Beasley, Jamal Crawford, Anthony Randolph (he once won MVP of the Finals in a simmed Association I ran), Nick Young, and the list goes on. What they all have in common is that when you, the player, get to make decisions for them, their considerable physical skills seem to magically fall into place. For example, Beasley stops eating up isos on the left wing with endless head fakes and jab steps before taking fadeaway jumpers. Instead, he’s balancing his jumpshots with drives to the hoop and using his length to become a shutdown defender.

On the flip side, video games can’t quite seem to figure out what to make of a player like Andrei Kirilenko because so much of what makes him great comes from his creativity and trickiness off the ball. The artificial intelligence—even recent games like NBA 2K13—isn’t sophisticated enough to make Kirilenko take advantage of cuts along the baseline unless the play is being called for him. Simply put, making players in these games act human is a huge challenge. In some cases, it makes your job as the player easier. In others, tougher.

So Van Gundy’s right: video games can make it seem like players are just sets of ratings instead of living, breathing, often problematic human beings. But it’s important to realize that the shortcomings of sports video games are a failing, not a feature. With every passing year, the simulation aspect of video game basketball gets better and better. For a taste of that, look at this video explaining the way NBA 2K13 deals with the Horns set, layering options on top of options in an effort to replicate the kinds of read and react plays that are a hallmark of offenses like Rick Adelman’s corner and the triangle. Yes: you can just ramp the difficulty down and go nuts with Jamal Crawford if you so choose, but more and more, video games are striving to involve us in the complexity of the sport, not dumb it down.

It’s not quite the same in non-sports video games, though.

As the video game industry has gone more and more mainstream, there’s been a trend towards trimming back the unyielding difficulty of early games. Back before games could effectively tell a story, the primary appeal of them was ever-escalating difficulty. They were challenges to be overcome. But as the medium grew more concerned with story, with player experience, there’s been a rise in tutorials, in hand-holding, in ways to manipulate the game world without moral judgment.

You used to have to cheat to get 30 lives in Contra (say it with me) and then you were a cheater. But these days, the very idea of “lives” has been jettisoned from nearly every game. Designers want you to experience the whole game and studios invest millions of dollars in games that gamers want value from; the surest path to these results is to make sure gamers stick with the game all the way through.

In that sense, Van Gundy is dead on. As video games have increasingly focused on immersion, on experience, they have downplayed difficulty and consequences. Except for Dark Souls.

At first glance, Dark Souls might seem like a typical hack-and-slash fantasy adventure, but you don’t have to get further than the box to get the sense that there’s something different about it. In great big letters, it tells you: PREPARE TO DIE. And oh God will you die. Having just recently started it, I expected a certain amount of difficulty up front that would fall away as I gained the requisite experience and power.

Nope. Your character moves clumsily, especially if you weigh him or her down with the heaviest armor you can find, which won’t even be all that heavy to begin with. The swords take forever to swing; the bows are weak and ineffectual, good only for drawing the attention and ire of undead soldiers and skeletons. And if you don’t face down each one of those enemies like they’re a serious threat, they’re going to kill you. Repeatedly. The screen doesn’t simply fade to black, but nor are your myriad deaths overly cinematic. They are, however, unfailingly accompanied by deep red text rising on the screen and proclaiming YOU DIED.

And every time you die, the enemies come back. Hell, every time you even rest at a bonfire—the game’s shorthand for a save point—they come back. There’s not even any pretension to a full or thorough explanation of how this is possible within the game’s world. It’s just how it is, and you have to deal with it.

So what you learn from Dark Souls isn’t that someone has spent lots of money on this lavish game world for you to enjoy, has carefully crafted a story to make you feel heroic. It teaches you that all there is is the grind. Over at The Classical, Yago Colas penned a tremendous ode to the repetition that goes into making a shooter like Ray Allen great. That willingness to do things again and again is the writ-large version of the microwork of Dark Souls.

If you rush things, if you try to go through shortcuts, if your attention slips and you don’t treat every challenge with the gravity it demands, Dark Souls is going to kill you again and again and again. It can be immensely frustrating if you’re used to having the experience spoonfed to you, but if you adjust, you begin to find pleasure in the simplest things: you learn where your enemies lurk, you value the easy fights, like that dumb skeleton with the crossbow at the top of the tower with terrible aim. You learn that the dying is not something to avoid, but to embrace. You learn from a good death.

I know, I know. It’s kind of silly to liken the years of dedication and work that players and coaches in the NBA put into their careers to a frustrating video game, but I can’t help thinking that Stan Van Gundy might like Dark Souls. I think he could appreciate the way it refuses to concede to the prevailing trend in game design, but rather defines its own culture, creates its own style of play, and says, “This is how we play the game.”

The Dissection Of Shot Selection: Offensive Gravity


Last week, I used Hardwood Paroxysm to the story of my own personal obsession with shot selection. I’m of the camp that the quality of shots is one of the biggest factors in a team’s offensive success, an opinion I mean to continue codifying and supporting with evidence. My first contribution to this march forward was the development of Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS), a metric for evaluating the quality of a player or team’s shot selection. XPPS is built on the understanding that not all shots are created equal. A layup is much more likely to go in than a long jump shot. A three-pointer is also less likely to go in than a layup, but if it does go in it earns an extra point. All these trade-offs can be measured numerically. I’ve looked at 13 seasons of NBA shot data and calculated the expected value for shots from different areas of the floor. To calculate XPPS, I take a player or team’s shot selection and overlay those expected values to arrive at an average measure of expected points per shot for that player or team.

I have a few disclaimers before we go any further. The first is that XPPS relies on league averages, which means I use the same expected value on a corner three-pointer by Ray Allen as I do for one by Charlie Villanueva. Obviously this lumps everyone together and doesn’t account for a player’s own innate abilities and tendencies. For that reason I usually compare XPPS to Actual Points Per Shot. This helps us see who is over or under-performing the expected value of their shot selection. Second, we are measuring shot selection only by the expected value of each shot’s location. This doesn’t account for defensive proximity or game situation. Although we will be referring to the quality of shots this way in the aggregate, a corner three-pointer well defended and forced at the end of the shot clock is not necessarily a good shot just because it comes from that location. By the same token, mid-range jumpers have the lowest expected value of any shot location, but may actually be a good shot when a wide open opportunity is created within the flow of a well-structured offense. Also, although I use the phrase ‘per shot’ I include shooting fouls and free throws in my calculations, so ‘per scoring opportunity’ may be a better way of thinking about it.

The numbers for both players and teams can be found at Hickory-High. For me these numbers feel like an important first step to some deeper understandings of offensive efficiency. Over the next few weeks here at Hardwood Paroxysm I’m going to be digging into the numbers, trying to parse out trends and some of those important understandings. One of the first things I thought would be interesting to look at in the context of these XPPS numbers, is the way certain players affect the shot selection and shot performance of their teammates.

Nate Silver, of political analytics fame, put together some research in 2011 that found significant added value from a player like Carmelo Anthony in the way his offensive gravity created easier shots for his teammates. Silver’s research found that most of Anthony’s teammates with the Nuggets posted a significantly higher TS% when they played with Anthony as opposed to when they were on the floor without him. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus did some more digging and found the shooting effect to be slightly smaller than Silver found, but that Anthony also decreased his teammates’ turnover rates quite a bit.

Using XPPS and Actual Points Per Shot we can further this discussion by looking at how the quality of a team’s shot selection and accuracy change with certain players on and off the floor. The first group of players to look at in this context are high-usage scorers, like Anthony. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that having a potent individual scorer, even one who isn’t particularly efficient, puts pressure on the defense, and creates more space for their teammates. To begin testing that idea, I collected the NBA’s top-20 in Usage Rate and calculated their team’s XPPS, Actual Points Per Shot, and Differential when they were on and off the floor. For the ‘on’ portion I subtracted the player’s own points and field goal attempts to focus the results on their teammates. Here is the raw data:

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 6.59.49 AM

The table above is sorted by the difference in Team XPPS when a player is on the floor, versus when they are off the floor. I find it incredible that the two players in this group who seem to make the biggest difference in the quality of their team’s shot selection are Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, both of whom flamed out spectacularly in Portland last season. It is important to remember that these numbers are subject to all the statistical noise one usually finds in On/Off statistics and are heavily influenced by both the other players on the floor and the quality of backups. However, we aren’t using these numbers to judge the overall quality of a player’s production, but rather to look at what they mean to their team. If data tables aren’t your thing, I’ve also created some graphs to show the numbers above.

The chart below shows the On/Off split for each player in XPPS:


Although there definitely seems to be an effect, only a handful of players made a significant difference in the quality of their team’s shot selection. We could probably attribute many of the small differentials to the difference in quality between a starter and a reserve as opposed to a fundamental shift in offensive approach implemented by a specific player. Of course we also need to look at accuracy and the graph below shows each player’s On/Off split for Actual Points Per Shot:


When you look at the graphs, Felton’s importance becomes even more striking. Although he plays most of his minutes with Anthony, his On/Off XPPS split is +0.056, more than twice that of Anthony’s. That may not seem like a huge number, but again we’re looking at things on a per shot basis. Stretched out over 100 shots, the Knicks’ shot selection is nearly six points better with Felton on the floor.

We see the same thing when we look at accuracy, where the Knicks Actual Points Per Shot is +0.098 with Felton on the floor, nearly triple Anthony’s differential. Again, stretching that out over 100 shots that’s a difference of almost 10 points. In an effort to remove as much noise as possible, I also calculated Jason Kidd’s numbers, since he isn’t included in this high-usage group. The Knicks shot selection is slightly worse with Kidd on the floor compared to when he’s off the floor, a mark they are over-performing but not nearly as significantly as the differential for Anthony or Felton.

The Knicks success and overall offensive efficiency have been a huge surprise, at least to me, this season. I wrote in the summer that I was expecting more of the same from them this season, and that I thought Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic summer would actually reinforce his ball-stopping, product-over-process offensive ways. But Anthony is having a career season, especially with regards to his offensive efficiency. His Actual Points Per Shot is up to 1.194 this season, an increase of 0.145 over last season’s 1.049. Most of that bump is because of his three-point shooting. At this point in the season Anthony has made 42.8% of his 6.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, both career-highs by a wide margin. It’s possible that at some point in the season his long-range shooting will regress towards his career averages (see Mayo, O.J.), but his overall efficiency won’t drop too far because he has also significantly improved his shot selection this season. Anthony’s XPPS this season is 1.063, up from last season’s 1.045. When we look at his XPPS only when Felton is on the floor, it jumps to 1.072. That means even if Anthony’s shooting averages regress all the way to league averages, he’ll have improved his efficiency by 0.014 points per shot, or 1.4 points per 100 shots, just by improving his shot selection. There are a nearly infinite number of elements here at play, but clearly Felton is doing some positive things for the Knicks’ overall offensive well-being, helping lead the re-focused charge on efficient offensive choices.

One of the other interesting things that I noticed is that several of the players on this list who had a big effect on their team’s shot selection happened to be effective-passing guards and wings – Felton, Crawford, Nate Robinson, Kyrie Irving. Next week we’ll focus on a different group of players, those with high assist rates, and see if we can tease out their effect on the quality of team shot selection.

Some Options For Jamal Crawford

Photo by wvablue on Flickr

Jamal Crawford could very well be overpaid when the lockout is over. He scores a lot but not very efficiently, does too much of his work in isolation, and is a minus on defense. He’s 31 years old and, unless you’re a championship contender in need of extra scoring, you should be very careful about giving him big money. The true contenders don’t have much cap room and it’s unclear where he fits in this free agent market. This sucks because he’s such a good guy.

There. The blogosphere consensus is out of the way. Now, because he’s such a good guy (and a great interview) and because I really miss his crossover and his four-point plays, I’d like to assess a few of his options anyway.

First, don’t completely dismiss Atlanta. While it is true that the Hawks aren’t title contenders and need to give more playing time to Jeff Teague, there’s no indication that they’re going into rebuilding mode any time soon. If Crawford walks and they don’t make a major trade, they’re a slightly worse version of last year’s team. The Hawks acquired him because it needed creators not named Joe Johnson and if he walks they’d still be thin there. I wouldn’t bet on Crawford even necessarily wanting to return, but remember that the only time in his career he’s had had the same coach for two full seasons in a row was with Isiah Thomas in New York. For a guy who missed the playoffs in his first nine seasons, some stability and a near-certain playoff berth must mean something. Also, one of the reasons Crawford was so happy to be in Atlanta in the first place was that he could spend more time with his son, Eric, who goes to school there.

Portland is similarly easy for us to dismiss, but I’m not sure we should. It’s not Seattle, so it’s not home, but it’s close to home, he counts Brandon Roy as one of his best friends, and he’d fit in basketball-wise if he was content with remaining in the sixth man role and taking fewer shots. I’m not sure he’d make the Blazers much better or different than they currently are, but they’d have so much firepower. The question, of course, is Portland’s plan… or lack of one. In early October Larry Miller pressed the reset button after a four-month GM search and weeks later a report suggested Paul Allen was preparing to sell the team. It’s widely known that Allen at least used to see the Blazers as a contender. If he’s given up on that, then there’s no chance Crawford ends up there. If the old Paul Allen re-emerges, though, it’s possible — that guy never minded dishing out cash on a potentially superfluous piece if he believed it gave his team an edge.

Chicago might be my favorite destination for Crawford, even if he wouldn’t bring the Bulls the efficiency of someone like Arron Afflalo. I love the idea of him returning to where his career started to try to help them sustain the league’s best record. Crawford’s Bulls teams lost 73 percent of their games over his four years there and, after missing out on the chance to grow up with Jay Williams, as a veteran he’d be able to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose. Phil Jackson was right when he said they need complementary pieces and Crawford would help in this regard. He can act as a second or third option and a floor spacer when Rose is out there and get his isolation buckets when he’s resting. The stumbling block here is money, just as it is with Portland and Atlanta, or even the Heat and Lakers. We don’t know exactly what his market value will be when the lockout ends. We don’t know exactly how restricted over-the-cap and luxury tax-paying teams will be. We just know teams will be restricted and Crawford’s going to be in a tough spot. When J.A. Adande mentioned vets having to choose between a payday and a shot at a ring, Crawford was the kind of guy he was talking about. Of course, players usually follow the money in free agency, but in this context ending up an overpaid gunner is not a foregone conclusion.

The Big Ol’ Honkin’ Boston-Atlanta Post

Prior to Friday’s Hawks-Celtics game, Boston center Kendrick Perkins said his team “put a hit out” on Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, who had burned the Celtics for 18, 18, and 17 points off the bench in winning the teams’ first three meetings.

Instead it was Crawford who did all the hitting — in the paint, off the backboard, beyond the 3-point line, and even from halfcourt. He scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half to turn a nine-point deficit into a 12-point halftime lead, and the Hawks coasted the rest of the way to a 100-91 win — one that was unusually chippy for a regular season game but par for the course for a Hawks-Celtics tilt.

via Boston ‘hit’ plan perks up Crawford – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

No, there will not be a ‘Big Ol’ Honkin’ LA-Boston Post’ when LA creams them tomorrow.That’s of no surprise, and I doubt it will be competitive.

But this one’s relevant for a few reasons, so let’s take a look.

Hmm… you know, we started with schadenfreude yesterday. We should go the other way. Okay, let’s talk Haw…

Oh, hello there, Mr. Schadenfreude!

Hi there, Matt! I’m here to remind you to always take joy in the misery of others before moving on to positive takeaways!

Thanks, Mr. Schadenfreude! I’ll be sure to do just that. Bye, Mr. Schadenfreude!

So let’s begin with Mr. Perkins.

There’s being confident that you’re the best team. And there’s confidence that you’re the best player. And then there’s confidence that you’re the ONLY good team with the ONLY good players, which is what the Celtics fall into. The attitude wasn’t one of respect, it was “we can’t get beat by that scrub again.” And they paid for it.  And even if it was respect, you’ve got to keep your mouth shut to the media. You’ve lost three games to a team that’s on pace for a top four seed. You can’t just run your mouth. They’ve already done enough to earn some respect.

For the players in the Celtics’ locker room, “It means that they lost,’’ said Doc Rivers. “They lost to the Atlanta Hawks. I don’t think it means much more than that. Nobody wants to get swept, but I don’t think you get to go to the second round when you sweep a team in the regular season. That I know of. You get to go to the next game.’’

via Hawks sweep floor with Celtics – The Boston Globe.

But that’s not Boston. They won the title, even though they struggled through the first and second rounds, so therefore anything else that happens is invalid. Look at how they responded to Orlando, with the poodle comment. Now Orlando’s 2-1. At some point you need to recognize that you’re in trouble.

I still firmly believe that if the Celtics were to specifically gameplan and say, “we’re going to shutdown Crawford” they could. They’re great at gameplanning specific players. But they didn’t. They thought they could just outclass them, like they thought they could do to Orlando.

What’s worse is that this is endemic. There is a genuine lack of athleticism on the Celtics right now. It’s Rajon Rondo and a bunch of guys who are good at basketball but not athletic guys who are good at basketball. Which means when the Hawks buckle down and focus for long stretches, the Celtics look winded. Pierce was on fire last night, and still knocked down a big three, but he still looked flat-footed and winded.

Picking Up the Pace: The Hawks averaged a convincing 17.25 fast break points per game against the Celtics this season, while the Celtics lugged behind with asthma-filled lungs, posting just 12.75 fast break points per game. Slow and steady did not win this race. Usain Bolt would be proud.

via Breaking Down The Sweep – CelticsBlog.

There is, naturally, a refusal among the Celtics faithful to put this on age. If they do, well, that’s a wrap, kids. And they know that. Injury was the excuse, but now KG”s back. But I do think one injury still severely hampers this team. Marquis Daniels. Quis was capable of helping out with the Celtics’ weaknesses and would have also helped prevent something that’s killing them right now. Rasheed Wallace shooting.


Now for the Hawks, I feel like they’re going too far in the other direction. This win means a lot. No lie. It’s a big deal, proof that this team can say “If we face Boston in Round 2, we have a great shot at the ECF, and then who knows?” That’s a monumental shift.

But let’s not go licking our go-go boots just yet, okay? You It’s better to just represent “They’re a great team, we’re proud of this win, now we’ve got to keep it up.” Resting on laurels will also get you killed. And beating Orlando tonight or Cleveland at some point would also be advised, since right now, you’re hoping for a near-impossible matchup set.

  • # The fourth quarter wasn’t much better outside of Joe Johnson suddenly remembering he was playing the Celtics and, thus, should start making every fall-away he could create for himself.
  • 55 points on 38 shots and 12 free throw attempts for Johnson and Crawford. Considering the opposing post defenders, Horford and Smith got a suitable number of touches. A fine offensive performance from concept down to execution.

via Hoopinion.

I’d like to give Bret a big ol’ handshake today. He ALMOST said something completely nice about a Joe Johnson ball-domination offense. I made this argument earlier in the season, and then wondered if I was wrong when the Hawks were struggling with him doing it more. So last night’s play wasn’t a validator, but it still fuels the debate: Joe Johnson’s ability to turn bad possessions into points is a good thing.

The Hawks offense ground to a halt early in the fourth. I mean, we’re talking “nothing doin'” territory. Josh Smith tried to be aggressive, but the Celtics were doing that weird “double-body” thing where they form a concave wall and manage to not foul (apparently), so he couldn’t get anything to fall. And then Johnson decided “You know what? That’s it.” And went all “08 playoffs” on ‘em. And then Crawford came in and finished the job. And that’s just too much measured firepower for the Celtics to overcome after working that hard. There are going to be times when they’ll need Johnson to take games over. As good as Josh Smith has become in all phases, as good as the Hawks are as units at both ends of the floor, they need someone to create his own shot and kill the other team’s soul. And he drove a big ol’ dagger into Paul Pierce’s heart last night.

Maybe this is nothing, and there’s no continental shift happening. But Atlanta’s consistently winning with a core of guys who have played together for several years and who perform at both ends of the floor.

And the Celtics? Well, while the team won’t because of its unwavering confidence in itself based off the jewelry it won 19 months ago, the fanbase is rapidly approaching full-blown meltdown.

A Flight In The Sun

Last winter, I was driving through yet another Midwest snowstorm, on the phone with Graydon, and I asked him this: “If there was one NBA team that you absolutely would NOT want to face in an NCAA-tournament type game, who would it be?” His answer was immediately the same as mine. Orlando. A team that when it’s hot is lightning hot, anchored by a dominant big, with athletic forwards all over the floor. If they were to get hot, put it together, they would be dangerous enough to pillage defensive help systems and create chaos if everything went just right.

You know the rest.

Now, I’m faced with a mental quandary. Am I imagining the same thing with the Hawks, simply because I like the idea of a repeating pattern?

They were creamed by the Magic, absolutely blown into oblivion. The Cavs beat them on back to back nights. And yet, here they are, playing a higher brand of basketball than they ever have with this core, sweeping the mighty Celtics, sitting at 24-13, and armed with so many weapons that if they were to click… Oh, and have I mentioned they’re only four games back of the top seed in the East?

I think there’s still a gap there, but they’ve got two months to figure it out before the final month of the regular season, which features another game with LA and two more versus Cleveland. They could fall apart as they looked to be doing for the past week before the Celtics games, or hit another gear.Nothing would surprise me. But I do believe that too often we focus on imperfect but great things and ignore that which is new. We did it with Cleveland before LeBron took over Detroit. We did it with Orlando before they took Game 3 in Orlando. And we could be doing it with Atlanta.

Crawford makes the offense a whole new level of terrifying. In years past, if Joe Johnson was having a bad night, you were fine. If he was just having an average night, you could live with it. But now there’s Crawford. If everyone else is clicking and Johnson’s struggling, odds are Crawford will fill in the gap. If Johnson is having a good night and the offense is still lumbering, Crawford kick-fires it. And apparently he’s got a particularly bad taste in his mouth for the Celtics, since he’s pretty much single handedly shown their asses the door the last three times they’ve played. Crawford has spent so much time wackadoo systems that he’s learned an uncanny knack for slipping into the crevices of broken plays or transition jacknifed breaks, somehow always being in a hesitant passer’s line of site with his feet squarely beyond the arc. Having a guy that can make broken possessions into three point buckets? Huge.

As I wrote on Twitter, Joe Johnson only has one of these games like he had last night every 50 or so games. But when he does, it’s like the Archangel hath come for the reckoning. There’s just nothing you can do. There are lots of great players in this league, many of them with better overall,consistent games than Johnson. But Johnson does possess that NOVA gear that only a handful have. He can go to the next evolutionary step and if he gets there, even if it’s just for five or six minutes, he can bury you, break your back, and leave you with nothing but that frustrated sigh. Eddie House knows it. Ray Allen knows it. And Marquis Daniels may be learning it soon.

But then, the Hawks are still flawed, deeply. Most games Johnson doesn’t even approach that level, even though he constantly shoots like he’s trying to reach it. Crawford struggles defending. Mo Evans gets too much floor time for as lost as he sees sometimes. You can rattle Josh Smith. Al Horford gives in to his emotions. The list goes on. So the Hawks are likely not going to make it past the second round, almost definitely not winning the East, and definitely not winning the title.

But imagine if they did. You’re talking about a global shift in our thought processes. Mike Woodson with a ring. And all of a sudden you’re looking at what would likely be a re-signing Joe Johnson, a terrific group of role players, and, oh yeah, Josh Smith and Al Horford are still incredibly young. It would be terrifying and cruel.

But for now, let’s simply allow this to be known. The Celtics want no part of Atlanta in the playoffs. All that running, all that jumping, all that speed and athleticism isn’t just a means to create points, it grabs Boston by the neck and shows it in front of a mirror how old it is. The Hawks are young, fast, and powerful.

They’re a warrior clan, and for now, they seem to have invented warfare for themselves.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 11.16.09: So about the weekend…

Sorry for no update over the weekend, but Brandon Jennings, you know, the Pterodactyl with wings of fire, put me into a coma that I was unable to recover from until just this morning.

With that…

LION FACE: Brandon Jennings

His crossover pull-up three while the offense is resetting is his worst shot. Most of his other shots are pretty admissible. He tends to rocket around perimeter picks in transition and attack the basket because, well, no one’s there. And if you have the baseline and no one’s defending, why wouldn’t you attack? … Okay, let’s say you’re not Steve Blake/Kirk Hinrich/Derek Fisher/Jose Calderon. You see an opening, you go for it, right? The one-hand runner in the lane? His spacing’s good enough to excuse the fact that he’s got defenders closing. He’s not pulling the Ben Gordon “Wait for them to close, THEN take the runner!” approach. He’s measuring the fact that he’s got the space to get the shot off, and he’s taking it. But that pull-up three is pretty unforgivable. I mean, there’s just now way that can be an efficient shot for hi… 85% eFG from three.  It’s not going to keep falling. That’s definitely true. But until it does stop falling, I can’t blame the kid for shooting it. Especially the way he’s shooting it. I’ve seen guys shoot those in the “Watch me make this, biotch!” way. Jennings isn’t shooting that. The release is almost straight forward, like a catapult. He’s leaning out, to the point where he’s almost saying “Go on. Block me. I dare ya. I double dare ya. I got propositioned by a Serbian goat herder in Europe, you think your 33-year-old veteran ass scares me? Block me.”

One of my favorite things to watch is when a team embraces a rookie. And you can tell this Bucks team, at least right now, is very much in the “Holy Crap, we’ve got something here” mode. Maybe that’ll change when Redd gets back or when Jennings is shooting 30% when he hits the wall. But right now it’s fun to watch. I like the veterans supporting a rookie versus dismissing him. Beyond that, there’s something to be said for where the Bucks are at with this kid. They’ve gotten to an altitude where they can see something. Jennings as a superstar. A superstar in Milwaukee. His play through the very, very young season is the stuff that inspires dreams of a franchise becoming relevant. Look no future than BrewHoop, home of what I consider to be some of the best, yet bleakest fans in the NBA. You can talk about Boston fans being negative after years of other-sport trauma, or Chicago and its continual hangover from the MJ-parade, but Bucks fans are like the elves in Harry Potter. It’s like they almost don’t believe they’re worthy of being considered as valuable. They’re just the Bucks. But Jennings can change all that, if this isn’t a mirage.

The line between boom and bust is thin, just like the line between good shot and bad shot is dependent on if the guy makes it.

Lemon Face: The Los Angeles Lakers

…You know what? They’re without Pau Gasol, Kobe’s banged up, they’re still integrating Artest, and it’s November. I’ll give ‘em a pass. Lemon Face for the effort and lack of focus, but it’s a “too much lime in the gin and tonic” not “biting into the lemon” face.

Lion Face: Atlanta

Oh, Atlanta. I wish you’d do this in April and not November. Atlanta’s fourth in efficiency differential right now. They’ve simply got too much firepower. In years past, the objective was to isolate Joe Johnson, limit Bibby, frustrate Josh Smith, and you’d pretty much have them solved. Except now, with Crawford, they’re able to get buckets when those things aren’t working, and that’s before you’ve got the extra possessions the Hawks are creating right now. An interesting note: Crawford was brought in to spell Johnson, to take away the ability of the defense to relax when Joe needs a rest. But in the Boston game, the Hawks were +19 when Johnson and Crawford were on the floor at the same time. If you have two guys like Smith and Horford who are such great rebounders and you’re not drawing fouls on them, the Hawks can put in Bibby-Johnson-Crawford and just overwhelm you with scoring. It’s like having archers attack the gates while the cavalry is at the gates with a battering ram. You can’t address both attacks at once.  They’ll get figured out and go back to struggling here in a month or so, but for right now, it’s kind of awesome that the Hawks are winning big games against quality opponents and strutting.

Lemon Face:  Boston Celtics

CelticsHub did a breakdown of the Celtics’ issues with pace and discovered something startling. The Celtics are losing games when they control the tempo and winning games when the opponent controls. Could mean nothing, but that’s still pretty weird. The issues I’m seeing are mainly with perimeter defense. The Celtics have been incredibly successful the last few years in packing the lane and forcing you into long-range shots. Essentially, no dunks allowed. But it’s almost as if the perimeter defense is so committed to that that they’re willing to let perimeter shots be taken with no defensive deterrent. In their last four games, one convincing win, two losses, and a stinker win against the lowly God-hated Nets, the Celtics have been terrible at three poitn defense, excluding the Utah cruise. Utah shot 0% from the arc, which is a whole Lemon Face in and of itself. In the Nets, Hawks, and Pacers games? You’re looking at 46%, 27% (not bad), and 50% to the Pacers. You can cut off dribble penetration all you want, but in this league, you do have to run off three point shooters. You’d think the Celtics would have learned that last year from, oh, I don’t know, the Orlando series.

Lion Face: Rudy Fernandez

10 points doesn’t sound like a great game from Rudy, but throw in 7 rebounds and his team-second-best 60% eFG in their win over Charlotte and that’s a deceptively good game. It’s too bad that the Trailblazers are so committed to stockpiling and then burying great talent, because Portland’s bench would be a more fun team to watch than Memphis at this point.

Lemon Face: God’s vendetta against the New Jersey Nets

Seriously. I get getting Wade’d. It happens to everyone. But to get Wade’d after battling back and being 0-10? What have they done, oh, Lord? Why have you forsaken them so?

Lion Face: The Will Bynum Show featuring the Detroit Pistons

I haven’t given the Pistons love, and to be honest, it’s going to be hard with Ben Gordon still holding possessions hostage. He knows what to do with them, but watching his ISO play just irks me. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Pistons are banged up, outmanned, and still winning games, or being right there in every game. They lost a tough one to the Mavericks last night essentially because Gordon couldn’t get squared up on a the high pick and pull-up that he’s hit about a bajillion times in his career, but before that had been winning impressively. Bynum has been fantastic, and they may feature the best backcourt in the NBA outside of Boston.

Lemon Face: Toronto’s Defense

This team could be so good. And it just doesn’t work hard enough. There are some teams that are simply without guys capable of quality defense. And there are some teams who aren’t coached to play defense at all (Warriors). And then there’s the Raptors, who are incessantly frustrating because the just won’t try hard enough to do what they need to. They could be a top five team in the East, and maybe they’ll get there. But right now, there’s no one on this team who has put it all together defensively, and that includes Chris Bosh.