Monday, October 26, 2009

The 2nd Annual HS8T Season Preview

With the season only 2 days away, we know everyone is sitting with bated breath waiting for the Hawks Str8Talk season prediction. Since last year's prediction was 4 games off our BEST CASE, there's probably not much that can gleaned from our ability to predict our season's output, but we saunter on regardless.

As we did last year, we'll review our team and coaching and offer....(drum roll please) our best case and worst case predictions along with our true prediction for 2009-2010. One last note - as a part of our game recaps, we always use the game's result to determine whether we should upgrade or downgrade our prediction, so it should be noted that at 4-0 last year - we were clear that the Hawks were NOT who we thought they were (and that's meant as a good thing), so don't put our prediction in stone - we aren't trying to win points by nailing the prediction we make, ok? Now, off to the analysis:

It should be noted that this blog has not been a fan of the Hawks coaching philosophy. We have always like Mike Woodson as a person (Indiana Hoosier legend, member of the bald brotherhood, and nice guy from all accounts), but Woodson has shown that while he was perfect for his role as a youth caretaker for the first 3 seasons - there are questions about whether he can provide the coaching to get the most out of the talent that resides in the Highlight Factory. Certainly, Woodson is not to blame for not putting together the team, but he can be blamed for the philosophies that are espoused.

It's telling that at this stage - we still do not know what the identity of this team is. Are we an athletic team? Yes! Do we do anything that benefits athletic teams like running? No! Do we have a promising front court? Yes! Do we do anything to cater to the front court? No! So, there are several things we could highlight things like:

  • The Offense - Full of isolations and dribbling until someone feels like they've found a good enough shot. Rare is a team that only is very good when jump shots are falling among the contenders for NBA titles.
  • The Defense - Full of switches that retard the rebounding and defensive rotation process
  • The In-Game Adjustments - We only counted 2 games last year where a coaching move during the game actually yielded a significant change in the game (one was a victory at home vs. Utah, and the other was almost a miracle win on the road vs. Denver). That doesn't bode well for the coach's value.
  • The Lame Duckness - Now, here's where we did stand up for Woodson all offseason. Either you commit to a coach or you fire him and move on, but rarely do you put a coach in a position to coach for his job without the cover of at least one year remaining. It's a novel concept, but one that isn't based on sound understanding of the pro athlete's psyche. What's to stop a player revolt from happening at the first sign of distress in the NBA season aside from professionalism? What's to stop Woodson from treating Teague as if he has AL4 Disease due to the fact that he has to win NOW! One of the major knocks from this blog has been that Woodson coaches to win the battle (and he doesn't do that very well) and not the war. In other words, he makes coaching decisions based on an attempt to win every moment vs. figuring out the balance necessary to win a game and also build a team ready for the postseason. That was on display during the preseason's only road back to back where Joe Johnson played 35 and 27 minutes. Maybe winning the preseason game and getting a rhythm mattered, but not at the expense of Joe Johnson's long term health and freshness for what is solidly a playoff team. Anyway, the lack of a contract extension only encourages more of the win the battle coaching from Woodson. We'll see if this lame duck stature has negative repercussions for this team
Bottom line, we still maintain that we want Coach Woodson to be successful as a fan, but as an objective watcher - it's becoming more difficult to see whether that's possible when viewed through the prism of seeing the Hawks getting the most out of its potential. We'll grade him this year on these things - Teague's development, Inside Game (Smith & Horford) Attention, Defensive Improvement, Team's Freshness Factor, Motivation (as judged by not falling asleep to start 1st and 3rd quarters of games) and in-game adjustments. Let's see how it pans out...Grade: D

Well, we can certainly again say that the Hawks are one of the most talented starting 5s in the league. And if we have the motivated Osh Smith (he gets his J back when he starts hitting jump shots OR stops taking them altogether) and Marvin Williams becomes 40% better this year, then yes - we'd agree. But let's say that doesn't happen - then our past production tells us that there are some good and bad things about this starting 5.
  • Offensively - The positive is that all of them are able to give you at least 20 pts in an offense that focuses on them. There isn't a player on the court that you are scared to have attempting to score the basketball in their collective scoring sweet spots. The negative is that we haven't really ever spent time trying to get all players the ball in their sweet spots unless that guy's name is Joe Johnson. After 4 years, Joe has gotten the ball in every conceivable way to take advantage of his talents. It's always been said here that Joe is our best player, but Osh is our most talented player. The same can be said about Marvin and Al. We don't know how good they can be b/c so much attention has been on our backcourt's ability to score the ball. Let's hope that this season moves to a shift to more transition baskets AND more post play to see what our inside game can offer.
  • Defensively - Again, the positive is that we're athletic enough to defend most of the teams in the league. Unfortunately, the subset of teams who don't fall in that category happen to be the contenders in this league. For that group, nothing we do defensively is effective. There is little that looks positive about our defensive rotations and philosophy when faced with the likely contenders for the title - we're simply a good, quick point guard and scoring big man away from trouble of monumental proportions, so if it's not the Magic, Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, or Celtics - we're fine. But I'd prefer to match up against those teams vs. the bottom feeders. We'll see how we match up this season and if improvements on this end make Osh Smith the intimidating defensive presence he was up until last year.
Grade: B

Simply put, we don't have much outward leadership and we don't have many scenarios where we can point to the team rallying around the coach's mantra, so the #1 positive of the offseason was the addition of two veterans (Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith). We weren't big fans of moves that didn't a defensive stopper or a rebounding beast (yes, we longed for Ramon Sessions and DeJaun Blair - and if after that, we brought back Bibby, Joe Smith, and Flip Murray - that wouldn't have bothered me a bit), but that didn't happen. So, we have to take what we have and say - we still got better. Any upgrade in talent that moved Mario West from the #9 or #10 player in the team rotation to the 2nd to last guy cut speaks volumes about the talent upgrade on the bench. We also are happy to see Jeff Teague join the fold, but ONLY if he plays. On a roster with only 4 guards - it would be very depressing to watch us run Bibby into the ground and virtually ensure that running a fast break will continue from the power forward position (read: Osh Smith turnover watch upcoming). We have doubts whether or not a lame duck Woodson has the cajones to live with the mistakes that Teague is sure to work through over the course of the season. We'll be watch this unfold all season...

So, let's hope that with a Teague, Crawford, Evans, Joe Smith, Pachulia 2nd string - we'll be seeing 10 man rotations that provide very few DNPs that aren't connected to the names Morris, Hunter, or Jason Collins. Grade: a conditional B (if Woodson plays everyone).

All of this leads us to a determination of what we think the players have in store for us, so we'll do some quick blurbs on each player and our expectations:
  • Bibby - Let's hope that he can still continue to shoot 3s at a high clip because his poor defense and lack of penetration need to be offset by something. We hope to see Bibby's PT held to about 27 minutes a game
  • Johnson - His talent is unquestioned and he realizes that he needs to perform this year in order to get a big paycheck during the 2010 offseason. That means more great days ahead, but the knock has always been whether Joe can be the best player on a contending team. We won't say no while hoping that Osh Smith or Horford can assume a co-leadership role as the best player. The thing we hope for Joe is a manageable 30-32 minutes a game in an attempt to keep him fresh all season.
  • Williams - Marvin added the 3 point shot to his arsenal and has vowed to bring better ball handling and post moves to his small forward position. Well, those things would go hand in hand with an above average defensive presence necessary to move the Hawks forward. Hopefully, an aggressiveness on the scoring end accompanies his offseason improvements. We think Williams is the key to this season.
  • Osh Smith - For 3 years, I have been Osh's single biggest fan. Similar to Tracy McGrady, I saw the freakish talents of Osh Smith during his rookie season and said it's only a matter of time. Well, we were wrong on the time - it's not simply a matter of time with Osh. It's a matter of a lack of developing basketball smarts. Now, you can argue that it's the coaching or it's Osh or even the enabling by his teammates. One doesn't know, but what we do know is that the lack of discipline in attempting jump shots he can't make consistently will always be a limiting factor for Osh and, therefore, creates a lack of reliability to make us contenders. We continue to maintain that he has the most talent - he just has to realize that that talent is not jump shots and at his size and with his stroke NEVER will be. So, we at HS8T will learn to live with this limitation and factor it into our assessment of him from now on until proven otherwise.
  • Horford - And to our only true departure from conventional Hawks wisdom, Al Horford...well, we must say that we're really not that impressed with him and by that we mean - he's consistent, he's solid, he's reliable, but there's nothing IMPRESSIVE about that unless you are so accustomed to players NOT doing those things that they should - that his regular reliability is noteworthy for that reason. If Williams and Smith max out their ability, is Horford anything more than our 4th best player (with Bibby coming in 5th - maybe 6th behind Crawford)? Do you ever expect that he'll be better than 13 pts and 11 rebounds for our team? Can you seriously see him in an All Star game or on an All Pro team? While you mull that over, we do think it's important that he get the ball in the post a LOT more - it's simply bad business to not let him get 10-15 touches a game.
  • Teague - We like him, but we can't say what will happen b/c we don't know if he'll get consistent playing time. Simple as that - let's hope he gets that and we will assess his ability to penetrate, play defense, turn over the ball, and make open shots accordingly.
  • Crawford - Well, his talents as an offensive player are well documented, so we think that his effectiveness should be judged in ensuring that he's scoring more than those he's defending. We'll be paying attention to the plus/minus statistic for Crawford all season long.
  • Evans - Simply be the glue...defense and 3s are what we need from Evans, that's all we need. And yes, we still believe that it would serve the Hawks better to play Evans with the starters and play Williams with the 2nd string.
  • Joe Smith - Finally a true vet who can still play - rebounds, defense, and leadership - check, check, and check!
  • Pachulia - There was probably no player that got more kudos from us last year than Zaza and that's because energy and passion and dogged determination is all he has. It's something the Hawks need in spade, so let's hope that we get the every other year Zaza again this year.
  • Morris, Hunter, and Collins - Basically, this is the 'we need fouls' crew. When we play big guys who need to be hacked (like Shaq and Dwight Howard) - that's what you're on the team for. Don't forget it and may Mario West's energy live on through you.
Ok, you had to read through all of that just to get to my predictions, so here they go:

Best Case Prediction - 52-30 (4th in Eastern Conference)
Worst Case Prediction - 44-38 (6th in Eastern Conference)
My Prediction - 47-35 (4th in Eastern Conference) and a likely 2nd round playoff exit (though we reserve the right to say that we may lose in the 1st round)

Yep, all that to say that we'd do what we did last year. Yep, I don't see a way that we leap over the top 3 teams - they are deep enough to be injury proof (save the Cavs losing LeBron) and I don't see a way that we are competitive in the 2nd round of the playoffs as presently constituted. But that's why we play the games....and as the #1 fan, I'll be cheering for an 82-0 season and 4 sweeps. So, don't let the name of the blog fool you - we are serious about our fan-dom and we'll be bring you the very best in Hawks coverage (non-statistical analysis category), so stay tuned - we're in for a wild ride.

So, what do you guys think? Leave your predictions in the comments and we'll see you at the Highlight Factory starting Wednesday!!!


Jesse said...

Sounds about right to me. I think Horford is better than you give him credit for, but until he gets those 10-15 touches (and those have to be part of the game plan, not put-backs and the like) consistently, we'll never know. That alone makes him one of the three wildcards for this team. Other than that, good job.

The other two wildcards are Teague and Crawford. Teague obviously because we all hope that he gets more PT than Acie ever did, but Woodson has a track record and you hit the nail on the head as it relates to his win-now mentality. Crawford has never been on a team with this much talent so it will be highly interesting to see how he blends in with everyone and how he is used by Woodson.

Unfortunately, I don't see the projected wins being the same. I'd say your worst-case would be my best-case. There's no way that we don't encounter a key injury or two throughout the season and Woodson will definitely make some bad coaching decisions along the way. You combine that with many of our Eastern conference competitors getting better, and some of those close wins from last year will turn into close losses.

So, I'm going with 44-38 with the 5th seed and getting bounced in the first round.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Jesse, I will simply say that my thought is that most of our players have had more talent than has been on display, but they have been subjugated due to our focus and reliance on Joe Johnson. That said - you should still see the glimpses and so in the ways that Osh Smith has tantalized - I want to see Horford do it before I say it's so. I only recall one dominant basketball game by Al Horford in 2 years.

So, this isn't like the NFL where it takes years to develop esp. for a guy who went to college and had a pro's game coming in. Anyway, last year, I said that I didn't think anyone was maxing out their talents here and until we had another coach to compare it to - I wasn't going to blame the players. Well, at this point, I junked part of that. I now simply just blame Osh for shooting 20fters b/c he has acknowledged that he needs to stop shooting jump shots. Same for everyone else - if I see Al requesting the ball in the post and then producing - I'll side with you. Until then, he's just a solid pro that's out of position in my mind. I like him on the team, but he's not so great that he's making the difference in enough nights.

I worry about our praise of Horford only in the ways that it seems like it's larger than his production (hidden and otherwise). I see the intangibles, now I want to see the tangibles.

Jesse said...

Yep, hence why I believe he will never reach his full potential under the current system. We both agree on that, we just differ on exactly where his overall ceiling might be. I can live with that.

I think you and I are on the same page w/r/t Woodson, so would it be safe to assume that you also might have a sinking feeling that Woodson may have done more harm than good for our young talent after the initial first three years? I agree that with Josh acknowleding that he shouldn't be taking long distance jumpers that going forward any time he does so is completely on him, but I have to think that Woodson's system putting him in a position and encouraging Josh to take those shots over the last couple of years, may have permanently left some bad habits on Josh. In fact, Woodson might have been the worst coach to have with Josh Smith coming into the league because he's a total enabler of bad habits, not a developer of solid skill. Just a thought.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...


I don't know if i have a solid thought on whether Woodson was the worst coach for Josh. I think Josh needed to play and see that his athleticism was worth being showcased on the court. I think the mistake was feeling like he only needed to hone his outside game. I feel like he'd be better if they either said - you're a small forward and you can't start at that position until your handles and mid-range game is good enough to be that OR they said you're a PF and you have to develop an inside game and get at least 8-9 boards, plus bulk up...

If those things had happened, I would feel better about Josh and about his b-ball IQ. Now, that said, I think over time you do get it if you ever are. So, I can't put it all on Woodson - I only say that Woodson would have accelerated it. It took Kobe some years to 'get it' too and he had Phil in his ear, but he had to overcome some bad habits enabled by previous coaches, so there's still hope for Josh.

I think the reason I say that Woodson might have been good early on b/c he didn't have a complicated system for a young team. I can see value in that. Problem is - we now need a more complicated system. Complicated systems win titles. And with that Woodson isn't a teacher - he just rolled the ball out on the court. I haven't seen any evidence that players are being coached up or used to their max effectiveness save ONE - Mario West.

Not a good track record if you ask me...

Jesse said...

That's kinda where I was going with that. I agree that his sytem was great early on for the team overall, but w/r/t Josh it might not have been the best idea because it left him out on the wing to get into the habit of taking all those bad shots. Of course, this is just a theory that I have yet to go back and follow up on with the data, i.e shot selection by Josh Smith in the first few years compared to now.

I guess I'm saying that it might have been double edged blade in that what worked great for a less than talented team with only one or two good players might not have been great for the most athletic player we drafted early on. My only evidence is exactly what you have stated: Woodson has never shown any capacity to put players in a position to use their strengths save two, West and JJ. I'm worried that even if we had changed out Woodson, or if we do after this year, that Smith has been molded already and this is all we might ever get out of him.

thirdfalcon said...

"I haven't seen any evidence that players are being coached up or used to their max effectiveness save ONE - Mario West."

Flip Murry, Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Probably Josh Childress. Plus Marvin, Josh, and Horford are way to young to be complaining that they haven't played to their full potential.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@TF, I'm not sure I'm understanding your point. Are you making the point that these are all players that are either being coached up or used to the max effectiveness?

thirdfalcon said...

Yes, unless you think They could do better than they have. Especially Flip to say he wasn't used to his max effectiveness is ridiculous.

Coaches are interchangeable, except for a few that matter (Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Greg Popovich, Larry Brown). The rest range from functional, over-rated, terrible, and Vinny Del Negro. Woody is Functional imo.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@TF...well, I will simply say three things. 1) if your tiers are the very best, functional, overrated, and need some more tiers b/c Mike Woodson doesn't deserve to be in the 2nd tier of any coaching poll. I won't argue that he's not functional (in the literal sense). I simply think there are a few more coaches that I'd take ahead of him (Stan Van Gundy, Mike D'Antoni, Rick Carlisle, Rick Adelman all come to mind off the top of my head)
2) we can agree on Flip, but I think my point is the overall use of starters and bench over the course of his career and I'd say that there are a whole lot more misses than hits. Like I said, I can only really see about 2-3 hits and they all are on the bench (Zaza, Flip, Mario West), which answers the final piece - yes, I think most of our players can do better than they have if used to accentuate their strengths.

But I don't think it's a secret that you and I disagree on the degree at which Woody is effective as the Hawks coach, so we don't have to debate this particular item. I'd simply say that if Flip is the best example you got of max effectiveness, then that pretty much makes my point for me.

thirdfalcon said...

How does that prove your point? Flip had one good season in x years (On a bad Seattle team). Woodson turned him into an effective role player, A decent defense, and a sixth man of the year candidate.

Plus that's not my only example. Woodson has gotten years from Bibby, J.J., Zaza, Mo Evans, and Josh Childress that were pretty close to their respective ceilings. The rest of the players he has had have been too young to criticize him for not getting full potential from them, or complete stiffs (Sheldon, Acie with one DNP coach's decision and counting plus a preseason's worth of quotes that confirm that he's not a rotation player anywhere, A.J., Solo, and too many others to name.)

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@TF, I wasn't trying to prove a point. I could, but it's still subjective. So, the key part is really that we just disagree on this (and lots of other Woodson items).

So, I won't try to prove the point. I will say that if you mean that by giving the ball to a player the coach makes him effective, then that would apply to Flip & Joe. All the other examples are 1) a small sampling of the players that have played for the Hawks in 5 years of coaching and 2) Bibby generally was a much better player in Sacramento than Atlanta, Zaza played well one year and then went into the tank the next (I guess that was the player's fault only), and Josh Childress was playing behind a player he was better than at the time (yes, he was better than Marvin and that's part of the reason he went to Greece), so I'm not sure those are good examples to clearly prove your point.

So, again, it's subjective - you see it one way, I see it another - let's focus on the year at hand's a new year - we're 1-0! The season will show us whether the team and Woodson have made strides to get us closer to that 'chip!