Monday, February 1, 2010

The HawkStr8Talk MidSeason Review: Team

We're going to review the team by looking at the team overall, each player, then a comparison of what we said in the preseason vs. what's come to pass (read: the one where I gloat about what I'm right about and tuck tail on what I'm wrong about).

It was said here in our Season Preview that the Atlanta Hawks were good enough to be the 4th seed again, but also without an identity that could easily see us backslide without much of a chance to pierce the Big 3 of the Eastern Conference without serious injuries affecting the NBA landscape. Well, let's be happy that we added that last little caveat into that assessment or else we'd be totally off in predicting the futures of this Atlanta Hawks team. Let's discuss the areas that we identified as the biggest indicators for the team's success:

The Offense

Post/Inside - The easy answer here is that when the Hawks have played primarily through Josh and Al - the Hawks have won and have won easily. For much of the early part of the season - the Hawks were #1 in pts in the paint. In this instance, the discussions of Josh Smith as an All Star 'SNUB' and Al Horford as an All Star Center should tell you everything about how well the young duo have done this season. While many have been disappointed in the lack of a Josh Smith All Star berth, but I think if we asked the question of whether Josh would play well enough to be in consideration for the All Star Game - we'd ALL be giddy. So, be giddy and hope (like I do) that the snub causes Josh to play lights out to prove why he deserves to be there next year. If there's any complaint about our inside offense, it's simply that we don't rely on it more.

Perimeter - We'll include Marvin in this portion since our perimeter offense relies on isolation plays and more isolation plays. Not much running our best shooters off screens to get open looks in rhythm has been employed, which would be the way you see the Ray Allens, Michael Redds, Kevin Martins of the world score their points. To be sure, there are plenty of outside shots, but frankly - that's what most teams want you to do..shoot from outside. Not open looks from your favorite spot, but most teams are happy to give you looks from outside and dare you to win that way. The Hawks seem to overly rely on the jump shot to determine their offensive success. That said, Joe, Jamal, Marvin, Maurice, and Mike have managed to not shoot the Hawks out of their lofty perch in the Eastern Conference, so for that - we have to give them some credit...whether that credit is the kind that disappears come playoff time remains to be seen.

Transition - The Hawks don't run enough. When they do, they do it with devastating effectiveness, but simply put - you can't run if your starting PG and SG are not run it down your throat specialists (hence, the reason Al and Josh are leading so many breaks), so until Jeff Teague is the starting PG - don't expect to see anything to highlight what is probably the #1 way for the Hawks score and that's my running their counterparts into the ground.

Intangibles - In the areas of turnovers and rebounding, the Hawks have been up to snuff. Despite my concerns, the Hawks have been functional enough at rebounding and simply outstanding regarding giveaways. Now, where the Hawks have been lacking is in mental toughness and leadership. We have seen strides on a game to game basis, but have not seen championship strides within the game. Rarely is there a presence on the team that is changing the fortunes of the team during the game (i.e. if we are getting blown out - having a presence to change the tactics or push player's buttons/strengths to change the outcome OR if we are doing well, having the presence to continue to do those things until a team stops what you are doing well - too often we stop doing what we do well all on our own. As the most glaring example, there have been at least 7 games so far where we worked the inside-out game and transition offense to commanding leads only to slow the pace and begin isolation plays with no regard for the formula that established the league. Now, there also has also been a consistent nature to the fact that when the Hawks don't give their best effort and energy, they will lose. If that's true (and we are on the record with regard to the fact that the Hawks have lost more due to tactics and strategy than because they just didn't play hard or with the appropriate energy), then something must be addressed there.

Overall - Again, it's hard to argue with the Hawks and their offensive output this year. It may not always be effecient or have an identity that befits the personnel (you'd think we'd run at every conceivable opportunity), but the points find their way on the scoreboard, so we won't quibble with it (well, except when we devolve into ISO-Joe or ISO-Jamal).

The Defense

Post/Interior - We haven't really been dominated on the inside despite being undersized at both C and PF. We should give credit to Josh and Al for their defensive efforts despite some flaws in Josh's on the ball defense - this team is not being taken advantage by the post presences in the NBA very often.

Perimeter - Let's just say it now - Bibby and Crawford are not making any defensive stops and stands to reason that only their offensive contributions make it worthwhile to have them on the floor. Bibby's limitations are physical and Crawford's are simply a lifetime of not playing defense. So, we've gotten used to Joe Johnson taking the charge on stopping perimeter players, but that isn't always the best way to keep Joe fresh in the 4th quarter for his isolation plays. Which leads us to Jeff Teague - if there's any reason to put Teague on the floor right now, it's because he's the best chance for the Hawks to get better defensively in the postseason and next year. It can be argued that Mario West can be useful for a few possessions a game, but his offensive liabilities make it impossible to play him in crucial games without the benefit of him shutting down a significant offensive talent. Since we haven't seen him do that, the mumbling for Teague should be less about seeing him making offensive contributions, but in helping transform the Hawks from an average defensive team to an elite one.

Intangibles - It can said - don't bring weak shots to the paint because Al and Josh will return it with some postage. This season - the double double or 5 x 5 x 5 capability of Al and Josh have shown them to be everything that Billy Knight sought them to be. Except in one area - that's defensive toughness or leadership. The closest player to show real defensive know how and tenacity is Joe Smith. No one shows on a pick and roll as well as he does. We don't have a problem with the tactic of a switching defense, but as it has been shown by elite offenses. Predictability in a defense is easier to exploit than simple defensive talent.

Overall - This is probably the one area where we can be sure that needs help before we can start to believe in championship dreams. Bibby and Crawford at the point of attack for a defense renders the defense useless vs. good offensive execution. How we adjust when good offensive execution occurs could hold the hopes for this team's postseason aspirations?


Strategy - We have been harsh in our assessments of Coach Woodson's contributions to this team. We have been very clear in our belief that playing through our forwards and pushing the pace plays to the Hawks' strengths. It would also make sense that we'd like to have a few other junk defenses in our toolkit for the times when having Crawford and/or Bibby is necessary despite their defensive shortcomings. The games we've committed to those strategies bears out the fact that we can be successful that way, but again we always come back to this - we didn't think we would be 30-16 at this stage of the season, so we'll come back to the strategy during the postseason because we do fail to see how this won't be exploited come May.

In-Game Adjustments - This is certainly the area where we have seen some improvements from Coach Woodson and by that - we've seen less rigidity than ever on player rotations, foul management, use of the timeouts, etc. That said, it's still a work in progress. Rarely has Coach Woodson sent a very specific message (i.e. if the team comes out with no energy sit them, when bad shots are happening - making changes, etc) using playing time. Last year, the use of the press vs. the Utah Jazz made the difference in changing the fortunes of the Hawks on their way to victory. There haven't been many instances to point to this year in lineups or anything else to determine if the mix is maximizing the team's output. It would be interesting to see if Maurice Evans or Jeff Teague in the starting lineup makes the Hawks a better, more balanced team OR even helps to keep players on their toes that positions are not permanent - your play must always dictate your position on the team.

Rotation - If there is any area, I'd love to take over for our coach - here it is. A cap on Joe Johnson's minutes, a minimum on Jeff Teague and Joe Smith's minutes (a low one, but one nonetheless), and consistency in the 2nd team's contributions. Too often, hot reserves (not named Jamal) are being cooled off by some desire to see starters hopefully match or exceed what the reserves have done. We started the season with what Coach Woodson said was a team that was 10 deep and it's pretty apparent right now that Joe Smith and Jeff Teague are suffering from the ills of Solomon Jones and Acie Law IV. Whether that changes to benefit the strengths they bring or to simply relieve the burden of carrying a team until it's playoff time - we can only hope to find out.

So, we've given our thoughts on this season so far - all critiques are given with respect to the desire to win a NBA title. As for whether it's a successful season relative to what we're used to over the past 15 years - it's already that...anything else up to our first 2nd round win is gravy.

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