I'm finally ready to do a blog - I won't talk about why I've been MIA, but I have watched all the games and am ready to make some championship level analysis on things. Since I'm prone to write epic opus length blogs, we won't try to talk about all the games, but we will highlight some themes and things we've seen during certain games and overall 7 game streak level feedback...so let's get to it
1. Hawks have reached their plateau as presently constituted.
I make that comment not to say that there are not ways that the team could play better, grow as players and a team, but with our current philosophy in team offense, team defense, and a pretty consistent lock on the rotation and lack of changes in our strategies. We are who we are. Anyone who thinks otherwise will need to show evidence of it. Our problems with 4th quarter offense, with playing elite level defense, and with focus are well documented and frankly - nothing has changed about that all season.
2. The Hawks should not worry about selling the farm to become the #3 seed.
After everything is said and done, the battle for the #3 seed has the Celtics playing a tougher schedule than us. While they have proven to be a much better road team than us, you would hope the Hawks can attain that seed. It's only a psychological hurdle though because the Celtics have proven that they can compete on the road and have a championship under their belts. For all the down with Celtic stuff that you hear, the Celtics are not worried about going on the road. Not only that, it really doesn't matter b/c the Celtics aren't beating the Magic or Cavs in a 2nd round series anyway (which is the only way that having the #3 seed could potentially matter). So, I say that to say - Woodson, please rest our players when they are hurt. Don't burn out Bibby when he's hobbled. Let Joe Johnson take as much time as he needs to get his Achilles healthy. Involve the bench players you think will help us in the postseason as much as possible, so they enter the postseason ready for bear.
3. Jeff Teague = Acie Law IV (and I told you so).
Listen, I've been the biggest 'get Teague some minutes guy' all season, but I will battle ANYONE on this contention - any potential that Jeff Teague has for this franchise is being destroyed by Mike Woodson's use of him and for that - I'd rather him just not play anymore. Not only that, I told everyone very early in the season to not believe what Woodson said about having a 10 deep roster and playing Teague. He has said several times that he'd play Teague, then he said if players got injured that he'd certainly play Teague, etc - well, like I said, early on - don't believe what he says, believe what he does. With Jeff Teague - that has been 100% true.
It's easier for a rookie to just realize that he hasn't gained the trust of the coach to play minutes for this coach or team. Let's just trade him or let him languish to the point that we decide to get a veteran who the coach trusts to play backup point guard now and can grow into our starting point guard. The way he's being deployed certainly doesn't inspire Teague to feel like his coach has trust in him - as he noted, he was scared to make mistakes, which we've said here is EXACTLY what you feel when you think every mistake means you are coming out of the game, but I'd offer that more damaging is that Teague isn't being used as someone that the Hawks should use our the future QB of their offense. Why would any of the starters believe in Teague's future here? Similar to Law, they were never allowed to 'run' the offense while in the game and certainly were jerked from the lineup enough to know that there's no confidence in their games. That could be due to a lack of talent. Bottom line, the best thing Mike Woodson could say to Jeff Teague is that he's not playing and tell him what he needs to do to be a starter in 2010-2011. Telling the media that Teague did ok and that you lost no confidence in him after his first start followed by taking him out of the lineup and playing him less than 10 minutes is not our example of showing 'confidence' in Jeff Teague.
As I said prior to this past 2 game road trip, Teague won't play more than 20 minutes in either. He played 17 minutes in the game he started and 8 in the following game. Again, you can look at the micro picture and say - well, he struggled. I'd say well, that's what happens when you're a rookie. Every rookie that has shined this year has done so. Most did so in their first starts if they started at all. The problem is that for our rookies - there are no carrots when Teague's doing well, but certainly a hook when he's not. Player development doesn't occur that way. Confidence for the playoffs is certainly not built in that fashion, so just shut him down. If you can't get more than 20 minutes vs. the Nets (struggles or not), then you are not ever going to play meaningful minutes. (Quick note: I will say that his start did result in what I expected and desired in a start Teague scenario, which was at least 2 stints in a game - to start each half - just thought it could happen with Joe Johnson - without him, I figured more time would be in the offing esp. with the defensive backcourt of Bibby and Crawford staring at us for a back to back).
3. Coach Evaluation should include - did your team get better during the season?
This year, the Hawks started 19-6 and now are 43-24 (that's 24-18 since).
Last year, they started out 15-10 and got to the 67 game mark at 39-28 (that's 24-18 since). They ended it 8-7. Last year, the Hawks played one notch better to start the season than to end it. This year, they played two notches better to start the season than they are at this stage. We have not improved as a team in any ways that matter for postseason success. The defense isn't stronger and the offense is pretty much the same (which is above average unless you take the 4th quarter woes into account). So, as we watch certain teams getting better and playing better down the stretch (Dallas, Orlando, Cleveland, Milwaukee), we are not better. Some surmise that that has to do with the fact that those teams have pieces that needed to get comfortable and integrated into their systems, so they take some time to get better over the year whereas we have the essentially same players and coaching and system every year, which leads to great starts while teams are catching up, but plateaus at some point (hence, point #1)
4. The Hawks will be the #3 seed.
We have an easier schedule than the Celtics and the Celtics don't need a better seed like the Hawks do. The Hawks will not receive any benefit from the additional seeding just like the Celtics won't, but the Celtics realize that they are a great road team and that it's better to be playing well and get healthy and integrate Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, and Michael Finley into the system. Conversely, the Hawks always are looking to have a better record for the psychological effect it has for the team and the coach's desire for a new contract, so I fully expect that we'll get the #3 seed, which means very little with regard to winning a title, but it's something that will happen.
5. Why Losses to the Knicks, Heat, and Raptors don't bother me anymore?
My last game recap was on the 1st vs. the Bulls. Since then, we've beaten the Sixers, Warriors, Wizards, Pistons, and Nets. We've handled them (with the Warriors being the exception) as we should have, then we lost on the road vs. the Knicks, Heat, and Raptors. I won't spent a lot of time railing against the losses and forgetting about the wins. Simply put, there's nothing that happened in those games that's really upsetting and here's why: the Hawks are not an elite team. Above average teams get beaten by inferior teams on the road all the time. When you get to the point that you feel certain that the team you cheer for is a notch below elite and not a title contender, then you learn to accept (not like, but accept) that your team will succumb to its flaws and lose games. If we were losing games in ways that were unfamiliar to us, then we'd have something to say about it, but there's nothing new there.
As I said a while ago (which spawned my 'start Teague/Evans' blogs), the Hawks are a good team. We spend so much time dissecting what's wrong with them. We forget what's right. We forget how good Josh Smith has been (even with the jump shots), we forget how Al Horford has progressed on the offensive end (despite the lack of touches), we forget how prolific Jamal Crawford can be (with or without Joe Johnson), and we forget how good Joe Johnson is (despite him not being a Tier 1 star in this league). So, there's a lot to be happy about - there's no shame in being a top 10 NBA team. I say that with no relaxation of our rule that this blog is dedicated to commentary that focuses on things that move us to a title, but for the remaining 15 games - there's no belief that anything more can be done to help us toward a NBA title.
We missed on opportunities to add any depth (Larry Hughes, Michael Finley, etc) in the event of any backcourt injuries, so that's it - our team is who it is and we'll see what happens in the postseason and offseason to get us where we want to be. Everything else is just a season being played out and we hope it includes some great moments in Hawks history.
So, with that - here's our final prediction for the year...51-31 and that #3 seed...
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