Monday, January 30, 2012

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 14

In previous episodes of HS8T, we spread such truths as Horford's injury won't have any 'getting to the playoff impact'; Ivan Johnson's job saving ability; why Jason Collins shouldn't start; and why Larry Drew needs a, it's time for mo' TRUTHS!!! Read the disclaimer and then...let's go

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last. Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building). 

Truth 1. Marvin Williams just might be the non-Teague X Factor.
Listen, we've all had our Marvin Williams sucks moment.  Whether it was relative to the greatness that is Deron Williams or Chris Paul, relative to his ability to sit in the background of every game, or relative to his lack of finishing touch around the rim - we've all been upset at Marvin Williams (see missed alley oop dunk vs. the Hornets as example #1). But let's just keep it real - maybe it really was an injury that caused Marvin's regression last year. Anyone who is getting pulled for Damien Wilkins and seeing the production from his position increase significantly cannot be that valuable and no, Marvin was not valuable last year.  Coming into this season, it was widely believed that like most of the 'core' - the growth could only come from a better bench and Jeff Teague.  Well, Marvin's touch from 3, ability to get to the line, and his rebounding have been markedly better.  Should this Marvin be at full tilt when a healthy Horford joins the team - maybe the calls for Marvin to become a super sub will be forever retracted and maybe, just maybe the ceiling for this team can be raised. Speaking of ceiling...
Truth 2. The Hawks have raised their ceiling from guaranteed 2nd round loss to likely 2nd round loss.
First, I'd like to see what we do in the event that Al Horford cannot come back for the playoffs and whether we prepare (appropriately) for the future by making a move (bye, bye Kirk Hinrich), but I'll just be honest - this team has a variability that if the team plays at its highest level and that includes the poor decision making and FT shooting of Josh Smith - this team actually finally has a potential that can be built upon.  There is a lot to be happy about regarding these Hawks.  Tops is the development of Jeff Teague (still boggles my mind what the coaching staff was watching for 2 seasons in practice), but less obvious is the fact that if healthy, the Hawks don't have to hit on every cylinder to be successful.  Every one of the starting five with Horford has the ability to put up a 20 spot.  T-Mc can summon his past every 5 games or so. V-Rad can hit 4 3s in bench time. Willie Green inexplicably has found a soft spot in my heart by channeling his Jamal/Flip-ness for the veteran minimum price tag we should have been paying Jamal/Flip.  Ivan has brought some toughness and is the crunch time fill-in for Josh Smith when we need free throws to be knocked down.  Zaza has shown that he is a capable big man and can be counted on when his minutes are not jerked around by the coach who doesn't like him. We haven't even talked about Kirk and Jannero Pargo (a very capable 5th guard for the vet minimum).  This is nothing to sneeze at people.  There's true depth there.  And we can even get rid of Stackhouse and/or Collins to get players who are jettisoned at the trade deadline or who are waived. Simply put, we have reason to believe that the Hawks can take advantage of an injury to the Heat or Bulls OR even just playing lights out in a way that we've never seen our All Star caliber talent perform in the postseason.  So, let's not write them off for a real playoff run yet, but why haven't I made the turn..

Truth 3. The Hawks record vs. .500 and over teams is still cause for concern.

So, my pessimism about the Hawks in encapsulated in this one thing (non-Larry Drew category): we can't beat good teams consistently.  Last I checked, you have to defeat the best teams 4 out of 7 times to advance.  Right now, there are 4 good to great teams in the East - the Pacers, Sixers, Heat, and Bulls.  The Magic and Celtics could get mentally and physically up to that level, but for now - lots of reasons say that the Magic and Celtics run is over, but these other teams require you to beat them 4 times in ways where we may be as talented or less talented.  To beat teams that are as good or better than you, you have to execute, your best players have to perform, and you have to have mental toughness (oh, and the coach has to not get outcoached). So far, to the order of a 3-6 record, we can't beat good teams. We've lost to the Sixers, Bulls, Pacers, Heat, Rockets, and Spurs.  Now, we should have won 2 of those games (Bulls and Heat), but the fact that we didn't win those games is part of the problem.  To turn the corner, you must consistently beat the good teams in the league. Anything else turns this into...
Truth 4. The method is different, but the season's outcome is pretty much the same.

So, I'm getting a little more excited about the season and I've certainly gotten to the point that DESPITE the Al Horford injury - I'm ready to revise upward my prediction for the Hawks.  It's possible for the Hawks to have a 3 seed and a 66% to 70% winning percentage if everything breaks right (and nothing else breaks wrong). So, let's keep it real - the Hawks have been beating up on the worst teams in the league for 3 years running now.  That's what we do. We dominate the teams (and sometimes luck into a W or 2) who are bad. That's why they are bad.  The Pistons being the Pistons allowed us to win that game in the same way that the Hawks being the Hawks allowed the Heat and Bulls not be swept by us so far this season.  So, why should I believe that this season is the same.  The vets and the playing style (more defensive and penetrating) still haven't pushed us over that final hump of beating GOOD teams consistently. Until I see that, it's hard to say much more can happen than any other season...this leads me to truth #5....
Truth 5. Fans and bloggers need to quit crying about national attention about our start.
Hey, fans - here's a little secret that you haven't gotten clued into.  The Hawks deserve all the disrespect they've gotten the last few years. Charles Barkley, SI, USA Today, PTI, etc all have reason to NOT believe in the Atlanta Hawks.  The Hawks when in the biggest spotlights have failed miserably.  In the playoffs, we barely beat the Big One's Heat, the Bogut-less Bucks, and were swept soundly for 2 years.  We beat a really awful Magic team and then had a good game in the playoffs vs. Bulls.  How many ESPN/TNT games have we flubbed?  How well did we do vs. the Heat without their stars?  I say this not to tell you that your team sucks. I don't believe that to be the case, but if you are a casual observer, then why would you believe that things have changed.  We still have Rick Sund, Larry Drew, the Atlanta Spirit, and the same leadership running this ship, so let's wait until the end of the year and the playoffs before you starting crying 'disrespect'. The Hawks are being afforded exactly what their past says they should receive.  Let's channel that energy into requiring the team and its management to give us the assets to change how the rest of the country feels about us.  That means Teague must keep ballin', that means Joe needs to be that All Star, that means Josh Smith needs to MAKE the All Star game, and we can continue to push the Heat for the division title and I promise you - we'll get all the publicity and attention we desire and it'll be for the right reason.  Right now, we want accolades without doing anything different from what we've done in the past.  We've done the great regular season, beat up on the scrubs thing before...let's sweep a team, upset a contender, etc before we ask for that awards that should come with achievement.  
Next week, we'll discuss - whether we should make a trade or wait for Al Horford? Until then, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies. See you in the comments...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 13

Looks like the Atlanta Hawks have hit adversity in the name of a Hawks injury, but So, it's time to read the disclaimer and then - let's go...

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building). 

Truth 1. Al Horford's injury has ZERO impact on the Hawks playoff outcome.
And by no impact I mean - as long as everyone else stays relatively healthy (T-Mc & Marvin) - that the Hawks are still one of the top 8 teams in the conference.  For those who panicked when Al went down, let me help everyone out. The Hawks are not a lottery level basketball team.  The Hawks are not a contender for the NBA title. So, what happened when Al Horford was injured? Ummmmmm, nothing. Sure, we may not have a weapon that we are accustomed to having, but last year - we were one of the remaining 8 teams without point guard consistency, no All Star level production from the center or shooting guard, and Marvin Williams playing behind ...uh, some Wilkins fellow.  So, what is it that I'm saying?  That have a lot of talent. What we don't have is an efficient, cohesive use of all of those talents (not to mention experience, leadership and an identity for those talents). So, before this is confused as Al Horford hate, it's not. I'll definitely stump for Al's defense and his ability to use his few touches to score points, but despite popular belief - he's no more a leader than Joe Johnson is. So, we're not going to miss anything other than production and depth and at the level that he's performed this season - we can approximate it elsewhere.  I'll reserve my Al Horford is a souped up Chuck Hayes theory for another day. So, I simply say that there are only 4 teams with 2 All Star level talents to go along with some NBA level talent on the bench (though the jury is still out on Jannero Pargo). Maybe it would help if I remind everyone of who is left in the Eastern Conference. Here's who needs us to lose 2 more starters to have a chance at our spot - the Pistons, Wizards, Bobcats, Cavaliers, Raptors, and Nets.  So, that leaves 9 teams.  Which means only Milwaukee, Boston, and New York have a chance at beating out the Hawks for that 8th spot.  Does anyone think that's going to happen? If you do, I have some land to sell. So, I repeat - Al Horford is definitely a piece we want back for the playoffs, rusty or not.  But any thought that we need to lower playoff expectations (and shame on Larry "No Excuses" Drew for saying anything other than next man up) is ludicrous.   

Truth 2. Ivan Johnson could save Larry Drew (and Rick Sund).
Listen, I have made it VERY clear that I have no confidence in Larry Drew or Rick Sund. I'm not sure if that'll change any time soon (particularly after sitting behind the bench vs. the Raptors last week - he definitely handles Zaza and Teague MUCH differently than anyone else on the team), but the decision to add Ivan Johnson to the rotation could be a season saver.  The only way you can make up for bad drafting decisions is to pick up diamonds in the rough. Signing a player like Wes Matthews can do wonders for your team.  In this case, you can easily forgive the mistake of Pape Sy and Keith Benson if you keep an Ivan Johnson and he actually helps you win a game or two.  The Hawks have needed another enforcer and it looks like they found one in Ivan.  He'll never cost you more than the minimum and he's still going to contribute.  This would normally be a squandered signing, but Drew is actually playing him through his inexperience and mistakes.  I will keep my eye on this upon Al's possible return and other players' return to health. 

Truth 3. Jason Collins should never start (not even vs. Dwight Howard).

I hate that I have to say this, but since Drew seemingly likes Jason Collins - I must. Jason Collins is done.  He's not worth a roster spot unless you think you have to go through Dwight Howard to win a title.  But since you don't - you would rather just have a player that can do something more than play one on one defense vs. Dwight Howard. If you are afforded the luxury to have him, fine - but I don't care what your thoughts are about Zaza Pachulia (and I happen to think he's a fairly good backup center, emphasis on backup) - he's light years better than Jason Collins. Shoots better, rebounds better, passes better and is tougher and more intimidating.  Jason Collins is none of those things and if he comes into the game as anything other a backup - it sends a signal that he just has a problem with Zaza. And if you heard the names he called Drew vs. the Raptors - there is a problem brewing and if I'm him - I don't blame him.  Drew has never shown Zaza the respect he deserves.  Let's hope that the Horford injury will force Drew to give Zaza the grudging respect he's having to give Jeff Teague.  And if he needs a big body on the 2nd string - his name is undersized Ivan Johnson.

Truth 4. Larry Drew needs a technical.

I've been to probably 25-30 games a year since Philips Arena opened.  The Toronto game was probably the worst officiated game that I've ever witnessed up close.  There were a number of fouls that were not called on Jeff Teague, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams.  The Raptors were given every ticky-tack call and even ones that weren't even fouls.  At one point, Jeff Teague was given a technical foul for defending himself against a player who pushed him and was yakking with him. In the huddle, guess who's getting cussed out - Jeff Teague.  Not only that - Josh Smith, who certainly has gotten technicals and never misses a chance to give an official an earful - was not talked to on ANY timeouts for any reason.  Why is this being outlined?  Because Larry Drew needs to learn how to stick up for his guys. On several occasions, I watched Drew passively suggest that maybe we could possibly get a call (if the officials felt so inclined). Dammit, to get respect, sometimes - you gotta demand it.  Sometimes, you just have to send officials a signal that your team will not be disrespected, esp. not at home on MLK Day.  You have to say - we want equal rights because Bro. Martin said it should be so.  And guess what - your team would respect you because of it. Not only that, it would benefit the team for that to happen. I certainly can't imagine that the Hawks are getting the benefit of any doubt from officials and that must change today.

Truth 5. 2012 Off-season Planning can't wait for 2012 Playoff Results.

The Hawks need more talent to win a title (and a coach, GM, and owners) and to get more talent - they need to determine who to trade between Horford and Josh Smith, whether it's possible to get $20M/yr production from Joe Johnson (they can't), whether Marvin can be showcased enough to make him trade-able, and how to get cap room and/or draft picks. Here's what we know - that this is the deepest draft in the last 5-10 years, there are some great players who will be available in the off-season, and the Hawks are stuck in cap/draft limbo.  Too capped to get a great player and too good to get a real difference maker.  I know everyone wants to wait to see how far this team can go. Turn away if you aren't ready (SPOILER ALERT) - we won't (Al or not) win a title this year.  So, we need to prepare for the off-season now.  What does that mean - Kirk Hinrich is expendable and come trade deadline...everyone needs to be on the table. Don't get fooled into thinking anything else, my fellow Hawks fans or else we'll be at 2012-2013 with the same ceiling we've had for the past 3 years and with no way to change it. 

Next week, we'll discuss - what's wrong with the fans? why Al Horford fans confuse important with best? why Josh overtake Joe and Al as our leader in 2012?  Until then, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 12

We're back and it's time to provide our signature weekly article about our fair Hawks.  Since everyone and their mama wants to do a game recap about the Hawks these days, it's up to me to say what everyone says they want, but aren't always ready to hear (as in don't tell your significant other how they REALLY look in those jeans). So, it's time to read the disclaimer and then - let's go...

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building). 

Truth 1. Jeff Teague is the #1 key to this season (like he was last season).

Everyone knows that I created the Jeff Teague Fan Club, then built a bus with my blog boo, CoCo, and we rode around town for a full year getting eggs and bird droppings all over it before we finally started getting the rest of the Hawk fans to jump onboard.  The bus is now on blocks because it's too many folks claiming how much they love Jeff Teague and why he should have been starting since he was at Wake Forest. It's so bad that former Peachtree Hoops blogger, Drew, retired after being so famously wrong about Mike Bibby's value to the Hawks (or at least that's how I recall it). And yet, it's still true that the Hawks will not be a factor in the playoffs in a point guard driven league without Jeff Teague being a major cog on this team.  He can potentially be the 3rd most important player for this team (yes, I believe he can mean more than Al Horford) and he's already pushing to be the difference between another uninspired run through the playoffs or serving notice that the Hawks should be respected like the rest of the Eastern Conference contenders.  

Truth 2. Larry Drew doesn't trust Marvin Williams to close basketball games.
Has Marvin done anything to not trust him to be a great contributor throughout the game. I could have missed that, but the lack of faith is puzzling since Marvin has played better than I've ever seen.  This is evidenced by how quickly Marvin is pulled and how long it takes to get him back in the game.  His 4th quarter minutes are uh...lacking.  Last year, that was acceptable (desirable even), but this isn't last year. This year, he has showed that he actually could make a mockery of my 3 year plea to make him our 6th man. The sample size is small, but so far - Marvin Williams and crunch time minutes are not a mix.

Truth 3. If the bench gets any better, it's time to trade Kirk Hinrich.

This is probably a good time to mention that Jamal Crawford is not going to be missed.  Watching players who can do more than just hit baskets will be a welcome sight and I honestly believe that by All Star weekend - we'll wonder why we ever fell in love Jamal. The bench so far is much more versatile and complete early this season.  McGrady has been great. Zaza has been steady. V-Rad has shown flashes. Pargo and Green can't get any worse (on knees praying), so there's room for growth.  We could even see if Donald Sloan or Ivan Johnson actually have reason to be played this season. And if that's the case, Kirk Hinrich (like Jamal Crawford) makes too much money to keep him, so it's much more valuable to the franchise to either trade him for a big man or for a cheaper alternative and draft picks in what is projected to be the deepest draft in the last 5 years. So, that we're clear - I like Kirk Hinrich, but if you aren't going to go over the luxury tax, then every player must be evaluated based on their production to salary ratio and he makes too much to be a backup.  C'mon bench - show Kirk the door.

Truth 4. Josh Smith is regressing & Al Horford has become Chuck Hayes good (these are not compliments).

Pains me to say this, but Josh is our most talented player and yet, he's playing worse than I've ever seen him. It's like his basketball IQ has regressed on the offensive end more than ever.  More jump shots, more dribbling on the break. It's just maddening, but what's just as maddening is watching Al Horford turn into Chuck Hayes on the offensive end of the court.  Short of running past centers - I am not sure if we're watching the same games, but Horford has just become a really solid guy who we all want to be some sort of star.  Calling him an All Star just inflates our expectations of Al, but in reality - expecting him to put up a 20-10 when it's needed is becoming a fading pipe dream. As I said while watching him tonight, if you have Ronnie Brewer on your hip and you can't take him into the paint and abuse him, then PROBLEMA, Senor Horford! 

Truth 5. Nobody turns a fast break into a jump shot like the Hawks.

I'm not sure if I'm the only person who sees this as a problem, but I can't for the life of me fathom why we shoot jump shots on at least half of our transition opportunities.  I mean if you're passing them to Ray Allen, fine.  To Kevin Martin or Stephen Curry or any dead eye shooter..ok! But I think we all know that there's no one we're trusting with a stop and pop, so can we just increase the odds of the layup or at a minimum the foul and show why running is a good thing for this squad.

And with that note, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...