Tag Archives: Al Horford

What the Hawks Learned in Orlando

So the Hawks first round playoff series is about to shift north to Atlanta with the series tied at one. The old saying is that a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a team wins a game on someone else’s home floor. Well the Hawks did that in game one, so consider this series well underway.

However, just what did we learn during those first two games in Orlando that we can take with us the rest of the series.

1- The referees are going to have a HUGE impact on this series, more than in most, simply due to the nature in which Dwight Howard plays.

I don’t think Howard has ever set a legal screen in his life, but the officials seem extremely reluctant to call him on this (though they do not hesitate to call a foul on Josh Smith for attempting to fight through said illegal screens), permitting him to free up teammates through means less than legal.

Additionally, every post move Howard attempts really results in one of two things; he either commits or a turnover, or, by definition of the rule, travels. Again, the referees have been exceptionally reluctant to enforce this rule as well with Howard.

As far as his physical play, well it goes both ways on that end, though Howard, individually, gets away with far, far more than anyone in a Hawks uniform can even dream about. But it’s not as big an issue as the previous two.

What it will come down to though for the Magic on offense, is what the officials will let Howard get away with. As long as he’s free to travel about in the post, he’s going to put up monster point totals.

As long as he’s able to set a screen in any fashion he chooses, Magic shooters are going to be freed up, and eventually, they will probably start knocking a couple of those downs, at least one would think.

So, the key to this series is going to be treatment by the men in stripes of Mr. Howard.

2- The Atlanta Hawks are an exceptionally stubborn bunch. I think we all knew this coming in, but it became more and more obvious down the stretch.

I think there was a point in time we felt maybe just a few individual players exhibited such stubbornness, but as the game went along, it definitely seemed to be an ailment infecting the entire squad.

People have longed label the Hawks as soft, and offensively, they are. Where are the highest percentage shots taken? Near the basket. How do you get near the basket? You attack the rim.

The Atlanta Hawks are perfectly content with jump shots. That’s great, when they are falling. But when they aren’t, you saw what happens. There are prolonged scoring droughts that turn double digit leads into double digit deficits.

To compare to baseball, it’s like a hitter who has a pretty high batting average, but never walks. Sure, when the hits are falling, he looks like the best hitter in the league, and things are rolling. But when things quit falling, suddenly  he can’t buy his way on base as he has no other means of getting on base. The same goes for this Hawks offense. When jump shots quit falling, points quit going on the scoreboard.

If you continue to attack the rim, in general, one of two things will happen. You’ll get a decent percentage layup or shot around the basket, or you go to the free throw line.

Yes, the huge free throw disparity is somewhat due to the nature of the officiating, but there is something else at work here. Yes the Magic did indeed shoot 19 more free throws than the Hawks. However, the Hawks only had six more fouls called on them.

So what gives? Simple, the Hawks were committing shooting fouls on players attacking the basket, thus putting players on the stripe for free throws.

The Hawks simply did not do this. Joe Johnson, Kurt Hinrich, and Josh Smith combined to shoot two free throws all night long. Seriously? Two of those players hold large physical advantages over the players guarding them, yet they couldn’t get to the line?

No, because in this league, people don’t foul jump shooters.

3- The stubbornness of the Hawks though probably comes straight from the top.

I mentioned the Hawks failure to attack the rim, but there is one player on this roster who, when on the court, does. Granted, his percentage on running floaters isn’t very good, but at least he has the right idea.

Jeff Teague will attack another team, and go right after them. The problem is Jeff Teague doesn’t play. We’re told he’s “not ready”. We were also told Jordan Crawford isn’t ready either. But head coach Larry Drew is going to stick by his guns, this much we know.

Beyond not playing Teague, Drew’s obsession with not playing a player with two fouls is causing major problems.

Al Horford only played 26 minutes, meaning he missed 22 minutes of game time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player miss 22 minutes of floor time before due to “foul trouble” and yet finish the game with a grand total of TWO fouls.

With Horford off the floor and Hilton Armstrong and Josh Powell on it, Dwight Howard had no reason to stay down low in the lane, as there was no fear of any sort of offensive threat being positioned down there.

Instead, Howard could come show on the Hawks guards thinking about penetrating, and show a double team. The result was a lot of missed jump shots.

Powell, Armstrong and Jason Collins played a combined 34 minutes and attempted all of three shots and grabbed three rebounds.

I understand this talk of the defensive presence on Howard, but hasn’t he scored 79 points in three games?

So, they’ve allowed Howard 79 points, while contributing absolutely nothing on the offensive end of the floor, or on the glass. I’m sorry, that’s still a lot of wasted minutes. Especially when you consider the best, most consistent player you had committed fewer fouls than any of them, and yet himself only played 26 minutes.

Zaza Pachulia, if anyone, should be getting more of those bench minute than Powell and Armstrong take up. Pachulia finished with a +6 and added 8 rebounds, as well as at least offering somewhat of a threat of an attempt to score the basketball.

As long as Drew continues to stay this stubborn, we can expect similar things to happen, and the team is going to have to continue to follow its coach and continue to be a stubborn team incapable of making proper adjustments to adjust for weaknesses.

4- These aren’t last years Hawks. These guys didn’t quit, and they haven’t wilted. Down in the fourth quarter, they kept fighting, and put on a spirited run (remarkably spear headed by a more consistent attempt to attack the basket) that saw them within two points with a Hedo Turkoglu lay-up precariously located on the rim, staring at a chance of gaining possession with a chance to tie.

Of course, the shot dropped and the Magic pulled away, but that’s not the important aspect here. A Hawks team known for its eagerness to quit and throw in the towel showed great resiliency on the road.

5- This one is simple. What we learned in Orlando is that the Hawks can win this series, bottom line.

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Hawks, the Worst Team I’ve Ever Cared About

I’ve lived in Atlanta all of my life, safe to say, I’ve seen some really, really bad sports teams. However, the 2010-2011 basketball season is shaping up to take the cake.

While I won’t touch too much on them, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were easily one of the worst major conference teams in all of college basketball. Hell, as evidenced by their loss to Kennesaw State early on in the season, they were simply one of the worst teams in the nation, period. But that story has been told.

There is a basketball story that reeks of far more ineptitude and sadness than the Georgia Tech story does. It’s the story of the Atlanta Hawks.

As has been stated, I’m an Atlanta sports team, I’ve seen plenty of horrible sports teams. The Falcons, until the Arthur Blank era, were putrid. The Atlanta Braves were a wreck throughout the 80s, and had a rough spell lately before rebounding the past two years. I won’t even start with the Thrashers.

However, this Hawks team may very well be the most disappointing, and disgusting, sports team I’ve ever watched.

Yes, they are still in 5th place in their conference. Yes, they are returning to the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Okay, and?

They also are the holders of the three worst home losses suffered by an NBA team this year. Yes, you heard that correctly. The same Hawks team that once made Philips Arena a very difficult place to play, to the tune of just a mere seven home losses ALL of last year. They’ve managed to lose 6 in the past 18 days.

This is a team with an All-Star at guard, an All-Star in the post who might be the 2nd best such player in his conference at his position (and that is while playing out of position), an all-star talent at the other forward position (who ultimately, is a microcosm of all things wrong with this team), the reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner, and a former number two draft pick. They have a young, fast, defensive minded, explosive point guard, and off the bench some veterans with some playoff experience. Yet, no team in the league loses in such brutal ways as often as these Hawks do.

Please, someone explain.

Here’s what I’ll explain, blow it up. All of it. There are the positives to this collection of players as mentioned before, but there are a lot of negatives too.

I’ve addressed the issues with Josh Smith, and they only seem to be manifesting, and even spreading to other players on the team. His disease is infecting the rest of this squad, and making him a captain prior to the year only made it even easier to immediately get to the heart of the squad.

Joe Johnson, well, I’d prefer not to speak about him. His contract given appears more and more each day as one of the worst contracts handed out in Atlanta professional sports history. He still dominates the ball too much. People can argue his assists are up, ok sure, I still see too many possessions consist strictly of Joe Johnson dominating the basketball. J.J., there is no “M” as your first initial, quit thinking there is.  Hopefully the impending labor strife with the NBA and new CBA will rescue the Hawks from themselves here. If there was a way to be rid of this contract, the Hawks would be dumber than even I think they are not to explore it.

Marvin Williams is a nice player, but he will never, ever, ever, be worthy of his number two overall pick. And this is only magnified considering the caliber of player drafted behind him. What’s worse for Atlanta, his trade value has only decreased. The day his contract becomes an expiring contract will be a day of much rejoicing in Atlanta, if of course management makes proper use of such an early get out of jail free card.

Jeff Teague must just be the worst practice player since Allen Iverson. Seriously, can anyone else explain the baffling decision of Larry Drew to play him so sparingly, and inconsistently. Isn’t it just common knowledge that sometimes you have to go through growing pains with young players, take the good with the bad? We don’t get to see much good with Teague because his opportunities come so infrequently. When he does get on the court, we’ve seen him put it all together at times with magnificent games, and at others, seen the obvious talent, athleticism, and skill set that could make him a very solid NBA point guard come in flashes.

Apparently in practice he just looks like Jordan Crawford or something.

Oh, wait, Jordan Crawford, the rookie that Larry Drew refused to play, despite having a team that struggles to put the ball in the basket, who averaged 24 points per game in his last three games as a starter in Washington, that Jordan Crawford? Oh, yeah, about that….

Sure, there’s Al Horford, but really, what is he? Other than perhaps the most under-used, most out of position played, elite NBA player in recent memory? He’s still stuck at center, and he’s still one of the last options for the Hawks offense. Never mind the fact that he’s arguably the Hawks best offensive player, he’s far down the list on the pecking order. Joe has to get his, Josh Smith is going to take his, and from less than desirable spots on the floor, and then Jamal Crawford is going to come in and want his. So who cares if Horford is in the process of going 6 for 7 from the field, those other guys need to be shooting their jump shots.

Al Horford has become the really pretty soap in your grandparents bathroom that you’re not allowed to actually use.

As for Larry Drew? Well, I just thought Paul Hewitt was bad. Yikes.

This isn’t a team who suffered a catastrophic injury (such as Jamal Anderson or Michael Vick for the Falcons), or who suffered through some horrible injury luck to their entire team (the 2008 Braves) or just a roster devoid of talent. This is a team that’s been relatively healthy, has been together to grow together for a few years, and has plenty of talent. Yet it has managed to embarrass this city in ways not seen since the summer of 1996.

For all of the individual talents, and the positive things each can bring, there are the negative aspects to this collection of talented players. And therein lies the problem, this collection of players just simply will not work. It will never work. The sooner they give up on that, the better.

The worst part however is that I don’t think they even really care. The Hawks teams of the 80s, and then the one of the mid 90s were a similar bunch. A good team, but not a great team. They couldn’t ever quite get completely over the hump. However, you rarely, RARELY found yourself questioning the desire and effort of those teams. The same can’t be said of this bunch, and that is the difference, and that is reason number one to find the self destruct button and send these pieces scattering around the league.

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I Relent, Trade Josh Smith

You want to know my take on the Hawks trade of Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans, Jordan Crawford and a first round draft pick for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong? Cool. Me too. Because I just don’t know what it is yet.

I want to give this a few games before making any jump to conclusions about how I feel about the deal the Hawks just made. I also want to wait and see if any more moves are made, as rumor as it the Hawks kept Zaza Pachulia out of last night’s game as they are still seeking a veteran center.

Now there are a couple of points to be made about the quest for a center. One, we obviously need one. Al Horford is an all-star center, yes. At power forward, he quite possibly goes from very good player, to great player. He could dominate from the four position, offensively and defensively. If for no other reason than that, getting a center seems the right decision.

However, there’s another side to that coin. And that side is the enigma that is Josh Smith. What do you do with him? You absolutely cannot play him at small forward. Even while playing the four, Smith too often floats around the perimeter waiting for an open jump shot or three pointer. And the shot is always open for him. Of course, there’s a reason for that. Nobody in the league respects his outside game.

It’s not to say it’s absolutely useless, he’s improved his shooting. But that’s not his strength, not close. It’s not where he’s most valuable. Ultimately, Smith on the perimeter makes the Hawks worse.

Josh Smith is an amazing athlete, one of the best in the NBA, and he creates havoc offensively and defensively, in the paint. The problem is getting him to stay there. He can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or he can just use his athleticism around the rim. Shooting jumpers no longer takes advantage of his great advantage in superior athletic ability coupled with great size.

So we want to play him at a swing position? Yeah, that will not work.

And this is why I’m completely on board with a Josh Smith trade. If only there’s a taker.

I love watching Josh play, at times, most of the time. However, there are times, too many for a player as seasoned as he is, that he is maddening to watch. Too often he makes people ask, “just what the hell is he thinking?” All too often his effort is questioned, and people have valid reason to wonder if his head is even in the game. He should be past all of this by now.

Smith’s amazing athletic ability makes him an attractive trade piece, one would think. His ceiling is still ridiculously high. Perhaps he just needs a change of scenery. Or perhaps he just needs a coach who is willing, and respected enough, to ride him exceptionally hard, push him harder than he’s been pushed, and refuse to accept anything less than 100% mentally and physically.

Watching these Hawks play, it’s obvious they show up and play hard when they want to. The effort on defense and on the boards is extremely inconsistent. In other words, Larry Drew has minimal impact on the effort put forth on the floor.

So clearly, he’s not the guy who can reach Josh Smith. However, somewhere there’s a coach who can.

While I would absolutely hate to see Josh Smith finally “get it”, or “put it together” somewhere else and become the elite player we all know he can become, I’ve come to accept it simply will not happen in Atlanta.

And as long as we keep waiting on it to happen in Atlanta, we’re going to keep waiting on the Hawks to take the step from solid team to legit contender. As long as we’re waiting on that from Josh Smith, we’re going to see efforts like we saw in the first half against Phoenix last night, or against the Lakers, Bucks, Sixers and Hornets this year.

The Atlanta Hawks, as consistuted, aren’t going to take a step forward. In fact, they may be going from being blown out by a historical margin in round two, to not even getting out of round one, to perhaps not even winning a game in round one.

There are still plenty of nice pieces in Atlanta. Al Horford and Joe Johnson are a fine inside/out duo. Kirk Hinrich is a solid point guard, and Jamal Crawford is one of the best bench players, instant offense players in the league. Marvin Williams is a solid role player, albeit way too expensive to be a role player, and Damien Wilkins is a nice defensive player off the bench.

Josh Smith however is the one who can bring in the most complementing pieces to help this team, perhaps even bringing in a major piece that could totaly change the landscape of Hawks basketball.

We’ve all noticed over the last couple of seasons, it seems more and more the team goes as Josh Smith goes. When Josh Smith plays hard, plays with energy, and puts up his 20 and 10 type games, and is altering games on defense, the Hawks are usually winning, even against the NBA’s elite. When he’s not, we’re getting beat by 30 points.

Well, the saying still has some truth. As Josh Smith goes, so go the Hawks. And when Josh Smith goes, that’s when the Hawks will be able to go a little higher.

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Are You Serious Hawks?

The Atlanta Hawks had won 9 of 11 games following a disappointing loss to New Orleans on the day after Christmas, including wins on the road against Utah and Miami. Joe Johnson had gotten his shooting legs back under him, and Jamal Crawford had seemed to have put the distraction of his contract status behind him. The Hawks had edged ahead of Orlando, and appeared to be nearing the level of the Heat, Bulls and maybe even Celtics in the eastern conference pecking order.

Oops.

It’s funny, or, actually, it really isn’t; today Mark Bradly wrote in the AJC about the ridiculous futility of which Atlanta sports teams are known. I myself wrote the first installment of a ten part series looking at the ten most heartbreaking moments in Atlanta sports history.

Fittingly, the Hawks gave us a performance that was too dreadful to even be heartbreaking, but it was a beautifully crafted microcosm of the Atlanta sports scene. Seriously, it absolutely could not be written any better, or more accurately.

As mentioned, the Hawks had beaten some quality teams. A team long accused of lacking effort on the defensive end had become one of the more stingy defensive teams in the league.

Guys were hustling, guys were communicating. On offense the ball was moving. You almost had to a double take, this looked like a legit basketball team. An NBA championship winning squad? Of course not, what do you think this is, the NFL, or Major League Baseball? You can count on one hand teams with legit title chances in the NBA.

However, this was indeed a team capable of perhaps spoiling a playoff run for one of those teams, and a team capable of doing itself, and its city proud, in the NBA playoffs.

Having already defeated Orlando twice, they of the historically bad playoff beat down delivered to the Hawks last spring, the Hawks appeared no longer to be that team. This Hawks squad might actually be a threat to win a game in the 2nd round this year (never mind the fact the Atlanta Hawks have never once won a 2nd round series, and only in two different season have ever played a potential clinching game in the 2nd round), and not embarrass themselves.

Uh, yeah, sorry about that.

Tonight was one of the worst performances by an NBA basketball team, ever. Yes, it was one of the worst by an Atlanta Hawks team ever, but also any other team that has called itself professional.

It was the sort of night that makes you wonder how they  look in the mirror and can actually use the word professional to describe themselves.

Oh, we were missing Al Horford and Marvin Williams. Boo-hoo. We have been missing Marvin Williams for the last few weeks, we’ve seemed to be able to get over it.

We lost Al Horford in the 4th quarter, while in Miami, against that Heat squad (you may have heard of them), and still managed to find a way to win.

So you can save the excuses. This Hawks squad still trots out a perennial all-star in Joe Johnson, the league’s best sixth man in Jamal Crawford, and an all-star candidate and one of the best stat sheet fillers in the league in Josh Smith.

That’s enough to be competitive. Well, it should be.

Someone forgot to tell them that.

Down 49-34 at half-time, at home, to a New Orleans Hornets team that, while a good basketball team, and blessed with one of the game’s great players in Chris Paul, isn’t exactly the Miami Heat, is bad enough.

At this point, you have to think, well, we surely can’t put up 34 points in the 2nd half too. This is an NBA team, with NBA players, and some good ones, guys who can shoot, and score.

If you thought that, you were right.

They couldn’t put up 34 points. They could only come up with 25. Yes, that’s right, a professional basketball team, a playoff caliber basketball team, in the NBA, could only score 25 points in 24 minutes. And sometimes people wonder why the U.S. National team struggles. If, in the premier basketball league in the world, with supposedly among the greatest players in the world, you can have a team score a lousy 25 points, in their own building, in a full half of play, you have issues.

This is not about what New Orleans did tonight, it is strictly about what Atlanta didn’t do. No NBA team is good enough to go on the road, to a team with the talent of Atlanta, and beat them by 41 points without a lot of help from the hosts. Nobody is good enough defensively to limit a team to just 25 points in their own building, again, not without help from the hosts.

That the Hawks allowed this to happen speaks volumes about this team. They aren’t ready to take another next step. They might not even be able to replicate what they did last season.

Yes, this team with Horford and Williams is much better. But this isn’t about how much talent is on this team. Talent hasn’t been an issue for the Hawks in a couple of years now. Few teams can match the Hawks in terms of raw talent and athleticism.

However, you could argue that there are 29 with a substantial surplus of heart, desire, care, and effort.

It wasn’t until 4:43 was left in the game tonight that the Hawks even had enough points to outscore the Green Bay Packers last Saturday night.

 

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