Archives For January 2013

Utah Jazz radio voice David Locke tweeted last night that, “People in the NBA have told me the Rudy Gay deal is the domino that starts the dealings.” The Atlanta Hawks could be another team looking to deal, as I previously speculated. As the player movement gets sorted out, Hawks management must also sort out its relationship with Josh Smith.

Prior to the Hawks’ loss Sunday to the Knicks, ESPN writer Chris Broussard tweeted that, “Josh Smith’s reps will speak with Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry this week about Smith’s future in ATL.” According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz, Smith has already drawn a “line in the sand,” declaring that he feels worthy of a max contract. Schultz also quoted Smith as taking issue with the organization for leaking details of his recent suspension to the public.

The timing of the suspension was important, coming as it did just before All-Star reserve selections were made and Smith was once again left out. Former AJC Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham reported that the Hawks’ failure to promote Smith for an All-Star selection was among the reasons he wished to be traded last year.

Let me be the first to state that Josh Smith is, unequivocally, a max player. Think about players who have signed max contracts, a list that includes Brandon Roy, Gilbert Arenas, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Elton Brand, Rudy Gay, Rashard Lewis, Carlos Boozer, Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert. It’s hard to argue that Smith isn’t a more productive player and better risk than any of those players. You can argue that Smith doesn’t deserve to make as much as Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but market forces have determined otherwise. Smith will get a max offer this summer from someone. Book it. Continue Reading…

RECAP: Hawks 93, Raptors 92

Bo Churney —  January 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

FINAL

TOR(16-30) 92 – 93 (26-19)ATL

Key Performers:

A. Horford (ATL): 22 pts, 10 reb, 6 ast, 3 blk
D. DeRozan (TOR): 23 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast
[FULL BOX SCORE]

Toronto traded Jose Calderon and Ed Davis before the start of the game, and only had nine healthy players total… so, of course, that means the Hawks made a close game out of it. After trailing 55-45 at the half, Coach Drew apparently laid in to his players in the locker room, and it showed in a 30-14 third quarter advantage for the home team. The Raptors didn’t quit though, as they kept the game close, had the lead with under a minute remaining, and even had a chance to win on the final possession of the game. However, after a wild possession that probably saw 15 total fouls committed, the Hawks walked off the floor as the victors.

Reaction Grades: [assessed 0-10]

Josh Smith: Had some trouble with his shot and finishing around the rim in this one, but he was getting to the line, and, GASP, he made the majority of his free throws! He was all over the place on defense, effectively shutting down Amir Johnson and DeRozan at times. His final line of 20-11-3-3-3 is something that should be appreciated. 8.5/10

Al Horford: The Raptors ran some plays early that got Aaron Gray some buckets, which is on Al. However, he was extremely efficient from the field, and was dropping some great passes to his teammates in both set plays and on the secondary break. In the fourth quarter, he had the game-winning bucket off an LD timeout play, blocked Kyle Lowry on what would have been the game-winner, and then probably fouled DeRozan (wasn’t called) on that last, wacky possession. 8.5/10

Devin Harris: Devin wasn’t nearly as aggressive in this game as he probably should have been, as seen by the majority of his shot attempts coming from behind the arc. Coach Drew said Devin’s foot injury is still bothering him, which has probably contributed to his last two “meh” performances. 5/10

Kyle Korver: You know that Kyle is shooting well when he draws a double-team late in the fourth quarter. (which is what allowed Al to get open for that dunk) Ever since that 58-point debacle in Chicago, Korver is averaging almost 17 points per game, while shooting 58% from three-point range. (on seven attempts per game) He’s been a huge reason as to why the Hawks have been able to stabilize over the past few games. 8/10

Jeff Teague: I’m just going to start making this Jeff’s permanent comment: “Jeff played aggressive in one half and the Hawks were good. Jeff played passive in the other half and the Hawks weren’t so good.” That works for about every game, right? Coach Drew needs to find ways to keep JT motivated, as even LD says that the Hawks thrive when Jeff is being aggressive. Teague no longer has the excuse that he might get pulled if he makes a mistake; it’s his team to run now, and he needs to be more consistent with it. 6.5/10 Continue Reading…

So, can we stop this “Josh Smith only blocks shots” meme that some of you are still perpetuating?

According to Bradford Doolittle, who uses a variety of statistical metrics to determine this, Josh ranks as the best perimeter defender in the league, ahead of known defensive stalwarts like Andre Iguodala and LeBron James.

The article linked above is an insider piece, so I’ll provide just a snippet of what Doolittle says about Josh.

“Smith is certainly athletic enough to guard any position on the floor, though it’s questionable whether he is a true perimeter stopper because of the amount of time he spends at power forward and guarding the rim. According to my system, he has played 33 percent of his minutes at small forward this season. He ranks sixth on a per-possession basis against isolations and second in steal-plus-block percentage.

Even Doolittle says that this may be skewed a bit because of how much time Josh spends on other bigs, but this is clearly an affirmation of something that should be obvious: Josh Smith is really, really good at defense.

When asked about this recognition, coach Larry Drew was in complete agreement.

“His ability to defend out on the floor is pretty amazing. As a player back in the days when I was playing, and even my coaching days, I think I can count on one hand the number of guys that have that ability to defend all five positions the way he can.”

While Josh hasn’t always been this good on the perimeter, his progress this in this area has allowed the Hawks to play efficiently on defense without a “true small forward”. Smoove played great defense on LeBron is the matchups against Miami, and was really good against Carmelo on Sunday if you focus on the entire game and not just New York’s last play. (people quickly forgot the three-play sequence in the 2nd quarter where Josh forced Anthony into three missed jumpers)

Also, Doolittle uses Synergy’s defensive numbers, but he doesn’t even mention how good Josh’s are. In isolation plays, Josh is forcing opponents into 28.6% shooting, a turnover rate of 20%, and a PPP (points per possession) of 0.52.

For those of you who don’t understand points per possession, consider this: the Hawks play at an average of about 91 possessions per game. So, in theory, if an opponent just went at Josh Smith in isolations for the entire game, they would score… 47 points.

Now, Synergy has it’s flaws in that categorization of plays can be difficult, but the theory behind it is solid; look at every single play, and determine what happens. Simple as that, and the outcomes favor Josh a helluva lot more than they take away from him.

ANGRY JEFF TEAGUE!

ANGRY JEFF TEAGUE!

Josh Smith’s suspension a couple of weeks ago for conduct detrimental to the team wasn’t just a message to Josh Smith; it was a message to the entire team that no one, not even the perceived star, was above the team, and could act out of the team’s principles and go unscathed.

While more people have been focusing on how Josh would respond to the first suspension of his career, something else has happened: Jeff Teague has exploded.

In those seven games, starting with Smoove’s absence in the Brooklyn game, Jeff has averaged over 19 points and eight assists on a true-shooting percentage of .634. He’s topped 20 points in four of those games, and has had double-digit assists in three. (including consecutive 20/10 games against Brooklyn)

Even Larry Drew has recognized Teague’s inconsistent play so far this year, sometimes going as far as to question Jeff’s motor. (in my world, this is viewed as “aggressive Jeff” vs “wait, we have a point guard?”)

Of course, there can be another view to this. Obviously, Jeff’s numbers are going to be up a little bit with Lou Williams out, as he’s playing over 36 minutes a game since Lou’s injury. However, in terms of shooting, that’s not necessarily the case; JT is actually take over a shot less per-36 minutes since Lou injury. The difference now, though, is that he is hitting more of his threes, and is attacking the basket furiously. (which can be seen in his increased free throw attempts over that span)

The Hawks will need Jeff to continue this play as the calendar rolls over to February. Atlanta kicks off that month with three games against Chicago, Indiana, and Memphis, which are the teams that comprise the top three in defense in the league. Even though the Hawks have already beaten these teams this year, they’ve played a relatively tame schedule since they beat the Pacers at the end of December. Strong point guard play will be critical in winning these games, which would give the Hawks a nice boost in national recognition if they could capture at least two.

Of course, they need to beat the Raptors at home first for any of that to matter. Kyle Lowry, who killed the Hawks last year with the Rockets, is still listed as day-to-day with back spasms. Despite their record, the Raptors have looked extremely strong recently, losing some close games against really good teams.

While the Raptors do have a surprisingly efficient offense (credit to Lowry and Calderon), they are near the bottom of the league in defense. Teague should have a field day in this game, which could serve as an indicator of whether or not his consistency is improving. Keep a close eye on this one.

More Hawks-Knicks notes

Bo Churney —  January 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

Josh Smith had a rough game yesterday… if you prefer to look at it that way. Twitter (reporters and fans alike) had a field day with Josh after last night’s game, saying he played shoddy defense on Carmelo and lost the game late by making too many mistakes.

I found myself defending Josh there, and have had to do so increasingly more often this year. Be reminded, that I thought trading Josh for Antawn Jamison’s expiring contract, plus Cleveland’s pick, would have been a good idea for the Hawks (cap space, lottery pick), so the fact that the tide has turned on him this much seems like overkill to me.

However, Josh took a lot of the blame for Carmelo sinking a Knicks’ record nine threes last night. So, let’s look at each of Carmelo’s makes from behind the arc and see how he got so open.

1st quarter, 0:45 remaining: Josh cheats off a bit, and Prigioni is able to get off a good pass to Melo. Josh is able to give a good contest, but Anthony hits the shot.

2nd quarter, 2:50 remaining: Knicks run a Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-roll. Atlanta’s defense collapses on the PnR, forcing Josh to switch onto Amar’e to avoid giving up an uncontested dunk. Josh successfully contests the shot, but the Knicks rebound and get the ball to Melo, who is open because Horford did not rotate properly after coming off of Amar’e. (seriously, he just stood out by the elbow and watched this play unfold after he switched off of STAT.) Continue Reading…

After the Knicks, Bulls, Nets and Pacers all lost on Saturday night, the Hawks found themselves in Madison Square Garden on Sunday with an opportunity to move into a tie for 4th in the Eastern Conference and within a game of the 2nd place Knicks. The Hawks were only able to defeat the Celtics on Friday thanks to an epic outburst from Kyle Korver. A similar effort from Carmelo Anthony would doom Atlanta in this game, but a deeper look will show that Larry Drew’s player rotations were just as much to blame.

If you look at PopcornMachine.net’s GameFlow, you will see that the lead exchanged hands several times at the start of the 1st and 3rd quarters with the starters in the game. The problem for the Hawks, as usual, was during the periods spanning quarters one and two and quarters three and four when Drew likes to rest his starters. In the spirit of former Atlanta Journal-Constitution Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham, who made great analysis using Synergy Sports Technology, I’ve noted the play-by-play for every possession that Ivan Johnson and Jannero Pargo were involved in. The times shown are the time remaining in the respective quarters.
Continue Reading…

FINAL

NYK(27-15) 106 – 104 (25-19)ATL

Key Performers:

J. Teague (ATL): 27 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast
C. Anthony (NYK): 42 pts, 5 reb
[FULL BOX SCORE]

This one is going to sting for the Hawks. They shot 60% from the field, over 40% from three, and were 16-20 from the line… but lost. The team committed 19 turnovers, with Horford uncharacteristically being the biggest offender with five. The Hawks had their chance and were leading late, but committed too many mistakes with the game on the line, including getting too close to Carmelo on a drive that resulted in a “foul”. Few calls seemed to benefit the Hawks in this one, with a key miss happening in the first quarter; Jannero Pargo was called for a clear-path foul on J.R. Smith in a situation in which he was clearly ahead of Smith. Then, Smith hit both of the free throws and knocked down an open jumper to give the Knicks a critical four-point swing.

Of course, it’s also hard to win when Carmelo is hitting from here.

Reaction Grades: [assessed 0-10]

Josh Smith: We see all of the facets of Josh’s game in this one. He took head-scratching shots (and made some), dominated inside, and made some key turnovers. Overall, he did well, hitting 9/16 from the field, but missing the potential game-winning three on the last possession. I will talk more about Josh from this game in a later post. 8/10

Al Horford: Al made all eight of his shots in this one, which was somewhat limited due to foul trouble. He was clearly irate with the foul calling in this one, which seems to be becoming increasingly common from the usually stoic Horford. However, his real mistakes hurt, as he missed both of his free throw tries, and turned the ball over five times. 7.5/10

DeShawn Stevenson: After only going 1-8 in his last game, DeShawn went 4-6 from behind the arc in this one, and had another play were he converted an and-one. (I know, right?) Of course, he also drew the unfortunate task of guarding Carmelo for several stretches, which is something he probably wishes he had done a little bit better. (he did well for the most part, but also helped off of Melo a couple of times while he was on fire) 7/10

Kyle Korver: He had to start missing at some point, right? Only 3-8 from the field in this one, but was 5-5 from the line, and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. 5/10

Jeff Teague: One of his best games of the season will probably go unnoticed because of Carmelo’s explosion, and because he somewhat disappeared late in the game. He had 27 points, five boards, six assists, and was the biggest factor for this being a tie game at halftime. Unfortunately, he really couldn’t get anything going in the fourth quarter (credit to an ailing Tyson Chandler) and made a couple of turnovers. 8/10 Continue Reading…

Last night’s dramatic, double-overtime victory over the Boston Celtics was a much-needed kick in the pants for a Hawks team that has been struggling. The Celtics arrived at Phillips Arena on a 5-game losing streak and desperate for a win. I’d like to break down the first half, analyze how the Hawks put themselves in a 27-point hole, and provide some commentary on the theatrics after halftime.

First quarter

The Hawks started the game by pounding the ball inside to Josh Smith and Al Horford. The two combined to shoot 1-for-6 over the game’s first 5:43, missing many point-blank opportunities. Ivan Johnson, making his second career start, had a fast break layup and missed another layup and short jumper. He was replaced by Zaza Pachulia with 6:13 to play in the 1st and the Hawks trailing 14-5. Horford converted a 3-point play and Pachulia had a basket to draw the Hawks within 16-10 with 5:22 to play in the first quarter.

Jannero Pargo then replaced Kyle Korver and combined with Devin Harris (who checked in for Jeff Teague when Pachulia entered the game) to shoot 0-for-7 on jumpers as the Hawks failed to score the rest of the quarter. After Pachulia’s basket, the Celtics finished the quarter on a 13-0 run.

Second quarter

With the failure of the Hawks to establish an inside game in the first quarter, and the failure of Pargo and Harris to keep the game close with a steady stream of long jumpers, coach Larry Drew seemed desperate to find a shot maker in the 2nd. Teague heated up for 14 points in the quarter on a variety of shots after failing to attempt a shot in the 1st. Teague shot 5-for-5 in the quarter, including the team’s only 3-pointer.

While Teague was on fire, DeShawn Stevenson, John Jenkins, Smith, Korver, Pargo and Harris combined to shoot 0-for-11 on 3-pointers for the first half. Korver, the NBA’s leader in 3-point percentage, attempted only a single shot in the half.

Comments

Teague didn’t heat up until the second quarter, but I don’t understand the need to replace him less than six minutes into the game. Drew’s strategy was obviously to get the ball inside to Smith and Horford. Teague ran the plays and got the ball inside. The fact that there was a lid on the basket for Atlanta’s big men does not indicate that Teague was failing to do his job. And I doubt that a young player like Teague needed a rest after playing less than 6 minutes.

With Harris available but not in the starting lineup, it seemed the Hawks would have sufficient depth at point guard. Bringing in 3rd-string point guard Pargo so early seemed like a panic move by Drew. As I’ve noted previously, Pargo plays better against non-playoff teams. My immediate reaction to Pargo’s 6-for-11 debut for the Hawks against the Timberwolves was to declare it fool’s gold. We’ve seen in the past that Pargo can get hot against sub-par competition. Shooting 1-for-7 against the Celtics brought back painful memories of Pargo’s disastrous performance in the playoffs last May.

Meanwhile Johnson was -20 for the first half. Anyone who has read me knows what a point of emphasis I place on +/- numbers. However, Johnson’s 2nd career start was a textbook example of how individual +/- numbers can be misleading. During his first stint, Johnson accounted for 60% of the team’s offense while enduring the errant shooting of Smith and Horford. By the time he returned with 2:32 to play in the first, the ball was no longer going to the front court players as Harris and Pargo chucked away. As the second half showed, a better idea might have been to get Korver more than one shot attempt for the entire half.

Second half

The Hawks opened the second half with Johnson on the bench, Harris at shooting guard and Korver at small forward. When Harris finally hit his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer with 9:15 remaining in the 3rd, it felt like a turning point. The basket drew the Hawks within 59-47 and prompted Celtics coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout. From there, it was the Korver, Teague and Ivan Johnson show.

After a flurry of baskets by Teague and Korver tied the game, Johnson checked in with 2:40 to play in the 3rd. He promptly posted up Jared Sullinger and scored, calmly sank a 20-footer at the end of the shot clock, then beat Sullinger down court and converted a Josh Smith touchdown pass into a 3-point play.

Last February I declared that Johnson was “already a better NBA center than Kendrick Perkins.” The latter, who makes about $9 million per season on a contract with two years remaining, has started 44 games for the Thunder this season. In the interest of small sample size theater, I decided to compare Johnson’s first two career starts to the best two games Perkins has played this season. In the last two games, Johnson has averaged 11.5 points on 9-for-19 shooting (47%) and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes. In games Nov. 30th against Utah and Jan. 23rd against Golden State, Perkins averaged 12 points on 12-for-17 shooting (71%) with 6 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game.

Obviously Johnson could up his totals if given Perkins’ minutes, while Perkins holds the advantage in shooting percentage. However, there’s not much to complain about with Johnson’s accuracy since he led the Hawks in shooting percentage last year and is second only to Horford this season. After his 12 point, 15 rebound performance against the Bobcats, Johnson told AJC beat writer Chris Vivlamore, “I need some more money.” I daresay he’s going to get it.

Kyle Korver was instrumental in pushing the Hawks past the Boston Celtics, who once trailed by 27 points, Friday night in a 123-111 double-overtime victory.

He put on an astounding show, knocking down eight 3-pointers in the second half, which broke the Hawks franchise record for most in a half.

Check out the video below and relive each of Korver’s treys on the historic night.

It’s been one of his worst statistical seasons in recent memory, but the free-shooting power forward, Josh Smith, believes he deserves a max-deal when he becomes a free agent this summer.

Smith gave his pitch to the AJC’s Jeff Schutlz after Friday’s morning shoot-around in preparation for Atlanta’s tilt with the visiting Boston Celtics.

“I feel like I’m a max player,” Smith said Friday. “I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I’m worth it.”

After Atlanta’s last max contract– a $123-million deal to Joe Johnson– didn’t quite pan out, it would be understandable if the Hawks resist giving Smith an approximate $94-million, five-year deal.

On that notion, Smith made it clear why Atlanta should bring him back.

Smith again: “There shouldn’t be any hesitation. I’m Josh Smith, I’m not anybody else. I ‘m not Michael Jordan, I’m not LeBron James, I’m not Brook Lopez. I’m Josh Smith. You can’t look at what might’ve happened with another person. Let’s say Joe. You can’t say, ‘I’m skeptical of giving another person that’ because of whatever they feel like happened.”

And if Friday’s huge come-from-behind 123-111 double-overtime victory over the Celtics is any indication of how Smith can play in crunch time against contending squads, Atlanta might just have to consider giving the 6’10″ forward whatever deal he wants.

Smith had a stat line that included 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks over 46 minutes. In every phase of the game, Smith was there, providing a big body on the inside and a physical frame of mind on the offensive end.

One game won’t change everything though, but it will help to push some of his more dreadful performances (and off-court blowups) out of mind.

Whether he can convince Atlanta’s ownership group to role the dice on him, though, will fully depend on where the other pieces of the 2013 free agency group lands.