Archives For Analysis

Before I preview Game 3, I’d like to say I believe people are missing the full story on the great incoming ownership group that has been selected for the Hawks. Presuming the group fronted by Tony Ressler is approved by the NBA, the days of running the franchise “on the cheap” could be over. Ressler isn’t the only billionaire in the group.

The NBA is set to score a major coup by bringing Sara Blakely and Jesse Itzler into the ownership family. Blakely moved to Atlanta and founded the Spanx shapewear empire, becoming the youngest female self-made billionaire. Although she and husband Itzler are Atlanta transplants, they are true Hawks fans whom I suspect are committed to keeping the franchise in Atlanta permanently. The NBA is adding a female owner with Oprah Winfrey levels of success and credibility.

Itzler is a co-founder of Marquis Jet and formerly rapped under the moniker Jesse Jaymes. You can see the video for Shake It Like A White Girl on YouTube. Hopefully he doesn’t disavow his hip hop career like Mark Wahlberg. I’m still down with the Funky Bunch. Anyways, on to basketball. Continue Reading…

Earlier in the season I wrote about the numbers versus perception of Jeff Teague’s defense. While the numbers show that Teague has taken a dramatic step forward this season, the eye test still betrays lapses where Teague doesn’t give full effort.

The disconnect between perception and metrics is also startling for Dennis Schröder. While Teague often appears to be going through the motions, Schröder is always down in his stance with active hands. He’s quick, has an enormous wingspan and a reputation as an excellent defender. And yet, somehow Teague is ranked as the 9th-best defensive point guard in the NBA by ESPN.com’s Real Plus-Minus while Schröder is ranked 64th of 84 point guards rated.

At the bottom of this post you will find a continuation of a tradition I started during last year’s playoffs. I have compiled the “Enhanced Play-by-Play” for Game 1 and, at the end, listed the individual “defensive miscues” by play. These are instances where an advantage is created for an offensive player because a defender is out of position. Defensive miscues are not necessarily mistakes. Defensive scheme may call for a player to double team or guard a different area of the floor. Teams play the averages with their defensive schemes, but a defensive miscue happens when a defensive player makes a mistake or plays the averages and loses. Continue Reading…

It’s been 47 years since Atlanta real estate developer Tom Cousins and former Governor Carl Sanders bought the Hawks from Ben Kerner and relocated the team to Atlanta. Kerner also acted as the team’s general manager. Among his brilliant moves was the 1950 decision to sell Bob Cousy’s rights after refusing to pay the outrageous $10,000 salary he demanded, and the 1956 trade that sent Bill Russell to the Celtics.

Essentially, the Celtics dynasty would never have happened if not for the cheapness and incompetence of Hawks ownership. Sound familiar? If you’ve grown weary of the act, just know that it stretches all the way back to the founding of the NBA. Now, 47 years into the Atlanta iteration, we find ourselves on the doorstep of redemption.

Sometimes an athletic team finds itself in a whirlwind of negative publicity. Often that leads to finger pointing and strife that can derail a team’s aspirations. But sometimes players in that situation turn inward, embrace their teammates and insulate themselves from outside influences. On occasion, this leads to a team that exceeds all expectations. Continue Reading…

Thabo Sefolosha hasn’t played since January 30 — a win against the Portland Trailblazers. It also happened to be the second to last game of the 19-game winning streak. Now, Sefolosha returns tonight versus the Orlando Magic. Although Sefolosha has only averaged a tad under 20 minutes a game, he has a large impact when playing.

For the season, Sefolosha is playing 72 percent of his minutes at the Small Forward position, with Korver at Shooting Guard. While Sefolosha is guarding Small Forward’s, he is only allowing an insane 5.7 PER, according to 82games.com. For comparison, Kawhi Leonard is allowing a 12.6 PER, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gives up 10.2. Those are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and Sefolosha blows them out of the water. Now, Thabo has only played a total of 853 minutes, so he’s only played about 614 minutes at the position, which isn’t a very large sample size. Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, opponents PER against Sefolosha was 10.7, so the defensive impact is definitely there. Sefolosha also gets to boast a 35.3 Effective Field Goal Percentage that his opponents shoot when he guards them.

With the added defensive ability that comes with Thabo Sefolosha, it allows the Hawks more leeway with their lineups. If Sefolosha starts alongside Korver, it allows Demarre Carroll to come off the bench, like the Thunder did with James Harden (no, I’m not comparing Carroll to Harden). Schroder, Carroll, and Scott of the bench in the playoffs can be very good, even if Carroll ends up playing more minutes than Sefolosha.

Continue Reading…

Joe Johnson’s last few seasons in Atlanta have been stained by poor playoff performances, his “untradeable contract” (thanks Danny Ferry), and his seemingly emotionless persona. The guy frustrated many with his Iso-Joe offense that Mike Woodson was so willing to let happen.

I was never a huge fan of Johnson, partly because the dull possessions irritated me, no matter what the result was. Bret LaGree, the man who got me interested in putting my Hawks thoughts to words as he entertained me with his recaps/analysis while I was in middle school, once wrote a lovely piece about Joe Johnson after Game 5 of the 2012 playoff series versus the Celtics:

Joe Johnson’s touches, a word picture by Bret LaGree

Remain stationary
Receive the ball
(beat)
Dribble laterally to or away from the basket
(second Boston defender arrives)
Take contested jump shot or pass to teammate Boston purposely leaves open

Perfectly sums up the part of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta tenure that had fans so disgusted at the lucrative deal he signed.

However, sometimes we forget that the Armadillo Cowboy (yes, this is an actual nickname for Joe Johnson, according to Basketball Reference) was actually a great player that had some great all-around performances as a member of the Hawks. Allow me to go all 30-for-30 on you for a moment…

What if I told you that Atlanta has a new, big-man version of Joe Johnson? What if I told you that this version of Joe Johnson was far less frustrating to watch? What if I told you that this new version of Joe Johnson could score in a variety of ways and lead the team to one of the NBA’s best records?

What if I told you that this version of Joe Johnson was named Paul Millsap? Continue Reading…

Since 1999 (the post-Jordan era), Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have been part of 13 of 16 NBA champions. These players, as well as key members of the ’04 Pistons, ’08 Celtics and ’11 Mavericks, the other champions during this era, are well past their primes. As a result, the Hawks find themselves at the dawn of an era with few obvious candidates to win multiple future championships.

The Hawks could usher in a new era of egalitarian basketball or might simply find themselves in a league-wide lull in superstar talent. Either way, in addition to the wide-open nature of today’s NBA, numerous factors point toward a sustained period of excellence for the Hawks.

The most important factor is organizational continuity. With the impending sale, the Hawks have a chance to transition from an ownership group infamous for infighting to an organization with top-to-bottom continuity. Continue Reading…

Is Jeff Teague a good defender? Most NBA fans probably think of Teague as a below-average 3-point shooter who thrives on drives to the basket in Atlanta’s spread-the-floor offense. Fewer fans likely realize that, as of this season, Teague has elevated himself to elite status as a defensive point guard.

With all the recent talk of “analytics” versus the “eye test,” Teague’s defense presents an interesting case study. The numbers tell us that Teague is an elite defensive point guard. Of 79 point guards rated, Teague ranks fifth in defensive real plus-minus per ESPN.com. In 2013-14, the season in which ESPN.com introduced the stat, Teague ranked 28th out of 69.

This single-season improvement is confirmed by NBA.com’s player tracking stats. According to data gathered via SportVU optical tracking cameras installed in every NBA arena, opponents shoot 3.2% below their season average when guarded by Teague. Last season, opponents shot a fraction of a percent better. Continue Reading…

Josh Smith was an Atlanta guy.

Smith was born and raised in Atlanta. He played nine seasons within the city limits and was very active within the community during that time. On Smith’s arms, he possesses two very visible tattoos: one of the state of Georgia and another of the Hawks’ Pac-man logo.

However, on Tuesday night, Smith finally turned on the city he loved for so long.

The night started rather uneventfully for Smith. He entered the game in the first quarter to a smattering of boos mixed with some light cheers, but the reception was hardly made an impact on the decibel meter. The Atlanta faithful — who had already seen Smith in an opponent’s uniform before — seemed apathetic to Smith… for a while.

With James Harden and Dwight Howard sitting out for the Rockets, there were plenty of shots to go around for Houston’s role players. As a man used to running an offense and being a volume shooter, Smith felt perfectly in place, taking control of the ball often in his time on the court. The more Smith shot, the more involved became the crowd, as the Atlanta fans had seen Smith hijack an offense before and were hopeful that Smith could wreck the lead the Rockets possessed.

In Smith’s final years with the Hawks, the crowd had grown restless waiting for his development. As a result, Hawks’ fans often started crying out when Smith took jumpers that he continually missed on, either by loudly groaning or even by shouting “nooooo!” While it was clear Smith’s emotions were being toyed with, he often remained calm and showed little expression about the outbursts in his time with the Hawks.

But that did not happen on Tuesday night, as finally Smith took physical exception to the crowd mocking his play on the court. After sinking a 3-pointer with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Smith raised one finger to his mouth and sent his other hand in the air, intimating his wish for the crowd to finally hush. Continue Reading…

When the NBA season began, national analysts were divided on the question of whether the Hawks would make the playoffs. HawksHoop.com projected the Hawks to be contenders for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Nobody predicted the Hawks would be nine games up on second place and possessors of the NBA’s best winning percentage almost three quarters of the way through the season. However, since HawksHoop predicted the Hawks’ trajectory more accurately than most, I thought I’d explain why setting the bar high seemed like a good idea.

We all know the monkey on the Hawks’ back is the failure to advance past the second round of the playoffs since moving to Atlanta. There have been chances. In 1988, the Dominique Wilkins-led Hawks beat the Celtics in Boston to go up 3-2 in the second round. The Hawks lost Games 6 & 7 by two points apiece. In 2011, the Hawks tied their second round series with the Bulls 2-2 behind 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists from Josh Smith. Smith shot 5-for-19 outside the paint over the final three games and Jamal Crawford shot 3-for-19 from the field (0-for-7 from 3-point range) in Games 5 & 6 as Chicago eliminated Atlanta.

Perhaps the team’s best chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1988 happened in 2012. The Hawks faced an aging Celtics team in the first round as it had in the second round 24 years earlier. Atlanta lost Game 2 and surrendered home court advantage, but had a chance to win it back in Game 3. Rajon Rondo failed to record a single basket or assist in Game 3 while guarded by Kirk Hinrich. Larry Drew made the brilliant decision to sit Hinrich in favor of Jannero Pargo and Willie Green in the fourth quarter and overtime. Continue Reading…

I’m gonna say it right off the bat: he doesn’t have the chance yet, but before his career is over, Mike Muscala will be known as a valuable bench weapon.

Casual NBA fans – heck, even casual Hawks fans – might not be familiar with Muscala, a big man who flirts with the chance to take the floor every now and again. The 2013 2nd round draft pick has gotten minor minutes this season; Muscala hasn’t shown anything to prove that he’s a dominant force. However, Moose is growing into player that fits this Hawks system perfectly – a big with range, athleticism, and sound fundamentals.

Coming out of Roseville, Minnesota, Mike Muscala was the 128th ranked power forward in the Class of 2009 high school recruiting class. While his scouting report praised his athleticism and solid post play, he chose to attend Bucknell University, among interest from other smaller schools such as North Dakota, Santa Clara, and South Dakota. Looking at the rest of the big men in that class, the only ones that stand out as productive NBA players are DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, and John Henson.

So what does that say about Muscala? Again and again he’s looked past the doubters and continued to improve. That started at a small D1 school in college. That continued as a 2nd round draft pick. When I spoke with Mike just before the start of the new calendar year, he told me how the chip on his shoulder doesn’t come from any of those past experiences, but instead the drive to be a contributor for his team, saying, “Now that I’m in the NBA, I’m just trying to prove that within the team, within the year, within the Hawks, I can help. At the end of the day I just want to win.” Continue Reading…