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If not for questionable referee decisions in three of the Hawks’ first 10 games, the Hawks could easily be 8-2 right now and within striking distance of the top seed in the East. If such were the case, it pains me to report that it would vastly overstate where the Hawks are as a team. The Hawks are presently 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions, and look nothing like a contender. What follows is a look at where the Hawks are, speculation on where the franchise is headed and what role exiled general manager Danny Ferry might play.

The Hawks’ five worst shooters thus far have been Kent Bazemore (26%), Pero Antic (37%), Thabo Sefolosha (38%), Shelvin Mack (41%) and Mike Scott (44%). In spite of the early shooting struggles, these five players combined to take 38 shots against the Lakers, making only 11 (29%). Al Horford, who is second on the team in field goal percentage among players with at least six games played (54%), took only eight shots against the Lakers, making seven (88%). Why did Mike Budenholzer allow his worst shooters to chuck with reckless abandon when Horford was on fire? Could it be that Atlanta’s coaching staff is concerned about placing too great an offensive burden on Horford, in light of his injury history?

I spent most of the summer pleading with the Hawks to add a difference maker in the front court. I stated the case for Greg Monroe before Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that the Hawks had in fact engaged the Pistons in trade discussions. I argued for Aron Baynes. The Hawks have been out-rebounded by eight of ten opponents this season. Horford is an undersized center who has been asking for help in the front court for years. Paul Millsap is an undersized power forward. The Hawks are currently getting nothing from reserve big men Elton Brand, Mike Muscala and rookie Adreian Payne, none of whom are the rim protector the Hawks need. Gorgui Dieng, presently tied with Al Jefferson for the 6th-best PER among centers (20.83), ahead of notables Roy Hibbert (9th), Dwight Howard (11th) and Horford (14th), could have been that player. But Ferry passed on him, not once, but twice in the 2013 NBA Draft. Continue Reading…

As you might have read by now, Dennis Schröder is leading the NBA with a 36.76 PER. He’s enjoying the best stretch of his young career. Meanwhile Thabo Sefolosha, a career 44% shooter from the field (34.6% from three), who shot better than 40% from 3-point range in two of the preceding three seasons, is shooting 22% from the field and has missed all six of his 3-point attempts this season.

Early-season statistical anomalies are always a source of talking points until the new season ages enough to spot real trends. In this case, however, the early contrast between Schröder and Sefolosha gives me an opportunity to point out why I place so much emphasis on plus-minus. For the season, despite his horrid shooting, Sefolosha is an aggregate plus-6 (click the “team” column and the Hawks will be sorted at the top). Despite spectacular per-minute numbers that currently have Schröder sitting atop the PER rankings, looking down on players such as Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry, the Hawks have been outscored by a total of nine points during his time on the floor.

For me, this confirms the eye test. My eyes tell me that, even though Sefolosha will turn 31 in May, he’s still a well-above-average on-ball defender. When Sefolosha’s shooting numbers start to regress back toward his career averages, I expect the value of his minutes to increase dramatically. The Hawks appear to be a perfect situation for Sefolosha, a willing passer who has labored in Oklahoma City’s isolation-heavy system for years. Continue Reading…

A bit under five minutes remained in the first quarter of the Hawks’ season opener in Toronto. Waiting at the scorer’s table was Mike Budenholzer’s first perimeter player substitute.

It wasn’t Shelvin Mack, who had been revitalized the season before and is a stout backup point guard with a new three-year contract. It wasn’t Dennis Schröder, a young German prospect who is still trying to translate his sneaky athleticism and unique body type into the NBA game. Nor was it Thabo Sefolosha, the veteran defensive presence who had been a major part of Oklahoma City’s rotation during a run of major success for the Thunder.

No, none of those players were waiting to check into the game at the scorer’s table. Instead, coming in to replace one of the best shooters in NBA history in Kyle Korver was former Old Dominion product Kent Bazemore.

In the eyes of some, Bazemore wasn’t supposed to be here. Undrafted out of Old Dominion, Bazemore eventually signed with the Golden State Warriors in July of 2012 and essentially became a team mascot. Bazemore played in 62 games in his rookie season, but at a comically low 4.4 minutes per game. Because his playing time was left to garbage time when no one was watching, Bazemore gained notoriety as the league’s favorite benchwarmer, catching the viewers’ eyes with his celebrations of Golden State’s highlight plays.

Of course, Bazemore was in the NBA to be a basketball player, not a comedy act. Unfortunately for Bazemore, that is all the Warriors and then head coach Mark Jackson were going to let him be. The 2013-14 season rolled around and Bazemore was still playing an embarrassing low (6.1) amount of minutes per contest. Again, when Bazemore did get in the game, it was rarely ever in a meaningful spot.

Eventually, Bazemore’s salvation came in a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. He and teammate MarShon Brooks were sent to Los Angeles for point guard Steve Blake. The Lakers, reeling after the departure of Dwight Howard to Houston and injuries to Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, finally gave Bazemore a place where he could find consistent minutes. More importantly, then coach Mike D’Antoni gave Bazemore a system.

An offensive system can be extremely important to a player. In Golden State, Bazemore — like many other Warriors — was left to figure things out in isolation inside of having specific plays ran for his benefit. That changed for Bazemore when he arrived in Los Angeles, as Mark D’Antoni gave him a simple offensive system that complemented Bazemore’s talents and allowed him to shine. Continue Reading…

Another Chance for Al Horford

Cole Patty —  October 31, 2014 — 3 Comments

Most people are familiar with Murphy’s Law or at least the current version of “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” Commonly said in situations by the Average Joe on one of the days where the bad luck comes in bunches; it’s almost as if the forces of the universe just won’t let something nice happen to them, no matter how much good karma they may have built up.

Al Horford may be a two-time All-Star, but his career also feels like the embodiment of this law. Every time Horford gets a bit of momentum going towards finally becoming the superstar he plays like, something bad seems to happen. On top of that, he is mostly overlooked in the “best center in the East” discussions, he wasn’t named an All-Star during a great 2012-13 campaign, and was constantly overshadowed during his career by the more bombastic Josh Smith. In fact, most of the mainstream media coverage on Horford is about why he should be playing power forward instead of mentioning that he is a matchup nightmare for his larger stone footed counterparts.

As for Murphy’s Law, Horford’s injuries have stifled his growth towards becoming a superstar. When Atlanta powered on to the 5-seed in the strike shortened 2011-12 seasons, Continue Reading…

With the new-look Cavaliers unproven, the Heat missing the game’s best player, the Pacers decimated by injury (Paul George) and defection (Lance Stephenson) and the Wizards replacing defensive ace Trevor Ariza with the aging Paul Pierce, the Eastern Conference is as wide-open as it has been in recent memory. As such, I believe the Hawks should be setting lofty goals. Assuming Al Horford is able to fully recover from his most recent injury and have a healthy season, I believe the Hawks should be aiming for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

I expect the Pacers to join the Knicks, Bucks, Celtics, Magic and 76ers in missing the playoffs this season. I believe the Heat, Pistons, Hornets and Nets will compete for a playoff spot but not home court advantage. That leaves the Cavaliers, Bulls, Wizards and Raptors among teams I expect to compete with the Hawks for home court advantage in the first round. The Raptors are a danger because of their continuity. The Wizards may start slow due to Bradley Beal’s injury. The Cavaliers have unproven depth and chemistry. The Bulls face question marks concerning Derrick Rose’s health.

Of all those teams, the two I’d least like to see the Hawks face in the second round are the Bulls and Cavaliers. Thus, for the Hawks to finally break through to the Eastern Conference Finals, a level the franchise has never achieved since moving to Atlanta, I believe the Hawks should make it a team goal to avoid playing the second or third seed in the second round by securing the top seed. If the Hawks are able to secure home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, I’ll take my chances in the second round against the team that wins the four-five match-up in the first round. Continue Reading…

Hawks Helped Nix Lottery Reform
According to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti led a successful, last-minute effort to nix the NBA’s proposed lottery reform, which would have evened the odds for lottery teams to move up to a higher pick. The Hawks were among a group of franchises with ties to the Spurs (which includes Presti and OKC) that voted against reform and prevented it from receiving enough votes to pass.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver explained some of the rationale behind the proposed changes to ESPN.com:

I think we all recognize we need to find the right balance between creating the appropriate incentives on one hand for teams to, of course, win, and on the other hand allowing for appropriate rebuilding and the draft to work as it should in which the worst performing teams get the highest picks in the draft.

Despite this stated purpose, the proposal would have increased the odds for the 48-win Phoenix Suns to move up in the draft by 400% compared to the old system, if the proposal had been in effect as of the last draft. The ESPN.com article explained the motivation for reform as follows:

Reform proposals were aimed at two elements: increasing the odds of the best teams in the lottery jumping up into the top three spots and also lowering the floor for the worst teams to drop.

And Lowe extrapolated as follows:

The league’s proposal would have injected more randomness into the process, undercutting the ability to plan and increasing the likelihood that a solid team near the bottom of the lottery lucks its way into a star.

That might deter tanking on some level, but it also raises the chances of a scenario in which a team wins multiple lotteries despite some on-court improvement. No one seemed to like it much when Cleveland won a third lottery in four years in May.

If Silver’s stated purpose is to discourage tanking and direct talent toward teams that need it, how could he possibly justify giving a 48-win team a 400% better chance at landing one of the top picks? How does such an incentive discourage a fringe playoff team from tanking out of a low playoff seed? The goals and methodology behind the proposed reform seem to work at cross purposes.

Continue Reading…

When Reggie Miller and Rick Fox predicted on NBA TV that the Hawks would miss the playoffs this season, I chuckled. But when ESPN.com projected the Hawks as the 7th-best team in the East and Tom Haberstroh wrote that the Hawks’ depth is “shallow as a puddle,” it was time to break my silence on the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks. Please take a few moments and let’s talk about the deepest team in Atlanta Hawks history.

Here’s the full quote from Haberstroh from ESPN’s preseason power rankings:

Although the Hawks mostly struck out in free agency with tons of cap space at hand, they reeled in former Thunder 3-and-D specialist Thabo Sefolosha to add much-needed depth. However, the team’s bench is still as shallow as a puddle after they shed Lou Williams’ contract.

The Hawks’ trade of Williams and former first-round pick Lucas Nogueira for the partially-guaranteed contract of John Salmons will remain a topic of debate for years to come. The team traded a useful bench player (Williams) and a former pick with some promise for a $7 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed. If you’re still dumbfounded by this move, consider this: There’s a very strong possibility that the trade was part of Danny Ferry’s preparation for a sign-and-trade offer to the Pistons that would include a max contract offer for Greg Monroe.

Continue Reading…

Every NBA player can be useful with the right coaching staff, system, or organization. Defense can be taught to just about any player. I’ve held these beliefs ever since I started to get deeply into the NBA and I truly believe it.

So when the Hawks signed Kent Bazemore to a new contract, I got excited. Bazemore was a young player that never really got a chance in Golden State, and was allowed to run free in Los Angeles. Despite the solid numbers he put up in Los Angeles, Bazemore was seen as nothing more than end of the rotation roster filler. He might be able to make a few three pointers every once in awhile, but for the most part, he’s just kind of there.

It’s unlikely that Bazemore is going to be turned into an all star player in Atlanta; or even a starting caliber player for that matter. He’s 25 and players with high level talent rarely go unnoticed by coaches. If he was really something special, he would have played in Golden State. But there’s no reason to think that he can’t be a highly useful rotation weapon in the Atlanta system. Continue Reading…

Aron Baynes is the most underrated basketball player alive. ESPN.com just rated him 368th out of 500 players in #NBARank. Among the flotsam ranked ahead of him, just on that same page, were Jeff Withey, Meyers Leonard and Greg Stiemsma.

Last year there was another criminally-underrated player. He was rated 499th in #NBARank and started writing the number on his shoes as motivation. While he was languishing on the Golden State Warriors’ bench behind one of the deepest wing rotations in the league, I wrote on the AJC.com Hawks blog that the Hawks should pursue him. I was laughed at. Why should the Hawks go after a scrub who can’t get playing time, I was asked.

That player got traded to the Lakers and averaged 13.1 PPG on 45% shooting from the field and 37% shooting from 3-point range over the last 23 games of the season. That player, now an Atlanta Hawk, is Kent Bazemore. Continue Reading…

It’s taken a couple of days for me to wrap my head around what has happened to my beloved Atlanta Hawks, a team I’ve followed since the old days at the Omni. If you’ve read this, then you already know where I stand on race relations. Since the civil rights community is already addressing that aspect with the Hawks organization, no further comment from me is needed. What I’d like to do instead is challenge the validity of the statements that ignited this controversy.

First of all, let’s briefly summarize the sad state of the Hawks during the team’s history in Atlanta. This will predate Danny Ferry and Bruce Levenson’s involvement but it’s necessary for background. The Hawks have never reached the conference finals since moving to Atlanta from St. Louis. The Hawks have had one superstar player, Dominique Wilkins, since moving to Atlanta.

Dating back to the Dominique era, starting with the drafting of Kevin Willis in 1984 and ending with the drafting of Josh Smith in 2004, the Hawks went through a 21-year period in which, during the 19 intervening NBA drafts, the Hawks selected and retained only one player who averaged double digit scoring for his career (Jason Terry). Nineteen drafts. One career double digit scorer. Continue Reading…