Archives For Analysis

Within moments of the conclusion of the Hawks’ Game 2 loss, Hawks PR was churning out excuses and essentially conceding the series.

The Cavaliers have suffered injuries as well, but I doubt Cavs PR would be packing it in two games into the series. HawksHoop editor Bo Churney referred to the Hawks’ effort in Game 2 as “laughable.” In the most important game of their careers, Al Horford was minus-27, Paul Millsap scored four points on eight shots and Jeff Teague was humiliated by Matthew Dellavedova. Continue Reading…

The Hawks were praised for their depth throughout the regular season, with Coach Budenholzer having the personnel to run his offense almost no matter which players were on the court. The combination of size and outside shooting off the Hawks’ bench allowed Budenholzer flexibility in his lineups, something that he’s clearly rolled over into the playoffs. Budenholzer mostly stuck with a nine-man rotation in the second-round series against the Wizards, but some of the lineups have infuriated fans of the team. As the Hawks move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s going to become time for Budenholzer to cash in on all the rest he’s afforded his starters over the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs.

Budenholzer has regularly rolled out lineups with three of the Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, and Pero Antic bench brigade in these playoffs, and they have regularly gotten killed while out there. The three-man combination of Schröder, Bazemore, and Antic has played 75 minutes in the postseason, posting a ghastly -10.2 net rating, per nbawowy.com, and lineups featuring Schröder, Bazemore, and Muscala have fared even worse with a -11.1 net rating in 25 minutes. It’s understandable that Budenholzer wants to spell his starters, but he needs to avoid these lineups that takes too many of them off the court at a time.

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It’s no secret that the Atlanta Hawks have struggled shooting the ball in the post-season. Playoff teams generally rank above average defensively, and defenses are highly-motivated with the season on the line. But the Hawks’ shooting struggles can’t entirely be written off as the result of playoff defense. The Hawks are generating 20.6 wide-open shots (defined by NBA.com as a shot taken with no defender within six feet), by far the most of any playoff team, but have seen a drop in shooting percentage even on these shots.

During the regular season, Atlanta shot 46.1% from the field and 39.4% from 3-point range on wide-open shots. In the playoffs, those numbers have dropped to 41.7% from the field and 37.3% from three. As a result, while the Hawks generated 23.7 points per game via wide-open shots during the regular season, Atlanta is generating only 22 points per game in the playoffs.

Atlanta has seen a decrease of only about 1% in wide-open shot opportunities in the post-season. Thus, even when you account for decreased opportunities, Atlanta is still leaving about a point and a half per game on the table on wide-open attempts. When you consider how many close games the Hawks have played in the post-season, losing close to a full basket on open shots is significant. Continue Reading…

When Al Horford snatched Nenê’s lunch money and calmly deposited the layup that won Game 5, it brought national attention to a fact Hawks fans have been aware of for some time: Al Horford is a clutch player.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Horford is the best clutch shooter in the playoffs for the last five seasons by a wide margin (minimum 20 field goals attempted). During that time, Horford has shot 61.3% in the clutch, defined as in the last five minutes of a game with the score within five points. Horford’s closest competitor is Paul Pierce, whose 51.7% is almost 10% less than Horford.

We’ve long known that Horford was a clutch performer in the playoffs. In the 2012 playoffs, Horford returned from a pectoral injury and scored a combined nine fourth quarter baskets in Games 5 and 6 against the Celtics. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith totaled nine baskets in nine fourth quarter appearances between them for the series. Continue Reading…

Since I referred to Atlanta’s bench in the Game 3 preview as “a liability in the post-season,” here’s what they’ve done: In Game 3, five of seven reserves posted a positive plus-minus, including double digits for Shelvin Mack (plus-16), Mike Scott (plus-15) and Mike Muscala (plus-10). In Game 4, three of four reserves posted a positive plus-minus.

I like the fact that coach Mike Budenholzer took the performance of Scott and Mack from Game 3 and put it in his pocket for Game 4. In last year’s Game 5 win over the Pacers, the pair combined for 37 points, including 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. However, in the 10 intervening playoff games between Game 5 of the Pacers series and Game 3 of the Wizards series, Scott shot a combined 18-for-53 (34%) from the field and 5-for-26 (19%) from 3-point range. Although Scott and Mack have made an annual tradition of going off for one playoff game, the pair remain the lowest performers in net rating (the difference between what the Hawks score per 100 possessions with a player on the floor and what opponents score).

By contrast, Muscala has burst onto the scene with the best defensive rating (93.9 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) and net rating (plus-11.3) of any Hawk with at least four playoff appearances. His offensive rating is fourth behind Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Teague in this group. It’s an extremely limited 37-minute sample, but the returns have been so positive that Muscala has surely earned more minutes. Continue Reading…

With the news that John Wall suffered multiple non-displaced fractures to his non-shooting hand and wrist in Game 1, the complexion of the Hawks-Wizards second-round playoff series has changed dramatically. However, Wall’s backup Ramon Sessions has the third-best net differential in the playoffs for the Wizards. Washington is outscoring opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions with Sessions on the floor, trailing only Wall (plus-15.6) and Otto Porter (plus-16.1). Thus, the Hawks’ chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in its 47-year Atlanta history continue to weigh disproportionately on the shoulders of one player: Jeff Teague.

Before I talk about times in the past when Teague has tried to be a hero for the Hawks and fallen short, let’s discuss how he became Atlanta’s key to the post-season on the heels of the greatest regular season in franchise history. In the pre-season, while NBA TV analysts Reggie Miller and Rick Fox were predicting that the Hawks would miss the playoffs, I wrote that this was the deepest team in Atlanta Hawks history.

When I wrote that piece, I wasn’t expecting Dennis Schröder to have a break-out season. The Hawks appeared headed for the playoffs with a full roster when Thabo Sefolosha returned March 25 after missing 23 games with a strained calf. Then, as they so often do, things went wrong for the Hawks. Paul Millsap suffered a bruised shoulder against the Nets April 4. Prior to an April 8 road game in Brooklyn, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg while being arrested by NYPD. Then, in the second-to-last game of the season, Hawks sharpshooter Mike Scott suffered a bruised back against the Knicks. The Hawks once again headed into the playoffs with injuries looming over their season. Continue Reading…

Please click through to Truth About It, the ESPN TrueHoop Network blog covering the Washington Wizards. TAI’s Adam Rubin and I preview tonight’s Game 2. Here’s a snippet:

During the season, the Hawks led the NBA in effective field goal percentage in catch-and-shoot situations (55.7%). The Hawks were middle-of-the pack in effective field goal percentage on pull-up shots (41.6%, 11th). Thus, any time the Hawks shot a jumper that did not result from a pass, it effectively trimmed their field goal percentage by 14 percent. Taking step-back jumpers in isolation is not Atlanta Hawks basketball.

It was 1991 when I arrived from the Defense Information School to my first Army post, Ft. Belvoir, Va. I had enlisted to be a military journalist, and upon arrival I was informed that I would replace the departed sports editor of the post newspaper, the Ft. Belvoir Eagle. I arrived the same year that Washington’s NFL football team won Super Bowl XXVI, and quickly learned that there is nothing in this world so intolerable as a Redskins fan.

As it happened, I found one that was tolerable due to our shared love of basketball. Chuck Dye was the civilian photo editor of the Eagle. I was a rabid Georgia Tech fan, having recently watched Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver (the famed “Lethal Weapon 3″) lead the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 Final Four. Dye, as he explained to me, was an NBA fan. He didn’t follow college basketball because he preferred to watch the sport at its highest level.

It turned out that Dye’s credentials as an NBA fan were quite extensive. Chuck and his father, Emmett Dye, had been the subject of an article by legendary Washington Post sports writer Ken Denlinger about bandwagon Bullets fans at the time of Washington’s lone 1978 NBA championship. After the Bullets defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 105-99 on the road in Game 7 to claim the title, thousands of fans greeted them at the airport. Continue Reading…

With the Hawks at risk of losing at home, giving up home court advantage and returning to Brooklyn to face an elimination game, Mike Budenholzer turned to his starters. All five scored in double figures and posted a differential of plus-10 or better in Game 5. However, the starters nearly gave the game away in the fourth quarter with turnovers and poor defensive effort.

For the third consecutive game, Coach Bud reduced minutes for Dennis Schröder off the bench. He averaged 22 minutes the first three games, played 14 in Game 4 and 11 in Game 5. This time, the Hawks performed well with Schröder on the floor. He was minus-2, which means he kept the score within one possession. Bud will take that any day of the week. If the reserves can keep the score close, it gives the starters an opportunity to seal a win.

The Hawks opened the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead, but things went south in a hurry. After Joe Johnson hit a jumper over Al Horford, the Nets defended well, forcing Kyle Korver to heave a tough shot at the end of the shot clock. Horford lost the ball out of bounds after an offensive rebound, committing the first of a string of turnovers that would allow the Nets to quickly close the gap. Following are highlights from the fourth quarter prepared by Jake Martinsek, who also contributed to a piece on Pero Antić co-authored by HawksHoop editor Bo Churney and I for ESPN.com. Continue Reading…

The Hawks have had the great and terrible fortune to have two young point guards emerge as rotation players at roughly the same time. During last year’s playoffs, while Lou Williams was turning the ball over twice for every assist he produced, Shelvin Mack was producing 17 points, almost eight assists and four rebounds per 36 minutes against the NBA’s top regular-season defense. His assist-to-turnover ratio against the Pacers was 4-to-1 and Mack had the best aggregate plus-minus for the series of any Hawks reserve.

I spent much of last season telling my pals on the AJC.com Hawks Blog that Dennis Schröder shouldn’t be given anything … that he shouldn’t get minutes until he proved that he deserved them. This season, Schröder proved it. The former 17th pick emerged as easily one of the top five players of the 2013 draft class. His per-minute numbers during the regular season were similar to Jeff Teague’s, meaning the Hawks didn’t lose much with Teague on the bench.

When Teague was injured mid-season while the Hawks faced a gauntlet of a Western Conference road swing, Schröder went on a national barnstorming tour that served notice to the NBA about the Hawks’ depth and ceiling. But along the way, the Hawks lost something. As Atlanta’s basketball club exploded into the national conversation with one All-Star point guard and another with All-Star potential, Shelvin Mack lost an opportunity to further his development. Continue Reading…