If you’re a Hawks fan, get ready for a full season’s worth of trade rumors and speculation regarding this team. Bill Simmons declared the Hawks “built to trade” in his video preview of the Hawks’ season with Jalen Rose. And now Zach Lowe continues the theme in a piece for Grantland in which he suggests the Hawks may be in the market for Luol Deng or Omer Asik.
[Paul] Millsap is a valuable piece, and the Millsap/Al Horford pairing gives Atlanta impeccable spacing. But he’s also something of a Horford Lite, and if Danny Ferry can turn him into a game-changing wing or center (Omer Asik?), then they should at least think about it.
I polled the HawksHoop staff and the overwhelming reaction to this proposed trade was negative due to the spacing issues Lowe cited. Bo Churney also questioned whether Atlanta’s frugal ownership will want to pay Asik the $15 million owed in the last year of his poison pill contract (even though the cap hit is only $8 million, slightly less than what Millsap makes).
I disagree with Lowe’s assessment of Millsap as “Horford Lite.” If you use the drop down menus to compare the shot charts for Josh Smith and Millsap from last week’s game in Detroit, it seems that Mike Budenholzer instructed Millsap to confine the bulk of his shooting to the painted area. It’s almost as if Bud wanted Millsap to show Smith what the Hawks needed from him throughout his career in Atlanta.
By contrast, Horford gets a lot of his offense on mid-range jump shots, which is okay since he is an elite outside shooter. Thus, Millsap not only stretches the floor with his competent outside shooting, but he gives the Hawks some of the same high-low options it had last year with Horford and Smith. Millsap can pound the ball inside, pull his man away from the basket, and he’s a capable and willing passer. In short, despite any duplication with Horford, Millsap is an ideal player to play in Budenholzer’s system.
Millsap has also been solid as an interior defender this year. In an early look at SportVU optical tracking data, I noted that Smith had performed better as an interior defender than Horford or Millsap after four games. Since that time, Detroit’s defense has fallen off a cliff while Atlanta’s has steadily improved. As of now, the Hawks are ranked 10th in defensive efficiency, allowing only 99.8 points per 100 possessions.
Teams almost never contend without a top 10 defense, so before Danny Ferry tinkers with the Hawks’ suprising early chemistry, I believe we need a long look at the present configuration. I wouldn’t expect a trade before the deadline for that reason.
Nobody I’m aware of expected the East to be a two-team conference. This gives the Hawks an opportunity to win home-court advantage for at least one playoff series. That’s not something you toss aside lightly, especially given how it can influence future perception among impact free agents (Deng this off-season?).
Horford is presently averaging the same 17.4 PPG he averaged last year while playing almost five fewer minutes per game. The Hawks have also lost three very winnable games. This leads me to believe that Budenholzer has imported some of the same regular-season pacing principles used by the Spurs. Five more minutes with Horford on the floor could have made a difference in any of those games, but it’s apparent Coach Bud is taking the long view.
In conclusion, as tempting as Asik’s impact defense might be, as long as the Hawks can remain top 10 in defensive efficiency, there’s no reason to risk throwing the offense into chaos with an Asik-for-Millsap trade. If the defense starts to slip, any number of options could be on the table.