Hanging In There

Hawks fans everywhere have to be feeling at least a little bit good, even if only for the moment.

At the 40-game mark, the Hawks are just one game away from being truly half way through the season. And here they sit at 8 games above .500, an accomplishment that this franchise has not seen in years, and one that some of the Hawks players have not seen at all in their young careers. 

Despite a spate of injuries mostly to their frontcourt, the Hawks have managed to plug along, losing enough to not look like a typical Cinderella, but winning enough not to look like one of her ugly stepsisters. All the while, debates have raged hot and heavy on subjects such as the number of minutes Joe Johnson and some other starters are playing, whether or not certain guys will or should be traded, and whether or not head coach Mike Woodson is doing the job right.

One subject in particular has come to the forefront and pretty much stayed there: THE BENCH. While this discussion will probably never end (at least as long as Woodson is head coach), perhaps we should take a closer look at some specifics. It’s easy to say that Woodson has under-utilized his bench. It is equally easy to say the exact opposite. And there are no doubt plenty of “facts” that can be used, twisted, or otherwise presented to support both opinions, as is the case with most opinion-driven subjects (though curiously, no “facts” have been presented for EITHER side). Of course, we all know that not all teams are the same. So while Woodson may make use of his bench as much, more, or less than other coaches/teams do, how much relevance is there in that point? There seems to be more relevance to the fact that Woodson claims a desire to use a deeper rotation, and play certain players more, while doing the opposite, until key injuries force his hand.

Some teams have winning records year after year with the use of an 8 man rotation. This Hawks team is not yet one of those teams, with only a winning half-season record to support such an idea.  And so, Woodson’s utilization of the bench remains…ultimately…debatable.  

On to other matters. After finding themselves on the wrong end of the barrel in a shootout against Golden State (never advisable), the Hawks found their footing against Toronto, beating them 87-84. Good games from the shoot-happy starting backcourt, with JJ going for 28 points and 6 boards, and Bibby gathering 23 points and 5 assists. The Hawks also got a big boost from Josh Smith, who played a good bit of center with Pachulia out with foul trouble. Smith chipped in 22 points and 14 rebounds on 50% shooting, with 3 assists, and 1 turnover. Flip Murray added 12, despite subpar shooting, and Solomon Jones got a decent 18 minutes of playing time. Rarely used reserves Gardner and West miraculously saw the floor for a combined 9 and a half minutes.

Up next is Chicago (tomorrow night), and we’ve faced these guys before. While Horford would be nice to have around (especially against Drew Gooden), we are as likely as not to be without his and Marvin Williams’ services. Aside from Gooden, however, our problems against the Bulls are not in the frontcourt, but the backcourt. Woodson will need all hands on deck against the speedy, strong, and smart trio of Rose, Gordon, and Hinrich. Meanwhile, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni present their own problems, and Noah and Thomas are hustling well lately. Not to mention, the Bulls have shown they are no idle threat, recently beating both Cleveland and Toronto, while losing to hot Portland and San Antonio teams. This is a dangerous team, and the Hawks will have to work hard on defense to limit their backcourt lethality, while looking to do damage in the frontcourt without all the usual weapons.

Having said that, we can win this game. Just a matter of matchups, right?

31 comments Add your comment

Matt = niremetal

January 19th, 2009
10:33 pm

Yes, except JJ is coming off a game where he busted his butt for 45 minutes. If he doesn’t get rest, he’ll be out of gas well before the final stretch. If our beloved coach can’t find it in himself to use his bench enough to get our 3 healthy starters at least 8 minutes of rest each, I fear that the matchups won’t matter.

MannyT

January 20th, 2009
2:19 am

Yes we can (win).

The Bulls played at NY on Monday, so they could be tired as well. Vinny del Negro is no Scott Skiles, so we have a decent chance to make something happen. The big question for me is who will provide defense off the bench? AC–out, Mario–sore at best. I hope they remember to pack a uniform for Gardner as he doesn’t use it much.

Woody is forced to pull from the bucket of involuntary creativity until the starters return. It could be great or it could be a mess. The games will tell.

BWAF

Najeh Davenpoop

January 20th, 2009
2:38 am

The Bulls are deeper, but the Hawks are better. Which team gets more energy from the front court will be big in this game. Will Josh Smith be able to compensate for the absence of Marvin and Horford again by controlling the boards, or will Tyrus Thomas (the no-basketball-IQ Josh Smith), Andres Nocioni and Joakim Noah get their hustle plays? Will Zaza and Solo be able to provide quality minutes so that Josh can spend some time guarding Luol Deng, or will Deng spend much of the game able to post up smaller players like Mo Evans? Both teams are carried by their guards offensively, so which front court can score the hustle points and control the paint better will determine the winner of Tuesday’s game.

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
7:46 am

Defending Chicago’s guards will be a challenge.

By and large, our frontcourt (even with injuries) is better. One critical element in this game will be foul trouble. Zaza gets in trouble, we’ll have issues. Even moreso if Josh does, as he’s providing much more of an offensive punch for the team. We’ll also need contributions from Solo, and very possibly Morris. I’d like to see Hunter get some run, too, if at all feasible.

Melvin

January 20th, 2009
10:57 am

I think the key to a Hawks victory against the Bulls is to control Gooden. He has been a Hawks killer and given Josh fits trying to guard him. Looks as if Gooden is no longer a starter as their coach decided to go with the youth movement. Which could be a good thing for the Hawks as Gooden is their only low post scoring threat. Noah and Thomas brings alot of energy and make alot of hustle plays so we need to box them out and keep them off the boards denying them opportunities for 2nd chance points. I think Woody should let JJ guard Deng and put Mo on Rose. JJ should be able to deny Deng post position. If Mo can’t guard Rose than that may not be a bad thing b/c he sometimes become shot happy and dominate the ball keeping the other Bulls player from getting involved in the offense. Hopefully, Bibby can slow down Hinrich b/c he’s been the one guy that’s able to run their offense effectively.

Hawks realist

January 20th, 2009
2:52 pm

I am certainly happy that we are progressing every year, but I do have my concerns. I don’t want to restate the obvious coaching deficiencies, lack of using/developing your bench, getting into shouting matches with key players, and just plain stubborn stupdity. Ok, I feel better that I got that out of my systme.

I unfortunately predict that we will come out sluggish tonight, get behind early by a huge amount (22 pts after 1st quarter), and fight back in the fourth to cut the lead to 7 (with 5:35 to play). Fatigue will set in, we will miss several free throws, and the Bulls will pull away to win by 12 (115-103). Folks, are we getting tired of repeating the same old pattern. Now, I realize that we will be without two starters, but until Woody develops his other bench players (Solo, Law, Randolph, West and on & on & on) we will lose close games late ’cause the starters will be gassed.

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
7:54 pm

Hawks Realist predicts a loss and even describes the how/why of it. Interesting.

Any other opinions of like mind or differing points of view?

doc

January 20th, 2009
9:03 pm

well, i was pretty impressed with the start however things have quickly turned into their favor. streaky man streaky. jj gets stuffed to end the quarter from the outside no less, what gives?

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
9:10 pm

Too many jumpers already, though Bibby is showing that he has the hot hand. We need to find creative ways to keep getting him good looks.

Josh in a bit of early foul trouble hurts already, as he is far and away the bulk of our inside scoring presence, what with Horford and Williams out.

Winning a game of jumpshots against the Bulls is no easy task, and one we need to avoid like the plague…

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
9:51 pm

Bibby continues to score at a good clip, and the guys are finding ways to get him the ball. However, he is far and away the most effective scorer tonight with us having gone away from Josh Smith, and JJ starting slowly. In addition, Flip is already 1-7.

Nice ball movement on the series that got Gardner a good look from the arc, which he knocked down. I know it was only one shot, but I say give him some more looks, if given a chance. The guy is a shooter and scorer. Of course, having made that one shot, he is liable to see no more playing time the rest of the night (while Flip goes 4-20 or something like that)….

What’s demoralizing is the ridiculous difference in the rebound column. 28-13? Really? The Bulls have a lot of hustlers on their squad, but that’s no excuse. We have guys just as capable, and this margin should be a LOT closer, even with two of our starters out.

We have only 4 turnovers, while they have twice as many. In addition, we have allowed them to shoot 50% from the field, while we shoot 10% less. And there it is: rebounds, hustle plays, and defense. Improve all three, and we win this easily.

A couple of bad calls back-to-back shortly before the half didn’t help either, but these things do happen, and there is nothing to be done about it. The rest…well, that’s on the Hawks….

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
9:54 pm

It could be argued that we are using our bench as much as Chicago is, but that is an incomplete statement at best.

Only Murray has played in double figures minutes-wise. Meanwhile on the Chicago side, three of their bench players have played double figures in minutes, with the fourth one still managing a significant contribution.

Their bench has proven quite effective. Ours has barely registered a ripple in the game…

HB Ando

January 20th, 2009
10:45 pm

Watching the game, mid-way through the fourth, I have two prevalent feelings: first, I’m impressed by how this team doesn’t yield to what could easily be the “excuse” of not having Horford and Marvin. These guys compete hard, and have been all season. Is that something we should credit the players, Woody, or both? Whatever you think about Woody, you have to give him some credit in this regard.

The second feeling is of ominous concern. In playing his starters this hard (and in his starters playing so hard, for such protracted minutes), I can’t escape the feeling that another injury is coming. We already have Horford and Marvin out. And Horford’s absence has underscored the issue of limited front court production from the bench (which continues to drive the essential chicken-and-egg discussions related to those guys either not being ready, or having not been given enough time to develop readiness for greater roles).

The ongoing perception of this team is that it’s young. But if you look at JJ, Bibby and Flip, we’re talking 27, 30 and 29. JJ leads the NBA in minutes per game. Don’t have to look back too far to his calf injury to know that his body CAN break down under the duress of this crazy load.

So while there’s no question the team is good, as good as its record, they’re not so good (and clearly not as “deep” as a majority of folks wanted to proclaim, going into the season) that they can continue to lose key players (what team is?).

Still looks like they lack any insurance, from a depth perspective.

Will they continue to roll the dice on a short rotation, or will they go seek some additional depth, via acquisition, to increase the likelihood of maintaining this winning pace (or guard against the possibility of a crash)?

I’ll say this about Mike Bibby: while multiple, early-season references, by other bloggers, regarding my negative opinion about him were factually incorrect, I DO have to admit that he’s a better player than I gave him credit for. He’s not a better point guard than I thought. But his fit with the versatile JJ, as a PG with a scorer’s primary mentality, is pretty dang correct.

Guess we’ll see how tonight ends. But win or lose, I’m not too worried about the meaning of tonight’s outcome. These guys need to get healthy and find a balance between bringing necessary intensity on a nightly basis, and having healthy players, with something left in the tank, come playoff time. It’s a balancing act that I think will prove challenging as the season progresses.

Nice post, podna……….

Najeh Davenpoop

January 20th, 2009
10:48 pm

Yeah I agree with Ando about the backcourt minutes, and I’ve been feeling this for a while. Unfortunately, although Woody can be held accountable for not playing Acie Law more minutes earlier in the season, right now he really doesn’t have much of a choice.

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
10:58 pm

Call Mike Bibby “The Matador”, because he was a Bull-killer tonight. Congrats to the Hawks for making enough runs to win this.

Better balance in scoring, with good double digit contributions from Zaza and Smith to go with Bibby’s outburst. We still got outrebounded badly, and I cannot for the life of me understand why Woody called a timeout with 3.4 seconds left, and us up by 4, but whatever.

A win is a win. Up next is the struggling Milwaukee Bucks team.

doc

January 20th, 2009
11:02 pm

quite a game for our leader and mr. yang force himself bibby. slow of foot quick of mind. the cat is quicker than the bulls seem to think. really good effort, only these guys seem to want to do it as hard as they can. two in a row, awesome.

Big Ray

January 20th, 2009
11:07 pm

Once again, HB Ando asks the tough questions. Watching the Bulls play, and looking at the box score, I see nothing but minus signs on their bench players. I see nothing but contribution.

Looking at our guys, I ONE, that’s right ONE guy even making a dent in things (Flip Murray), and he did not shoot well. All of our bench guys ended up with minus signs. Now, I’ve said before that I feel the +/- stuff gets made too much of. But disparity like THAT cannot be good. To make matters worse, it seems to be happening a lot.

Are we seeing the by-product of a bench that only sees three regular contributors, and what does this do to our team when two of them are forced into starting roles?

Bibby bailed us out tonight. But as Najeh says, heavy minutes in the backcourt again…44 or 45 apiece this time. Against a team that is struggling more than we are, no less. But as Ando says, we need to get healthy…soon. Before someone else gets hurt.

All I can say is that if it’s Bibby, we’ll be finding out a lot more about this team (and it’s coach) than we might want to be willing to acknowledge.

Melvin

January 20th, 2009
11:31 pm

I told you guys that we were going to have trouble on the boards with the energy that Noah and company brings. Those guys were quicker to the ball when it was in the air. Hmmm, the game came down to the decision making of D.Rose and he’s ready yet. Good talent but plays at 100 mph the entire game. He’s going to be great… Good thing Rose and the Hawks kept the ball out of Hinrich hands… Great win Hawks…

Melvin

January 20th, 2009
11:32 pm

That should of read that D.Rose is NOT ready yet…

Ariose

January 21st, 2009
2:53 am

…..yup… NIOah really got uder my skin with all of his active hustling though, still a win is a win….and it was a good showing by the boys in blue tonght.

Ariose

January 21st, 2009
2:54 am

…….Joakim (Noah)…..

HOMEGROWN aka E.J.

January 21st, 2009
11:34 am

Nice to see that we pulled another one out in short handed fashoin. I posted on the other blog, should we be giving Woodrow more credit than he is given for what he has done so far? I don’t understand how we can be doing this well with a coach that is doing such a bad job. I DO get fustrated when we lose because you can see some of the short-sightedness in his coaching, but we have won more than we have lost, so that has to count for something. What did Woodrow do last night that helped win the game for us? Was this just a good game for him? Tell me what you all think.

Don!

January 21st, 2009
12:52 pm

Thank you, Vinnie Del Negro.

The next time someone bashes Woody (and it might just be me), remember we could have Vinny as our coach.

With that having been said, this is a big win. We’re in the grind it out part part of the season, where any win on the road is a good win — and a win on the road against a decent team is a double bonus. Add in the fact that 1/3rd of rotation isn’t available, and this is the type of game that separates the teams that expect to make the playoffs from those that hope to make the playoffs.

Now, let’s just keep everyone (left) healthy, and use this time to get some productive minutes from folks who haven’t seen as much run as they should/could have.

Later,

Don!

MannyT

January 21st, 2009
2:05 pm

Kudos to Woody for getting a win when he had to play his practice squad.

Ray, as for the +/- stuff, just look at the major messages. I saw a few minutes of the game, but it looks like things were definitely NOT in our favor when Mario was in the game. Flip had a significant -, but it was over a lot of time. When he played with more bench guys, the Bulls probably took control of the game. Across the board our starters had + ratings so the first unit must have played well against the Bulls.

Ando, I’m not sure where the help comes from, but the guys with expiring contracts are contributors (Zaza, Marvin.) Unless someone wants a 1st round draft pick in the 20s, we probably have to give up something to get something. Even the Chills trade card is for damaged goods until he comes back from that hernia surgery. Unless it is a blockbuster deal, I don’t see the Hawks making any trades that we initiate.

We need to be careful with the Bucks on Friday. Skiles seemed to have WOody’s number whne he was in Chicago…and Michael Redd is back.

BWAF

jhan

January 21st, 2009
5:57 pm

No Woody bashing today. Great win.

I didn’t think the Hawks would make any moves last year & they suprised me. I hope they do so again.

Big Ray

January 21st, 2009
8:52 pm

Don!

Not willing to bash Woody either, but I see more of him getting out of the way than I see him being the designer and leader of what is working. While that might seem cruel and crass, consider what he has been quoted as saying. The man has said that he gets all excited and wrapped around the axle, and it is Bibby who tells him things will be okay. It’s Woody who keeps saying things like this, things you don’t want to hear from your head coach. If this were more about Woody, and less about Bibby, then we would have seen a much more vibrant offense with more ball and personnel movement well before Bibby got here. But we didn’t. We saw nothing more than ISO Joe and a very stagnant offense. It doesn’t take a super pg to promote ball movement. Any guard with two working legs can do it. But I believe it DOES take a pg with enough talent to force the issue….which I think is what we’re seeing.

As for Del Negro, there’s no comparison whatsoever. Del Negro worked in the front office, but was never a coach before accepting the head coaching job in Chicago. Woodson was an assistant coach (and acclaimed top assistant to Larry Brown) for years, on more than one team, and is in his 5th year as Hawks head coach.

No comparison whatsoever.

MannyT,

Mario will never play enough to be developed into a useable asset here. Or at least, that’s how I see it. This means no matter how hard he plays in practice, he eventually becomes a casualty. The feel good story of him working hard to get here eventually wears off. Pessimistic viewpoint? Perhaps. But under Woody, I don’t see him doing much. And not to make it all about Woody…perhaps Mario just doesn’t have what’s needed.

Jhan,

I agree, it would be nice to have a nice surprise. I figure we could use a good, smart move that solidifies the roster, especially now that we’ve learned that injuries can happen, and how tough it can be to overcome them.

Don!

January 21st, 2009
9:10 pm

How about us getting JChill back?

He’s out 6-8 weeks, and Olympiacos is looking at Starbury. Now I know that Olympiacos has money to burn, but … I have to wonder if would they consider dropping, releasing, whatever JChill if they get booted in their round of 16 over the next couple of weeks.

The Hawks just have to look better now for JChill — and he is EXACTLY what we need down the stretch and into the playoffs. Well, exactly as in we can’t even begin to get a quality big man in here this season without mortgaging the future. Josh can come in here and get us time at the 2, 3 and 4 (in a small lineup) — stretching our bench out while helping our defensive intensity.

Anyway, I know it may well be a pipe dream — but would it hurt Sund and the ASG to check into it?

Later,

Don!

Big Ray

January 21st, 2009
11:14 pm

Don!,

I can’t say I’m against it. Him being hurt has to be a wrinkle in the suit, though…

richbrave

January 22nd, 2009
2:56 pm

Hey ray:

Thought I’d swing over and give you a shout out. BTW, that’s not you posting up on the WIZARDS blogs under the name “Ray” is it? Looks like our heros are learning how to win hurt. Something the WIZARDS never did under EDDIE JORDAN.

Big Ray

January 22nd, 2009
10:08 pm

Nope, it wasn’t me..

Big Ray

January 24th, 2009
2:35 pm

Okay, this blog is pretty much dead….

HB Ando

January 24th, 2009
9:31 pm

New blog is up…..