How to survive injuries to key players is a lesson the Hawks have been forced to learn twice already this season. Three times, if you count Bibby’s absence due to sickness. Now it appears that the latest victim of the injury bug could be Marvin Williams.
Top AJC Beat Writer Sekou K. Smith reports that Marvin’s back injury is serious enough to where he will be seeking further medical opinion on it. Needless to say, there is somewhat dire speculation as to how long Marvin will be out. And if you think about it, how effective will he be when he can come back? Back injuries are not usually a 24-hour bug, after all. And talk about bad timing, as the three amigos had finally come back together for a possible encore performance during the all-important season-ending stretch run. Yet here they stand, maybe having to finish the season without the guy who is possibly their most versatile and consistent offensive frontcourt threat. Then again, perhaps this is also a portent of things to come. My partner Ando has held a long-standing opinion that the Hawks would eventually have to choose between Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, particularly if they are to add size to their starting lineup. That is an opinion I have agreed with, assuming that the Hawks will hold onto Al Horford tightly with both hands, unless a clear upgrade is offered (and that would have to be a serious upgrade, as I believe Horford holds some of the keys to the future of this team). But without getting too sidetracked, suffice it to say that if Marvin is out for the remainder of the regular season, then we will get to see a couple of things over the course of the final 18 games: how much Marvin really means to this team, and how different the offensive approach will be without him. Will the team’s offense become derailed, or will certain guys get untracked and come to the forefront?
The game against New Orleans was the first example of how things are without Marvin. To me, there are four guys who the Hawks will need to step up and fill the void if Marvin is done. And believe it or not, Mo Evans is largely not one of them (in my opinion). Evans can get away with decent, but not dazzling efforts as long as plays solid defense, hits open or opportunistic shots, and hustles on defense and on the glass.
The first, and most important factor to making up for his offensive production and potential has to be the revitalization of Joe Johnson. Joe looked like his old self against New Orleans with tricky dribbles, fall-away jumpers, beautiful floaters, and dagger threes. Joe went one-on-one throughout most of the game, for the first time in several games, and even veteran ball-hound James Posey couldn’t do anything with him. He dominated the Hornets by shooting over 50% from the field, including a 4-8 showing from beyond the arc. This coupled with the fact that he drew defensive assignment on Chris Paul for much of the evening. The best part? Oh, you’re going to think I’m crazy….but the best part was he only had 2 assists. That’s right. Just 2, matching his turnover total. Let’s face it, Joe is multi-talented, but he is clearly at his best when he can stop worrying about all that ball-handling, stop worrying about all the distribution, and concentrate on scoring. And not just scoring, but going man-a-mano with a defender. And yet, one of the bigger differences in this game was JJ’s willingness to get rid of the ball sooner on the double team. This quicker ball movement not only kept the defense on its heels, but gave him a chance to either improve or change his position for a return pass and subsequent opportunity to score.
The second person who will have to pick it up to make up for Marvin’s offense will be Flip Murray. Murray however, has already been playing at an all-time high, proving to be the best offseason acquisition, something that Rick Sund has to be credited with. Murray’s value comes in his willingness to drive to the basket, as well as hit the midrange jumper and the occasional 3-ball. Murray has no conscience. But in the end, confidence is far more valuable than caution when the shot clock is winding down.
The third person to help will be Mike Bibby. The thing is, Bibby will have to contribute in two different ways. The Hawks will need him to get untracked as well, and we haven’t seen that reassuring performance from him yet, letting us know he’s okay. Beyond Joe Johnson, Bibby is the deadliest perimeter threat we have (when he’s on). But it’s not his shooting alone that the Hawks will need. He also needs to re-take the ball-handling/distribution responsibilities, allowing JJ to run more freely, and set himself up against a helpless defender. Conversely, if Bibby is doing this, he will also be open for a jumper when Joe begins to draw the inevitable double teams. This way, both guys feed off each other without Joe always ending up with the smaller portion (something that hurts both him and the team).
The fourth person is Acie Law. Yes, Acie Law. What does he have to do with Marvin’s absence? Well, if you watched the game against New Orleans and paid attention to more than JJ’s dazzling performance, then you already know. Law has no issues with handling the ball. He has the speed and will to penetrate, and is wonderful at dishing the ball away after fully penetrating the defense. He did it three times against the Hornets, leaving their defense completely stunned. In addition, he has the knack (and again, the speed) for staying in front of opposing point guards, leaving JJ free (once again) to pursue less tiring assignments. If Law gets 15-20 minute of playing time, that is 15-20 minutes that designated scorers Joe and Flip do not have to worry about guarding the opposing point guard or spending too much time pounding the ball, while trying to initiate the offense. That, and Law’s ability to penetrate can result in points for himself. He will also have to hit the open jumper when called upon, as he did against New Orleans.
So there you have it. Can these guys get untracked and stay that way? Will Woodson go along with this scheme (it seems to work)? Will Marvin’s absence be more of a problem on the offensive or defensive ends? If you agree with these ideas, then nod your assent and make any amendments you think belong. If you disagree, sound off and tell us how things should go!