The title of this blog is probably a phrase that’s over-used and cliched to death, but I can’t think of something that applies more to the Hawks right now.
This time last year saw Mike Woodson shave the rotation down to 7 or 8 men, a move that he admitted (in an interview/article by Sekou K. Smith) was not favored by his assistants. Not so this year. The fact is, Coach Woodson has actually lengthened his rotation to 9, sometimes 10 men since Marvin Williams went down with a back injury. I don’t know about you, but I figure the devil has to be checking his thermostat after that one. Did anybody see this coming? I mean, we ARE used to Woody saying that he wants to extend his rotation, that he needs to find a way to do it (while not actually doing it). Well, apparently he found a way to do it. Let’s examine the guys who are benefitting the most right now.
Woody has developed a sudden penchant for putting Mario West into the game either late in the first quarter, or early in the second. It’s worked, as West absolutely refuses to let whomever he is guarding get into an offensive rhythm. Not only that, but the 6′5″ guard is relentless on the glass. On BOTH sides of the floor. West is still somewhat out of control on the offensive end, but the man has absolutely no fear, and can get to the basket if there’s a clear path. His energy, hustle, and defensive attitude make up for his shortcomings. The best part is, when he goes out, the Hawks aren’t losing any offensive punch.
Enter Solomon Jones, who inexplicably has been glued to the bench after rather promising early season production. Solo is another energy guy who has somewhat decent touch around the basket (if he actually gets the ball, that is) . His biggest impact is on defense where he can use his length to bother opponents, and on the glass where again his length and leaping ability come into play.
Last, but certainly not least, is Acie Law. While many (myself included) have ground their teeth at the paltry minutes Law has been getting up to this point, none of us could say for certain just how good Law would be. And while his stats have not jumped out at anybody, he’s as solid as they come. Unlike during his collegiate career, Law isn’t real big on taking shots these days. Instead, he has focused on being what he has been asked to be- a point guard, first and foremost. But lately, he hasn’t been shying away from shots either, not like he was earlier in the season. However, that’s not where he’s been making the biggest impact. No, that has been on defense, where he has allowed guys like Flip Murray and Joe Johnson to regard their respective counterparts (a rare luxury when playing next to Mike Bibby) , while he guards the opposing point guard. And what a job he has done. Even Chris Paul was not able to do a lot against him when he was in the game. Not only that, but Law has more than adequately done the one thing that takes the most pressure off of Joe Johnson- handle the ball without making a bunch of mistakes. Try looking at Law’s assist-to-turnover ratio. Look at his stats in those two categories for the last few games in which he has played. You might be very surprised.
The question is, did it really take an injury to a starter for this to happen, or was Woody going to do it anyway? We’ll never know unless he’s asked that question in an interview (hey, somebody send a memo about this to Sekou Smith…he’s the man). Inquiring minds want to know, but does the “why” of it really matter? Perhaps what matters more is that not only is Woody doing it, but he’s doing a decent job of it. Maybe more than decent. Yes, I know, grudging praise….but pardon me if I’m not going to get overly excited about a handful of games in the face of five whole years. Besides, there are two bigger questions. One, will Woody continue his prudent use of the bench if/when Marvin returns to the lineup? It’s only natural that some bench players will lose playing time when a starter returns, but we don’t know if Marvin will be 100% healthy when he returns. Chances are, he won’t be that healthy until sometime during the offseason. And since that is likely the case, playing him more than twenty or so minutes a game until he proves himself ready to go, would be a mistake. And two, how much trust will Woody show to these bench players (and how will he use them) in the playoffs?
Either way, what Woody is doing right now is working. And it’s building confidence among the bench players, and the team overall. These guys have been needing to know that they can count on each other when the heat is on. Better late than never.
So. Do you think this is an aberration, or just a coincidental turning over of a new leaf? Tell us what you think. Gotta go for now. It’s halfway through the 4th quarter, and the Hawks are up by double digits over the Blazers. Nothing like home cooking.