Opening “The Factory” against the Pacers

 

Well, here we go at last! The regular season begins for the Atlanta Hawks in two days, and it starts with two games at home against Eastern Conference opponents, followed by a 4 game swing out west. Hawks fans couldn’t ask for a much better way to begin the season than to have the first two games at home. Well, a victory would sure be nice. Two victories would be even better. In fact, that should be the expectation, particularly because the Hawks played pretty well at home last season, and certainly finished the season better than the two teams they’ll face first this season.

Up first is the Indiana Pacers, a team that is most likely doomed to struggle this season, particularly without forward Mike Dunleavy. Danny Granger will get his points and Troy Murphy will get his rebounds. Jeff Foster will be tough and solid. Roy Hibbert showed himself to be serviceable in somewhat limited minutes last season. TJ Ford is quick and can score a little on his own. Beyond that, the Pacers are not a major threat, though taking any NBA team lightly can prove to be a mistake. Anyway, here’s a breakdown of what the Pacers bring, versus what the Hawks bring.

DEFENDING THE FACTORY

The Hawks will make more headway this season in much the same fashion as they did last season: by defending well in games. More to the point, defending home base. Defending homecourt isn’t just about winning games. It’s also about winning the fans over. Nothing makes homecourt the bane of visiting teams more than a fan base that is fully, enthusiastically, and maniacally behind their team. And to get your fans fully behind you…well, winning at home always helps. Especially on opening night!

Having said that, let’s review what the Pacers have to offer on offense, and what the Hawks should be concentrating on:

For Indiana, it’s the Danny Granger show. He gets the most shots, as most of the plays run around him. Granger is going to get his points most nights, but he isn’t the difference between winning and losing unless it’s a close score at the end of a game. The guys who can make the biggest difference are Ford, Murphy, and possibly Luther Head.

Troy Murphy doesn’t do much damage on the block, but he can and will stretch the defense with his outside shooting touch. TJ Ford’s greatest threat is penetration. Never known for his outside shooting, Ford has gotten better in recent years, and is one of the game’s fastest players. He can get less creative teammates involved with dump-off passes once he gets into the lane, and is just as adept at faking the pass and getting the layup, as 15 points per game on 45% shooting showed last season. Make him beat you from the outside, and he’s not nearly as effective.

Roy Hibbert can’t be ignored, as he’s shown himself to be better than many thought he would be. But he still plays limited minutes, producing numbers that are decent, but not overwhelming. As long as he’s not given free rein in the post, he won’t hurt you too much. On the other hand, if he has improved this facet of his game…look out. Speaking of free rein, Luther Head is not somebody you leave open. Head doesn’t shoot a high percentage from the field overall, but he the fact that he’s sitting on 39% career shooting from 3-point range would suggest that you don’t want to let him get too many good looks at the basket.

To be successful on defense, the Hawks need to improve on what plagued them last year: hound the ball and prevent easy penetration. Close out on shooters and bottle up the passing lanes.

BATTLE OF THE BOARDS

This is actually a problem that the Hawks have been having, and it needs to stop. Winning the contest on the boards helps you win the game, pure and simple. Troy Murphy is a near-prolific rebounder, but he’s not alone. Hibbert can grab a few, and if he has worked on his game at all, this is probably one area that will show. Of course, being 7′2″ and 280 lbs never hurts. Jeff Foster is as solid as they come off the bench, and between ex-Hawk Solomon Jones and Josh McRoberts, I expect there to be some hustle from these guys. The Hawks have to counter that by out-hustling. Horford established himself as a solid rebounder when he came into the league, but he’ll need help from his cohorts. Josh Smith is capable of getting 11 or 12 rebounds in any given game, but the effort and committment isn’t always there. It’ll have to be, particularly against the Pacers, who won’t have a whole lot else going for them. But it’s not just Josh. Marvin Williams has to get in on the act as well. Joe Johnson just about always helps out in this category, but if you’re depending on your star shooting guard for a meaningful rebound contribution, then you’re in trouble.

The big difference may come down to the bench. Zaza, Joe Smith, and whomever else Woodson decides to give playing time to in the frontcourt will have to man up to the task. If nothing else, bench players need to be able to rebound well. A rebound is either gaining possession of the ball, or keeping it.

OFFENSIVELY THINKING

Where the Hawks’ offense is concerned, it should be “pick your poison” for the Pacers, if all is going according to plan (uh, assuming the plan calls for something more productive and efficient than…well, you know, that same old play…). Despite “that play” being what it is, nobody on this Pacers team can stop Joe, who is of course option numero uno. Bibby is usually good for double figure points if you get him a few good looks at the basket. Foster and Hibbert can make things difficult for Horford, but that can be counteracted with Horford’s superior quickness and his ability to step out and hit the 15-17 foot jumper. In the meantime, playing a little high-low (with a lob or two passed back and forth) with Josh Smith should draw the attention away from the backcourt, and anything  that involves a fast break will be more than Indiana can handle. Marvin will respond according to the number of touches he gets. If he gets 7-9 shot attempts, one of them will be a three, and he may even go to the line once or twice, netting 13 or 14 points. If he gets more, look for something closer to 2o, or above it. Let’s see what the game plan calls for.

BENCH MOB

If I’m the Pacers, I’m hating the idea of facing the Hawks bench as much as I am the starters. Maybe even more. Why? Well, who do they have that’s going to want to, much less be able to, keep up with Teague and Crawford? Teague will go to the rim every single chance he gets, and will get to the line in the process. Oh, I almost forgot….he can pass a little bit too. Speaking of which, most teams will be keying on Jamal Crawford and expecting him to shoot, but he will probably do more damage by passing to Mo Evans, Zaza Pachulia, and Joe Smith. Gone are the days of sending out a lone hitman from the bench, accompanied by either tired starters or reserves without real assignments. This means more focus, hustle, defense, and rebounding from the reserve unit. Good for Hawks. Bad for Pacers. Look for the bench to absolutely hammer the Pacer reserves and starters alike.

So what do you think the Hawks need to do to win this game? Will we see a different offense than in years past? Who is going to be at the game on opening night?!

113 comments Add your comment

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
8:09 pm

Nothing looks better than such an improved contribution from our frontcourt contingent, instead of watching another round of Bibby/Joe shooting 6-21….

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
8:13 pm

Josh racking up points, steals, assists. Nice!

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
8:54 pm

How about Big Al? 20 and 11, folks. Not shabby!

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
8:55 pm

Geez, is anybody else around? Guess not…

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
9:57 pm

Our defense as a whole looked like crap for the better part of three quarters. We did force a lot of turnovers (and nearly as many were unforced), though.

Have to play better defense against better teams, or we’ll be like Golden State: trying to outscore the competition.

Having said that, I’m glad that we won opening night (especially at home), and was ecstatic to see the offense flow through the frontcourt early and often. Al and Josh looked pretty damn good on offense.

Josh had 8 assists, 1 turnover to go with his 18 points and anemic 3 rebounds. Not to mention 5 steals and 2 blocked shots.

Al was an absolute beast with Dwight Howard-like numbers. 24 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocked shots?

Where are the Al haters at?

The bench was fairly solid, and I was glad to see Woody play those guys. Mo Evans was the highlight of that crew.

But heck yeah, I’ll take that win!

vava74

October 28th, 2009
10:21 pm

Couldn’t catch the game. No available feeds. :-/

I know that nothing replaces actually watching the game, however, looking at the play by play and the boxscore I think we should be worried.

Indiana had 25TO (there is obviously some merit from our side) and are an unbalanced and fairly weak team in my opinion (in particular defensively) and too dependent from Granger on offense (once he got tired and under pressure he was mostly out of the game).

Al had an excellent game, however, he was playing against less than stellar opposition since Hibbert is kind of an evolved Siler.

Most compelling stat? ZERO TOs by our bench!!

vava74

October 28th, 2009
10:30 pm

How bad are the Bobcats?

S Williams min22 fg2-3 ft8-11 3ptd0-0 or3 dr6 treb9 ass3 stl1 blk1 to2 pf5 pts12

KevinA

October 28th, 2009
10:47 pm

A little less ISO JJ and a little more up tempo Hawks pulls off first game of the year. Great balance in scoring is a theme we hope to continue. My only problem with Woody was playing so many minutes for Bibby and JJ. With 5 minutes left why was JJ in the game. Appeasement for an all star?

Perfect game to wash out the bad taste against Orlando. All the players and the team will have to sleep good tonight. 1 win down and 81 to play. 6 players in double figures with much better ball movement. What is not to like?

KevinA

October 28th, 2009
11:01 pm

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
8:09 pm
Nothing looks better than such an improved contribution from our frontcourt contingent, instead of watching another round of Bibby/Joe shooting 6-21….

I am with you brother.

Big Ray

October 28th, 2009
9:57 pm
Our defense as a whole looked like crap for the better part of three quarters. We did force a lot of turnovers (and nearly as many were unforced), though.

We part paths just a bit here. The Pacers just shot unbelieveable. We would habe probably lost this game last year and for sure in years before that. Hmmmmm what is that word I am looking for – reslient? Mental toughness?

I am more confident this year than any other. Does that mean we beat Boston in a series – no. I do think we will play better against weaker teams like the Pacers. Call it 2nd tier mojo.

Thought of the night – 2nd tire mojo.

KevinA

October 28th, 2009
11:04 pm

replace tire with tier – if thats not to much trouble.

Sautee

October 29th, 2009
6:40 pm

I surely hope that we feed Horford and Josh that much all year.

Inside out, baby.

niremetal

October 29th, 2009
7:38 pm

I’m not holding my breath. The Pacers play an uptempo, ball movement-heavy game. We played their style of ball. I’m nervous to see what happens when we play teams that play at a much slower clip…

Don!

October 29th, 2009
8:02 pm

A win’s a win … but we looked more like a Western Conference team than I would have liked. Of course, that might be a good thing. Depth is good. 10 players with 10+ minutes played last night!

Ray, what did you do with Woody, and how much to keep his stunt double coaching the Hawks like he did last night? Because as much as anything, I didn’t think Woody had it in him to actually, dare I say it, play his whole roster the way he did last night.

With that having been said, have you guys seen Cleveland yet? I know they’re trying to assemble a lot of new pieces, but … they’re a talented group right now, not a team. Everything folks said about Shaq clogging up the lane to take away one part of King James’ game look pretty astute to me.

As the biggest Hawks fan in Philly (thank you DoD for the relocation package …), getting the NBA all-access package gives you a chance to see all the teams play, especially the archived games online. I’m thinking that Boston is a beast, but after that, spots 2-6 in the East are anyone’s guess.

Oh, and Agent Zero is back folks. The Chad Ochocinco of the NBA has returned. Last night he looked so good, he could have been checking Twitter on the way to the rim. ;-) That makes the Wizards (I almost typed Bullets … does that date me too much?) a much more dangerous team than the zombie-franchise that showed up for some games last season.

Anyway, the season’s just a couple of days old. I wonder how much the first impressions will mean in a couple of more weeks …

Later,

Don!