After watching the Hawks fight somewhat gamely for the better part of the game, I began to believe they could pull it off. The last five minutes proved that thought wrong, at least for this game.
In the long line of steps it takes to become one of the best teams in the league, the Hawks have just discovered the latest: learning how to win when you’re short on manpower. It’s not easy, but that’s not the point is it? Wait a minute. Maybe it IS the point. Winning when you’re at full strength isn’t easy, but winning when you’re NOT at full strength is even harder. An old adage says that anything worthwhile is never easy. That seems to hold true in a lot of places, including the NBA, but I digress. Wednesday night’s loss to the Miami Heat looked a bit uglier in the end than it truely was. It also exposed Atlanta’s habits when faced with adversity, as well as the need to find other ways to counter such conditions. Was this loss just a case of missed shots? Shooting less than 38% from the field certainly didn’t help. Was it defense? The Heat shot just over 50%, but scoring 94 points is nothing to write home about. Not only that, but no Heat player scored more than 19 points, even though they did have five guys score in double figures. Still, no particularly exceptional games from Wade, Beasley, or even Jermaine O’Neal. Did they miss Jamal Crawford that much? Well, let’s look at what are probably some of the more common questions on our minds as Hawks fans.
Do the Hawks have enough scorers?
Conventional wisdom and a butt-load of team stats says yes. Joe is a 20+ points per game guy. Josh averages roughly 15 per game, Al is between 13 and 14, Marvin gets 10, and Jamal Crawford comes off the bench for almost 18 per contest. That’s five guys averaging double figures, with a sixth (Mike Bibby) just a point away from doing so. But what happens when you take one of those guys away? How about 1 and a half (Crawford was out, Joe was sick)? What if it was two of them? Maybe the question isn’t whether or not there are enough scorers. Maybe it’s a little more detailed than that. Moving right along…
Are there others who can step up, and how can this be managed?
Every team needs a backup plan for when the proverbial “Plan A” isn’t working. Plan A might be a batch of screen and roll plays, or screen and shoots, or even ISOs. The whole team practices the main plan, but not everybody can execute the plan the same way. If they could, we wouldn’t have starters and reserves. So naturally there has to be more than one main idea, right? So what happens when bench players come in? More importantly, what happens when bench players have to come in and play very significant minutes? Let’s get more into the nitty gritty and ask this: what happens when key players of the main gameplan aren’t available? Do you go with an alternate gameplan, one that you have practiced? And who is supposed to take on the new roles, or pick up the slack, as it were?
The Hawks get the bulk of their scoring from the backcourt by rote. But what happens when they can’t do that? This past game against Miami ought to be a clear warning against such scenarios. Plan A is to let Joe do his thing, which wasn’t working so well in the later stages of the game. The closest thing to a Plan B would be to let Jamal Crawford do his thing. Only, there WAS no Jamal Crawford. Now what? Could the Hawks get enough scoring out of their reserves and their starting front line? The bench players took exactly 8 shots, and missed all but two of them. With Crawford and Pachulia missing, that still was a telling statistic. Meanwhile, Marvin Williams gave a good effort, but still missed 8 of his 11 total shots.
The Hawks went to Josh Smith 14 times, and he delivered on half of them. Al Horford only got 7 shot attempts in his 44 minutes of play, 4 of which he connected on, but don’t start the protest just yet. He also had a season worst 6 turnovers. Those alone could account for 6 chances at either taking a shot or making a play, and were certainly something that had to influence how many more looks he would get. So there it is. Was this just a bad game, or do the Hawks have what it takes amongst it’s other heavy rotational guys to get it done?
Is it a matter of personnel, or a matter of strategy and tactics?
Joe and Jamal are good at the ISO game most nights, and their abilities alone make it possible for others to find openings. But if your ISO guys aren’t playing well, or aren’t available, how do you win the game? Perhaps running more screen and roll plays, or setting screens to get guys good looks at the basket. Perhaps something else. This is something the Hawks have to figure out as they move forward. As good as they’ve had it in the injury department (let’s all knock on wood at the same time, so to speak), they can’t count on that, especially come playoff time. Devising and implementing an alternate plan or two may go a long way when adversity rears its ugly head again. Again, this is easily said, but perhaps not feasible if the right personnel are not in place. Do the Hawks need to add somebody, and if they do….what or who should they be looking for?
AL’S FIRST BIG GAME
Well, since his college days, anyhow. Al Horford has played in two national championships in college (winning both times), so he’s no stranger to big games. But the NBA all-star game? That’s a horse of another color. At least he’s not going alone, and perhaps teammate Joe Johnson can clue Al in on some of the festivities and what not. You know, where to go, what to do, and how to act during the game-time introductions. It will be interesting to see what Al does when he gets in the game (you better play him more than a minute or two, Stan Van Puff-A-Lot!). Will he be nervous for the first time in years? No matter how it turns out, we wish him the best, and we’re all proud of him. Even, I’m sure, those of us who think he’s undersized and out of place. After all, an all-star is an all-star. And Al is OUR all-star!
Okay, I just had to ask. Some of the answers have already been given, and some I can predict rather accurately, I’m sure. But do you think the Hawks need to try and make a tweak before the trade deadline passes? Do you think they’re willing to do so? If so, what or who should they be looking for, and what deals do you think are feasible? For what it’s worth, I think Joe Johnson is absolutely out of this mix altogether, as that story will be told this coming summer. But that’s just me talking….