The only thing worse than suggesting the possibility of something bad happening, is watching that very same thing actually happen. Since my mentioning in the last blog that Atlanta could conceivably go on a four game losing streak, we’ve seen the Hawks lose their third in a row to a tough Milwuakee Bucks squad. On tap is a somewhat new, somewhat same look Utah Jazz team that is playing some very good basketball. Do the Hawks have the moxie to get past their usual issues (and some new ones) and come back to their winning ways? Friday night’s contest will tell the tale.
Three Captains Review
Since this is a somewhat popular and valid subject, I figure we should evaluate it as fans. Besides being a rather unconventional approach, Coach Drew’s selection of team captains (most notably of selecting Josh Smith) has also come under question right from the start. Why don’t we evaluate it in 10 game blocks, unless there is a significant enough vote to evaluate this for a longer or shorter period of time? Since the game against Utah will be the tenth game of the season, we’ll all throw our two cents down on how the Atlanta team captains are performing in their roles. Here’s my first question : Do you think the team captains are getting along in their roles and staying on the same page? And the second: What do you think each guy should be primarily responsible for role-wise, based on their respective strengths and weaknesses? More questions apply, of course, so I encourage any and all fans to ask questions and give answers.
Coach Drew, you’re on tap
As Beat Writer Michael Cunningham reports, the Hawks still have some mental toughness issues. Why? Is it coaching, or is it player personnel? Is it both? Whatever the case, Larry Drew’s comments from that link are eerily familiar :
“That’s a big concern because I’ve always looked at this team as when it gets a little tough, we have a tendency to hold our head down….. Anybody can go through stretches where they play well and they win and everybody is high-fiving. When it gets tough, that is when your character really gets tested. When it gets a little tough, I don’t want to see guys hanging their heads. I don’t want to see guys giving up.”
And on team captain Josh Smith:
“He wasn’t the only one…..The one thing I don’t want him doing is I don’t want him displaying it. There is a place for it. Certainly we don’t want him doing it out on the floor where the whole world can see he’s upset. We talk about doing it during huddles or at halftime but we don’t want to display it out on the floor. If you get upset, dig your heels in and play a little bit harder.”
From Josh Smith, himself:
“We didn’t play with a lot of intensity and we didn’t share the ball offensively. That’s what lost us the game.”
Sounds too much like last year, doesn’t it? Here’s the worst part for Drew – though he is another guy altogether, he was around when former Mike Woodson was around. Though the roster changes (or lack thereof) are most certainly to be the results of decisions made by management and ownership, Drew has mostly the same roster Woodson had. The result? Fans and media alike will be quick to despise, loathe, and tire of such comments, which are only a reflection of that which is the same about this team now, as it was before.
So what does Larry Drew do now? How does he get this team to quit hanging their collective heads and begin bickering the moment things begin to go wrong? Make no mistake about it, this issue rests mostly with the starters, although all rotational players are most certainly involved and affected. Speaking of the bench….
Bench must make amends
The very same unit that helped out big time in the early winning streak, even when major starters (like Joe Johnson) were struggling, has now become another liability. Some suggest that the bench unit is not capable of getting the job done against good teams, and that the production witnessed in the first six games was only due to inferior competition. Larry Drew feels that he needs to experiment more for the purpose of establishing a better substituion pattern and lineup combinations. Sounds like a wise move. Perhaps the thing to understand here is that it takes time, more specifically it takes games, to figure these things out.
Then again, if the talent and skill level simply isn’t there, then what can Drew do? What do YOU think? Does the bench have enough talent to hang in there against the good teams in the NBA, or is it a lost cause without more change in personnel?
Hawks Vs. Jazz
Everything starts with Deron Williams. Stop him, and you can do something to the Jazz. The problem is, you can’t really stop him, much less if you’re a team like the Hawks, who struggle against the better point guards in the game, much less the absolute best ones. Williams will get his, but can the Hawks keep him from getting his teammates involved? That will be the key, as the Orlando Magic found out Wednesday night when Williams not only ripped them for 30 points, but also dished out a whopping 14 assists. That’s accounting for additional 28 points…assuming that none of the shots he assisted on were three pointers!
The problems don’t stop there, however. Utah made a splash in free agency by acquiring PF/C Al Jefferson, a low post scorer by rote, and he’s off to a solid start in scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg). Jefferson is not a consistently potent defensive threat, but he does get a block or so per game, and he’s a heavy, wide body in the lane. The real story however, is Paul Milsap. The extra hard working power forward who was a backup to the departed (and now injured) Carlos Boozer has risen to the forefront, leading the Jazz in points (23.9) and rebounds (10.1) per game, along with field goal percentage (61.4%). To put some emphasis on that, witness the 46 point, 9 rebound effort he put up aginst the over-hyped Miami Heat. Yes, the Heat are weak in the post, but that’s still quite an achievement.
On the wings, the Jazz have the persistent defensive threat in Andrei Kirilenko, who not only limits your operating space and gets after shots, but also haunts passing lanes like a demon. Paired with Raja Bell, the two of them are enough to give any team’s wing players fits, while also providing adequate but unintrusive role player-like scoring. If the Jazz have any true weak points, it’s likely their fairly young bench. However, any Jerry Sloan soldiers are going to be pretty well disciplined, so there isn’t much of a break in the intensity level, even if there is a talent drop off (like on most teams). Still, the minutes are well balanced as most of Sloan’s reserves play around roughly 9 or 10 minutes per game, with guard CJ Miles getting the most by far at about 23 minutes per game.
My Hawks keys to this game.
- Intensity all the time. As mentioned before, the Jazz are disciplined and play with a sense of urgency. The Hawks are capable of such intensity themselves. Can they do it for 4 quarters? Can they do it even when they’re down by 10 points or more? This could be the difference in the game.
- Low post effort and production. Gone is Carlos Boozer, and therefore gone is a 20 and 10 threat that never was overly successful against the Hawks frontcourt in recent times. In his place is Jefferson and Milsap, both men on a mission. Al Horford and Josh Smith will need to come into this game and play like true warriors. If they don’t, watch the Hawks get destroyed. If they do, then the Hawks have a much better chance of coming out on top against a team that is not a huge perimeter threat, particularly from long range. The same can be said of Josh Powell, Zaza Pachulia, and Jason Collins, all of whom are likely to see minutes behind Josh and Al. Collins could be a longshot, or he could play more than sparingly if Horford or Pachulia are struggling to produce, or are experiencing foul trouble.
- Turnovers. The Hawks lost to the Magic partially because they turned the ball over a third more times than Orlando did. The same results could be had against the Jazz, who actually average one more turnover per game than the Hawks do. However, the Jazz are only allowing their opponents to shoot under 43% from the field, while shooting 46% themselves.
-Defense. Utah is already going to hand you a well disciplined, well executed offense to deal with. Any lackadaisacal efforts on defense will end with a double digit loss, and maybe a 20 point one at that.
What are YOUR keys to the game?