As we know, the Hawks have three team captains. So who is leading this circus, and are they getting along? Given the play of late, one would think that the Hawks have gotten past the chemistry issues they have been having, at least when faced with inferior competition. The question still remains as to whether or not the Hawks can beat good teams. So far, they haven’t. The first win against a winning team will inevitably be faced with another question: Can the Hawks beat good teams consistently?
For now, we just can’t answer that question, and neither can the Hawks. So, let’s review how our team captains are doing. First, let me point out an article containing some of the team’s latest comments on their struggles, courtesy of Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham. The team seems to know everything that is wrong. They say they know they haven’t been mentally tough enough. They say they’ve gone the other way when other teams made a run. They say a lot, really. You know that whole thing about “knowing is half the battle?” Well, there’s the other half that we seem to be missing here. Can these guys get both halves together, or what?
The four time all-star guard is struggling in ways we’ve never really seen him struggle before. In addition to shooting a career low 40.9% from the field, and a dismal 25.6% from three point land, Joe is also averaging the least number of points per game (17.1) that he has in his last seven years. The last time he averaged 17.1, he was the third scoring option on a hot Phoenix Suns team, and was shooting 46% from the field, with a blazing 47.8% coming from three point land. Of late, we’ve seen his left hand shrouded in a glove. Reportedly, the injury happened sometime during preseason or training camp. While an injury to either hand can no doubt affect a player’s performance, there is something of a mystery here. For one thing, the glove has only recently come into play. So too, has the mention and explanation of the injury. For another, it does little to explain 7 games in which Joe has been able to shoot fairly well, or how he has managed to keep up his rebounding. Are Joe’s struggles due solely to his injury (the severity of which is still a question), or is it also something else? Could it have anything to do with playing in Larry Drew’s offense? Yes? No?
From a leadership standpoint, Joe continues to be who he always was: a mostly soft-spoken guy who knows fully well that his team does not tend to handle adversity well. So what is he doing about it? What can he expect to be able to do about it?
Right now, Al Horford is in the running for being named the best player on the team. With career highs in scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (3.1), and field goal percentage (60.2%), Horford looks like he’ll get into the all-star game again. Holding steadily near his career average, Horford hits the glass at 9.4 rebounds per game. However, there is a change in him. To a significant degree, Horford is playing more like a forward, and less like a center. He’s blocking fewer shots, but that’s not really his game anywhow. No, the Boss defends by denying position, bodying up, and contesting shots. Sure, he still sees most of his minutes at center, but he has mostly ceased playing like one. This might be better for Horford’s individual accomplishments, as he seems headed for season averages of 17 points, 9 or so rebounds, and roughly 3 assists. But is this better for the team? Will the Hawks finally have to find a way to bring in a more traditional center than can do more than Zaza Pachulia, or can Al get back to his down and dirty ways, where he had fully accepted being a 5?
From the leadership standpoint, Al Horford has been more outspoken to teammates and the media, but is it working? Are guys listening to him, or are his words (and his basketball pedigree) falling on deaf ears? How about his fellow captains, are they in tune with him?
Few things sum up Josh Smith’s effect on the game and this team like this write-up does. Like it or not, the mercurial Smith is possibly the largest driving force for this team, now even more so with the struggles of Joe Johnson, and the change in Al Horford’s play. Smith fills every stat category nearly every night, and he is making a serious case for himself to make the jump to all-star this season. Smith’s jump shot (you know, that thing that used to not really exist) appears to finally have arrived, as he makes them with some regularity these days. Scarily enough, Smith is making a whopping 39.1% from three point land, while maintaining an overall 50% from the field. Things have even improved from the free throw line (72.7%), and though all of this is still only netting him 15.5 ppg, it’s Smith’s energy level and passing ability (4.1 apg) that makes the difference. Josh still makes some woefully bad plays every now and again, but rarely do they come in succession or even close succession, and he’s not the pick pocket target on the break that he used to be. On the defensive end, the team is simply lost without him. No one on the squad comes even remotely close to his ability to defend the rim or seemingly be in two places at once. Horford’s low post efforts are great (particularly against the bigger players), but as mentioned before, he’s a body-to-body guy who can bang, not so much a shot-altering and offensive game plan-changing force like Smith.
From a leadership standpoint, Smith says some of the right things, then on occasion will say things that worry you. To be a good team captain, he has to bring his own level of energy and effort every single night. The team feeds off of it, which speaks well for him, but in some ways…doesn’t that kind of incriminate other players? Either way, this is where Josh’s leadership counts: in his effort. Without it, he can say anything a guy like Mo Evans says. Seeing things for what they are and being right when you speak out about it doesn’t make you a leader of any sort. Josh has to walk the walk, and he has to do it every time. Take a page from Kevin Garnett’s book.
A lot of noise has been made about Josh, his mistakes, his triumphs, and what he brings to the court for this team. Here is a viewpoint on the subject from his two teammates and co-captains, taken from the linked article above:
Joe Johnson -
“He came out with that sense of urgency, flying around, blocking shots, rebounding and finding guys,” Johnson said. “When he is playing like that, we all play at a totally different level.”
Al Horford -
And of course, coach Drew -
“It just seemed like he was all over the floor,” Drew said. “When he plays like that and plays under control, he is such a force.”
Take a look again at what Joe Johnson and Al Horford said. To me, the two statements sound similar, but have two totally different final or overall perspectives. But that’s just MY take. What do YOU think?