HAWKSVILLE – You can thank the New Orleans Hornets for that skewed view of the Hawks the morning after their preseason opening romp at Philips Arena.
The Hornets’ refusal to treat the game like anything other than a glorified scrimmage (which, technically, it was) for the wave of good vibrations coming from the Hawks’ locker room after the game.
Aside from a staggeringly ridiculous 66 called fouls from the replacement stripes, this game didn’t resemble a “real” game in any form or fashion. But there were signs. Good first impressions were made by many.
A quick roundup of WWL (what we learned) from the Hawks’ 108-102 win over the Hornets:
PLAYER OF THE GAME: There’s no shame in going with the rookie here. Jeff Teague was asked to show his wares and he didn’t disappoint, scoring when asked and running the team as asked in his first real showing under the lights. Sure, Teague had a few jitters. But what rookie doesn’t on opening night? What I liked is that Teague’s on-court demeanor never seemed to change. He was in attack mode all along, challenging much bigger players at the rim constantly (hence the 7-for-8 showing from the free throw line). “You saw him,” Marvin Williams said. “You’ve seen what he can do in college. That man has thrown 6-9 and 6-10 cats in the basket, so he’s proved he’s not scared to go in the lane and do work. He played well. I thought he played really well.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Mario West played his usual sticky defense and Josh Smith had a game-high two blocks and five defensive rebounds in short time. But it was Williams that stuck out the most, recording four steals and using every bit of his length and athleticism to cause problems for the Hornets. We started to see some signs of it last season when he harassed guys like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in impressive wins for the Hawks, so his improved defensive presence shouldn’t really be a surprise. The added dimension of an eager wing defender in a 6-9, 245-pound package is what should excite you.
ENERGIZER BUNNY OF THE GAME: As long as West is allowed to put on the uniform and hit the floor he’s going to win top honors here. Honestly, I’ve never seen a guy with this kind of consistent energy in the NBA. I know he’s worn slap out after games where he sees big minutes, as he did against the Hornets. West played 28 minutes, second only to Teague. And he made the most of them, piling up a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with his six points, four fouls, three turnovers, two assists and two steals. No one can accuse West of squandering an opportunity to shine. “It was good to play some extended minutes,” West said. “I just played hard like I always do and was able to get some buckets and make some plays on the defensive end. I didn’t realize I had 11 rebounds until the end of the game. I just went after the ball and did anything I could do to help the team succeed. Our starters did a real nice job setting the tone, and each guy that played was able to contribute.”
MOST STARTLING STATISTIC OF THE GAME: Forget the stripes for a minute and lock in on Smith’s donuts in the 3-point shots attempted and made columns. That’s pretty stuff if you’re one of those people that groan loudly every time he takes a shot outside of two feet. Smith vowed to steer clear of the 3-point arc and at least for one game, he stuck to it. Ha. While I could care less how many shots from deep that he attempts. What I did like was his clear-cut intention to create an inside presence offensively. Smith parked on the block repeatedly during his 21 minutes, and showed off several new moves around the basket that surprised even some of his biggest detractors. Granted, he did hoist a 19-footer on his second shot of the game (someone shouted, “No, No!” when he pulled up). But he drained it, much to the delight of that same fan, who conceded, “Oh, he must have worked on that this summer.”
QUIET STORM AWARD: The player that will benefit most from playing alongside Teague and Jamal Crawford this season has to be Zaza Pachulia. The veteran big man piled up 17 points and five rebounds in a workmanlike showing that should become custom for him this season. Pachulia won’t have to beg anyone for the ball when Crawford and Teague are running the show with the second unit. Crawford hit him with a couple of early passes that seemed to catch Pachulia off guard. Once ZP eased into his groove, though, he went to work and that inside work helped the Hawks hold of the Hornets’ late rally attempt. “I think the entire second unit played well,” Pachulia said. “It’s been the same way in practice and throughout training camp. But it’s early to talk about this. We have so much more time to go just in training camp. So it’s probably smart to wait until after training camp before we make any conclusions.”
QUOTE OF NOTE: “We really do have a number of different weapons up and down the roster. Anybody on this team can hurt you on a given night.” — Smith on the Hawks’ improved depth, which was on full display against the Hornets.
A quick training camp update from the former Hawks files, per my man Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Acie Law and Speedy Claxton are listed as Nos. 4-5 on the team’s point-guard depth chart. Both have been plagued by injuries and missed the preseason opener. They got their first action in Game 2’s 118-101 loss to the Lakers and fought for their careers.
They were the lone Warriors in the positive on plus-minus stats. Law scored 16 points on 11-of-12 free-throw shooting, had a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and was on the court for a plus-6 Golden State swing. Claxton had six points without missing a shot (1-for-1 field-goal shooting and 4-for-4 free-throw shooting) and had four assists with no turnovers in a plus-4 outing.
Law missed the first several days of training camp with a concussion and sprained neck. After being selected No. 11 overall by Atlanta in 2007, he averaged only 12.8 minutes a game.
“This is a make-it-or-break-it season for me,” Law said. “I’ve never gotten a chance, and this is it.”
Claxton has missed 387 games because of injuries or illness in his seven-season pro career. He didn’t play at all in 2000-01 or 2007-08 and played only two games last season.
“I don’t want to admit that it’s over, until it’s really over,” Claxton said. “It’s tough, but I love playing so much. It’s just tough to face the realization that it might be over.”
Anyone still interested in debating the Crawford trade?