Let’s start with a couple doses of perspective.
First, the Hawks have won 27 games halfway through the season. They are within a half game of Boston for No. 2 in the East. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be better. It does mean any discussion of Woody’s rotation has to be viewed through that prism. You can argue about who should be playing more and when but remember the Hawks are doing pretty dang good.
Second, all bench players want to play more, and starters usually tend not to want the bench players to take their minutes. Notice how J.J. responded after the reserves sparked the Hawks to that victory over the Kings Wednesday night.
Wasn’t it nice to be able to rest while the second unit did some heavy lifting?
“I guess it was all right,” Johnson said.
So with those truisms in mind, it’s evident that the Hawks’ reserves would like more games like Wednesday, when four of them not named Jamal Crawford played more than 10 minutes, and lots of those minutes came at key times. When Mo Evans says “I was just happy to get a chance to get out there and contribute” after playing 18 minutes, and you see he had played a total of 17 in his previous two games, you know what he’s getting at.
It’s nothing controversial. It’s just the way it is in the NBA. Heck, it’s human nature, right? Woody, being an NBA coach and all, knows this. He says he’s not as inflexible with playing his reserves as they and others might think, and it’s true that Al Horford is the only starter playing more minutes this year than last season. The other four are playing at least two minutes less per game (yes, that includes J.J., even after six 40-plus minute games this month).
“I say it all the time, (the reserves) are just as important as our starters,” Woody said. “They may not think that because they are in and out. But the bottom line, as a coach I am going to do what it takes to win.
“There have been a lot of games this year where starters haven’t even played in the fourth quarter. I didn’t put them back in like a lot of people would. I’m not against playing our bench, even down the stretch. But when they come in, they got to bring it.”
It’s worth noting that when the Hawks’ reserves put the Kings away after halftime, it was their second stint of the game. The lineup with Jeff Teague, Zaza, Smoove, Crawford and Evans gave ground in the second quarter. But Woody came back with his subs in the third quarter and left them out there for the first four-plus minutes of the fourth. So he showed some flexibility there.
Smoove, for one, is fine with more burn for the second unit.
“When you can be able to not rely on the starters all the time to generate energy and play the bulk of minutes it makes our team deeper,” he said. “When we can rely on guys off the bench to provide instant offense and get it going, it doesn’t always have to be the starters to do it.”
Zaza, another sub who was happy the second unit was out there for winning time, said the reserves had to win Woody’s confidence in practice. Now, he says the bench is ready to ball.
“We have great offensive player, inside presence, shooters, pick-and-roll–we can do everything,” he said. “It made the starters’ jobs easier. They didn’t have to be on the court for 40 minutes for the regular season, that way they can save the energy for the playoffs.”
Woody is mindful of that, and points to the starters’ decline in minutes this season. Most of all, though, he said he’s willing to lean on his bench because: “Our bench is better.”
– J.J. (foot), Smoove (thigh) and Joe Smith (ill) missed practice today. All are expected to be ready for Charlotte on Friday.
Smoove took a knee from Kings forward Jason Thompson. “It’s still sore,” he said.
He said he stuck with his plan to sleep with the leg bent so it wouldn’t tighten up. “But I woke up a couple times and it was straight,” he said.
Joe Smith came to practice but was sent home with a headache. “I won’t count him out,” Woody said. “He’s old school.”
J.J. has said he wouldn’t miss any games due to the nagging injury.