OK, so we know the one side. Woody doesn’t use his bench guys enough. There’s not enough variation in the offense, particularly late in games. These are valid concerns with evidence to support them and I’ve already put them out there.
Now, as your humble beat guy free of emotional attachment to the team and dedicated to perspective, I must present the other side(s) and then allow you to fuss at me.
First, the standings. Two games behind Orlando, one game behind Boston, 27 games to go. Yeah, that doesn’t necessarily tell us what’s going to happen in the postseason and it doesn’t mean you don’t fret over the Hawks’ problems. But at least look at the Hawks’ place in the standings and note that it’s pretty good.
Also, the offense: ninth in points, fifth in efficiency, first in turnover ratio and 12th in true shooting percentage. Again, those numbers don’t mean you don’t have concerns but at least look at them and note they are pretty good.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the bench. When Woody used the bench guys in Oakland, the Warriors started their comeback. When he used the bench in Utah, the Jazz made its comeback. Now, I know the retorts to this are a) Woody doesn’t have a feel for when to use the bench or doesn’t use the guy(s) he should b) he puts too many reserves out there at once or c) the bench guys play badly when they do get burn because they aren’t getting regular minutes.
I can see see a), I sorta see b) but c) is pushing it–other than Teague, the reserves are vets, and vets should stay ready. On this team Joe Smith seems best at that (and I will continue to say that he will play a key role in the playoffs and, yes, I believe Woody will give him a bigger role then).
But really a, b and c are just sub-critiques within the overall gripe of Woody not using his bench. There have been times Woody used his bench and got burned. Maybe the Hawks just don’t have much of a bench outside of Jamal and no amount of mixing, matching, rotating and game-flowing by Woody can change that. Maybe that’s why they so badly want Big Z.
As for the isos, the most important possession of the game in Salt Lake City was an Iso-Joe. It was the only one I counted in the fourth quarter, which says something. Here’s hawksdawg at Peachtree Hoops with a poetic play-by-play:
“(S)omething odd happened when Joe got the ball. He stayed in angry mode, and there are few people better than angry Joe Johnson. The ball was only passed twice but it went from once side of the floor to the other where Joe got it beyond the three point line. He drove across the top of the key to the other side of the floor, picked a spot, and free from any double team rose up and drilled a jumper. It was decisive. It was a play. It was beautiful.”
He calls it a play. I called it an Iso-Joe because once J.J. got the ball, his teammates cleared out and he went to work (aw, man, do I now need to count how many seconds until J.J. starts his move in iso?). There were no screens that I recall. But I think everyone can agree it was pretty. By my count, that’s 16 Iso-Joe possessions in the fourth quarter of nine games for 18 points, one turnover, three missed shots by teammates, and three offensive rebounds of J.J.’s misses.
From the start I’ve admitted that this count alone may not be very illustrative due to the lack of comparative data and the chance of beatdown beat writer error in tracking the plays. I also said others were free to help me out or come up with their own metrics, and no one stepped up, so this count is the best thing I’ve got. And over nine games it says Iso-Joe isn’t used nearly as much late in games as some perceive and it’s producing more than a point per possession. Argue against it but at least take a look at those numbers and note they are pretty good.
I know some heads explode when Woody says: “We’ve won a lot of games early with Joe and Jamal making plays off the dribble, either for themselves or for other people. When it works, it looks good. When it don’t work everybody thinks you are standing around and not getting anything accomplished.”
At the risk of getting fragged by my own blog people, I will say he makes a good point. And, really, for all this obsession with the bench and the isos (I’ve been guilty of it, too) there are other problems that might deserve more attention. When I was grilling Woody on his offense and his substitutions after the Phoenix Foul-Up and the Choke in Oakland, he kept going back to the “slippage” with defense and rebounding. That’s his thang, of course, but he’s right. Play a little D (especially at the rim) and get a few boards against the Suns and Warriors and both are Ws. Do both of those things against the Jazz, and there would have been no need for Iso-Joe at the end.
– At Hawk Str8Talk, atl_hawk_luv laments Woody’s goal of going .500 on the road:
I’ll simply say that if I can find Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Rick Adelman, Gregg Popovich to convince me that losing 2 winnable games is WITHOUT A DOUBT a good trip – I’ll buy. Otherwise, we’re going to pass with this going .500 on the road litmus test for good. Of all the contenders in the East, only the Hawks are flirting with .500 basketball on the road. Same for the West save Denver. It would seem to me that if you have different standards on the road for what’s acceptable, then you’ll continue to lose a lot more on the road than at home. I’m not asking for .900 basketball, but a loss to the Warriors should be unacceptable on anyone’s basketball court. Just a thought…
Depending on what he means by “flirt with .500″ I’d say he forgot Orlando (16-13 on the road) and Utah (14-12). But point taken.
As for other coaches not preaching the same thing, here’s a line Shaq used to repeat (and knowing him he’s still using it): “Our formula was very simple: beat the teams you’re supposed to beat, stay dominant at home, and stay above .500 on the road.”
Two things here. One is that Shaq claimed that was Phil Jackson’s formula, but it’s Shaq so you’ve got to take that with a truckload of salt. The other thing is that Shaq’s approach is for a veteran team and may not be the best mentality for a team like the Hawks that’s still learning how to win big. But obviously the dominate at home part is important for any good team and now the Hawks have a chance to do that over the next 10 days.
– AJC wise guy Jeff Schultz is skeptical of the Hawks’ chances to do any better in the postseason and gets Rick Sund’s take on the Hawks’ mediocre pace since that 19-6 start:
“I wouldn’t take anything from that, just like I wouldn’t take anything when Boston goes 3-7 or Cleveland loses three in a row. It’s a marathon. You’re going to have those type of situations. What they’ve done is they’ve shown the ability to bounce back from things, like [Monday] night in Utah. Of course, you want to be able to win every game you play. But going into that [four-game] trip, you think: A playoff team wins one game, a good team wins two, a great team wins three. We won two.”
Not a bad assessment, though I know it’s the quality of the losses (Woody blowing out the starters at Phoenix, Hawks blowing lead at Golden State) more than the quantity that has you trippin’.
– David Aldridge reports that Ilgauskas will talk to teams other than Cleveland when he’s bought out by Washington though everyone expects he will go back to Cleveland. Adrian Wojnarowski says Big Z talking to other teams before returning to Cleveland is a dance meant to continue the NBA tradition of wink-wink side deals that the league is unmotivated to investigate.
– Talk amongst yourselves, Hawks fans.