Josh Smith says he’s a game-time decision tonight for Game 3. If Smith can’t go, which lineup should Larry Drew use in an attempt to somehow win without him?
My (meaningless vote) is for sending out Marvin Williams alongside Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Jason Collins. (Ivan Johnson has done all that can be expected in this series but the second unit needs his zip, toughness, post defense and rebounding.)
From a matchup perspective, I like this lineup because Marvin can defend Paul Pierce instead of Joe. This would theoretically allow Joe to play more overall minutes (more on that later) and have more energy left at the end because Brandon Bass is a much easier defensive assignment. Bass’ game generally is limited to making mid-range and long 2s . Joe would have to keep Bass off the boards but Bass is a fellow blah rebounder.
I also like Marvin with the starters because, according to basketballvalue.com, the only positive plus-minus lineups that have included Marvin in this series are those that also included Joe, Josh and Hinrich. It seems the aggressive, confident, scoring Bench Marvin from the regular season has disappeared so maybe it’s best he run with the starters and focus on defending and rebounding.
Larry Drew hasn’t given any indication which lineup he favors without Josh. If the alignment at the end of practice Thursday is to be believed–and maybe it should be after I wrongly figured the Collins lineup at practice before Game 1 was a smokescreen–Tracy McGrady would replace Josh in the lineup.
It’s not the worst idea. The sample size obviously is miniscule but you can see McGrady’s best on-court, off-court numbers were produced during the 8 1/2 minutes and 14 offensive possessions he was on the floor with Joe, Josh and Twin. And it’s reasonable to believe that’s not a fluke because McGrady generally had positive plus-minus numbers during the regular season when he played in lineups that featured Josh, Joe, either or both.
But if McGrady starts he can’t defend Pierce like Marvin can, and thus the Hawks lose the benefit of moving Joe away from chasing Pierce.
I follow the logic but can see a few potential issues. One is that Rivers could counter by simply replacing Bradley with Mickael Pietrus, who has the size and defensive talent to defend Joe. That was a a good offensive alignment but a poor defensive lineup for the Celtics over 30 offensive possessions during the regular season but it came against some good offensive players.
Another potential negative for the Teague-Johnson-McGrady-Williams-Collins lineup is it sends Hinrich to the bench after he’s produced (by the standards of this series) and played well alongside the starters. It also leaves a probable second unit of Hinrich, Jannero Pargo, Willie Green, Vladimir Radmaonvic and Ivan Johnson. That’s a smallish unit with one solid rebounder, one decent rebounder, and no true set-up guy.
No matter which starting lineup Drew uses, he’s not going to have many good options on his bench unless someone, anyone from that unit scores points. Drew might be able to mitigate the offensive struggles of his reserves by staggering the rest periods for his starters. This is essential, as Bret LaGree notes at Hoopinion:
Smith, Johnson, and Teague have joined Drew on the sideline for 17 possessions of this series during which the Hawks have been outscored 19-7.
The makeshift starting lineup? +20 over 71 offensive and 68 defensive possessions.
Swap in Marvin Williams for Jason Collins? The Hawks are still +1 over 12 offensive and 15 defensive possessions.
Remove all your above average players from the floor at once? Disaster, not so surprisingly, strikes.
LeGree adds that Rivers never had both Pierce and Garnett off the floor at the same time during Games 1 and 2. It goes deeper than that: Before Rajon Rondo’s ejection from Game 1 and subsequent suspension, Rivers always had at least two of his three best players on the floor at the same time. Presumably Rivers will continue with that plan now that Rondo is back in the fold for Game 3.
My tweeps and blog people quickly pounced on Drew’s comments that he’s saving his starters “for a long series.” The reaction is understandable. The statement suggests Drew is unaware that playing his best players more minutes could shorten the series in his team’s favor, and that losing games because he’s saving them would shorten the series (and thus the season) to the detriment of the Hawks.
If Josh doesn’t play, Drew won’t have the luxury of having even two players as good as Rondo, Pierce and Garnett. Most likely that’s too much for any coach to overcome. But Drew could give the Hawks their best chance by always having one of Teague and Johnson on the floor at any time and riding those two for as many minutes as possible for as long as the game is still competitive.
That could end up being more important than who starts if Josh can’t go.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat