5 things about the first-place Hawks that are bugging me

An older Mike Bibby isn't the Mike Bibby of old. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

An older Mike Bibby isn't quite the Mike Bibby of old, is he? (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

1. Mike Bibby is in decline. We all praised Rick Sund for retaining three of the Hawks’ four key free agents, but the Bibby retention, while a boon to continuity, hasn’t paid off in production. Bibby is averaging 9.4 points, down from 14.9 last season. Granted, he’s also playing seven fewer minutes a game — that’s the Jamal Crawford effect — but seems older than 31. He has clearly lost a step and a half, and when a little man loses his quickness there’s not a lot left.

2. Crawford doesn’t mesh with Joe Johnson quite the way Bibby does. While technically the point guard, Bibby doesn’t control the ball all that much. He gives it to Joe and spots up for three-pointers. (I’m betting half of Bibby’s treys last season came off Johnson’s feeds.) Crawford needs the ball more. He’ll shoot but he’ll also penetrate. Bibby almost never ventures into the lane. And when it’s Crawford and Johnson together, as has become more the norm, the ball doesn’t move quite so well.

3. Al Horford is still underutilized offensively. He averaged 8.9 shots a game last season. He’s averaging 9.8 now. That’s still not enough. I mean, he’s making 58.3 percent of his shots. Why should a guy who shoots that well — fourth among NBA in field-goal percentage — not get the ball more?

4. Mike Woodson is shrinking his bench. This was bound to happen. Like most coaches, Woodson errs on the side of familiarity. But Joe Johnson has worked an average of 44 minutes over the past four games, including 45 against Oklahoma City on Monday. (By way of contrast, Kevin Durant played only 38 minutes.) Crawford played 30 minutes and Zaza Pachulia 15, but no other Hawk sub logged even 10. The idea behind a deeper bench was to keep guys fresh for April and May,  and Johnson’s minutes-per-game are down by two over last season. But they won’t be if the current trend holds. And whatever became of Jeff Teague?

5. They’ve already lost five home games. That’s not a lot if you’re just trying to creep into the playoffs, but it is if you’re playing to finish first. No division winner in the East lost as many as 10 home games last season; Cleveland lost only two, Boston six. And the Hawks themselves were 31-10 at Philips Arena in 2008-2009, and they’re merely on pace to duplicate that. They’re leading the NBA Southeast at the season’s midpoint, but they’re still not quite dominant at home.

59 comments Add your comment

Chef Mentuer

January 20th, 2010
6:46 am

WHAT r U talkin bout

Paddy

January 20th, 2010
6:52 am

OK we got the NBA and Hawks out of the way, now let’s talk some football.

dcbl

January 20th, 2010
7:11 am

willie martinez

January 20th, 2010
7:18 am

Mark, your schedule has been upside down lately.

sandman053

January 20th, 2010
7:19 am

Funny how when there is no turmoil at UGA the blogs come fewer and fewer…lol

ignition

January 20th, 2010
7:22 am

Woodson is the blame. He doesn’t have an offensive game plan. He subs on his feel for the game (which tells me he doesn’t really have a plan) and his half-court sets are terrible. The end game is still Joe Johnson ISO in which if Joe aint hot (and he hasn’t been) teams double down on Joe and it causes a turnover.
I you can tell, I don’t really care for Woodson.

whodat dawg

January 20th, 2010
7:24 am

Fourth… a personal record. Oh, and I am not a fan of Coach. He has improved as the Hawks have but he is not the guy to take the ATL to that next level… another 2nd round playoff exit is in our future.

chris

January 20th, 2010
7:37 am

#1 They cannot stay on the court with Orlando
#2 Joe Johnson is in decline, but still wants to be the man
#3 Woodson at it again, frying his starters’ legs

F-105 Thunderchief

January 20th, 2010
7:37 am

Now’s when we find out if Woodson is really any good. These are legitimate issues/problems that a coach can address. Let’s see if he fixes them, or lets them drag on to detrimental effect. C’mon Mike, step up and adjust.

chris

January 20th, 2010
7:38 am

#4 Marvin is proving to be a contract-year player

dap01

January 20th, 2010
7:40 am

Good article Mark and you are correct with every point.

Teague did not play against the Suns who have one of the quickest pg’s is the world.

Bibby should be the role player on the team. Teague should be developed. This team will not take the next step until the lightning quick Teague is running up and down the court.

Hortford can not be utilized fully without an offensive mind on the bench. Woody needs an offensive minded coach to help him. Because his only contribution during timeouts is to say “iso Joe” or shoot it Crawford.

Joe Johnson is showing signs of wear and tear and it is still January. Why is he playing so many minutes?

We have said all of these things before. In two years, we will be saying, “Teague sure was a bust, he could never get out of Woody’s doghouse”.

gadawgs

January 20th, 2010
7:45 am

Two words…Mike Woodson..oh, and two more….Joe Johnson (nuts up when the game is on the line).

Paul Johnson's Johnson

January 20th, 2010
7:50 am

Wow, I got censored. All I said was pubic.

Cheesus and crackers!

BullyDawgs

January 20th, 2010
7:59 am

They should have put away that 1 man show in OKC on Monday. No excuse. The dang basket had a lid on it…

clint

January 20th, 2010
8:01 am

excellent article and correct at every point. This group could still have a much better coach because most of what is pointed out could be fixed by woody. Joe is going to have 3 to 4 yrs shaved off his career playing all these minutes

fred dre

January 20th, 2010
8:06 am

first place.

All I'm Saying Is...

January 20th, 2010
8:23 am

I agree with dap01. Woody is in the last year of his deal and is starting to revert to his typical short-bench form. We have to use Teague more, use JJ less, run the floor on offense and feed Horford in the post.

And although you lightly touched on it, Sund did decide that Bibby was worth reinvesting in despite his even then obvious defensive deficiencies and overall lack of quickness. Apparently no other effective point guard option presented itself — although some pointed out Rafer Alston as a free agent possibility knowing Orlando was going to cut him loose. We’ll see if that decision by Sund — praised by Bradley and many others — works out.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

O'Brien

January 20th, 2010
8:26 am

Thanks for the blog Mark.

1) As slow as Bibby is, we still have him for 2 more seasons after this. Unless he discovers the fountain of youth this offseason, we are in trouble next year. Sure, he’s a savy veteran, and can still make big shots. But he doesn’t push the ball on offense, his defense is horrible, and for a PG, he does not penetrate. Did I mention he is signed for 2 more seasons after this one?

2) JJ and Crawford dont mesh as well, but offensively, it still makes the Hawks more dangerous when they are on the court together. If the Hawks are struggling to score, or at the end of games, I can understand them being together. But too often, when they are in the game together, our front court gets ignored.

3) Our guards (Bibby, JJ, Crawford) have taken 1,597 shots, shooting an average 44%. Josh Smith and Al Horford combined have taken 855 shoots, shooting an average of almost 55%. Our guards have taken 742 more shots than Al and Josh.. That’s unacceptable.

How many games have we seen Al shoot 8-11, while our gurads go 6-18, but yet when the game is on the line, our guards are still jacking it up and playing ISOs (aka Woody Ball, as Ken Strickland calls it).

4) Crawford was supposed to give JJ a break sometimes. But instead, he’s taking Bibby’s minutes. And then JJ gets minutes at SF too. As far as Teague goes, Woody prefers his vets. But with the decline of Bibby, and JJ still playing a lot of minutes, you would think Woody would find time for him. Unless Bibby gets hurt, look for Teague to get sporadic minutes. Even Joe Smith could use more minutes.

5) The only 2 bad home losses are the 2 to the Knicks. And to keep it in perspective, the Celtics have already lost 6 or 7 home games this year.

ant banks

January 20th, 2010
8:30 am

mark,

the hawks could be 31-8 had they taken care of the knicks, twice, a down detroit team, new orleans, without cp3, and okc and the chicago game. the hawks are a better team than these teams. we should be in 2nd in the east if we handle our business.

a lot of the hawks faithful are lookin’ for WELFARE from sterns, by replayin’ the final two minutes of the clev game. hawks need to WORK for what they want and not have their hats turned upside down lookin’ for a handout.

mountain_jim

January 20th, 2010
8:33 am

This is why Sund has left Woody hanging… Lets see if Woody can figure things out. Personally I feel he should be required (by Sund) to hire a strong OC in order to have any chance for a new contract.

Navigator

January 20th, 2010
8:39 am

Mike Woodson is out of his league coaching at this level. We used to call this the tight butt syndrome and he’s got it bad, afraid to challenge all of his players to give the effort every night, rather than 6-7. What will happen is what always happens, the regulars get tired and will settle into 3/4 games and won’t be able to finish, and once it starts, there’s no way to stop it. They will continue to show up for the big games, but lesser opponents will start to beat them regularly and in the last third of the year, they will have problems staying .500 for that period.

Dr. Warren

January 20th, 2010
8:50 am

Excellent points.

Hawk Str8Talk

January 20th, 2010
8:54 am

Been saying this all season – don’t pay attention to what Woodson says, but pay attention to what he does. He says – he’s going to play Teague (until this week when he reversed what he said in the preseason), then he doesn’t really play Teague any meaningful minutes all season. He also said that he has the depth to reduce the minutes on his starters this preseason. Well, I see Bibby’s minutes are down, which is more a function of him falling in love with Jamal Crawford AND Bibby’s awful defense than a belief that he’s actually trying to save Bibby’s legs. As for Joe, if you really look at the game logs, he’s getting the same minutes in any contested game. His minutes are down because the Hawks have blown out (or been blown out of) about 15 games this year. So, he’s gotten 90% of his rest in those games, not because there is a conscious effort to rest Joe Johnson.

So, the moral is – don’t pay attention to Woodson’s words. Any coach who only questions effort each time we lose games is telling you – it’s the players, not my strategy (or lack thereof) that’s costing us games. While I can point to about 3 games where we just didn’t show up, it’s not just effort. It’s our lack of strategy, identity, and tactics that are losing most of the games we play. At this juncture, I’d rather the Hawks send Teague to the D-League so he can play and learn the position and sign a veteran Mike will play (one who plays defense). I’m fearful that all it will take is one backcourt injury to send this stack of cards on a downward spiral.

clemkudtlhopr

January 20th, 2010
8:56 am

I don’t get it? Whats the problem? We are just fine. Not a good article, Mark. If you can’t think of anything to write about, why default to something negative. Use your investigative skills and find a positive and get deep, man! Lets get this team really cranked up!

tim

January 20th, 2010
8:57 am

I think Jeff Teague will be a bust. He seems disinterested when he’s not playing…just looking into space and chewing gum. He’s quick when he has the ball but gets distracted and when trying to play defense. What’s up with his so called jump shot?? He bragged a lot before the season……told us how great he is. Are you just another self centered immature NBA player Jeff Teague??

Jay

January 20th, 2010
8:59 am

I hope most of the people commenting on this is not from ATL. Here WE are atop of our Division & we are complaining about Joe, Woody, Bibby, & all this other stuff that’s irrelevant. Let me start with Joe: He’s an ALL-STAR!! Of course he has some things in his game that needs to improve, hell, Jordan continued to improve throughout his entire career. When the game is on the line, every team that has an ALL-STAR will run an ISO play for that player, if they double pass, they don’t go to work. It’s that simple. My hat goes off to Woody, simply bc a coach’s job is to improve his team over the years, not over a stretch of 5 games & be thrown under the bus. Does Woody vent on how you do your job, whether it is teaching math, changing tires, flipping burgers? Let this guy work bc I think he’s doing an outstanding job. Bibby has a lost a step, but bball is like ridin a bike, somethings u just don’t 4get how to do. Bibby still makes big shots, & distributes the ball in which an NBA PG supposed to do. All Im saying, if you’re not a Hawk fan then you have every right to say what’s wrong with OUR team, if you are a Hawk, just ask yourself, where were WE five years ago @ this time? LET’S GET IT HAWKS!!! 2NITE VS. SACRAMENTO, SHOW THESE BUMS WHAT’S UP!

gtm

January 20th, 2010
8:59 am

In ESPN the Magazine they had a stat that the player to go iso the most in the NBA is Joe Johnson. It was just from last month’s issue.

Khao$

January 20th, 2010
9:04 am

We’ve had too many bad shooting 4th quarters. That’s the time when defenses clamp down and offensive execution is crucial. IMHO that’s due to Woody’s lack of detail on offensive. He’s publically stated he doesn’t care about the offense and it shows. Yes, I know we’re the 4th best offense in the league. However, my eyes tell me we can’t score in the 4th a lot of times. Plus, our scorers are talented enough to score in most situations. That said, if Horford and Josh Smith can improve their games in the offseason and Bibby can sacrifice a part of his game for the betterment of the team, surely Woody can teach some offensive fundamentals. This isolation stuff is killing me. The national media, local media and fans have noticed our offensive shortcomings. I honestly believe if we did something about this, we’d be that much better.

SimpleDawg

January 20th, 2010
9:04 am

The Hawks have a few areas of weakness that will prevent them from being a serious threat to the elite teams in the NBA.

* Woodson…he’s not an elite NBA coach. He’s not even a really good NBA coach, but he does have some talented players.
* Bibby….he’s a reserve player on almost every other team.
* Joe Johnson…supposedly the Hawks “star” player. If Joe is your “best” player, then you’re not a serious threat to most of the playoff teams….even with the supporting cast.

You need to have more, meaningful bench minutes every night, win or lose, in order to be a solid Team….one that can play with any other team in the league, every night.

Al Beeski

January 20th, 2010
9:10 am

Mark, the main problem I believe is half-court execution in the fourth quarter. I agree 100% on the Joe/Jamal mix, and Woody needs fix this by a) MAKING Joe/Jamal run more pick & pops, HI-Los, etc. (MAKE THEM CO-EXIST b/c that’s our only chance at winning) or b)scrap this 1/2 court Offense and run, run, run ala Dantoni & SSOL which is more exciting but we all know it doesnt win in crunch time. So, basically the onus is on Woody to make it work, and we have got to get more touches on the block for Marvin as well.

Sautee

January 20th, 2010
9:15 am

Mark,

Good read. I would have put Horford’s underuse at #2, but overall I agree with your points. As far as Jamal and Joe “meshing”, what we see is mostly the two of them “sharing” the ball, but routinely ignoring the frontcourt unless as a bailout.

We have a PG problem and it will get worse as the season progresses. I’m guessing that Sund will be forced to make a move.

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
9:20 am

A word (or two): The Hawks have had a terrific half-season. But when you lead your division, you also make people look harder at you, and the question becomes: “Is this team a legitimate championship threat?” I don’t believe the Hawks are there yet, but they’re getting close.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 20th, 2010
9:28 am

I think the coach will be let go at the end of the year if they dont make a deep playoff run conf finals at least . they are underacheiving for the last couple of weeks or so and the coach always gets the blame justified or not .

Boneyard Randy

January 20th, 2010
9:29 am

Orlando and L.A. are the only teams we can’t beat in a 7 game series. Thus, unless Boston knocks Orlando out of the playoffs, we’re looking at a the conference championship game at best. It’s pathetic that JJ logged 45 min against OKC at home. C’mon Woody. He was playing the most inspired D on Durant I think I’ve ever seen JJ play, though.

Hawk n the Ham

January 20th, 2010
9:31 am

Isn’t it ironic Mark, that Dominique is in the Hawks office. When you listen to him speak about the offense, he is anti Woody offense. You think Nique would have the power to speak up to Woody and get some of these offensive woes ironed out.

If you have the chance, could you question Dominique on what he feels he has a role that impacts on what the Hawks do? If he ever speaks with Woody on the side about what is, and what isn’t working?

Zach

January 20th, 2010
9:49 am

Mark,

I think you’re dead on about a couple of your points, especially the one about Woody shrinking his bench. Why is West getting more Minutes than Teague? I also agree that Bibby is not playing as well as last year, however like you said there is a slight difference having AC Law, and Flip back you up instead of Jamal. That being said, I think that Woody does a bad job rotating the three (Joe, Mike, and Jamal) I feel like there are time that Woody forgets Bibby on the bench, and he just sits there for what seems like quarters at a time. I think that the Hawks play well when they’ve got Josh, Al, Joe, Mike, and Jamal on the floor. Bibby, who at this point seems to be a pretty unselfish point guard based on other guards around the league, has a lot more opportunities to succeed in that line up both as a passer and a shooter. But at the same time, I like the way Marvin is starting to come around, and I want to see Teauge on the floor more…hmmm

Dr. Warren

January 20th, 2010
9:51 am

The Hawks would never win a 7-game series with the Lakers, Cleveland, Orlando, Denver, San Antonio, or perhaps even a healthy Portland. A healthy Boston? I’d give the Hawks a 49% chance. They don’t have a superstar, a charismatic and quick enough point guard, or play good enough defense. MB’s original prediction that they’d reach the conference finals seems realistic–but even that depends on the seedings.

Gilbert

January 20th, 2010
10:01 am

Basketball can be fun to watch.

Hawkman

January 20th, 2010
10:07 am

Want to compete for a title? Move Joe Johnson’s expiring contract and a first rounder to Toronto for Bosh (if you can extend Bosh first of course). Bibby/Crawford/Smoove/Horford/Bosh with Duck/Mo/Teague/Joe S/Zaza off the bench. Good luck scoring around the rim against that group.

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:07 am

At the moment, the Hawks would be the No. 3 seed.

Brett

January 20th, 2010
10:07 am

we are clearly the fourth seed. we should start now preparing for playoffs. rest guys. develop teague and others. no reason to think we will hang with ORL enough to win the division. this needs to be about preparing to win the second round. winning the division probably isn’t realistic and even if we win it, but lose in the second round, no one will be happy

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:08 am

I don’t think Smith and Bosh and Horford would fit. Who’s the small forward?

Blindog

January 20th, 2010
10:14 am

I have been saying this for God knows how long…Woodson is not a good coach! I have also told you, Mark, even YOU could coach the Hawks into the play-offs with the talent they have,but Woodson does not have a clue when it comes to running a half-court offence and he can not develope young players!! I’m legally blind and I can see that! Until Woody is gone just sit back and enjoy the young talent,not the sorry coaching!

Hawkman

January 20th, 2010
10:19 am

Smith would be the 3. You could also go smaller by bringing in Williams/Evans for any of those three guys. Smith is a hybrid 3/4 and Horford is a hybrid 4/5. Bringing in one more legit post would improve our biggest weakness- interior defense. Offensively, one of those three is virtually guaranteed to have a mismatch down low with Bibby and Crawford spoting up for three. You win championships with defense, rebounding, and taking care of the basketball.

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:20 am

Smith at small forward would be a misallocation of resources. Do you want him playing the perimeter?

Dr. Warren

January 20th, 2010
10:34 am

The seedings are all-important, but whether the Hawks are 2, 3, or 4 is irrelevant. It’s the match-up that counts. If they get Boston in round 2, they could make the Eastern finals. If they get Orlando or Cleveland, probably not.

David Smith

January 20th, 2010
10:38 am

All of this stems from Mike Woodson’s stubborn game planning (or lack thereof) and, his penchant of relying on Joe Johnson too much at the end of games (Joe is a good player but not on the superstar level). The great coaches in the NBA are great game planners (Woody isn’t), are great talent evaluators (Woody refuses to play rookies extensive minutes and the young big men like Randolph Morris look lost when they get into a game) and, have proven plays that he can call when the game is on the line (Woody just says “Joe get open and heave up a prayer”). Woody can claim that his coaching has produced several years of improvement record wise but, is it really his coaching or the amount of talent that his team has?. Time will tell. GO HAWKS!!!

Benjamin

January 20th, 2010
12:38 pm

You went 5 for 5 with this one, Mark.

I think my main “bugging factor” this season, silly as it may be, is how Orlando has destroyed us every time they’ve stepped onto the court with us. I know it’s a minor point, but if we’re going to contend, we have to play better against the top teams; Boston — and the absence of KG every time we’ve played them — aside, we’re winless against the other big two. The games against Cleveland could’ve gone either way, but the Orlando stuff really bothers me. We haven’t even been remotely competitive against them, regardless of the venue.

ILL-logical

January 20th, 2010
12:48 pm

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:20 am
“Smith at small forward would be a misallocation of resources. Do you want him playing the perimeter”
???!! The reason that this ongoing discussion exists on the ajc blogs is because there is no attempt to build a system,both offensively and defensively, around the existing talent. Smith should not have to be the primary shotblocker on a team. that is the job reserved for the center- a casual observation of the current NBA stats would bear that point out.
With a Chris Paul type PG-yes, going there,Josh would be an ALL-Star 3 by now with his open court ability and Horford would be an up and coming 4 as well. And BTW, who is one of the leading leading assists player on the Hawks?
And speaking of a Chris Paul type PG-you have to have a strong , defensive cente to go along with him because even though he can slip screens with the best he still gets caught in the mis -matches that good coaches identify as a way to beat his team.Sound familiar?

The talent is here but the system employed by the current incumbent head coach does not exploit it to it’s highest potential. That’s the #1 thing that bothers me about the Hawks. The # 2 is some of the flacid reporting from the ajc.

Benjamin

January 20th, 2010
1:54 pm

Smith shouldn’t “have to be the primary shotblocker,” ILL, but when that’s one of his biggest talents, you don’t just hide it. Further, he doesn’t have the shooting range that most would want from a typical SF, only this is the first year he’s actually seemed to grasp that understanding. You also made reference to him being one of the team’s leaders in assists; that’s more a product of him playing a little more controlled in his offensive frenzy this year than anything else. Smith has never been a reliable ball handler, particularly when rattled, and this appears to be the year when he’s maturing and getting things together. I used to hate watching him get out of control on breaks or jacking up ill-advised threes. (His improvement this season — in year six of his career — has been the biggest difference for us.)

The Chris Paul non-decision will always be one of the things that we’ll think about — there aren’t many Hawks fans, now or even then that didn’t see our error with that one — but that’s a simple case of “What’s done is done.”