Today’s game has the potential to be a rough one for the Raptors. You remember them right? They’ve hurt us like that a couple times, wasn’t just a one-time thing.
I checked in with Bret LaGree from Hoopinion about the Hawks and today’s matchup:
It seems as though all the Hawks wins have come against teams that are not in playoff contention, and all their losses against teams who are playoff calibre; how good is this team really?
I think they’re the mid- to high-40s win team everybody expected. They didn’t do anything to address their weaknesses in the off-season so the degree of improvement or regression from last season to this would be down to who improved and who got worse. Quite predictably, Jamal Crawford got worse and Al Horford got better. The organization clearly hoped that Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson wouldn’t get any worse and that hasn’t been the case so far. Of those they hoped would improve, Marvin Williams has been hurt, Jeff Teague has either not received or not earned a lot of minutes (and it’s a fair question as to which is the case), and Josh Smith’s been allowed to shoot a lot of jump shots, which has hurt the team even though he’s possibly improved in that respect.
Joe Johnson signed the biggest contract of the summer, and his production has dropped. His usage rates seems about the same, but his percentages are down. How much of this is an injury issue, and how much is this a matter of Joe getting older?
Some of it’s the injury to his left hand, some of it’s him getting older, and some of it’s a cold streak. I’m as big a critic of his contract as anybody (In fact, I argued for trading Johnson and building around Smith and Horford as early as the Summer of 2008) but he didn’t just become a 28% three-point shooter overnight.
It was a bad deal because he was never a player to build around and even the most rational, yet optimistic, Hawks fans could only seriously argue he’d remain as good as he’s been for two of the six years of the contract. For or against the deal, we knew it would a millstone around the franchise’s neck at some point but even I didn’t suspect it would be apparent so soon.
I heard some rumblings that Josh Smith would need to be moved because of salary cap issues. In my opinion, you can’t come close to replacing what he does on the court at the salary he’s being pad, can you shed some light on this?
The Josh Smith trade rumors are completely made up by NBA generalists though, to be fair, they are the product of rational, deductive thought:
- The Hawks are in an untenable salary cap situation through 2013-14 if they want to improve the team.
- Al Horford is the team’s best player.
- If they build around Horford, Josh Smith is the only other player on the roster with any trade value.
Ergo, the Hawks will have to trade Josh Smith.
They won’t and they shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean they’ll do what they should (focus on the draft especially buying second-round picks, scour the D-League for cheap bench players with upside, bring in NBA-ready players from Europe) any more than they did what the should have done with Joe Johnson this Summer. They’ll probably muddle along as a slightly above .500 team on the strength of Smith of Horford and the motley (and expensive) crew surrounding them.
Whats the ceiling for this team as currently constructed; they are basically the same team that fell apart in the playoffs? Do we see Jamal Crawford and/or Marvin Williams get traded to upgrade the point?
Last Summer, Jamal Crawford’s trade value was Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton’s expiring contract. With the uncertainty of the CBA plausibly diminishing the value of expiring deals and Atlanta’s lack of depth (and their draft history should they only be able to get a pick for him), the Hawks are probably better off keeping Crawford all season. Still, if a team gets desperate around the trade deadline, they’ll certainly remain open to offers.
Marvin Williams remains an enigma. He’s the only true small forward on the roster (seriously, I have envious thoughts of Julian Wright. Speaking of which, why can’t someone get at least Lou Amundson’s career out of him?) and thus has outsized defensive value for the team yet he’s horribly overpaid for what the team asks of him offensively and there’s no real reason to believe he’s capable of taking on a larger offensive role. He’s clearly not capable of demanding a larger offensive role but that’s largely due to him being a ridiculously and famously nice guy which itself probably tempers the criticism he might receive. Whatever the truth might be, I doubt there’s much of a market for his services.
How do the Hawks match-up with the Raptors? What will be the strategy coming into this game?
The Hawks have long benefited from playing teams that push the tempo because, though the Hawks are at their best in transition, neither of their starting guards look to push the ball up the floor consistently. And they’re better against bad defensive teams. That’s true for everyone but a jump shooting team (which they remain despite Larry Drew’s installation of a motion/flex offense) tends to be both more volatile in their results and more dependent on the opposing defense for the quality of those results.
That the Raptors are the league’s best offensive rebounding team could really trouble the Hawks. Most of the time, they leave defensive rebounding to Smith and Horford (if the second unit’s on the floor, they leave it to Zaza Pachulia), a tendency that’s been aggravated by Marvin Williams playing through a knee injury. The rest of the Hawks gave a concerted and effective effort to rebound Washington’s missed shots on Thanksgiving night but I’ll be more convinced that’s a permanent change when the Hawks aren’t playing a team on the road, on a holiday, and reduced to playing three guards all night.
Reggie Evans – Out
Ed Davis – Out
Is it me, or does it seem Bibby’s been in the league much younger than he has? I also seem to think he’s lik 36…regardless, he’s still here, and not playing so bad. He can still shoot 50%FG 51%3FG, but that’s about it. Teague on the other hand can’t shoot the 3 as well, but is much better off the dribble. He likes to get to the rack, so will be attacking every chance he gets. Neither of them can defend worth a lick, so obviously…
Calderon’s been playing solid since Jack got
the boot traded, averaging 14pts 12ast over the last two games. He seems to be hustling a bit more on defense, but that doesn’t mean he’s improve his defense. I fear Bibby getting open look-after-look all night, especially with the attention Smith and Horford will be getting around the basket.
I don’t have a good feeling about this positional match-up tonight. The Hawks come with a one-two of Johnson and Crawford, both of whom have beat on us over the years (Crawford especially). DeRozan has been playing terribly crappy awful over the last 5 games, averaging up a meager 7.6pts 2.4rebs 2.4ast. Barbosa’s been doing a great job of scoring and leading the second unit off the bench, but he’s still needs DeRozan to carry his load, or it’s really all-for-naught. Meh…
What a bust Marvin Williams has been since he got drafted, and going ahead of Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton; all point guards who the Hawks have been desperate for-forever. The kid is long, athletic and only 24 so there is some hope he can improve (maybe a change of scenery will do him well). What he does a good job of is defending the wing, so Weems and Kleiza will have to work a bit harder than they normally do to get their shot off. Williams has a tendency to disappear during games, which Weems and Kleiza can exploit if he hit the ground running. I gotta work Peja into this somehow, but he doesn’t give us anything but scoring, but at least I worked him into this
The season seriously flashed before my eyes when Reggie went down. The combination of Reggie and Amir were able to compensate for Bargnani’s lack of rebounding. Now with Dorsey (I guess it will be Dorsey) coming in as the second PF off the bench…I don’t see good things, especially if Amir regresses to his fouling ways forcing Dorsey to play a bigger role than he should. Smith likes to shoot, but he’s not very good at it, so giving him the space to launch a couple jumpers would be a good strategy here. In transition, Smith has the ability to get back on defense and swat shot attempts into the 5th row, but challenging him in the paint is important.
Bargnani needs to rebound tonight; there’s no two ways about it; the 5.6 boards he’s been averaging over the last 5 games wont cut it, not with Reggie out. Al Horford is a champ. The guy plays a great all around game, and can be dangerous if left un-checked when he’s on offense. The Hawks wont need to switch up defensively to cover Bargnani on the perimeter since both Horford and Smith have the ability to get out on Bargnani. This match-up basically comes down to rebounding. With Reggie out, BARGNANI HAS TO TAKE REBOUNDING VERY SERIOUSLY FROM NOW ON. That’s all there is to it.
Gotta cut this short, but the Raptors need to do a few things tonight:
- Communicate on defense; the Hawks are 3rd in assists and move the ball around like angels. The Raptors need to be vocal on defense, and play aggressively on the perimeter. Can’t let them throw passes around easily.
- Full team effort on rebounding; with Reggie out, there’s going to be a lot of rebounds up for grabs. I have zero faith in Bargnani’s ability to rebound, so it will be up to everyone else to make up for his transgressions.
- Bounce back from Friday; the Celtics didn’t pound the Raptors like I thought they would which spoke to the Raptors resiliency. Need some more of that against a Hawks team that isn’t as good as they might appear to be.
The gamblers have the Raptors as 1.5 point favourites, at home, meaning this game is pretty much anyones match. It’s going to take a full 48, but I think the Raptors can pull this off.