I don’t know why, but if we played word association, the Atlanta Hawks would always be associated with Steve Smith for me. Thought I’d throw that out there. Steve Smith won’t be playing tonight, he’ll likely be in an NBA studio providing analysis rivaling a drunk John Madden.
On the Raptors side, good news abound! Well, as good as things can be seeing how Andrea Bargnani’s injured, Leandro Barbosa’s limping, and Solomon Alabi’s within 100 miles of the ACC. With the destruction of New Jersey behind them and a highly successful road trip completed, the Raptors should have far more confidence facing the Hawks at home than what one might have though heading into the roadtrip. What is the rate of the Raptors success this season? They currently have 7 wins, which puts them on pace for 22, that’s around four more than most had predicted around these parts. If Bargnani would’ve been around during the losing, maybe that number would even be higher. So, yeah, progress is being made despite some very ugly nights.
The absence of Bargnani might hurt the team in the win/loss column, but maybe it could provide an opportunity for DeRozan to kickstart his scoring, like he did with 27 against the Nets. And honestly, if the outcome of this season is the Raptors identifying two “studs” to take into next season, all is well. Mind you, DeRozan has ground to cover before he can be spoken in terms of a legit piece, just look at his dip in production this season, his third which most consider to be the make-or-break kind for a guard getting heavy minutes:
Season PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48
2009-10 12.5 .554 .502 7.9 4.9 1.3 18.1 110 115 .066
2010-11 14.4 .530 .469 6.5 8.6 1.5 23.1 106 114 .056
2011-12 10.6 .468 .408 6.2 8.4 1.7 24.9 90 105 .008
Career 13.3 .527 .469 6.9 7.4 1.5 21.8 105 113 .053
Damn. Haven’t seen numbers fall like that since Herman Cain talked about Libya. To be fair, he hasn’t let his offensive struggles render him entirely useless. It’s hard to find positives in a defensive game which has regressed by a full 11 DRTG points, and it’s with even greater difficulty that one can spot offensive growth (no matter what you think of PER as a stat, DeRozan’s dip this year is plain ugly). Despite all his issues the effort level has been consistent, this is probably owing to the coach and also his inner, shall we say, pride?
As the Raptors try to find themselves without Bargnani, they’ll rely more on DeRozan to create disruption in defenses, and right now (despite a higher usage rate) he hasn’t been able to do that. Tonight he’s up against Joe Johnson, the player he should look to emulate and has completely owned him so far in his short career. A great performance tonight could signal the return of DeRozan and the Raptors’ potential two-pronged (going on three with Jonas) attack on 2012-13.
The injury news has Barbosa returning, and I’m thinking that Casey, given Atlanta’s size, isn’t going to try his luck with Bayless at the two again. Jeff Teague had a massive game for them against the Hornets (24 points on 9-11). The Hawk lineup is as it has been for seemingly years now (Johnson, Williams, Smith), with the main exception being Al Horford, who’s out long-term with injury (causing chaos for my fantasy team, as well). Zaza Pachula will get the start against Amir Johnson, which is going to be painful to watch. Johnson was holding his own against bigs early in the season, and as expected, has worn down significantly. The last time he had a 10-rebound game was against these Hawks on January 16th. Let’s hope this marks his return as well. The Hawks are looking to end a 5-game road trip at 4-1, while the Raptors have a quick stop at home before visiting Boston (Already again? Shit).
Speaking of Johnson wearing down at center, it speaks to the confidence Casey has in Alabi that a relatively highly touted prospect can’t even get off the bench when the starting center is injured. Trying to think the last time a Raptors second round pick came even close to panning out. P.J Tucker?
The game marks another return for Tracy McGrady, and I sure hope the boo-birds remain quiet because that would just be ridiculous beyond belief. It’s like booing your high-school teacher for giving you a C on a paper 15 years later when you see him in a line at Loblaws. Get over it.
Enjoy the game. Playoffs here we….naah. Lottery, lottery it is. And trade that high pick too, enough youth on this team already. Create a package for Deron Williams, that would be sweet.