Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cooler Talk

The NBA season, in its plus week-long existence, have managed to offer us the tantalizing (the Celtics), the surprising (Clippers), the rejuvenating (Sam Cassell, more on this later), and the glimpse (the Hawks). Of course, there are more entries to fit in each of those categories but I just gave the most salient ones that came to mind.

Kevin Durant looks to be the deal, sans a few amino acids. Scoring 18 in the first half against the undaunting defense of Phoenix in his second game, he put up another nine in the next half on the way to a 106-99 loss.He is putting up 22 a game on 40 percent from the field (not great, but better than I'd expected), but so far the young fella is winless in six tries. It appears to be getting to him:

"I hate to lose, basically. I don't care if it's an 82-game season and people say you have to lose - I hate to lose. Period," Durant told the Canadian Press. For a kid who just turned 19, team atrocity will either embitter him or fold him. I would bet on the former. People are made when exposed to the hard-knocks of the world, not by pampering. It is almost always better to suffer with a losing team first, and then come up with a winning team than to win and then have a sucky team. Such is life: Better to not have and gain - for it will humble you to not ever not have again - than to have and lose. Look at Kobe Bryant. He came into a situation in LA when they were making the playoffs with Shaq, Nick the Quick, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, and company. Now he is insufferable, because his team isn't winning like he is accustomed to winning.

Bet on the wunderkind to exhibit perseverance a la Jordan (yes I said it) before it is all said and done. He doesn't seem prone to giving up.

An interesting Kevin Durant comparison here...Michael Beasley is his name.

What is up with the Clippers? The lone lossless team in the Western Conference, they are winning with Brevin Knight as their starting point guard. They are doing it with Cuttino Mobley shooting the lights out, Corey Maggette being the free-throw machine he is, and a where-did-this-come from game by Sam Cassell. Paging Bill Simmons! This looks like a perfect case for the Patrick Ewing theory, with the Clippers doing all of this without 6'8 rebounding, scoring, and blocking behemoth Elton Brand.

Chris Paul had the season's first 20 assist game Tuesday night. This guy has done nothing but perform since he came into the league in 2005. And he is not even the best point guard in that class.

This guy is.

Game to watch tonight: Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State. 10:30 pm on TNT. The Warriors are still looking for their first win (0-4), however, they are going against a team who they have trumped seven out of the last nine times they have faced them. Dallas hasn't won in Golden State since January 2006.

The Southwest Division is hands down the most competitive division in basketball. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans will all make the playoffs. Memphis will compete - well, they should compete. That leaves four spots for the rest of the conference. Just saying.

Why are the Bulls winless???

Now for the BEST:
I (along with countless others) have seen every second of every Hawks game, here are the most palpable, yet subtle points of the young season for the Birds.

The Hawks have knocked off the two best Western Conference teams (record-wise) last season. I can't find another team whose schedule is as brutal as the Hawks right now.

Joe Johnson seems hesitant to take over games. Perhaps because of his selflessness, fear of alienating his teammates, or zeal to make the Hawks' success an egalitarian effort, it is an obvious, yet unmentioned occurrence so far this season. Johnson is lacking that Dwyane Wade-esque killer instinct, which showed in the Detroit game, in which Joe waited too late to take over (hence his two three pointers with under a minute left to play). What if Joe would have taken over earlier, when the Hawks offense was sputtering? Just a question. We'll see how this plays out...for this must change!

Josh got to take the bad with the great. There is nobody else in the NBA who produces more anger-provoking yet jump-out-your-seat-in-jubilation moments than Smith. One one hand there's that awful 38% field goal percentage (which is just dreadful for a 6'9 power forward) and turnover problem (four a game). And then there are the blocks, the steals, the passing, the stat stuffing. It is hard to argue a case against him, so I won't. But I will propose a turnover reduction solution: Post him up more. Kudos to my man Sekou at the AJC for pointing that out. Stop giving him the ball at the high post and ceasing all ball movement. Do you see Phoenix giving Shawn Marion the pill far away from the basket while granting him the liberty to do as he please? No! The point guard on the floor must enforce this. They cannot let Smith do as he please on the offensive end.

Al Horford has done everything the Hawks have asked of him defensively. It is clear in bold letters why Florida won those championships. Those who say he is another Shelden Williams is clearly not paying attention (no shot at Shelden, who is also playing well). He will be a perennial All-NBA defender in the coming years. That is apparent. His offense isn't there yet, but it is more because of diffidence than a lack of ability. I guess Billy Donavan really imprinted that team philosophy in his head, because he seems extremely deferential to his teammates. It also appears that his teammates aren't looking for him as much in the post either. Feed the big man more. You got to feed the beast if you want him to keep guarding your house.

Acie...looks like a rookie. But that is not exactly a bad thing. He is feeling out the offense, also showing a deference to his teammates. The best way to combat this is for Woodson to let him play through his mistakes and trust him to run the team. Acie will probably not be an high-assist guy with the Hawks, simply because Joe Johnson is the lead guard in this system. Also, Joe rarely catch and shoots: he prefers to iso for a jump shot. Teams with shooting guards who play in this manner tend to have low assist point guards (see Jordan's Bulls, Lakers with Kobe, Dwyane Wade with Heat, any team with Tracy McGrady, etc). So Acie shouldn't get down on the low assist totals. He should focus on running the team to its maximum efficiency, i.e. getting the ball to players in spots where they can make a play. So far his defense leaves a little to be desired...just a little.

Marvin Williams is playing great. His jumper is automatic from mid-range. He is helping on the boards (six a game). He is playing within his game (only two three-point attempts, both to beat the buzzer). He is also playing admirable defense (helped hold a red-hot Tayshaun Prince to eight points).

Mike Woodson is doing a good job of keeping his team upbeat and playing hard on the court. Nobody has ever accused Woodson's teams of quitting on him over the past three years. However, rotation and making in-game adjustments has not been Woodson's forte. Keeping Lue in the game at crunch time against Detroit was brutal, and like the smart team Detroit is, they took advantage. Taking Marvin out in the first quarter against the Nets while he was hot is equally as brutal. Managing players minutes, exploiting mismatches, and ensuring that they keep up the desired pace of the game are a coach's main responsibility. In crunch time against Detroit for example, the players played tense and slowed down the pace, which played right into Detroit's hands. Against the Nets, when the Hawks were looking for offense, why was Salim Stoudamire on the bench? Woodson admitted to this mea culpa after the Phoenix game, in which Salim played for the first time this season and drained two huge three-pointers in the third quarter to thwart a Phoenix run Monday night. "I probably should have played him in Detroit or New Jersey when we were struggling for offense," Woodson said to reporters after the game.

By the way, here is the box score for that game

As the coach of this team (any coach on any team for that matter), Woodson has to play to the Hawks strength at all times. Capitulating to another team's style is the biggest sin for a team that wants to win. A winning team forces the tempo at all costs.

So what if two teams have the same strategy, but unequal talent? The team with the lesser talent, to win, must find a mismatch somewhere and drill it endlessly. If a coach cannot find that, then that is one must concede victory, but only after a well-fought game.

The Hawks shouldn't have this problem. They can find a mismatch every night (even San Antonio: Tony Parker isn't exactly Dennis Johnson on the defensive end, and Bruce Bowen can be taken in the post, Joe. Just a couple of them). The Hawks mixture of length and quickness on the defensive end can cause any team fits, if applied efficiently. Some nights offense will be a problem, simply because the Hawks don't have another play-maker who is skilled enough to create their own shot consistently. Even so there should be no reason why this team shouldn't make the playoffs, barring injury. If they do, we know exactly who should get the finger.

Not that finger; the one that points.

Directly at the strategist.


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