I went to the Hawks game last night and have mostly the same observations that John Hollinger has about the team. Hollinger was very critical of the Joe Johnson signing, but noticed last night that when Johnson plays the two, he's a very effective scorer and gives the Hawks their best perimeter threat in years. The fact that he was able to score with Kobe defending him was even more impressive. His distribution of the ball was fairly good, but he does much better passing the rock when he's functioning as a two and beating opponents off the dribble in an effort to score, as opposed to initiating the offense. Johnson had four assists and would have had more had his teammates finished some looks that he created for them. On the other hand, he also had five turnovers, so let's not anoint him king of the world just yet.
As with last year, the Hawks' primary problem is their complete inability to defend and that starts at the point guard spot, which is still a major issue. Tyronne Lue is a fairly good offensive player, but he cannot keep an opposing point guard in front of him, nor can he defend a screen and roll (although the Lakers didn't exploit this deficiency.) I would hazard a guess that Smush Parker is not in the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA, so allowing him to score 21 points on nine (NINE?!?) shots is a sign that you have major problems defending the one. Kobe scored 37 and looked great doing it. The Hawks made him take tough shots and he just kept burying them. (Would things have been different if Daniel and I would have started the "No Means No" chant in Section 317, thus starting a riot with the assembled teenage girls who think that Kobe is sweet? We'll never know.) The difference in the game was not Kobe getting his 37, but his backcourt mate getting 21, especially on a night where the Lakers' entire frontline looked like garbage. (If last night is any indication, the Kwame Brown experiment is going to be a massive failure. He just looked lost.) I can see why Woodson played Royal Ivey last year, despite his lack of any offensive skill; he needed to remember that it is possible for a point guard to play defense. If Denver gives up on Earl Watson, could the Hawks get him cheaply? He'd be a pretty good fit on this roster.
Hollinger is absolutely right about the Hawks' young players - Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams - looking completely lost on the court. Woodson is clearly not happy with Smith, as evidenced by his demotion to the bench, and Smith showed why last night with lazy passes. Childress still doesn't have much of an offensive game. (I like Andre Iguodala more and more every time I see Childress play, although I was saying the same things about Luol Deng last year and Childress came on in the second half.) Williams looked good for the first quarter and then was completely anonymous for the remaining three. Daniel remarked that the key to the season will be finding a good third offensive option to go with Johnson and Harrington and Williams seems to be the most likely candidate, although that assumes that he learns rapidly.
As for the game experience, other than the facts that (1) my aisle seats turned out to be smack dab in the middle of a section and (2) the Hawks have gone the route of the Braves and got rid of the $7 24-ounce beer, replacing it with the $6.25 16-ounce beer (do the math,) the game was great fun. There was a guy kissing two girls on KissCam, a contestant on "For Love Or Electronics" saying that she was better than the other two candidate because "I have a job and I'm legal," and the surreal experience of Ryan Cameron playing the role of verbal shot clock. And these tickets are cheaper than movie tickets. I feel like I'm stealing from the Hawks, and then I remember what their record is.