Monday, January 16, 2006

Ten Wins!!! Sweet Mary, the Hawks Have Ten Wins!

Of course, they beat a Rockets team missing Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Stromile Swift to get that precious tenth win, but who's really counting? The Rockets started a line-up that would have been outstanding in 1997, but struggled somewhat in 2006; Juwan Howard, David Wesley, and a frisky Dikembe Mutombo Mplondo Mukamba Jean Jacques Wamutombo (who got into it with Josh Smith on several occasions) were in Houston's starting lineup and contributed 44 of the visitors' 83 points. The Hawks were mostly in command from the second quarter on, which was nice to see, although I kept telling myself things like "Tracy McGrady wouldn't have missed that open baseline jumper" and "Yao wouldn't have had to elbow J-Smoove in the head to get that rebound." As usual, Joe Johnson (22 points and ten assists) and Al Harrington (28 points on 12 of 16 shooting) were the offensive stars. The team didn't have a quality third option offensively, although Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudamire both played reasonably well, but they didn't need the third option with the Rockets' wretched lineup. The local basketball collective will get a slightly tougher challenge in its next home game, when it'll be faced with the 30-5 Pistons instead of the Clinton Administration all-stars.

One discouraging note: Josh Smith turned the ball over four times, which is exactly his average over the past six games. How a player who doesn't have the ball in his hands that much turns the ball over so frequently is almost a feat of nature. Digging a little deeper into his stats, he has clearly regressed this season. He is averaging fewer points, rebounds, and assists and more turnovers per 40 minutes, while shooting a lower percentage. Ditto for Josh Childress, with the notable exception that he is shooting a much higher percentage this year, so he's a marginally more efficient player, although mainly because he can fade into the background with Johnson and Harrington doing the scoring, as opposed to last year after Antoine Walker was dealt when he was actually relied upon offensively. Childress has also become something of a defensive stopper this year, so it can't be said that his game has totally regressed. Nevertheless, the performance of the younger players is critical to evaluating whether Mike Woodson should get a third year. The "youngest team in the NBA" label is a legitimate reason for the team to be struggling (as is the "nothing approximating a quality starting point guard" moniker), but those young players need to be showing progress. If Smith, Childress, and Williams play better in the second half of the year, then Woodson will have earned a third season on the bench. If J-Smoove continues to regress and Childress is nothing more than a garbage man, then someone else will need to be brought in, and I say that liking Mike Woodson quite a bit.

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