Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hawks Talk

Nice win last night for the local basketball collective. I had tickets, but I traded them to Daniel (with whom I share season tickets) because the wife and I wanted to watch the two-hour season finale of The Bachelor. This is what happens when you don't have TiVo...and have misplaced your y-chromosome at some point in your late 20s. (Wait a second, I've been to half the home games of one of the worst teams in the league! Screw you guys! I don't have to justify myself if I want to massage my inner Sappho for a night! Do I?) I did watch/listen to some of the game and it was encouraging to see the team go toe-to-toe with one of the better teams in the East, playing a full line-up. Some observations:

1. Josh Smith is definitely playing better basketball. Leaving aside the fact that he hit two critical jumpers last night (his jumper has been better all season, even when the rest of his game was not progressing,) he's been taking much better care of the ball. Look at his assist averages by month:

November - 1.1
December - 1.3
January - 1.2
February - 3.1

And now his turnovers:

November - 1.8
December - 1.7
January - 2.5
February - 1.3

And one other measure of whether he's handling the ball well and threatening opposing defenses, his free throws attempted per game:

November - 3.43
December - 2.21
January - 2.73
February - 4.75

And now the Hawks' record by month:

November - 2-12
December - 5-9
January - 5-10
February - 6-6

I'm not saying that Smith caused the Hawks to have a .500 record in a month in which they played seven of 12 games on the road, including a three-game West Coast swing that usually kills the team and two games against the Pistons, but he's certainly a factor in the team playing better. His offensive game is rounding out nicely because he's handling the ball better, attacking the hoop, and making good decisions. As I said before, the most discouraging aspect of this season at one stage was that Smith and Childress were not showing progress, but that's no longer true.

2. Speaking of free throws, last night was a classic example of why Vince Carter is an overrated player. If you just watched SportsCenter, then you probably saw a great dunk and a stat that he scored 22 points. What you didn't see was that it took him 24 shots to score 22 points (all of the Hawks' starters scored more points than they took shots from the field,) he took a whopping one free throw, and he missed shots that would have won the game at the end of regulation and the end of overtime. On both occasions, he settled for long jumpers instead of taking the ball to the hoop. And what was he doing launching a 35-footer at the end of overtime when he had time to get much, much closer?

3. Much of the "buzz" on sports radio right now relates to Peter Vescey's column in Sunday's New York Post in which he stated that a Hawks source told him that Salim Stoudamire's two-game suspension was the result of Stoudamire and Mike Woodson physically going at one another in the locker room after the loss to the Sonics. More specifically, the issue is the fact that the New York Post is breaking stories on our local sports teams instead of the AJC. This isn't much of a surprise at all. The AJC is notoriously bad at printing juicy rumors, which is partially to its credit since it places significant sourcing demands on its writers. The end result is a less entertaining paper that has fewer cutting edge stories, but also fewer articles that they end up having to disavow. (I'm sure that Richard Jewell would feel differently about that last statement.) The AJC is the way it is because this is a one-newspaper town and without competition, they don't have the incentive to print sexy material. What they probably don't get is that they're competing with other media outlets, like sports talk radio and the Web, and people like me don't subscribe to the AJC because we can get better information without resorting to the newspaper.

It was amusing for me to hear Steak Shapiro on 790 the Zone criticize the AJC for possibly sitting on the Stoudamire story, since his source within the organization confirmed that the altercation happened. Strangely enough, I don't recall Steak reporting on what his source told him until after Vescey broke the story. Maybe I missed it in between the steady avalanche of commercials during the morning show of which I remain a loyal listener. (Seriously, is there a better job that sports talk radio host? You work a four-hour show, during which you're actually speaking for only half that time, as the other half is filled with repetitive sports and traffic updates. Add in the occasional "Bud Light Radio Replay," in which old interviews are recycled for programming time, and your job consists of less than two hours of work. [In fairness, radio hosts do have to prepare for their 110 minutes of actual programming and they do have to do promotional appearances, rough gigs like shooting threes at halftime of Hawks games.])

4. One other interesting development in February: Joe Johnson started playing point guard, or at least started playing like a point guard. His shooting percentage, three-point percentage, free throws attempted, and rebounds were all down in the month, but his assists per game shot up by over 50%:

November - 5.0
December - 5.8
January - 6.1
February - 9.3

He did this while holding his turnovers per game at his season average of 3.2 per game. He had 11+ assists in seven of 12 games this month; in those games, the Hawks were 5-2. The team desperately needed a point guard and on this evidence, it looks possible that Johnson could play that role, at least for significant stretches of games, if not as the full-time starter. If that's true, then that dramatically affects the Hawks' plans for the off-season. It makes retaining Al Harrington a possibility, although there's no way that he's worth the max and retaining him will certainly impede Marvin Williams' progress. It means that the team has a much greater need at power forward/center and thus, we all need to be praying that LaMarcus Aldridge declares and is available when the Hawks send David Stern to the podium. On the other hand, this is only a 12-game sample, so as the Wolf said, let's not start blanking each other's blanks just yet.


LD said...

I was working on a post about that Vecsey/790/AJC dustup this morning too, but you hit it first.

You're on the money about it too. It's not just hypocritical for them to criticize the AJC for not printing rumors they didn't run with either, it's also illogical. Sports talk radio and Vecsey's column are all about trafficking in rumors. You know what you're getting when you read or listen. The AJC's beat reporting shouldn't be like that. It should focus on sourced materials.

Further, the clip they played from yesterday's Matt Chernoff interview proves how dissociated from journalistic integrity the radio is. Chernoff (who I don't mind at all as a radio guy) phrased his "gotcha!" question to the AJC sports editor as thus: "You didn't print the story, you sat on it. Can you, with 100% accuracy claim that it is not true?" Of course the editor shouldn't have answered that. Anyone with a conscience or brain knows that that standard isn't what you go by. If you're 90% positive something isn't true you shouldn't publish it. If you're 50% positive something isn't true you shouldn't publish it. Hell, there used to be a time when you didn't publish something unless you knew with 100% accuracy that something was TRUE.

Yes, it might make for a less-sexy paper, but that's also why we have gossip blogs, shock radio personalities, etc. Can't some media form be focused on sourced and proven materials?

Matt said...

I don't think the sample size is too small. The Hawks have played like this for 1 - 3 quarters the first half of the season, and now they play 3 - 4 quarters of "good" basketball.

The AJC has had the fear of god put into them by Turner when it comes to dealing with the local teams. As soon as the AJC starts publishing actual reporting articles that are negative (as opposed to op-eds), they are under the impression that their access is going to get shut off. The whole Vick / VD thing was the most public example of this neutering, but is it good / bad if the AJC exposes negative stories? For those of us who actually care, we want the story.

Michael said...

LD, that Chernoff quote rubbed me the wrong way as well. No newspaper is going to run a story based on the standard that it might be true; that gets the standard backwards. You make an interesting point that the newspaper does hard news and leaves the other outlets to bandy about rumors. That makes me wonder why 680 and 790 don't do more in the way of juicy stories. Possibly because they want to maintain access just like the AJC does?

Matt, the difference now at the end of games is that the Hawks have an actual point guard who can run a halfcourt offense when opponents buckle down on defense, and that gets back to Joe Johnson playing a different style this month. As for the AJC, I'll stand by the argument that the lack of competition in this town in the newspaper industry causes them to not push the envelope.