Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Trying to make 10-48 sound as good as possible

Wifey and I went to the Hawks-Sixers game on Saturday night. We tend to get strange looks from most of our friends when we say that we go to Hawks games, but we were part of a sell-out crowd on Saturday night (at least 15-20 of whom were cheering for the home team,) so maybe we're not freaks after all. Anyway, for the 15-20 of you who care about the local team, here's how they looked on Saturday night:

1. Al Harrington is clearly the go-to player on the team. He's assumed that role since Antoine Walker was traded and since Harrington actually figures into this team's future, that's another reason why the Walker deal was a good one by Billy Knight. Harrington was on fire at the start, then cooled off offensively for a while, but finished with 19 points on 14 shots, which is good. He also had nine assists, which was very encouraging. His passing throughout the game was good, especially because it shows that he hasn't responded to losing by jacking up shots and ignoring his pedestrian teammates. He did a very nice job of setting up Gugliotta for what would have been the winning points had the Hawks been able to come up with a final stop. (Incidentally, I remarked to Wifey during the timeout leading up to that possession that we would find out a little about Mike Woodson as a coach by seeing if he could get a good look for his team on a critical possession. Mission accomplished.)

2. Josh Smith has regressed since winning the dunk contest. After dropping 19 and 10 on the Kings in the first game back, he's hit double-digits in points only once (on a 4-15 shooting night) and is shooting .321 from the field. Right now, he has no offensive game other than dunking in transition. Even his offensive rebounding, which was the second source of his offense, has declined (eight in the last six games.) Maybe he's hitting a rookie wall, or maybe he misses 'Toine throwing him lob passes, or maybe his head's been in the clouds since becoming the Dunk King. On the bright side, he did a very good job defensively on Kyle Korver and had one bring-down-the-house dunk, although I predicted immediately (and correctly) that he would miss the following free throw. Smith was also the Hawks' leading rebounder on a night that they outrebounded the Sixers by 15.

3. Josh Childress' game is somewhat similar to Smith's right now. Neither of them are a threat one-on-one to either hit a jumper or beat their defender off the dribble and score at the basket. Both of them get their points from feeds in the lane or offensive rebounds. That said, Childress is doing a better job now of moving without the ball than Smith and as a result, he's scoring pretty consistently. I looked at the game on Saturday night as a test between Childress and Andre Iguodala and Childress clearly won it, although he had the advantage of not playing with a player who hoisted 31 shots.

4. That said, Iverson is the most entertaining player in the NBA. TV doesn't do justice to how quick and agile he is, or how good his handle is. If he was a slightly more accurate passer, he'd be close to the best player in the league. Chris Webber, on the other hand, is struggling mightily to jell with the Sixers. He has a very unique game at this stage in his career. He needs the ball in his hands in the high post where he can shoot his jumper or hit cutting teammates. Now, he doesn't get the ball in the high post and his teammates don't move without the ball, so he's basically useless. He reminds me of Herschel Walker with the Vikings; the debate about his likely failure in Philly will be whether he's washed up or Philly didn't use his talents properly. It's quite possible that Iverson will cement his reputation as a player who is impossible to play with on the offensive end, which means that the Sixers should focus their efforts on surrounding him with players who can hit open jumpers, play defense, and rebound.

5. I also paid attention to Sam Dalembert on Saturday night because he's a potential target for the Hawks in the off-season. He has no evident back-to-the-basket game and I'm suspicious that he's the center on a team that got killed on the glass by the Hawks. I didn't see anything that would cause me to think that the Hawks should overpay for his services. It would be better to pocket their cap room until they have a better young core than to spend it on marginal players. The golden rule in sports is that spending star money on average players is the surest way to the toilet. (See: Knicks, New York.)

6. Other than Harrington, Smith, and Childress, how did the substitute teachers of the team play? I'm glad you asked:

Ekezie - He's functional, but nothing special. The Hawks pulled him off the trash heap and he's now starting ahead of the Drobber and Collier. Ekezie does give the Hawks some hustle, although he was rewarded for his efforts on one occasion by being whistled for a foul after Iverson hit him in the head going for a loose ball. (NBA refs: they're FANTASTIC!)

Lue - Harassed Iverson into 10-31 shooting, giving us a little glimpse of the form he showed for the Lakers in the '01 Finals that caused the Wizards to overpay for his services. Golden rule #2: role players on championship teams are fool's gold. (Watch NFL teams overpay for Pats players, forgetting that the Pats have shown that they can win no matter who is suiting up.) Again, he's a major improvement over Kenny Anderson and Royal Ivey.

Diaw - He's taking baby steps now that he's getting playing time. Like the Hawks' other young players, he can't hit a jumper to save his life, although there's no one on the team that can force a double-team to create open jumpers. Actually, there is one guy who seems to get plenty of open jumpers and buries them all...

The Drobber - 12 and 4 in 14 minutes. Either he got hurt or Bobby Knight taught Mike Woodson that you just can't trust Eastern Euros. Pedrag has filled the void in my life left by Antonio Alfonseca's signing with the Marlins. (Sadly, I never took the chance to replace Sheff's Chefs in right field with The Octopus's Garden.)

Googs - Here's an idea for the Hawks to sell tickets for the rest of the year: Googs needs to average 12.1 points a game over the remaining 24 games to hit 10,000 for his career. Who wouldn't pay money to see Tyronne Lue run screen & flare with Googs over and over again to get him to his milestone? And surely the Wolfpack fans in the area could get behind this effort; it isn't like they have anything else to do this March.

Ivey - Yup, great idea taking him when Chris Duhon, a former HS all-American and solid player for a great college program was still available. (Now that Childress is playing well and Luol Deng is hurt, I need to rue other decisions made in last year's Draft.)

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