Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Hoopinion is known by many around the blogosphere for the past few years as an excellent site that covers the Atlanta Hawks, authored by Bret LaGree. But what people may not know is that LaGree has produced a playwright before, titled “Guyworld” … talk about writing versatility! In any case, if you’re ever in need an educated take or the latest scoop on the Hawks, Hoopinion is the place to go. LaGree drops knowledge, without a doubt.
A few days ago, I was able to ask LaGree a few questions to preview the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks.
Some people have stated that the Atlanta Hawks’ performance in the first round revealed more questions than answers, most notably concerning the team’s inconsistency, head coach Mike Woodson’s coaching acumen, etc. Do you agree or disagree with that statement and why?
Perimeter defense, defensive rebounding, predictability in the half-court (both offensively and defensively) which can be exploited down the stretch of close games, an inability to get to the free throw line, and a lack of depth have all been problems for the Hawks for years but little of that has really taken root in the national consciousness. I suspect that it’s rare that the team who averages the fourth-fewest possessions per game in the league is commonly perceived and frequently described as a devastating transition team.
So, yes, making adjustments isn’t Mike Woodson’s strength (nor does his roster give him a lot of options; granted, some of that is his own doing), and, yes, you’d think that by being a former Larry Brown assistant Woodson would be a good defensive coach but the Hawks have never been a good defensive team under him, and, yes, the Hawks look great when they get out and run but they can’t do that consistently because they don’t rebound enough of the misses they force and, when that happens, they become over-reliant on jump shots created within a half-court system that prizes dribbling over ball and player movement. I don’t think anything that was revealed in the Milwaukee series was news to Hawks fans but the some common misconceptions casual or infrequent viewers of the team were dispelled.
Why have the Orlando Magic have caused so many matchup problems for the Hawks in recent years?
After his Game 7 performance, I’m again leaning toward considering Al Horford to be Atlanta’s best player. Al Horford is smaller, less athletic, and not as effective a basketball as Dwight Howard. That’s a serious problem. As Howard occupies Horford, or sends him to the bench with foul trouble, that prevents Horford from providing the help defense Atlanta’s guards so desperately need. Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson keep Josh Smith out on the perimeter, making him travel farther to provide help at the rim and forcing him to do something he, despite being a very good defensive player, is not very good at: closing out on shooters under control. Negate the defensive impact of Smith and Horford and the number of guards who can score easily against the Hawks swells. Anthony Johnson, Jason Williams, and J.J. Redick can each attest to that.
Al Horford, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith each had All-Star caliber seasons this year, yet Smith was egregiously left off the East team in Dallas. That being said, between Horford, Johnson, and Smith, which player is the best barometer for Atlanta’s success?
Milwaukee got back in the series by taking Luc Richard Mbah a Moute off of Joe Johnson and putting him on Josh Smith. Atlanta’s offense functions best when Horford and Smith are creating transition opportunities off their defense or when the Hawks work the ball inside-out either by design or after an offensive rebound. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford are outstanding shot-makers. Either one can save a bad possession by draining an improbable, guarded jump shot. Too often, Atlanta’s first option in half-court is getting out of the way of Johnson or Crawford and watching one of them create that difficult shot.
The guards are going to take the bulk of the shots and Johnson’s going to take the bulk of those shots. He made his first three and last two shots in Game 6 and 7. In between, he went 7-33 from the field. The Hawks won anyway. The barometer for their success is some combination of Horford and Smith’s TS% and the number of assists they earn.
For the Hawks to beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, what needs to happen? What’s your series prediction?
The Magic have to shoot the ball poorly by their standards, the Hawks have to rebound a huge number of those misses, and, off of those misses, make a concerted effort to push the ball up the court and create offense before Orlando’s defense gets set up. Each of those items is improbable by itself. Needing all of them to happen likely reveals my pessimism about the series.
Magic in 5.
I like to thank Bret for taking the time to answer my questions.