Kevin C. Cox
Tonight the Golden State Warriors host the Atlanta Hawks, a team in full-on rebuilding mode but still looking to get themselves about .500 with a win tonight. Jason Walker of Peachtree Hoops helps us understand what has gone right for the team thus far this season.
If you chose to ignore the Atlanta Hawks out after this off-season, it would be hard to blame you.
New Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was lauded for his efforts to clear cap room by moving Joe Johnson's contract to the Brooklyn Nets and Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz. Yet their efforts to clear cap room and initiate a full rebuild left them without the man who had been their leading scorer since the 2005-06 season, an expiring Josh Smith, and a whole lot of expiring contracts and roster filler.
To help us prepare for tonight's game against a unit that the league is still making itself familiar with, I had a brief exchange with Jason Walker of SB Nation's Peachtree Hoops to give us a sense of what has gone right for this team so far this season and how the Warriors might be able to beat them.
1. After a busy off-season of collecting assets, it was pretty clear that the Hawks were not entering the season in "win-now" mode as described in Hawks Str8talk's preview of the season. But right now the Hawks are off to a 3-3 start - small sample, but promising nonetheless. Is there anything that has surprised/disappointed you about the team's start?
Jason Walker, Peachtree Hoops: Coming into this season we felt like there were few expectations for this crew, given the abundance of guys on the final year of their deal, dealing the identity of the franchise away in Joe Johnson and the associated perception of a rebuilding team.
The players they brought in, on paper, were more efficient offensively and there were suddenly a bunch of proven outside shooters, lending to the notion that this would be a fun team to watch. More offense, less defense, but overall not far off from the team that won at a 50 game pace last season.
So far, through 6 games, they have done nothing to alter that perception, having defeated Oklahoma City and Portland on the road. They can shoot from the outside, have a solid core in Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Louis Williams and their play together, with more motion and less predictability. All of this has indeed been fun to watch.
2. The Hawks are currently the 5th most efficient shooting team in the East after moving their top scorer from last year. What do you think is working well for them offensively thus far?
JW: The team is, overall, a little off from last season in all the advanced statistics. Joe Johnson, while being a six-time all-star, was not uber-efficient when it came to his scoring, and the players getting the bulk of the usage are historically efficient players (Smith, Williams, Horford, Teague).
3. Despite not being a great defensive team overall, the Hawks are actually pretty good at defending the 3-point line this season. Let's say they shut down the Warriors' 3-point shooters tonight - how else might the Warriors pull off a win against the Hawks without the help of Andrew Bogut?
JW: My initial take would be that, given that Teague, Williams, Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow aren't good perimeter defenders, that teams are forgoing the three to take advantage of the Hawks going to the basket. But upon statistical review, each of the teams the Hawks have played have shot more than their (to date) average 3PA.
Next I would hypothesize that maybe it's the quality of the competition, but they've played four of the top 10 3P% teams so far and, except for OKC, all have been below their average against the Hawks.
That leaves luck -- or it could be because the Hawks employ some truly long players across the board which could help disrupt those shots if they are closing out as they are supposed to, which they have been. DeShawn Stevenson, Williams, Morrow, Teague and Devin Harris are all presiding over a pretty stingy wing defense when on the floor.
As far as how to beat the Hawks, teams with plenty of bigs (Houston, L.A. Clippers) have caused problems for the undersized Hawks, with their losses seeing less offensive rebounds, second chance points and blocks while giving up more in each of these categories to their opponents. This has flipped the Hawks efficiencies considerably in each of their losses this season.
Since you won't have Bogut, Biedrins can cause problems for Horford, who struggles against seven footers, but if it's David Lee on Horford, the Hawks big man has always eaten his former Gator teammate's lunch.
Additionally, Carl Landry and his high offensive rebounding rate could cause issues for Atlanta.