Monday, March 16, 2009

Looking ahead with the Hawks


Unrelated asides: If you're into art or re-imagining office spaces, check out a side-project I'm involved with called mauve?. Speaking of side-projects, I'm also involved with this [not entirely safe for work] site.

I might be the Hawks' good luck charm this year -- it seems as though every time I watch them, even on tape-delay, they not only win but play fantastically. A lot of that has to do, I think, with my having watched more of their home games than their road games. Still, even with the postseason still a ways away, it's hard not to begin imagining this team (assuming a healthy return for Marvin Williams) advancing to the second round of the playoffs this spring.

Yesterday morning's game might not have been the perfect example -- they were playing at home to Portland at 10 a.m. West Coast time. But I'll use it anyways. Joe Johnson is the main story for the Atlanta offense, both in this game and throughout the season, but for now I'd like to focus on the defense. When they are at their best, the Hawks do a great job of switching and closing out on shooters and generally making things difficult for the opposing offense. Unfortunately, they're not always at their best -- below is a chart of Atlanta's defensive efficiency over the course of the season. The blue line is their defense from game to game, and the pink line represents their overall defensive performance during the prior 10 games -- a moving average (recall that for defense, lower numbers are better). Click the image to make it bigger.


As you can see, they crapped out a bit around late December and early January, but have recently been picking it up again (for context, a defensive rating of 108 would be about average this year). More striking is the home-road split: the Hawks allow just 104.8 points per 100 possessions at home (that would be sixth in the league, right behind San Antonio), but 110.5 points per 100 on the road (which would be 24th in the league, behind the Knicks). Fortunately for them, they're on track to end up with the fourth seed in the playoffs, which would give them homecourt for the first round, probably against either Miami or Philadelphia.

On Sunday, the Hawks held the Blazers, the best offensive rebounding team in the league, to just retrieving 28.6% of their offensive rebounding chances (Portland averages over 32%), and it was mostly due to the bigs' boxing out and allowing the guards to get a number of rebounds (Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby combined for 11 defensive rebounds).

When they're at their best, the Hawks continue to be one of the more fun teams to watch in the league, despite numerous flaws. And, despite all of those flaws, if the team plays the sort of defense that they've shown themselves to be capable of so far in March, they'll still be around for the second round of the playoffs, for the first time in a decade.

Neither here nor there
Since getting called up from the D-League, Pops Mensah-Bonsu has played in a handful of games (8 total). Somehow, he's averaging close to a point and a rebound every other minute -- that is, close to 7 and 7 in just 14 minutes.

Also: I was flipping around on the TV the other day and saw this odd sight:


And finally: the Warriors aren't exactly going anywhere and the whole franchise seems to be in disarray, but since coming back from resting his stiff ankle, Monta Ellis has looked like Monta Ellis again. That is a good thing.

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