Posts Tagged ‘Al Horford’

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).

Kobe, Lakers Still Need Plenty Of Work




VIDEO: The Lakers cannot find the mark and get worked by the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You don’t need a CSI kit to figure out that these aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers of old. They look more like the old beat up Lakers right now, a team totally incapable of mustering enough healthy bodies, energy or effort to fight off an elite team, let alone a decent team like the Atlanta Hawks.

The mirage that has been the Lakers’ season thus far, with and without Kobe Bryant, is coming into focus now and it’s not nearly as inspiring as it might have seemed as recently as three weeks ago, when Mike D’Antoni was pushing buttons on a feisty crew of underdogs, yes underdogs, as they awaited Kobe’s return from Achilles surgery and the months of rehab that followed.

These Lakers aren’t big enough, strong enough and don’t have enough of the star power they are used to (at least not healthy) to even utter the words “championship contender” right now. And it was all on display Monday night at Philips Arena, when the Hawks pawed at a listless and defenseless Lakers team early and then slapped them around after halftime before finishing with a season-high 114 points in the win.

They need work, and plenty of it, before anyone starts talking about them being anything but what they are at this moment, and that’s a flawed crew on the far side of the playoff bubble in the rugged Western Conference.

“That’s you guys talking about June,” D’Antoni said. “Right now we’re just trying to win a game.”

When Elton Brand swats three shots, before halftime mind you, as the Hawks’ frontcourt crew of Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), Paul Millsap (18, nine and four steals) and Brand (eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his blocks) stalemate your frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill the way they did, it makes Kobe’s and hence the Lakers’ struggles understandable.

Sure, Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the floor, turned the ball over way too much (five) and didn’t make up for it with another double-digit assist night, not with the Hawks’ energetic DeMarre Carroll doing his best Raja Bell impersonation for much of the night. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the sort of help that will allow him to work his way through these tough nights as he gets his body back into the type of shape he’s used to. He’s playing out of position at point guard, while Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all nurse injuries.

The Hawks didn’t have to say it but it was obvious, with Kobe as their point guard the Lakers are much easier to figure out than when he’s in his normal role at shooting guard. Kobe cannot take advantage of defenders in the post and work them around screens when he’s running the show, when he’s responsible for making sure Gasol, Hill, Jodie Meeks and others get into the flow of games.

“They were picking Kobe up full court and making him work,” D’Antoni said, “so we didn’t create any motion or movement or energy for ourselves. we have to make sure we continue to get motion.”

Bryant will be back at the controls Tuesday night in Memphis. He’ll have to drag his tired body back out on the floor on just a few hours’ rest and then chase Mike Conley around as best he can.

“The back-to-backs are always tough,” Bryant said. “I just have to get ready, I have to do whatever is necessary to get ready for the next night and get right back out there.”

That’s much easier said than done when your body betrays your natural instincts and the things you have conditioned it to do the past two decades. As Bryant admitted, this is a new process for him, trying to find his way back to normal from his injury. It’s not like anything he has dealt with before.

“Every night is like a different puzzle,” Bryant said. “So every night you have to try and problem solve.”

He also has to take mental notes of his own, as he’s learning what does and does not work for him on this journey back to the Kobe Bean Bryant everyone is used to seeing.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “because there are certain things I feel like I can do and there are other things I can’t do, but I feel like they are coming. You have to be patient and keep your eye on the big picture and continue to work and get stronger.”

Kobe’s foot and ankle were immobile for so long that there is still some physical discomfort that he’ll have to endure until those issues dissipate.

“The next level of progression is playing these games when you sit back out, get back in, is keeping it loose,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You increase the activity, the ankle gets used to it a little more.

“I’ve just got to keep my eye on the big picture and focus on getting better.”

That’s also why he’s not ready to panic about the Lakers’ 11-13 record nine days before Christmas. This is not the same train ride the Lakers were on last year, when D’Antoni, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Nash and Bryant couldn’t steer clear of the mess as they careened on and off the tracks nearly all season long.

Any rumblings about the Lakers’ front office pressing the reset button and making a trade to shake things up are things Kobe does not plan on worrying  about right now.

“That call is completely up to them (the front office),” he said of making a call on any potential moves that could be made. “As a player, you rely on experience and the years that we’ve had slow starts. I just try to stay focused on that. Last year, it was really, really dire straits. And this doesn’t feel like this is that type of situation. You know, I don’t really sweat it too much. There are certain things we can correct and fix and a lot of it starts with me and getting healthy. And I’ll get there. And I’ll be able to control things a lot more. But I don’t really trip over it much. As players we’ve got to stay focused on what we do, and management obviously has to do the same thing on their end.”

In the meantime, the Lakers would be wise to keep their heads down, keep working and pray for some good fortune on the health front. Who knows what else the next few weeks might bring?

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Thunder Playing With Edge Few Can Match




VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook power Thunder past Hawks

ATLANTA – All of the wonder that used to accompany the Oklahoma City Thunder has been replaced with furrowed brows, shoulder shrugs and a wicked focus from the previously precious Western Conference party crashers.

They still dance after dunks and holster their shooting hands after a 3-pointer every now and then. But the mood is much different. The fun and games are over for the Thunder. Last season’s playoff failures, piggybacked on the failure to capitalize on home-court advantage in The Finals in 2011, have hardened this group.

“They’re playing for respect,” is the way one keen observer put it to me in a hallway at Philips Arena late Tuesday night after the Thunder finished thumping a game Atlanta Hawks team. “They went from No. 1 [in the Western Conference] to the backburner after Russell [Westbrook] got hurt last year against Houston. They didn’t forget how that felt. And they are taking it out on people now.”

It shows, particularly in Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the catalysts for this Thunder team. They carry an edge that few teams in the league can match right now. It’s the same edge they played with on their way up, when they took their lumps in successive years trying to reach the top of the Western Conference.

There is a physical edge to this group that was not there previously, one that was on full display against a Hawks team that hasn’t been pushed around much by anyone this season.

Westbrook chased a triple-double (14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) on a night when he couldn’t make a shot early and finished 6-for-21 from the floor. Durant shredded the Hawks for his usual 30 points, but was just as lethal on the other end, finishing with 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.

A much-improved Serge Ibaka added 19 points, 10 rebounds (his 10th double-double this season) and two swats, serving as a roadblock around the basket and neutralizing the Hawks’ Al Horford for most of the night.

During a late Hawks run, while both Durant and Westbrook were on the bench watching the reserves try to hold the lead, they were summoned back into the game. Durant swatted away shots on back-to-back possessions to help end whatever threat that was brewing from a Hawks team that dismantled the Los Angeles Clippers in Atlanta last week.

What Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan couldn’t do against a steady and disciplined Hawks team the Thunder did at will. They controlled the action and their stars were able to outwork their Hawks counterparts when it mattered most. The Thunder held the Hawks to just 36 percent shooting, an impressive feat for a team noted more for their explosive offensive abilities than for the intense defensive pressure.

“Any time you hold an NBA team in the thirties in shooting percentage,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “you’re doing a good job defensively.”

Anytime you have talented players like Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and that bunch locked in and focused on both ends the way they are now, you can do what you want against just about anybody. The Thunder’s 11 wins in their last 12 games, including a pasting of the Indiana Pacers over the weekend, is proof.

The way they finished off the Hawks was just a subtle reminder to the rest of the league that they will not let up, no matter the time, place or circumstance. Before the Hawks trimmed that lead to 95-92 late in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had cranked things up and led by 13 with just under seven minutes to play.

“(The Hawks) revved up their intensity on the defensive end and when we went on that [fourth quarter] run we matched their intensity. We were able to take that punch and give a bigger punch back,” Durant said. “We played well defensively and took some good shots. We had the game up to 14 or 15 twice, and we let them back in the game. They are tough to guard. They have shooters, and they have guys who roll to the rim and finish, but we did a good job of covering everything. We just always tell each other ‘weather the storm,’ no matter what. If they close the lead or if we’re down 20, just weather the storm and keep working and keep pressing. We took it a possession at a time, and when they cut it to three, we were able to just settle down and get stops and make shots as well.”

They did whatever needed to be done. And they did it with an edge. It makes you wonder — who will match that this season?


VIDEO: OKC guard Jeremy Lamb talks about his play vs. Atlanta

Doc’s Tough Love Is A Must For Clippers




VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers spares no one in assessing his team after a loss to the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It all makes sense now, the tough love approach and the constant reminders, in big wins or just plain ol’ wins, that nothing has been accomplished yet. There’s a method to the madness that is coach Doc Rivers‘ approach to dealing with his team, his new team (still). The Los Angeles Clippers, stacked as they might be and as talented as ever, are still not ready for prime time.

Doc knows it and wants them to understand it before they dive into any more challenges — real or hyped — by someone outside of the Clippers’ cocoon.

The numbers are pretty, starting with a 12-7 record that puts them on solid ground in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff chase. The star power — Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford are all healthy and in good form – remains. There is roster balance and depth and, other than J.J. Redick being injured, they have all the pieces they need.

But the splash is easily snatched away. The Hawks did so by dismantling the Clippers with a sound defensive plan and won going away Wednesday night at Philips Arena. They exposed the still fatal flaw of this Clippers team, one that Rivers has pointed out over and over again this season and again during a timeout huddle in the midst of the manhandling by the Hawks.

“Doc (Rivers) hit the nail on the head in one of our timeouts when he said that ‘playing hard isn’t enough,’ ” Paul said. “There a lot of people who play hard but are not in the NBA. We have to figure out a way to be effective.”

The Hawks taught the Clippers’ big men a lesson. Both Paul Millsap (a game-high 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocks) and Al Horford (21 points and nine rebounds) went to work on them, getting what they wanted, where and when they wanted, all night long against Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jared Dudley and Ryan Hollins. Hawks swingman Kyle Korver returned from a four-game injury absence and tied Dana Barros‘ record of 89 straight games with a made 3-pointer, on the first play of the game no less.

If this is the Clippers’ front line of defense and the defense they’re going to play against a solid-but-far-from-great team, it’s going to be a tough season against outfits capable of attacking them the way the Hawks did. Outfits like the one they’ll see tonight in Memphis (8 ET, League Pass) on the second stop on their seven-game road trip.

The defensive challenges will remain until the Clippers’ biggest stars decide enough is enough. And right now, ranking at the bottom of the league in all the significant defensive categories is not going to cut it.

“We’ve got to stop talking about it and we’ve got to figure out how were going to stop teams,” Paul said. “I am surprised because we know what to do. That’s the tough part about it. It’s not on the coaches, it’s on us in the locker room.”

That’s where things really get twisted for the Clippers. They have a relatively harmonious locker room (injured forward Matt Barnes was not around). It’s not like they are still navigating the transition from the old regime to Rivers’ crew. The leadership structure from last season is, for the most part, intact.

All of the chatter that accompanied the arrival of Rivers and the free agents, not to mention Paul sticking around instead of exploring his free-agent options, cloaked the very real possibility that the championship chase many expected to start in the summer wouldn’t really get underway until late December or early January.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Crawford said. “You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to have that synergy where you’re clicking on and off the court. And I don’t think we’re at that point yet. But I don’t think we should be right now. Going towards the end of the season and the playoffs is when you need to be in sync like that. We’re not there yet. And I don’t want to be there yet. I don’t want this group to peak too early.”

Rivers needs them to steady things long before April. He needs a cohesive group to find their groove and assert themselves on a nightly basis. Rivers needs a core unit that can muster the toughness to beat back teams like the Hawks and even the Grizzlies, who are not the same team that trampled the Clippers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season.

This straight-talk approach Rivers is using in an attempt to wean this team from some of its tried-and-true bad habits is the right one. There’s no timetable, the coach made that clear repeatedly. And there’s no sense in trying to measure it after each and every game.

The defensive-minded team that Rivers wants to coach has not yet materialized. When, and perhaps more importantly, if, they show up is anyone’s guess.

“We’re not there yet,” Rivers said, talking about not only his team’s defensive mettle but also its spirit.

Not even close.

“I don’t know what it is,” Rivers said. “Every team is different. Some teams get it right away and some teams it takes a while. But there is no rhyme or reason to it. You know when you got it. I can tell you that. And you also know when you don’t. But it just takes time. From a coaching perspective you just have to be really patient with it. And as long as you think there is improvement, that’s what you want. And we’re having that for sure.”

Moment Has Passed For Smith, Hawks




VIDEO: Josh Smith talks about the surreal feeling of his first trip home as a Detroit Piston

ATLANTA – Wednesday night was supposed to be his moment, the first time homegrown star Josh Smith walked into Philips Arena as a member of the “other” team.

His first steps down that hallway he’d walked so many times was supposed to be cathartic, a chance for Smith to finally put his near-decade with the Hawks behind him. It was also a chance for the fans who endured that roller coaster ride from the impetuous, sky-walking teenage J-Smoove to the matured husband, father and veteran that is today’s Smith to either pay their last respects or bid him farewell in a not-so-special way.

The hype was better than the actual event itself. Smith was introduced to an equal smattering of cheers and boos, which is pretty much the way he was greeted throughout his tenure here. Few players in my years covering the league have inspired such a spirited split from the home fans, love and … hate is such a strong word, perhaps “loathe” is better, for the way they play the game.

The mixed bag is also what Smith expected, “a few cheers and a few boos,” he said. “But it’s all good.”

It certainly seems that way. There’s nothing to see here anymore. The time for holding grudges or being upset, on either side, is over. The moment has passed for Smith and for the Hawks, who chose to move on from their homegrown star in free agency this past summer when they allowed Smith to sign a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons without so much as making an offer to him.

The outcome of the game, a 93-85 Hawks win, wasn’t on anyone’s mind as Smith stood among a crowd of reporters in the hallways outside of the Pistons’ locker room before the game.

All anyone wanted to know was how strange it was for Smith to walk into this building on the wrong side? What was it like coming “home” but no longer being a member of the family? What would it be like going against former teammates like Al Horford and Jeff Teague, guys he called his “friends and brothers” when it was all over, for the first time in his career?

Smith didn’t offer up any colorful soundbites. He noted that it was a bit surreal, the whole homecoming thing, and insisted that he wouldn’t let any of it affect him or his approach to the business at hand (his 5-for-15 shooting effort, 0-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, much to the delight of the Hawks’ partisans in the crowd, would suggest otherwise).

He’s focused on the Pistons  now, on making them better and on making sure he does whatever he can to enjoy the second chance he’s gotten in Detroit.

“I have to admit, it’s been humbling to play in front of those fans [in Detroit] with the way they support the home teams,” Smith said. “To play in a first-class organization that has the championship history that we have in Detroit, it’s something I had to experience to appreciate. It’s from the ownership level to the front office and coaching staff all the way down to the last man or woman in the organization. It’s just a different feel, and something that I never understood since I spent my entire career in one spot.”

That spot had to seem awful familiar Wednesday night.

Smith got a bigger rise out of the crowd with his attempts and misses from deep than anyone other than the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, whose streak of games with a made 3-pointer was stretched to 85, which is just four shy of the NBA record. That’s the beauty and the curse Smith has been blessed with. He has the ability to get fans out of their seats, for reasons good and bad.

The most surprising part for me, having covered Smith from his rookie season through his the trials and tribulations that preceded the Hawks’ six-year (and potentially counting, based on what we’ve seen from coach Mike Budenholzer‘s team so far) playoff run, was seeing the way the fans eased up on him from the start.

It was a pleasant surprise. One that you wish Smith’s father, Pete Smith, had been in his customary baseline seat closest to the Hawks’ bench to witness himself. He wasn’t able to do so since he was home battling off the ill effects of the flu.

It would have been nice for him to see that not everyone in this town holds his son in contempt now that everyone has moved on. I know deep down both father and son feel that Josh has never been properly appreciated for what he did to help revive the hometown franchise.

“I just hope they show my son a little love,” the elder Smith said by phone before the game. “I think he earned it, he deserves that much.”

They did, show him just a little love. And yes, he earned it. Smith does rank in the Hawks’ top 10 in games played, points, rebounds, steal and blocks. Yes, he deserved it.

But now it’s time for everyone to move on.

The moment has passed!


VIDEO: Josh Smith with the steal and slam against the hometown Hawks

Blogtable: One Tough Team To Read

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

This week, we borrow three questions from The Starters season preview podcasts.


Toughest team to read | Asik’s future in Houston | Pick a Wildcat to build around


Which team is the most difficult to forecast?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMemphis. A team like Milwaukee might wind up cusp of the playoffs or it could plunge well into the lottery because of its mix of role players, inexperience and possible mediocrity. But to me, the Grizzlies are a bigger mystery because they’ve been a contender, but one generating wildly mixed predictions this fall. They underwent a coaching change from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger, and it’s unclear if Mike Miller brings enough shooting help to materially change the Grizz offense. I still like this team but, boy, the preseason pickers have them all over the West standings from about fifth to ninth.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’ve seen the Lakers picked to finish anywhere from fifth to 12th in the Western Conference. The opening night win over the Clippers notwithstanding, there are so many questions. Of course, the most importance is when and how Kobe Bryant will return from his torn Achilles tendon. Can Pau Gasol stay healthy all year to hold things down in the middle? Can an aging Steve Nash hold up at all?  Do they have enough offensive firepower to survive in a loaded Western Conference? It all seems one big roll of the dice.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There are a few out there. What will Denver do? How will the Lakers jell without and then with Kobe? Will Andrew Bynum play for the Cavs ? All are solid candidates, but the Dallas Mavericks are one giant question mark. They’ve got nine new players around the veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are your starting backcourt. Samuel Dalembert, who averaged 16 minutes a game last season with Milwaukee, is your starting center. They’re loaded with guards and light on muscle. Some think the offense will light it up and the defense will stink. Some think they’ll make the playoffs, others think they won’t get close. It should be interesting.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Thunder. When will Russell Westbrook return and at what level? Can Jeremy Lamb go from a successful D-League season to contributing in the big leagues to help replenish the depth? Will Reggie Jackson turn promising signs into reality and become a dependable Westbrook replacement and eventually a big factor off the bench? The organization that prides itself as a model of stability is suddenly facing a lot of variables.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comA lot of them are difficult and Atlanta is at the top of the list. The Hawks have a very good big-man rotation with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. They have good shooting at every position and a quick and developing point guard — Jeff Teague — who  can create openings for his teammates. But they have a new coach, are a prime candidate for a midseason trade, and have a very suspect bench, especially until Lou Williams returns.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After that opening night performance from their unheralded bench, I’d think the Los Angeles Lakers would be the slam dunk pick in this category. They were already going to be extremely difficult to evaluate because of their reliance on Kobe Bryant and the fact that no one knows exactly when they’ll get him back and what sort of shape his game will be in when he does return. But when we wake up to Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Jordan Hill highlights on NBA.com and NBA TV, we’ve officially entered the basketball version of the Twilight Zone. Sure, it’s just one game. And the Los Angeles Clippers clearly are not now what we expect them to be. The Lakers, however, offer up all sorts of strange possibilities. They are playing loose this season, even after Kobe returns, and Mike D’Antoni is not operating under the same sort of pressure he did last season. They could get on an inspired roll to start this season and make some noise in the Western Conference … or opening night might have just been one of those nights and they’ll be a speed bump for the true contenders in the West this season. You just never know in a situation like this one.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogTo me it has to be the Lakers. Will Kobe be back to anything approaching his very best form? When will Kobe even be back? With Dwight Howard gone, will Mike D’Antoni be able to play an even more uptempo style of play? Will Pau Gasol go back to dominating the interior? Will Steve Nash stay healthy? Will Chris Kaman find a freezer large enough for the cow he purchased? Will Nick Young crash any more toboggans? There are just so many questions that have yet to be answered in Hollywood.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Deutschland: Probably the Cleveland Cavaliers. They want to make the playoffs, and looking at the roster they sure could. But there are a lot of question marks also. How much is Bynum going to play? How many games will Anderson Varejao last. Can Kyrie Irving stay healthy and, more importantly, take the next step and be more committed on defense? I’m also curious to see how Mike Brown will set up this offense. They have the potential to land at 5 or 6 in the East, but falling to 9 or 10 isn’t impossible.

Hanson Guan, NBA.com China: The Thunder. Because Russell Westbrook will miss more time than expected, and even if he returns ahead of schedule, his healthy status remains up in the air. The Thunder are my favorite to take the West, but without Westbrook the whole season, I really don’t know how far they can go.

Popovich And Budenholzer Embark On Surreal Journey On Opposing Benches





ATLANTA – You can solve most of the world’s major problems with a good meal, some fine wine and great company. Well, almost all of them if you are San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, colleagues for nearly two decades in San Antonio but opposing coaches and just damn good friends at dinner Wednesday night.

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who also played for and worked under Popovich in San Antonio, attended the Wednesday night reunion dinner that Budenholzer said focused on everything from politics, current events, family and a very little bit about basketball.

A 19-year collaboration between Popovich and Budenholzer, with Pop as the master and Bud as the astute pupil, comes to an official end tonight at Philips Arena in the Hawks’ preseason home opener. Looking down the scorer’s table at one another instead of huddling in front of the Spurs’ bench will mark the first time they have been apart in game situations since Budenholzer began his coaching career.

“Surreal is probably one word you could use,” Budenholzer said. “Seeing him on the opposite bench and all those players that I spent so much time with. But I’m excited and focused on our players and our group and getting us going in the right direction.”

Budenholzer was still on the hook for dinner Wednesday night, though.

“We had dinner, it was good to break bread with him,” Budenholzer said. “He tends to prefer conversations about things other than basketball. Government shut downs and debt ceiling and all of those different things. Occasionally, [the conversation] comes back to basketball. But in his ideal dinner it’s probably not a whole lot of basketball.”

Popovich has seen a number of his former pupils depart for head coaching and front office positions elsewhere. In fact, the Popovich family tree spreads from coast to coast and includes his former aides filling all sorts of positions, from general managers like Sam Presti in Oklahoma City to head coaches like Jacque Vaughn in Orlando.

But no one spent the kind of time under his wing and was afforded the sort of responsibilities that Budenholzer did as his right-hand man for so many years. That’s why it’ll be a strange new journey for Popovich all season without “Bud” by his side.

“When you’ve been with someone that long, to see him on the other side is a little bit strange for sure,” Popovich said. “We’ve said for several years if I could depart tomorrow and go live on some island and have lobster and good white wine somewhere, he could take over and no one would know the difference. He knows our system better than I do probably. I’m sure he’ll use part of it. But he has his own ideas about how things should be done. He’ll do a good job of putting that culture in and it’ll just take time for everybody to understand the benefits of it, because it doesn’t happen immediately.”

It helps when the players have what Popovich called “corporate knowledge” of the system being run. The Hawks turned over their roster two years in a row, leaving Budenholzer with plenty of brand new faces to work with. He had to win over everyone, though, even the familiar faces who had never heard of him.

“Nothing, not at all. Not at all,” Hawks center Al Horford said when asked what he knew about Budenholzer before the Hawks hired him in the midst of the Spurs’ run to The Finals and if he’d ever heard of him at all. “He’s a very passionate guy and I feel like he puts a lot of trust in us players. He gives us the freedom to play and he’s pretty straight forward with his concepts, offensively and defensively. There is no gray area when you are out there doing what you are supposed to do. “

It helps to have four championship rings and those nearly two decades worth of winning at the highest level under your belt when you are transitioning into your first head coaching gig.

“Of course, everybody acknowledges that here,” Horford said. “We respect him. We’re happy with him and we want to learn from him and keep getting better.”

The Spurs will have to find a way to replace what Budenholzer brought to their franchise, on and off the court. Popovich, however, will feel the impact of his departure more than anyone.

“I miss him more than anyone else does because I depended on him a lot,” Popovich said. “In games, he would make suggestions or do things and I wouldn’t know what the hell was going on. He substituted somebody or he changed the defense. I’d say ‘Why did we do that?’ He would tell me and I would say ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense. That sounds good. I wish I had thought of it.’ You sort of miss all that. You have to start all over. I’ll have to actually coach more.”

He’ll coach more and likely argue less. Those heated private debates he, Budenholzer and Ferry have all mentioned that were a part of the Spurs’ creative process when they worked together, are no more.

“When you’ve discussed and argued things that many years, you realize that’s what it’s all about,” Popovich said. “People who feel comfortable in their own skins do best when they hire good people around them who have as good or better ideas than they do. A lot of people can’t figure that out. I’m at least that smart, to surround myself with people who are smarter than me to help me do well.”

It helps when they can pick up the occasional dinner bill as well.

“We had good food, good conversation,” Popovich said, “and it was great to see [Bud] and Danny.”


One Team, One Stat: The Hawks Can Shoot

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Atlanta Hawks, who made even more changes this summer.

The basics
ATL Rank
W-L 44-38 14
Pace 94.7 13
OffRtg 102.7 15
DefRtg 101.8 10
NetRtg +0.9 13

The stat

61.8 percent - Effective field goal percentage for Kyle Korver, the league leader among players who attempted at least 500 shots last season.

The context

Among the 177 players who took at least 500 shots, Korver ranked 73rd in standard field goal percentage. But 414 (69 percent) of his 601 shots were from 3-point range. He ranked second in the league in 3-point percentage and since effective field goal percentage takes the extra point you get for a three into account, he was the most effective shooter in the league.

As a result, the Hawks’ offense was at its best with Korver on the floor, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions, compared to just 98.8 with him on the bench. That differential of 6.8 ranked 22nd among 256 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team last season.

Here’s Korver running off screens to the tune of 7-for-11 shooting (5-for-8 from 3-point range) against the league’s No. 1 defense in Game 4 of the first round, a 102-91 win for the Hawks.


The Atlanta offense was even better — scoring 107.6 points per 100 possessions — when Korver was on the floor with Al Horford. Though Horford only took six threes last season, he ranked 25th in effective field goal percentage. He was both a great finisher — ranking seventh in restricted-area field-goal percentage — and a great shooter — ranking 37th in mid-range field goal percentage.

Random trivia: Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka are the two guys who ranked in the top 10 in both areas.

As a team, the Hawks ranked sixth in effective field goal percentage. They ranked in the bottom 10 in offensive rebounding percentage, turnover rate and free throw rate, but were almost an average offensive team because they shot so well. And that was with Josh Smith taking 535 shots from outside the paint.

Paul Millsap‘s effective field goal percentage (49.8 percent) wasn’t much better than Smith’s (49.1) and also below the league average (50.1). Smith was the better finisher at the basket, but Millsap was close to an average mid-range shooter, while Smith was not.

DeMarre Carroll, a decent but infrequent shooter, will likely start at small forward for Atlanta, with Elton Brand providing more mid-range shooting off the bench. With Korver and Horford leading the way, Atlanta should once again be one of the league’s best shooting teams.

Hawks’ top six, 2012-13 shooting

Restricted area Other paint Mid-range Corner 3 Above-break 3
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Teague 205 363 56.5% 85 208 40.9% 60 155 38.7% 10 25 40.0% 79 223 35.4%
Korver 14 23 60.9% 2 11 18.2% 72 153 47.1% 66 139 47.5% 123 275 44.7%
Carroll 70 97 72.2% 12 42 28.6% 47 115 40.9% 10 23 43.5% 10 44 22.7%
Millsap 236 366 64.5% 74 186 39.8% 106 284 37.3% 6 10 60.0% 7 28 25.0%
Horford 294 402 73.1% 82 201 40.8% 197 451 43.7% 2 3 66.7% 1 3 33.3%
Brand 78 133 58.6% 58 138 42.0% 90 206 43.7% 0 0 0 1 0.0%
Total 897 1,384 64.8% 313 786 39.8% 572 1,364 41.9% 94 200 47.0% 220 574 38.3%
Lg. Avg. 60.5% 38.5% 39.3% 39.0% 35.1%

So, as a group, the Hawks’ top six guys shot better than the league average from every spot on the floor. And when Lou Williams comes back, he’ll help them even more from outside the paint.

With Smith gone, the Hawks will likely take a step back defensively. But they have the tools to make up for it with an improved offense. They will need to find a way to get more attempts in the restricted area and more trips to the line, whether that’s with Jeff Teague attacking off the dribble or Horford getting more touches in the paint. Carroll will also need to be a more willing shooter from the corners, as a way to punish defenses for paying too much attention to Horford, Korver and Millsap.

If they can do those things, this will not be an easy team to defend.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Budenholzer Says No To Twitter





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is admittedly an old school sort when it comes to many things. And that definitely includes all forms of social media.

He doesn’t do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of the other forms of instant interaction with friends, family or strangers. So there won’t be any updates from training camp, late-night rants after tough losses or inspirational messages for the masses. Budenholzer learned a lot as an assistant to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in nearly two decades, plenty of dos and don’ts that will aid a first-time coach.

Avoiding the social-media craze was clearly near the top of the do list. When asked about his bypassing of the social-media frenzy that has spread throughout the league, Budenholzer smiled as he explained his absence.

“I definitely don’t have a Twitter account. I actually have a nephew who works for Twitter and he’s always on me about getting it done,” Budenholzer said. “But I’m definitely going old school with that one. The Twitter account is somewhere … maybe never to be found, and certainly not this season.”

With a new program to put in place and a completely revamped roster to work with, Budenholzer doesn’t really have time to explore his social media options anyway.

Budenholzer got his first taste of being in the eye of the social-media storm after an August DUI arrest, a case that has yet to be settled. He’s well aware of the pitfalls that come with his new position and is wise not to bring any extra attention to himself before the Hawks actually start playing games.

“I never want to bring any negative attention to our organization or our players,” Budenholzer said. “Having said that, there’s a legal process that’s playing out. I think it’s important for me to respect that process. I can’t say a whole lot more than that.”

His players understand and respect his position, knowing that any one of them could slip down the same rabbit hole with one mistake.

“I think that’s a setback but I think he’ll be fine,” Al Horford said. “He’s a good guy. I support him. We believe in him. And everybody makes mistakes. I told him straight up, ‘listen man,  I still have respect for you. I know you are a hard worker and I’m looking forward to us working together.’ And that’s all I said to him.”