Hawk watching has not been a big part of my life this basketball season. Obviously my hands are a little bit tied with the Bucks playing as frequently as they are. Fortunately, the TrueHoop Network has got me covered. The Atlanta Hawks have a terrific blogger by the name of Bret Lagree. He and I took the time to exchange emails about the upcoming Bucks-Hawks series. I took a stab at some Hawks things, Bret gave his take on the Bucks and will filled in the gaps where the other wasn’t sure It’s worth a look. Part one is here at Bucksketball and be sure to check out part two at Hoopinion.
Bucksketball: So what’s with Joe Johnson covering Brandon Jennings? Does he frequently guard point guards? I was discussing this with someone at the last game, and with Chris Paul being out this season, I’d argue Johnson is probably the second best defensive point guard the Bucks have had the displeasure of seeing this season.
And why is Al Horford forcing Milwaukee point guards to shoot jump shots? He doesn’t get much national recognition, but he seems like a very good defender.
Hoopinion: Joe’s guarded point guards a lot. Not because he’s especially effective (though he does the best he can to use his length to make up for a relative lack of foot speed) but because the Hawks have used Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson and Mike Bibby at point guard alongside him. Backcourt defense is a big issue with this team, to the point that people were reasonably concerned that letting Flip Murray walk would hurt the defense. It hasn’t really (they’re still mediocre defensively), but that’s more to do with Josh Smith being healthy than with Bibby or Jamal Crawford even approaching competence.
In all seriousness, Horford might be the Hawks’ best perimeter defender. He moves his feet really well (this is why he commits so few fouls both in space and in the post) and understands that it’s far better to give up the 18-footer to guards than let them get past him. The downside to this (and the switching defense the Hawks use almost exclusively) is that, while Horford’s doing an admirably job on the perimeter against smaller, quicker players, Bibby or Crawford is forced to try and box out a bigger player once the shot goes up. The inversion of the defenders is the primary reason the Hawks are 24th in the league in DR%.
I think the Hawks would be fine with letting Bibby guard Jennings given Brandon’s struggles inside the arc this year and given the presence of Smith and Horford to complicate matters for him.
Let’s make that my first question for you. What’s up with Jennings making such a low percentage of his two-point attempts? 42.8% at the rim and 41.3% inside 10 feet (per Hoopdata and before last night’s game). Poor shot selection or poor finishing or both?
Bucksketball: Johnson’s length has certainly been an issue for Jennings, who, as you’ve noted, has enough issues of his own.
Speaking as someone who’s seen nearly every game Jennings has played in this season, the best way I can explain his struggles inside is like this: he’s not very good in there (yet).
Sometimes it seems like Jennings is forcing the issue to get inside, maybe he’s reacting to everyone telling him to be more aggressive or maybe he gets tired of missing midrange jumpers, I don’t know. But he’s often driving and trying to get up shots against significantly larger defenders inside and he just doesn’t quite know how to react to them yet. It’s not so much that he’s always getting blocked, it’s just that he’s getting altered frequently. His floater comes and goes throughout games, it’s not consistent. For a consistent floater, I’d direct him (or anyone else) to Luke Ridnour. Ridnour’s got all kinds of floaters and runners that he has been hitting all year.
It’s funny that defense has been such an issue for Atlanta, because you’d never know it from their games against Milwaukee. They’ve been forcing the Bucks to live and die by the jumper, which is often a safe bet for the opposition.
I’m as curious about Jamal Crawford as you are about Jennings though. He’s supposed to be a clutch dynamo. The numbers don’t agree. Is he secretly making Hawks fans pull their hair out more than we know?
Hoopinion: Crawford’s the same player he’s always been. The reason he’s had such a useful season is context. His typical volume of devastating crossovers used only to create space to attempt 20-foot jump shots hasn’t really declined but, playing with good players, he’s been able to augment that with open shots his teammates create for him, especially corner threes that begin with Josh Smith or Joe Johnson drawing a double-team or screen-and-roll with Al Horford.
Since I believe that Kurt Thomas can guard Horford in the post without help and that Thomas is nowhere near as mobile as Bogut, I’d love to see the Hawks run lots of Crawford/Horford screen-and-roll. Do you think that’s a recipe for success for the Hawks?
The underpinning of Atlanta switching every screen is to keep opponents in front of them (as a team) that the individual defenders couldn’t be expected to keep in front of them. This is largely why the Hawks and Heat rarely play a competitive game though neither team dominates the series. If the Hawks just keep the Heat in front of them, Miami’s forced to take shots they would prefer to pass up and the Hawks romp. On the other hand, some night Daequan Cook might make 11 jump shots and the Hawks lack a Plan B defensively and can’t compete with Miami.
I’ve been impressed with Jennings defense on the ball but thought he didn’t pay nearly enough attention to Mike Bibby when Bibby didn’t have the ball Monday night. Agree or disagree? And, if you do agree, is that a weakness typical to his game?
I’d also like to hear your thoughts regarding how Skiles will use Mbah a Moute. I’m a huge admirer of his. I think he can trouble both Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, though, obviously, not at the same time. Who do you think he’ll spend more time matched up against?