By J. M. Poulard
After taking a loss at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the Golden State Warriors (26-30) will try to bounce back tonight when they host the Atlanta Hawks (34-23) who are in the midst of a five game western road trip. The Hawks just recently completed a trade that sent Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans and Jordan Crawford to Washington for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong. The trade helped Atlanta get better defensively given Hinrich’s ability to defend both guard positions. The Hawks essentially upgraded their roster. Let’s see how that translates for tonight.
On offense, Atlanta averages 96.5 points per game (23rd in the NBA) on 46.2% field goal shooting (12th in the league). The Hawks still have a tendency to occasionally play isolation basketball, however it is no longer the foundation of their offense. Instead of just endlessly pounding the ball and then launching a contested 20 footer, Atlanta instead posts up its best players and seeks to create mismatches across the board.
Indeed, Joe Johnson’s size at the shooting guard position makes him an incredibly tough player to defend. He routinely posts up smaller players and then kicks the ball back out once the double team comes his way. Normally this would be problematic for a team such as the Hawks considering the fact that they only shoot 35.3% from deep (17th in the NBA). However, instead of settling for three point shots, Atlanta players instead catch the ball and advance it where they end up firing wide open jumpers from 16 to 23 feet away from the basket.
Indeed, Larry Drew’s team attempts 22.6 shots from 16 to 23 feet (fourth most in the NBA) and converts them at a 44.1% shooting mark (second best in the league). And keep in mind, the offense isn’t predicated on posting up Joe Johnson; instead it’s more about finding the mismatch and then attacking it. Hence, the offense might be designed to go to Josh Smith or Al Horford depending on the game plan in a particular game but the end result is usually the same. The most important part is the trust and willingness to share the ball and get open shots. This Joe Johnson led team has embraced that as evidenced by their 22.6 assists per game (eighth in the association).
As good of a shooting team as Atlanta is, they do struggle to get interior baskets. With athletes such as Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford, one would think that they would get several interior attempts at the rim. It’s actually quite the contrary.
Teams typically pack the paint against them and dare them to shoot from the outside, thus resulting in Atlanta manufacturing a mere 20.2 shots at the rim (27th in the NBA) and 21.6 free throw attempts per game (29th in the league). For further evidence, if we look at the last time Atlanta played the Warriors, they attempted 22 shots at the rim and only shot 12 free throws. However, their ability to make shots from the outside (both from midrange and from three point range) allowed them to get the win). But at some point, the inability to get “easy” baskets can doom a team as we saw when the Hawks played the Lakers right after the All-Star break.
On defense, Atlanta surrenders 95.8 points per game (ninth in the NBA) on 45.6% field goal shooting (15th in the league). The Hawks are somewhat of a good defensive team because of their ability to defend the painted area. They only yield 39.5 points per game in the paint (12th in the association) thanks in large part to their combination of big men.
Al Horford and Jason Collins do a terrific job of defending post players and keeping them out of the paint. They are physical enough to push them away from the basket and force tough shots. Given the fact that Atlanta has the luxury of playing single coverage against most teams, it means that their defenders get the opportunity to stay at home on shooters and thus make three point field goal attempts difficult to convert. And indeed, Atlanta is the fifth best team against the three point shot as evidenced by their 33.6% three point shooting allowed.
As good as the Hawks defense is in terms of their one on one match ups, it struggles in pick and roll situations. Larry Drew’s team does an adequate job of rotating back to the screener, however they are inconsistent in defending the elbows. Teams usually run pick and rolls against Atlanta and then get an offensive player that is not involved in the pick and roll to drift towards the top of the key where he gets an uncontested jump shot. As a result, the Hawks surrender 22.3 shots per game from 16 to 23 feet (fifth most in the NBA) and allow a conversion mark of 41.3% on those shots (24th in the league).
When these teams played last time, Golden State converted 10 of 23 shots (43.5% field goal percentage) on shots from 16 to 23 feet but struggled to convert shots from deep (eight for 24 on three point field goal attempts.) and failed to get to the free throw line with any regularity (15 free throw attempts).
The Warriors need to replicate the game plan they used against Atlanta in late December but this time around they need to put the ball in the hands of their stars. Dorrell Wright’s 21 field goal attempts nearly matched Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis’ 26 combined field goal attempts.
Atlanta game notes: The Hawks are averaging 90.3 points per game on 45.6% field goal shooting in their last four road games (1-3 record in those games).
Golden State game notes: In his last four games, Monta Ellis is averaging 26.0 points per game on 47.7% field goal shooting.