Hawks/Bucks Series Preview
Atlanta got who they wanted.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
Tenth overall 2009 draft pick Brandon Jennings spent his first pro season in Italy. Carlos Delfino played the ‘08-09 season in Russia. Ersan Ilyasova, drafted 36th overall in 2005, played in Spain the past two seasons. Throw in All-Star Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, and the random assemblage of players quickly looked like a team.
And then on January 10 (after playing in only 18 games), Michael Redd’s season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Jerry Stackhouse wasn’t in the NBA at the beginning of this season. John Salmons wore out his welcome in Chicago before becoming the center of Milwaukee’s post-All-Star surge after a crafty mid-season trade. The group was now a contender.
And then Andrew Bogut, in the midst of a career year, suffered a devastating elbow injury on April 3 that cost him the rest of the season.
On the other side, the Hawks came into the season a complete team. And ended the season as one. The team posted its first 50-win season since ‘97-98. Determined to redeem last season’s second round sweep vs. the Cavaliers, the Hawks enter the 2010 Playoffs on a four game win streak, including a road win against the Bucks.
The Hawks averaged the fewest turnovers in the NBA and ranked top five in both fastbreak and paint points. Taking care of the ball and getting easy baskets certainly gets it done. But the team has a tendency run too many iso plays and become dependent on Joe Johnson — and outside jumpers. The Hawks look dangerous when the ball doesn’t stick.
A common criticism of the Hawks is that many of their losses result from playing down to the level of their opponent. The Hawks won the season series against the Bucks 2-1, including a 4-point overtime victory and a 3-point loss. Bogut played in both those games. With the depleted Bucks coming to town, it is hard to imagine the Hawks not controlling the series from the tip. But a Scott Skiles team always competes, and the Bucks will be sure to leave it all on the floor.
POINT GUARD: BRANDON JENNINGS VS. MIKE BIBBY
Twenty-year old Jennings is looking to make a name for himself. Bibby has 69 Playoff games under his belt, averaging over 16 points and 5 assists in those games. While Jennings’s field goal percentage dropped during the season, Bibby averaged a career-low 9 points. The Bucks will need Jennings to be an aggressive scorer and playmaker to have a chance. And even though Jennings sometimes struggles with his shot, he has shown the ability to put the team on his back. The Hawks need to respect that.
Advantage: Push. Whoever hits his shots.
SHOOTING GUARD: JOE JOHNSON VS. JOHN SALMONS
Salmons was an unlikely savior for the Bucks, as the team went 22-8 after his arrival. He averaged a shade under 20 points for Milwaukee and shot over 38 percent from three. Joe Johnson is the quiet engine who makes the Hawks run. With four straight all-star appearances and praise from future Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan, the league has taken notice.
SMALL FORWARD: MARVIN WILLIAMS VS. CARLOS DELFINO
Delfino averaged 11 points and over 5 rebounds in about 30 minutes. Williams’s numbers are nearly identical at just over 10 points and 5 rebounds in 30 minutes. Williams at times shows flashes of brilliance, but the consistency isn’t there yet.
POWER FORWARD: LUC MBAH A MOUTE VS. JOSH SMITH
Josh Smith is electric. With over 1,000 blocks in his first six seasons, Smith’s presence in the paint anchors the Hawks defensively, while his highlight reel dunks provide pure momentum on the other end. Smith has shown maturity with his shot selection (only seven three-point attempts for the career 27 percent 3-PT shooter!) and averaged career-high assists. I would talk about Mbah a Moute but Smith’s Renaissance-man game is on a whole different level.
CENTER: AL HORFORD VS. KURT THOMAS
Kurt Thomas brings 82 Playoff games and 15 NBA seasons onto the floor. But his numbers can’t compare to those of Bogut or Horford. In March, first time all-star Horford posted 22 points and 18 rebounds in a win vs. the Spurs and 12 points and 11 rebounds three days later in a win vs. the Magic. If those teams can’t contain him, there’s little hope for the Bucks.
BENCH: Stackhouse, Ridnour, Ilyasova, Bell vs. Crawford, Teague, Pachulia, Evans, Smith
Stackhouse, Ridnour and Ilyasova have been solid for the Bucks all season. Stackhouse is a walking advertisement for P90X and Ilyasova has been one of the best surprises of the season with his gritty play and well rounded game.
For the Hawks, Jamal Crawford brings the talent of a starter to the bench. A lock for 6th Man of the Year, Crawford is about to make his first Playoff appearance in ten NBA seasons. While he has shown his ability to sink game winners and provide instant offense, coach Mike Woodson said, “he’s gotta figure out how to play in the Playoffs cause that’s a whole different ball game.”
The Hawks have proven surprisingly deep this season. Mo Evans has hit his stride lately, while Jeff Teague posted 24 points and 15 assists after getting the start in the last regular season game. Zaza Pachulia seems to always rise to the occasion. His heart and willingness to do the dirty work on the floor has proven huge in critical games. And 15-year veteran Joe Smith adds composure and professionalism both on and off the court.
COACH: MIKE WOODSON VS. SCOTT SKILES
Despite injuries to key players, a rookie point guard, and a host of new personalities, Scott Skiles has the Bucks playing hard and playing defense every night. But you can’t discount the Hawks’ 53-win season, continued post-season progress, and the emergence of Jamal Crawford as one of the biggest game changers in the league.
Conclusion: Both coaches seem up to the task based on their respective teams.
PREDICTION: No excuses for the Hawks to lose this series. Hawks in 5.