Profiles in X-Factordom features players who are imperative to their team’s success. An X-factor, when properly utilized, boosts a team to the next level. The Hawks seem to be getting there, and veteran point guard Mike Bibby has played no small part.
Does anyone else picture the Hawks’ management team being sort of like a real-life answer to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? A dysfunctional group of people running a marginally successful operation, coming up with progressively crazier schemes to turn everything around?
First, there was the “We’re giving up three no. 1s and paying $13 million a year for Joe Johnson…AND WE’RE PLAYING HIM AT POINT GUARD! I’m sorry, DID WE JUST BLOW YOUR MINDS?” plan. (I know this ended up working out really well, and JJ is currently filling up the basket like nobody’s business in order to get revenge on Tom Ziller, but that was still a crazy signing.) Then came the “Hey, you know what this team needs more of? 6-8 swingmen!” pick of Marvin Williams over Chris Paul, the repercussions of which I don’t really need to elaborate on. The best part is the Hawks actually topped themselves in the subsequent draft by picking Shelden Williams the next year. Then, to solve their guard problem, they gave a big contract to Speedy Claxton.
But, just like the Always Sunny gang in the season’s first episode, somewhere along the line our friends in Atlanta decided it was time to shape up and start working things like a real team, with bona fide positions and everything. They made the sensible choices in the draft instead of trying to take a wild swoop at filling their point guard gap with Mike Conley. Their harem of swingmen found purposes of their own: Johnson, the offense’s master builder; Marvin, the little-things 4-man; Childress, the deadly efficient scorer off the bench; Josh Smith as himself. Other than actually losing one of the League’s most underrated players to freaking Greece, the Hawks have managed to not do anything insane in the recent past. And unlike the Always Sunny gang, where everything stays exactly the same no matter how hard they try or how badly they failed, the Hawks may actually have made themselves into a team to be reckoned with in the East. (The other reason I chose the Always Sunny analogy is that you can’t sum up PiXFD in 15 seconds better than this. It’s not possible.)
Enter the Mike Bibby trade. While the last installment of PiXFD dealt with a player who brings chaos to one of the League’s tightest offensive ships, Bibby is supposed to bring some semblance of order to the ragtag crew of pure athletic fury that is the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are interesting in that they have two extremely well-paid and talented players who can do absolutely amazing things with the ball in their hands, but at the same time are much more comfortable being pure scorers than they are trying to run the whole shebang.
Bibby, whose talents are his stroke from the outside (a career 37 percent three-point shooter) and ability to pass and score (16.5/6.2 points/assists per game), is supposed to play off the ball and use his sweet stroke and savvy forays to the basket to keep the defense from converging on the other Hawks during their fanciful slashes into the paint. With Bibby’s offensive knowhow and scoring ability, throwing two men at Joe Johnson 25 feet from the basket or clogging up the paint to prevent Josh Smith from unleashing a dunk that turns courtside chalk into glass should be an impossibility. Bibby should know where to be as a safety valve, find the weak side of an overloaded defense, and hit open shots if they’re left to him, acting as an all-purpose security blanket in more ways than just a pure shooter. At the same time, Bibby would ideally use his point guard abilities to get to the heart of the defense and get easy opportunities for his top dogs-easy 19-footers for Marvin Williams from his favorite elbow-extended spots, pick-and-roll catches for Al Horford and good deep feeds, kick-outs to Joe Johnson for three, alley-oops to Josh Smith.
All of which leads to the question of passing/outside-shooting/scoring/combo guards like Chauncey Billups, Bibby, Mo Williams, O.J. Mayo (maybe): Are they true point guards or are they just players with a varied skill set who are just looking to fill it up in any way they can, and will ultimately usurp the ball to the active detriment of their teammates? Is Bibby’s ball-handling and playmaking allowing Joe Johnson to be scoring 30 ppg out of the gate, or are the Hawks just making a mistake letting a guy currently shooting 34 percent to touch the ball every play he’s in the game? Will Bibby be able to command the likes of Josh Smith and Marvin Williams and mold them into a cogent offensive monster, or will he fire 20-footers behind screens?
It is no longer 2001. Bibby doesn’t have the skill to put a team on his back, take the ball in his hands and dominate the game. However, if he’s willing to recognize he’s often not the best or second-best player on the floor for his team and apply his skills toward making the players he’s on the floor with function as a unit, Bibby could well make the Hawks into a real live contender who can even win games playing somewhat normal basketball.