Today the road weary Utah Jazz (1-5 on their last trip) are at home and hosting the road weary Atlanta Hawks (0-5 with 1 more road game left). It sounds like the blues for both of our squads, but we got in a quick Jam session with Daniel Christian (@DChris_NBA) of Peachtree Hoops. Check out my (long) answers to his questions here.
So let's start jamming.
1. How good could this team have been this season if they stayed healthy?
Daniel: Assuming no injuries, which can often be a tricky assumption, the Hawks likely would have been the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has been without Horford since December and somehow managed to keep the wheels on the wagon without him for over a month. Then, the injuries started to really pile up. Pero Antic went down. The Hawks lost Gustavo Ayon for the season. DeMarre Carroll missed some games. Jeff Teague missed a game or two. And then, of course, the straw that broke the camel's back, Paul Millsap missed a string of games. That is incredibly difficult to account for if your the Hawks. There's really no way to remain competitive with guys dropping at that rate. Still, somehow miraculously, this team is (sort of) comfortably in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.Before the injuries, Horford's in particular, there was a ton to like about this team. Enough that many believed the Hawks could be a sneaky second round challenge for Miami or Indiana. Budenholzer's offense was dangerous, methodical, and original all at once. LeBron even compared their execution to that of the Spurs. At one point, probably in Mid-December, things were looking great for the Hawks: a top-three seed and a right to swap picks with the lottery-bound Nets. Obviously, the situation is different now. Getting pummeled in the first round by Miami or Indiana isn't what anyone wanted or expected after the start this team had to the season, but by the looks of Cleveland, Detroit, and New York, no matter how much the Hawks lose, they aren't likely to fall any further in the hilariously bad East standings.
2. What is Mike Budenholzer doing this season that Larry Drew, Mike Woodson, Terry Stotts, and Lon Kruger didn't do? What is he doing that is just as frighting as those guys?
Daniel: Despite this difficult stretch (Atlanta has lost 14 out of their last 15), the Hawks organization and its fans seem to be close to 100% behind Budenholzer, a gesture of support a Hawks coach hasn't received in a long, long time. For the first time in a while, management and the coaching staff seem to be on the same page, and it's a page that everyone likes. There's continuity, and that's probably what matters most. As for the specifics, Budenholzer's offense is the more impressive than any of his predecessor's. Larry Drew may have been one of the best in the league at drawing set plays and Mike Woodson may have stalled the pace to initiate the infamous "iso-Joe" strategy, but Budenholzer has produced more movement and more transition opportunities than those before him.Some things that scare me may be due to personnel, but it's probably too early to tell. The perimeter defense has been shaky all season, but DeMarre Carroll is the only wing player on the roster who is really capable of stopping anyone in isolation. Everyone else came in with a reputation of being a poor defender. Still, you'd hope he could have the team buy into his team defensive concepts a little better. Obviously, with the front court as injury decimated as it was, there were real defensive and offensive issues there, but that seemed pretty circumstantial.
3. DeMarre Carrol was a fan favorite in Utah for his hustle and tenacity. This season he looks to have made that jump from fringe NBA player, who risked getting cut any month, to being a legit NBA player. What have you seen from him this season?
Daniel: Carroll is also a fan favorite in Atlanta, probably for much of the same reason he was in Utah. His role has obviously expanded this season as he's become the Hawks' primary wing defender. He definitely lives up to his nickname, "the Junkyard Dog," as a tenacious defender and scrappy offensive player who excels (relatively to the rest of his offensive skills) in transition and off cuts. He's been forced at times to spread the floor and has had varying degrees of success, some nights clunking a majority of outside shots and other nights randomly pouring in five threes. Regardless, he's essential to Atlanta's game plan. In the games without Carroll, opposing star wing players have been able to pretty much score at will.
4. A small collection of us used to spend part of each summer watching Pero Antic play almost meaningless games for Macedonia against the Ukraine in Division C national team play. We felt like he looked like a Macedonian Carlos Boozer, and he played like one. Is this guy a keeper? How does he compare to a Zaza Pachulia?
Daniel: I'm not sure how comparable Pero Antic is to Zaza Pachulia. I think they have relatively different games. Pachulia was a huge defensive pest and operated almost exclusively in the paint on both offense and defense. Antic isn't quite the defender or rebounder Pachulia was, but he's a much more versatile offensive weapon who has spread the floor wonderfully in Budenholzer's system. He was supposed to play in this year's Rising Stars game, but was unable due to injury. He's definitely a keeper, and I have a feeling that the Hawks are going to want to lock him up as a go-to role player for the next few years.
Thanks again to Dan for initiating this, and best of luck for tonight! And, yeah, I hear you on the Zaza point. I just wanted an excuse to post this vid again: