A Wednesday night Hawks-Knicks early-season game is typically not a game either Knicks fans or Hawks fans too mark down on their calendars as a must-watch before the season starts. However, Knicks owner James Dolan made things interesting when he guaranteed a Knicks victory over the Hawks after the Knicks were torn apart by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Knicks have lost four of their last five contests and Tyson Chandler is going to miss significant time, but Dolan is confident his team is walking out of Atlanta with a victory. Trying to decipher why Dolan guaranteed a victory over the Hawks Wednesday night is not something I’d personally recommend; Dolan doesn’t have a filter, so all we can do is sit back,
enjoy roll our eyes, and not dwell on it — unless you’re Mike Woodson.
Woodson is thinking about changing the starting lineup again and it appears Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith are the front-runners to be inserted into the rotation. I guess Smith’s 1-for-9 display on Sunday really showed Woodson something. Something.
The Hawks are coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s long-time assistant Mike Budenholzer, so maybe that’s why Woodson is thinking about adjusting his starting lineup. The Hawks are second in the league in assists per game (28.0), which is something the Knicks have struggled with, averaging just 18.5 (24th). This past offseason the Hawks opted to let Josh Smith walk, replacing him with Paul Millsap. It’s paid off thus far — Millsap is averaging 20.9 points per 36 minutes (highest on the team). More importantly, Millsap is doing it at an efficient 60 percent TS% and 57.9 eFG%. The other Hawks big man, Al Horford, is averaging 20.5 points per 36 minutes.
Horford and Millsap have been great for the Hawks thus far, but the biggest reason why the team has been so good offensively is their point guard Jeff Teague’s progression as a passer. According to the new SportsVU data on NBA.com, Teague is creating 32.1 points per 48 minutes through his assists. Teague is also third in the league in assist opportunities per game averaging 19.0, per NBA.com.
So, if the Dolan’s guarantee of a Knicks victory over the Hawks is to come true it will mostly fall on whether or not the Knicks can stop Teague. If the first six games are any indication, that doesn’t seem to be very likely: Raymond Felton has had a rough start to the season on that front, and with the absence of Tyson Chandler, chances are it’s only going to get harder for Felton to get back on track. Felton has shot his best inside (51.9 percent in the restricted area), but is still shooting roughly four three-pointers a game and only making 24% of them. His counterpart tomorrow night isn’t exactly setting the roof on fire either from behind the three-point line — Teague is shooting 27 percent from three-point land — but he’s getting to the line six times per game and doubles Felton in the assists per 36 minutes (10-5) .
With the state the Knicks current frontcourt is in, the Knicks probably won’t be able to slow down Millsap and Horford Wednesday night, but maybe Woodson’s backcourt rotation choices will ultimately decide if Dolan’s guarantee comes true.