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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hoopinion Interview

If the Knicks want to stay over .500 heading into the All-Star break, they’ll have to earn it. With Amare banged-up and the Melodrama nearing its peak, New York will have its hands full with Atlanta paying its second visit to MSG.  To prepare for Wednesday’s matchup, Hoopinion’s Bret Lagree gives us an insider’s look at one of the teams the Knicks are looking up at in the Eastern Conference.

Knickerblogger: The Hawks have handled the Knicks with two 9-point victories this season, which is interesting considering they were 1-3 against New York last year. Why do you think the Hawks match up so well against the new-look Knicks?

Hoopinion: I think it helps a lot that Amare Stoudemire is the focal point of the Knicks offense and that both of Atlanta’s two good defenders (Al Horford and Josh Smith) can match up against him. The flip side of that is that the Knicks are not a good defensive team and have difficulty exploiting Atlanta’s offensive weaknesses which become so pronounced when the team struggles.

Knickerblogger: At one point during last summer’s free agency, it looked like the Knicks had a good shot at signing Joe Johnson. Obviously, he stuck with Atlanta and New York ended up adding only one star. Based on his performance so far this year, do you think Johnson was worth a max contract?

Hoopinion: No. Nor was he worth a max contract based on any aspect of his previous performance. He’s a good player but the fact that the Hawks have, to this point, invested $200 million, two first round draft picks, and Boris Diaw in Johnson goes a long way toward explaining why it’s very hard to envision the Hawks improving beyond a team good enough to win a first-round playoff series if they get home-court advantage. Given the quality of the Hawks teams over the decade prior to drafting Al Horford, that’s nothing to dismiss completely, but it does dampen excitement.

Knickerblogger: The Hawks were swept by the Magic in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, but Atlanta is 2-1 against Orlando this year. The Hawks are now tied with the Magic for 4th in the East, but they’ve struggled with Philadelphia and Charlotte at home recently. Do you think this team has a chance to make a playoff run and compete with the East’s upper echelon?

Hoopinion: I do not. Orlando is certainly worse than they were last year and the Hawks, due to the embarrassment of the playoff loss to the Magic, made a concerted change in how they’ve defended the Magic. That change has been for the better but this is, in every other way, very similar to last year’s team.

Knickerblogger: What else should Knick fans know about this team? Are there any players that have impressed you this season that we should watch for on Wednesday?

Hoopinion: Though he’s unlikely to look like it given the lingering effects of his collision with Blake Griffin, Al Horford is the best player on this team. He’s the most efficient scorer, the best rebounder, the best on-the-ball defender, and an excellent passer. Moving up into the top 3 of the 2007 NBA Draft (that Hawks pick was only top-3 protected from the sign-and-trade with Phoenix for Joe Johnson) is the most important (positive) thing that has happened to this team in it current iteration. The 41- and 34-point home losses came in games Horford missed through injury. He is not that big a factor but he is the biggest factor in this team’s success.

12 comments on “Hoopinion Interview

  1. Jafa

    Got a question for Bret:

    Barring the decline of the current top East teams in the next couple of years (Boston possibly via aging and Orlando possibly via Howard’s free agency), do you see any way Atlanta become the second best team in the East, next to the Heat, in the next couple of years?

    In other words, what is the plan to get this team to go from solid playoff team to possible Eastern Conference finals team? How can they battle Chicago and possibly New York to pose the greatest threat to the Heat in the East?

  2. Nick C.

    Along Jafa’s line of thought:

    Jeff Teague seems like he isn’t going to be the successor to Bibby or if he is the box scores are hiding it,

    is the feeling that they need a “true center” so Horford can slide to PF and, if so, is Josh Smith going to be able to handle the 3 w/o suddenly thinking he should have the shot chart of a typical 3?

  3. Caleb

    As an Atlantan with a close-up view of this team for a long time… I can tell you they screwed themselves for good with the Joe Johnson signing. They aren’t about to collapse but they are at their ceiling. JJ isn’t as good as Carmelo, but you could see it as a cautionary tale…

    the Hawks would be a few games worse this year if they’d just let Johnson walk for nothing, but they’d have a much brighter future. I say this as someone who thinks Joe Johnson is pretty good, and he’s having a good year now that he’s not exhausted from playing 40 minutes per game.

    But they have zero flexibility to sign free agents. They’re drafting in the 20s. Smith and Horford will be terrific for years but there are no youngsters in the pipeline.

    That leaves trades. The options are a) move Jamal Crawford’s expiring deal to a team like the Bulls – but that has never come up. b) Trade Marvin Williams, except he’s mildly overpaid and no one else really wants him; c) trade Josh Smith for a really good player at a different position, since Williams/Horford could hold down the forward spots; d) find someone idiotic and desperate for a title run, to takeJohnson’s contract in exchange for a shorter deal. Odds – 50:1, and sinking with each year as he gets older. This same roster with Johnson at age 33 won’t be pretty.

    IMO, c) is the only potential game-changer and you’d have to swallow hard before you traded your 25-year-old, second-best player… and I don’t know how likely it is they find the right deal. Maybe offer him up for Nene, something like that. Anyway, it’s just pure speculation because the Hawks management has never given an indication that they are willing to make an aggressive move. They’re content to be where they are, which would be frustrating to the avid fan base, if one existed.

  4. Mike Kurylo

    John Kenney: Going to the game tonight. Really hope the crowd doesn’t start the We Want Melo chants.  

    What would be the counter-chant for that? “3 of Chandler, Gallo, Fields, and Randolph are too much for Melo!” Hard to find a rhythm for that.

  5. iserp

    Caleb: I can tell you they screwed themselves for good with the Joe Johnson signing.

    I don’t think they are in a bad position. They are gonna be good for 4 years or so. If they can pull a good late draft pick, like Ginobili or Parker, or if they find a good deal, they would be legit contenders. They also could find some minor deals and pull a championship like Detroit 2004.

    All in all, i don’t think they could turn the financial flexibility of not signing Joe Johnson into something better. You have to wonder if they could have signed him for something less (which would help signing somone else and not reaching the luxury tax), and probably, Joe Johnson’s last two years are gonna be ugly; but i think they are very well worth of 4 years of a 50 win team.

    Only 1 team in 30 wins the championship during each year, and it is difficult to hit the jackpot either through trades / draft or FA signings. Building progressively as they have done shouldnt be dismissed, and they have a better prospect to win a championship in the next 4 years than most teams.

  6. Caleb

    @7 I guess it depends on your ambition – they are going to stay pretty good – 2 of their 3 key players are young, and Johnson isn’t falling off a cliff. But I see very little chance of improving beyond the 50-win team they are now. Unless they somehow draft an immediate star at #23.

    For perspective on what you need to swing a meaningful deal, while we argue over how many of our top prospects we should give the Nuggets, the Hawks have no one on a rookie deal as good as our 7th-best young guy (Gallo, Randolph, Fields, Chandler, Mozgov, Wallker or even Shawne Williams).

  7. ess-dog

    John Kenney: Going to the game tonight. Really hope the crowd doesn’t start the We Want Melo chants.  

    See you there. If you’ve been reading any of the quotes from Stat/Horford, it might be more of a hockey match than a basketball game.
    Plus, this might be the last time we see Gallo/Ray/Mozgov/Chandler/Fields play in the orange and blue. Oh and it might also be the last time fat Eddy will get such good seats at MSG.

  8. Jafa

    Caleb,

    I think option (c) is the most plausible, especially if it nets them the center they seem to lack like Nene. Add that to the continuing maturity of their young players, some well placed draft pick and retaining Crawford and its not hard to see a legitimate challenger.

    So while the top dogs in the East today are Boston & Miami, with Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando following, we could be looking at this:

    Top dogs in 2011/12 – Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, New York
    Top dogs in 2012/13 – Miami, New York, Atlanta, Chicago

    Also, isn’t Dwight Howard originally from Atlanta?

  9. Ben R

    Hey just for fun let’s bring Atlanta into the Melo sweepstakes:

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=4m5a9pd

    Also Atlanta would send two 1sts and money to Denver.

    We trade Amare, Felton and Chandler get Horford, Billups and Lawson. That way we bring our star’s age in line with the rest of our team. Atlanta gets Amare, Melo, and Felton. Denver gets Smith as the centerpiece of the trade plus Chandler and Crawford, plus Bibby as filler, also they would get money and two firsts from Atlanta.

    I know it would never happen but in a perfect world every team wins. We get a young team to compete in a couple of years, Atlanta gets a contender now and Denver gets two great young players.

  10. Caleb

    Yes, Dwight’s from Atlanta (was AAU teammate with Josh Smith, actually – how’d you like to play them?) but he’s probably watched the Hawks long enough to know it would be foolish to sign here. Not to mention, they will be capped out in 2012 thanks to the Joe Johnson deal!

    Horford and Smith are really good but they’re not 22… I’d guess that any improvement you get from them will be offset by the age-related decline of Johnson and Bibby. Crawford’s 30 – even if they re-sign him, he’s not getting any better. They have no one you can look at and say, “wow, in a few years that guy might be good.” Whereas the Knicks have lots of players you can dream on.

    Atlanta looks to be a 45-50 win team the next year or two, then getting worse as Johnson collapses and they still don’t have money to sign anyone. They are totally capped out through 2013 and if they re-sign Smith then (or Crawford, before then) they are capped out through 2015.

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