On a night full of terrible defense and stagnant offense, the Hawks were romped in Portland by 20 points as the hobbled LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers to a 97-77 victory. The Hawks were nowhere to be found: bad ball movement, bad shots, and worse defense. I recently wrote about the struggles the Hawks have been having down low, and that was more evident than ever as Aldridge was able to overcome an injury to make fools of our big men and Marcus Camby was grabbing rebounds like he was hungrier than the cookie monster. While we weren’t able to defend the paint or rebound with the Blazers, we could’t stop them from canning perimeter jumpers either. They had wide open threes and long twos at an alarming rate as the Hawks attempted to pack in the paint, which only left us vulnerable to shooters like Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford.
I tried to search for positives after last night’s loss, and clearly I found myself struggling. The Blazers ended their six game losing streak to Atlanta in dominating fashion and on top of that the Hawks looked like last year’s team; a team that would get blown out whenever the lead seemingly reached double digits.
I found only two real bright spots:
Number one: Josh Smith almost recorded a triple double. He was one assist away as he finished the night with 14 points, 10 boards, and nine assists. He made a couple midrange jumpers, too. I still don’t like when he settles for outside shots, but there is no denying the improvement of his perimeter game. Having said that, his strength is still clearly down low and cutting towards the hoop.
Number two, also my favorite takeaway from last night is this: Willie Green is the real deal. He’s 31 now, and sure the tank will be running on empty soon enough, but I love what he brings to this team. He’s not a world-beater, sixth man of the year candidate, but instead he’s a role player who knows exactly what his role is. He comes off the bench and hits his open shots. If he’s not hitting his open shots, then fine, maybe it’s not his night. Regardless, he’s actually been a pretty solid Jamal Crawford replacement.
He can’t drop 20 a game like Crawford could and he doesn’t have the patented shake and bake that JC would all so often dazzle the Highlight Factory with. He’s not as good as Jamal Crawford, but that’s not to say he doesn’t fit better within the team. Crawford was (and is) streaky. He could bring you back from down 20 in a heartbeat, but he could just as often give away a tied game with three minutes to go. Crawford was a through-and-through gunner during his Atlanta tenure, and he was an electric spark plug off the bench.
Willie Green isn’t the same guy. He’s methodical. He’s quiet and humble, he’ll come in and make an impact, but at the very least, if he’s not making an impact, he usually isn’t detracting from the team’s success. He’s a good enough defender to get by- better than Crawford, at least, and he doesn’t kill offensive possessions. Jamal Crawford could hit daggers like almost no one else in this league, but Willie showed some ballsiness himself in the Phoenix game. His two huge three pointers in the fourth quarter cut into a 12-point Suns lead and propelled the Hawks to victory. In what was undeniably his best game of the season, he scored 20 points, went four of six from downtown, and canned all six free throws. On top of that, he surprised me with some very solid defense, not losing his man and tallying three steals. Obviously Josh Smith was the story of the night as he went off for 30 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and three blocks (an absolutely insane line for Smoove that game. He is so, very deserving of an all-star bid this season), but Willie Green was the reason Atlanta was able to pull that game out.
He started off the season relatively shaky, but that’s completely understandable as he was adjusting to a new team and teammates. After somewhat of a slow start, though, he’s come into his own, scoring at least 17 points in three out of the last four games. He’s only averaging 7.4 points per game but yet he’s starting to demand some defensive attention. You don’t know if it’ll be a five-point night, a 10-point, or a 20-point whenever he steps out on the court. If he gets in his groove, he can become the Hawks most dangerous weapon; that’s not because he’s better than the rest of the team, in fact he’s just your run of the mill, mediocre bench player, but that’s because no one really knows how to play him when he first checks in. He can be a non factor offensively, or he can light you up.
I never expected Willie Green to have an impact like this. I expected around eight points per game, something on par with last season, but it just feels like the stats don’t tell it all. Why am I excited every time Willie Green of all people, touches the basketball? It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe this mini hot-streak he’s having will come to an abrupt end; it’s not even a maybe, really, it’s just a matter of when. Either way, I love that the Hawks added him this offseason, and usually I don’t praise the Hawks acquisitions (because they are usually awful. Erick Dampier. Really?). I love the scoring inconsistency and the randomly hot three point shooting. He’s awesomely sporadic, but not in a Jamal Crawford streaky way. If he’s not hot at least he isn’t killing your offense. He has good shot selection and a good overall offensive mind. He’s a smart player. More than that, though, the six-foot-three completely unathletic guard who does nothing but make wide open shots has gotten me out of my seat in excitement over the last five games just as much as Josh Smith has. And that’s saying something.