Shooting guard. For the Hawks, it’s a 120 million dollar position, courtesy of Joe Johnson. Coming into the season, many were skeptical of the depth beyond Mr. Johnson, especially since it appeared that Joe might be preparing to take a rapid descent down from stardom. (because he turned 30 during the offseason) Sure, Kirk Hinrich seemed capable of playing the position at times, but could the Hawks really trust Willie Green and an injury prone Tracy McGrady to effectively spell Johnson from the lineup?
Surprisingly, that answer was a yes.
Let’s start with Joe. Of course, expectations are high; he makes a ton of money, in case you didn’t know. However, during the regular season, he came pretty damn close to earning the $18 million he was owed this season. While the raw numbers weren’t exactly flashy (18/4/4 on 45%FG and 39%3PT), Joe played a brand of defense on both SGs and SFs that should have been considered elite. He held opposing two-guards to a PER of 10.0 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 13.2. Also, according to Synergy, Joe ranked 7th in isolation D at .54 PPP. To contrast, Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies, held his counterparts from the two and three positions to PERs of 14.1 and 11.4, respectively. (this could be skewed slightly for not accounting for where Allen could have been guarding the opposing PGs from those other positions) Either way, it is very impressive for a player to essentially turn all of his defensive assignments into Dahntay Jones. (For more numbers like this, you can visit 82games.com.)
Even more impressive is that his defense might not have even been the greatest part of his season; it was the clutch shooting. For example, in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter of overtime, on shots to tie or take the lead, Joe shot 10/19 from the field (7/10 from three), which is good enough for an eFG% of .711. For the sake of comparison, here are the other 11 players in the league that took at least 15 shots in that situation. It’s not even close; Joe holds the number one spot. Considering it was a situation that many Atlanta fans had criticized Joe before, I have to say that it was extremely fun to see JJ absolutely dominate late in games.
Unfortunately, Joe did have his shortcomings: he was absolutely awful in the playoffs against the Celtics. He seemed to isolate at times when it was clear that the team was working perfectly on offense when he wasn’t dominating the ball. (which is even more unfortunate for the Hawks, because JJ was absolutely awesome on spot-up jumpers, with a points per possession of 1.18) He also seemed to complain more to the media this year, which often made him look like a selfish player for the first time in his career.
Overall, he had a good year. He had his deficiencies, but for the most part, he played like a top tier baller. Grade: A-
Now, when the Hawks signed Willie Green, I laughed. They saw this guy play in New Orleans, right? Now, after the first few games when Willie Green played like Willie Green, I was ready to grab the torch and pitchfork, and every other clichè item you grab when you are about to start an angry mob. However, Willie actually changed my opinion; I actually wouldn’t mind if the Hawks resigned him. Of course, this is after he had a career shooting year from three, in which he finished in the top ten in 3PT%. Yep, that’s right; Willie Green: top ten in something good. Not only that, but he was actually one of the Hawks better shooters in the playoffs, shooting 46% when most of the Hawks’ players were shooting in the high 30s.
However, unlike Joe, his appearance on the floor usually meant a drop in the team’s defensive efficiency. While his DRtg was technically the same as Joe’s, it usually came against the other team’s bench, which is not something you really want. However, for a bench player making the vet’s minimum, I’m willing to cut Willie a bit of slack on that. Like JJ, he exceeded my expectations for the year and was actually a valuable role player. Grade: B+
Here’s where it gets a bit murky. While I really didn’t expect a lot out of Tracy McGrady at this point in his career, I was extremely disappointed in how often he was glued to the bench. (a factor of both his attitude, injuries, and the tendency of coach Larry Drew to drastically cut into the playing time of players he was currently spatting with.) He started off the year great, but once his injuries acted up and his PT decreased, it appeared that T-Mac completely zoned out at times and truly regretted signing with the team. Considering the prolific player that McGrady used to be, it was an extremely sad sight to see. Though I’d love to have T-Mac back with the team next year in an increased capacity, I would be fine with him going elsewhere to try to pursue that magic that he used to fill arenas with when he walked on the court.
The 5/3/2 numbers on 44% shooting from a veteran’s minumum guy only playing 16 minutes aren’t too terrible. He showed his flashes, but there really wasn’t too much of a difference when Tracy was and wasn’t on the floor. Grade: C
Overall, the SG position was used for what I think it needs to be used for the most for the Hawks to be successful: spot up shooting. While many other facets in Joe’s, Willie’s, and T-Mac’s games could have been better, they accomplished their goal in being efficient, limiting turnovers, and, at times, just letting the other players work. Considering it was thought that the position could become one of the team’s downfalls, I’m glad to say that it wasn’t and that the team truly benefited from the play of these three guys.
Overall SG grade: B