With four preseason games in the books, we are now officially halfway to the start of the 2012-13 NBA Season (pause for the obligatory yelp of glee). Don’t be embarrassed if that yelp sounded like the cry of a lapdog, it’s natural (….right?). Now is of course the appropriate time to draw conclusions about meaningless games, because before the halfway point would be entirely too premature.
But in all seriousness, what can the preseason tell us about the state of the Atlanta Hawks? Clearly not too much as the Hawks have had four different starting lineups for the first four preseason games. The good guys have only come away with one victory despite being in reach of taking each of them. In two of the losses to the Spurs and Grizzlies, the Hawks did not even shoot .400 and have also gotten outrebounded in every game, although teams like the Spurs, Grizzlies and Pacers are known to hound to the glass after a shot is put up.
Ultimately, it is difficult to reach any significant conclusions about the team’s early play. Let us look at the player’s individual performances, shown here in a screen grab from the Atlanta Hawks’ official site.
Lou Williams has been the leading scorer, which may certainly hold throughout the season even if he comes off the bench like 2009-10 6th Man of the Year Jamal Crawford did. He led the 76ers in points per game, not to mention in PER, off the bench last year. I wouldn’t worry about the low shooting percentage, aside from being a team-wide problem; he has proven in his career he is a high volume but still pretty efficient shooter that is just now entering his prime physically.
Another aspect that jumps out is the 28 rebounds in 78 minutes by Damion James, which works out to be about 13 rebounds per 36 minutes (!). Of course he wasn’t sharing the court much with the top rebounders on the team, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, but that rebounding prowess from a 6’7” small forward is promising. He seems to be almost assured a spot on the team as the role of a much needed defensive and rebounding-oriented wing.
Much of this information must be taken with a grain of salt because of the unique preseason gameplanning by Larry Drew as well as by the opposing coaches, and small sample size, but the large shooting percentage differential (.474 to .403) and equally spacious rebounding margin (142-113) absolutely cannot carry into the regular season if the Hawks expect to be a playoff team. On the flip side, some good areas include getting to the free throw line more than the opponent (104-95), and steal (43-31) and turnover margin (82-56).
Those are three areas that the Hawks also won last year, which helped them be the 6th best defensive team in 2011-12 in terms of defensive efficiency. Replacing Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams with more offensive-oriented players will almost assure a drop in that ranking but the Hawks still may have the ability to be stout defensively. There are definitely some mixed signs from the first four games of preseason but most importantly, it signals the approach of meaningful games in just two weeks. Until then, contain your excitement.