Greetings everyone! As you know by now, the Atlanta Hawks suffered a tough, opening night loss to Houston by a score of 109-102. There are a million angles to take when discussing this game (and really, the upcoming season) because of the shear amount of moving parts with this year’s team versus last year’s edition.
Let’s take a look at the rotation that Larry Drew deployed in Game #1 and see what we can take and apply to a future projection:
THE “DNP-COACH’S DECISION” GUYS
Ivan Johnson, Anthony Morrow, Mike Scott, and John Jenkins all failed to see the court on Friday night. I fully expected the rookies (Scott and Jenkins) to catch bench splinters in the opener, but Johnson and Morrow are worth discussing. Ivan was pretty solid as a “rookie” last season, posting a PER near 15 and averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes, but his “normal” minutes went to Anthony Tolliver on this night, and we’ll get to him. Morrow, I suspect, could’ve been a match-up decision, as he has no prayer of staying with James Harden, and the Hawks didn’t necessarily need his dead-eye shooting on this night. Barring injury, the rookies will continue to man the end of the bench, but I’d be pretty surprised if Johnson and Morrow didn’t at least appear in game #2.
THE EARLY DECISIONS
Basically, we know for a fact that Al Horford, Josh Smith, Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, and Zaza Pachulia have at least some defined role on this team. That is seven guys to pencil in, and with a semi-normal NBA rotation settling around 9 guys during the regular season, that leaves a couple of battles. On this night, Larry Drew went with Anthony Tolliver over Ivan Johnson and we’ll discuss that first. Tolliver was the clearly inferior player in 2011-12, but he’s also the more experienced player, and certainly the more versatile option. Tolliver’s ability to stretch the floor with his jump shot can make him an appealing option, and because Houston is no threat to beat you offensively in the post, I think Larry Drew leaned to Tolliver for match-up purposes. The other battle is on the wing. Deshawn Stevenson and Anthony Morrow are the guys that I wouldn’t guarantee playing time to. Stevenson is easily the best wing defender on this entire roster, and he played 29 minutes on a night that the Hawks had James Harden to deal with. It is a lot easier to deploy Stevenson on a night where he shoots 4-6 from 3-point land (which isn’t normal at all, for the record), but against an elite 2-guard like Harden, he has the best chance of resistance. Morrow is the better overall player, and the exceedingly better offensive option, so I think this may settle into a match-up timeshare as well.
THE BIG LINEUP
We saw a great deal of the Zaza/Horford/Smith trio playing together on Friday night. Zaza played 22 minutes of quality basketball (13 points, 8 rebounds), and while there is an argument that Zaza is the 3rd best front-court player on this roster (and that’s probably right), this lineup also forces Smith to play out of position at the small forward spot. Atlanta made their biggest run of the game with the power of this lineup on the court, and it is a strength of Josh Smith to have the flexibility to move to the 3, but I’d still be wary of over-using this lineup if I was Larry Drew.
We’ll center the final section around the “crunch time” lineup, but I’ll mention this first. Larry Drew is in a very, very tough position with his guard rotation. Devin Harris, Jeff Teague, and Lou Williams are head-and-shoulders better than any of the other options that he has… which is great, except they all play the same position. For the middle section of the 4th quarter, Drew went with the big frontline along with Stevenson (for defense on Harden) and Lou Williams. I fully supported this based on the show that Harden was putting on, but I thought it was interesting to see Lou out there running things in this spot over Teague. At the 4-minute mark or so, Drew went with Teague instead of Stevenson and immediately had to go to a zone defense because neither Teague or Williams could be isolated on Harden. This is the main issue for this team (defensive match-ups) and one that Drew will have to work hard to mask. I think the “best five” or the “crunch time 5″ will be very, very fluid this season, and that LD is certainly in the right to play the match-ups over having an absolute, go-to 5-man group.
Overall, I thought the opening night rotation was fairly solid. I would’ve at least shown Ivan Johnson at some point during the game, and maybe brought Devin Harris back again for a stint in the 4th (at least trying something on James Harden), but Larry wasn’t asleep at the wheel. Keep a close eye on the developments going forward!