Entering Friday night’s action in Charlotte, the Atlanta Hawks had won three consecutive games. In principle, that would indicate that they were playing well, but in the last two contests against Orlando and Washington, the Hawks were listless and absolutely unimpressive. On the flip side, Charlotte had been playing their best basketball in a couple of years, posting a 6-4 early record after having the worst winning percentage in the history of the NBA last season. Then, order was restored.
Atlanta won the rebounding battle (41-37). Atlanta shot 54% from the field, and 50% from 3-point distance while subsequently holding the hometown Bobcats to 37% FG and 36% from three. The Hawks blocked fifteen (!) shots. The Hawks assisted on 29 of their 42 field goals. All of these are good things. All of them.
Frankly, with one glaring exception, every Hawk played their typical and/or most beneficial role in this game. Al Horford played the role of “best player on the court”, scoring 26 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, blocking 3 shots, and holding Byron Mullens to 4 of 14 shooting. Josh Smith played the role of “most perplexing, most talented, and most infuriating” player doing his normal Josh Smith routine. To recap, he shot 1 of 9 on shots from 7+ feet and committed a team-high 5 turnovers. He also had 8 assists, 2 blocks, and was occasionally a terror on defense and offensively in transition. Kyle Korver filled his spot as one of the best shooters on planet Earth, shooting 6 of 10 and 4 of 6 from three while holding his own elsewhere. Jeff Teague was excellently efficient despite shooting just 5 of 13 thanks to 12 assists, and Lou Williams spelled him effectively with a random 3 blocks to boot.
If you’re wondering who the glaring exception (referenced above) as far as the roles were played last night, it is Deshawn Stevenson. I firmly believe that Stevenson being deployed is a necessary evil for this team thanks to the fact that he is the de facto “stopper” at the wing position. That said, he is easily the least effective offensive player in the entire rotation, and on a night where Charlotte doesn’t have a real wing scorer to speak of, I have no earthly idea why Stevenson would see the court for 36 minutes. That said, it didn’t kill Larry Drew simply because he made shots (3 of 6 on threes) and played reasonably well.
The Larry Drew performance was, as usual, semi-curious. Josh Smith played his best basketball in the second half, but sat for a long stretch in crunch-time (in favor of Stevenson!) before being re-inserted for the final segment. I was thrilled to see Devin Harris play only 18 minutes, but for some reason, Anthony Morrow continues to get bench splinters with only 5 minutes played. The rotation question isn’t going away, but I would certainly settle for some accountability (cough, Josh Smith’s jump shooting) of performance in any manner, whether it be playing time or otherwise.
Overall, this was a nice performance. In a spot where “taking care of business” was at a premium, Atlanta went on the road and beat an opponent they should beat while playing pretty well. The turnovers (21) and free throw shooting (sub-50%) would be long-term issues if they keep up, but the positives outweighed the negatives here. The product isn’t finished, but all wins aren’t created equal, and this was an product that looked infinitely better than the previous two outings.