In the midst of the Josh Smith circus (and it was a circus), the majority of the coverage, both in this space and others, centered around next year and the years to come. While I would maintain that the focus should be on the future with regard to Danny Ferry’s operational dealings, the fact that the roster will remain virtually unchanged for the next four months is a certainty, and as such, it is time to focus our minds on the on-court performance of the existing roster.
In the first installment (of two), we’ll take a look at the perimeter positions and how they have performed in the first half, but also with an eye toward the post-deadline “second half” of the season. Let’s go.
Point Guard – Jeff Teague & Devin Harris
The way that Larry Drew has chosen to deploy Harris makes this positional analysis a bit more challenging, but we’ll go with it anyway. Jeff Teague is the team’s one and only “pure” point guard, and I believe it’s reasonable to say that he has, at minimum, met expectations this season. He has performed at career-high rates in scoring (17.2 points per 40 min), assists (8.5 per 40 min), and overall efficiency (16.52 PER) while taking over an expanded role after the injury to Lou Williams. I believe (whole-heartedly) that Jeff Teague will never be a star player, but, on the right contract, he would be a valuable asset going forward. It is key to recognize his weaknesses (deep shooting, strength), but his numbers suggest growth in every season as he becomes more exposed to playing time and responsibility.
Devin Harris is currently the team’s starting shooting guard. Read that sentence again. Okay, then. Harris, is, in no way, a shooting guard, but he’s been forced into action at that spot due to a variety of factors, including the Williams injury, and the overall lack of quality wing options on the roster. As a result of the miscasting, he is scoring and assisting at career-low rates while performing worse across the board in tandem with decreased usage. His most appealing attribute is his ability to get to the rim and create offense for himself, but he’s a career 31% three-point shooter who is being asked to fill a role as a spot shooter while Teague creates. Any “analysis” of Harris’s season needs to have an asterisk because of his deployment as the primary two-guard, but if he stays in this hybrid role (he will for this year, it seems), the ceiling is fairly low.
Normally, the Hawks would have a 3rd point guard at their disposal. With Lou Williams on the team, there was no need for a 3rd guy, as either he or Harris could man the point in Teague’s absence. Since he went down, Jannero Pargo was signed to two, separate 10-day contracts for insurance, but, as of this post, he had not be re-signed for the rest of the season. It is a huge assumption to believe that Teague and Harris will both be active for every game the rest of the way, but unless they are, John Jenkins (yikes) is the insurance policy.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward – Kyle Korver, Deshawn Stevenson, John Jenkins, Dahntay Jones
I’m combining these positions because, well, the only shooting guard on this list is John Jenkins, and the way they are deployed varies greatly as to who else is on the court. Kyle Korver has been the brightest spot on the wing this season. He’s having his most prolific shooting season ever, averaging 2.8 made threes per contest at a staggering 45.8% clip. His defense has been league-average, and while that may not seem like much, it is a huge plus to get “net-zero” production from him on that end. He’s ultra-reliable offensively, always making the right play, and stretching opposing defenses while killing them if they don’t acquiesce. Korver is having the best year of his career, and his play stands for itself as a perfect role player.
Stevenson was brought in for one (basketball) reason, and that is because he’s an above-average wing defender. He hasn’t been a quality offensive player (or even close to one) in years, but he stood out wildly on the defensive end when compared to the other wing options. On the bright side, Deshawn has produced quality results as a 3-point shooter, as he’s converted nearly 41% of his attempts (up from 34% career) to take advantage of defenses who repeatedly sag off of him. It hasn’t translated into overall efficiency (PER of under 10) because he’s completely unable to create a shot for himself at this point, and he’s attempting under one two-point shot per game. Under one! Anyway, Stevenson has been a slightly better version of what I thought he’d be this season, and he’s a nice option to have when you don’t need to rely on him heavily.
Speaking of “guys who are who we thought were” (copyright, Dennis Green), John Jenkins is exactly that. He’s one of the best shooters in the league already, converting 42% of his threes and doing so with limited touches. The problem is that he doesn’t do much else. He’s a better defender than I thought he’d be, but he’s still below-average in that area, giving up size/strength to most shooting guards while lacking the lateral quickness to defending point guards. Also, creating his shot hasn’t come easily for Jenkins, as the windows that were there in college don’t seem to be opening, but if he continues to progress, he’ll have a long career as a bench shooter.
Dahntay Jones… just got here. The scouting report for the former Duke product (I’ve seen him a lot) is that he a) is a good defender with above-average strength, b) can get to the rim off the dribble, and c) can’t shoot at all. He’s basically Deshawn Stevenson if you exchange passable 3-point shooting for the ability to penetrate. It should be an open competition for the “wing stopper” spot in the rotation, but I have a feeling that Drew will keep Jones buried in favor of Stevenson for the foreseeable future.
In short, it has been a better-than-expected performance from the Hawks’ perimeter rotation this season. Obviously, the loss of one of the best perimeter players (in my opinion, the best) due to injury is a big one, but even without Lou Williams’ services, this group has done admirable work. In the next installment, we’ll tackle the work of the front-court group, led by the team’s stars in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Stay tuned.