Jake's Take: 11/10/10
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Scouting a Familiar, Yet Different Foe
It was but a mere six months ago that the Atlanta Hawks ended Milwaukee's Cinderella march into the postseason and nearly into the second round of the playoffs. While the Bucks restocked their roster with the additions of numerous players meant to make significant differences, Atlanta's roster has remained relatively the same. Sure, there's a Jordan Crawford here and a Josh Powell there, but the primary players remain in place.
There is one significant difference, though. Mike Woodson was kicked to the curb following Atlanta's quick and lackadaisical second-round exit, and Larry Drew was brought in as his replacement. Many saw this staffing change as a detriment to the evolution of the Hawks, and foresaw Atlanta sliding back a few spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
As of tonight, that hasn't happened yet. The Hawks jumped out to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping their last two contests to Phoenix and Orlando. At 6-2, Atlanta is in their familiar third-place position in the Eastern Conference, the same spot that the Hawks held heading into the playoffs last year. While its roster and conference status may look familiar, this is a different Atlanta team than the one that ousted the Bucks last year.
The Hawks were considered little better than middle-of-the-pack offensively last year. They were 13th in scoring, 11th in overall shooting and 14th in true shooting percentage. Those middling numbers can likely be attributed to an offense that revolved almost exclusively around isolations for their various offensively-gifted players. Whether it was Joe Johnson dribbling all over the perimeter or Al Horford jab-stepping and head-faking his way in and around the painted area, this wasn't a team that saw a lot of player movement on the offensive end.
Enter Drew, who introduced a new motion offense predicated on player movement. If the early returns are any indication, the revitalized offense has been very well-received. The Hawks have picked up the pace slightly and it has resulted in an uptick in scoring and efficiency. Atlanta is up to 104 points per game, and is leading the NBA in shooting percentage (49.8 percent) and true shooting percentage (58.3 percent).
Granted, these improved numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The Hawks started the season by getting healthy against the league's greatest defensive sieves. They averaged 106.7 points per game in their first seven games, but those contests came against defenses that, on average, are 21st in the league in both points allowed and defensive efficiency. In its most recent game, Atlanta tallied just 89 points against Orlando's league-leading defense.
The point of all this is that while Atlanta may look like the same team, it is in many ways a vastly different squad. The Bucks may have picked up on individual player tendencies in their seven-game series with the Hawks last year, but everything else they learned about the Hawks has lost a great deal of value significance. Atlanta's new faster-paced offense with improved ball and player movement presents a different challenge to the Milwaukee defenders. Now, we just need to see if the Bucks are up to this new challenge the way they were up to last year's postseason challenge.
- Corey Maggette has relied heavily on his forays into the paint for his points this year, largely because his jumper forgot to join him in the regular season. It looks like his jumper has reacquainted itself with meaningful games, though. Maggette confidently hit 3-of-4 jumpers in the first period, hitting two from the top of the key and catching only twine. If he's hitting jumpers, his ability to penetrate becomes all the more dangerous.
- Milwaukee's deep bench reared its wonderful head in the first quarter and into the second. The starting five was largely ineffective, hitting just 4-of-14 in the first quarter. Through the first five minutes of the second quarter, the bench has more than picked up the slack. The fearsome foursome of Ersan Ilyasova, Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins and Maggette proceeded to shoot a combined 12-for-15 for 30 points in short work. It's always great when your bench can go on a 25-6 run.
- Earl Boykins has been known throughout his career as a shoot-first point guard, and that's not totally inaccurate. He's done a real job of running the offense tonight, though. He tallied seven assists in his 11 minutes of play in the first half, and even managed to chip in with five points of his own. That's the kind of production from a backup point guard that coaches dream of.
- Drew Gooden has done a great job crashing the offensive glass tonight. He had four offensive boards at half, and added another in the opening minutes of the second stanza. He's being both smart and aggressive, reading the shot out of the shooters hand and then attacking the rim. That's a recipe for a lot of second-chance points.
- Words can't describe how I excited I became when the cameraman showed Mini Me from Austin Powers. I've long thought Mike Bibby and Vern Troyer were separated at birth, so Mini Me's presence at this game just seems right. It was a family reunion right before our very eyes. It was a touching moment. I bet they go to dinner at P.F. Chang's after the game and reminisce.
- The Bucks played absolute swarming defense in the third quarter. They were in every passing lane, challenging every pass and often picking them off or, at the very least, deflecting them. Milwaukee completely destroyed any kind of offensive rhythm the Hawks may have had. I've rarely seen such a disruptive defense. Atlanta led the NBA in fewest turnovers per game last year with barely over 10 a contest, but the Bucks have forced 14 through three quarters.
- I don't know what Atlanta's Jordan Crawford has done not to deserve minutes, but he has looked all kinds of dangerous. He actually looks pretty similar to his teammate with the same namesake, Jamal Crawford. He has absolutely no conscious on the offensive end, but it doesn't look as though he should. At one point, he scored 11 points in 11 minutes, hitting 5-of-6 shots.
Closing It Out
I think we can now state that Milwaukee's offensive slump has been officially busted. The Bucks surpassed the 100-point barrier for the second straight game, and did so in impressive fashion. They shot extremely well from the field, including especially relieving showings from Maggette and John Salmons. Maggette scored an extremely efficient 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor and a 5-for-6 effort from the charity stripe. Salmons returned to the Salmons we grew to love last year, hitting 7-of-12 from the field and finishing with 16 points.
They were far from alone, though. Ilyasova is gradually rounding back into form, posting his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 boards off the pine. Brandon Jennings had an electric third frame that included a bevy of long-range bombs. He finished with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. It was also nice to see improved ball movement throughout the team. Milwaukee finished with a season-high 23 assists while turning the ball over just 12 times.
I think we received a pretty definitive answer to whether or not the Bucks were up to the challenge of defending Atlanta's new-fangled offense. The Hawks may have hit nearly 50 percent of their shots, but most of that damage was done in their 32-point fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach. All in all, this was a great team-wide effort. Milwaukee defended, scored and did just about everything else as well as it could have been done. This is the Bucks team I think we all expected to see from the jump.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.