The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - Midseason Grades
Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com
With Wednesday night's win over the Sacramento Kings, the Hawks moved to 27-14 on the season. Which means we've played 41 games and are exactly halfway into the season. What's interesting is that last season at the halfway mark, the Hawks were 25-16, an almost identical record.
But this year things feel different, don't they? We have a better roster and we're turning the ball over less. For all the people complaining about our offense, we're the seventh highest scoring team in the League and basically the same as last year defensively.
Since we're halfway home, I thought I'd break out the report card and see what's what. I'm considering an F as failing, a D as below average, a C as average, a B as above average and an A way above average.
And guys, please have your parents sign your report card and return it to me tomorrow. Thanks!
Joe Johnson -- After that huge Phoenix win last week, someone asked me if the Hawks could conceivably replace Joe with Jamal next season. My response was that if you even ask that question, you don't know the Hawks very well. Joe is the man, our man. He does it all, and has done it all for years now. That said, I think there is still room for Joe to grow, particularly when it comes to deciding when to try and take over. I'd also like to see him drive the ball more and go to the rim hard instead of shooting so many floaters. But I'm nitpicking here, magnifying what he isn't doing instead of all the things he does do. GRADE: B
Josh Smith -- Did anyone see this coming? I didn't. I always hoped Josh would transform himself into an all-around player, but we were reaching the point where I wondered if it was ever going to happen. Well, it happened, and it continues happening. As I tweeted earlier this season, "Every time Josh Smith passes up a long jump shot, an angel gets its wings." His growth from last season to this season has been phenomenal. I just hope it continues. GRADE: A
Mike Bibby -- Slow and steady wins the race, right? I sure hope so, because that's exactly what Bibby's been this season. His outside shooting has been cool lately -- just 34 percent in January -- but he's averaging a career low in turnovers per game (just 1.2). I wrote several times last year about how for Bibby to have value for the Hawks, his offensive contributions have to outweigh his defensive liabilities, and I think right now it's about even. Thus... GRADE: C
Marvin Williams -- Marv has probably been the biggest disappointment this season among the Hawks starters, though when you consider how well the Hawks starters have played all year, that's kind of like being the worst member of the Beatles. I really like Marvin as a person -- he's one of the nicest guys in the NBA, bright, willing to learn, trying to improve. He's also still a kid -- he'll turn 24 years old in June. Right now he's being asked to be a complementary player and he's obviously struggled to fit into the role. Someone on Twitter mentioned that Marvin was reminiscent of Bruce Bowen. They meant it as an insult, but I think that's actually a great role for Marvin to aspire to. On most nights he's our best defender against swingmen, and if he can get consistent from the corner/wing area and jump camp out there on offense, and tighten up his defense and develop a reputation as an elite defender, that's exactly the kind of role that I think Marvin's fit to play. But so far this season, to me, Marvin has underperformed. GRADE: D
Al Horford -- I said a few months ago that Josh Smith was going to be an All-Star this season, and I still think he will be, but I also believe Al Horford has played himself into an All-Star. Al's averaging career highs in everything, from minutes to points to rebounds, and he's fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage, shooting an eye-popping 58.4 percent. If anything, he's become so good, so fast that it often seems like the Hawks are unsure of what to do with him on offense. I was glad to see them making a concerted effort to get him the ball last night against the Kings. I do wonder, however, if his efficiency isn't a function of his underuse; if the Hawks gave him more opportunities, would he produce at the same rate? I don't know, but hopefully we'll get to find out. GRADE: A
Jamal Crawford -- When the Hawks traded for Jamal last summer, there was a lot of talk about how he'd fit it. Would he back up Joe? Mike? Marvin? How would he fit in? Well, he's been a home run. Jamal essentially replaced Flip Murray as the first guard off the bench, and he's been lighting up back-up guards all around the NBA, averaging 17 ppg. And don't forget his flair for the dramatic and apparent inability to feel fear in big situations. I'd like to see him up his defensive effort a bit, but I think Jamal Crawford has finally found his perfect NBA fit. GRADE: B
Zaza Pachulia -- Zaza is as Zaza does. His numbers are down across the board (minutes, points, rebounds), but he is still effective at doing what he does, which is basically wreaking havoc in the paint. I'd like to see him improve on his finishing around the basket, as well as his mid-range jumper. GRADE: C+
Joe Smith -- He's not only the Hawks' best rapper, but he's probably their most savvy player as well, having been around the League for a while. Joe's the big we've needed the last three seasons. Better late than never. GRADE: C+
Mo Evans -- Mo seems to have become the odd man out in the Hawks rotation of late. He logged a lot of time as a spot starter the last few years, so we know he can play. He also had that run in December where he was red-hot from long distance, but we've heard little from him since. Hopefully that tomahawk dunk Wendnesday night against Sacramento will get him going. GRADE: C-
Jeff Teague -- We've only seen Jeff play in fits and starts, and I can understand why. Mike Woodson is a coach who values his veterans, mostly because of their dependability. Even though Teague has provided many highlights, he's also had moments on defense that make Woody yank him out of the game. Up and down, about what I expected. Hopefully he learns from this and improves as the year goes along. Having a waterbug point guard in the postseason could be a huge plus. GRADE: C
Mario West -- He does what he does, and he does it consistently. GRADE: C
Randolph Morris and Jason Collins -- I haven't really seen enough of either guy in situations where it matters to make a realistic evaluation. GRADE: INC
Mike Woodson -- The thing I've always respected about Mike Woodson is that he's some way or another, by hook or by crook, managed to get the Hawks to play better each season he's been in charge. From 13 wins to 26 wins to 30 to 37 to 47, and now we're on pace to finish with 54 wins and a 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Yes, there's still plenty we can improve on, but I'm going to give Woodson an above average grade, because he's got the Hawks playing better than I expected we'd play this season. GRADE: B
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.