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
2009-10 Regular Season Grades by Lang Whitaker
I know the season is not yet over, but I figured since we'll probably devote next week's column to a Playoff preview, this week was likely a good time to break out our final season report card. By the way, in my grading system, we're using F for failure, D to represent below average, C to represent average, B is above average, A is well above average.
I know it's all the rage these days to use fancy equations and mathematical permutations to figure out a player's value to his team, but to me, so much of what makes Joe Johnson valuable to the Hawks are things that can't be quantified. No, maybe he isn't the most efficient scorer in the NBA, but he demands double teams and he's willing to pass to open guys out of the double. He might not even touch the ball on a possession, but his presence on the floor opens up space for the other Hawks players. In a contract year, he's been rock-solid, not trying to do more than he can do. My one beef with Joe remains that he doesn't go to the free throw line enough. While that might be a function of how many jumpers he takes, remember, Reggie Miller used to live on the free throw line. Either way, this team will go as far as Joe takes us.
He's been above average this season, but only slightly. With the rise of Jamal Crawford, Bibby's minutes have been down, but that doesn't mean he can't be just as important in the minutes he does play. Bibby isn't an aggressive defender, so we need him to make up for that by being aggressive on offense, which he hasn't been, at least not with much consistency. What I like is that in March he went from making 1 three-pointer a game to 2 three-pointers a game, and he shot about 50 percent, which is tremendous. Hopefully that carries forward into the postseason.
Even though Marv's numbers have been all over the place this season, on the whole, he's been...average. When you have a bunch of starters who can score, someone is going to have to fill that complimentary role, and that seems to be what Marv's embraced. Still, there are nights when he goes for 26 points, and then there are games when he plays 30 minutes and finishes with 2 points and 3 rebounds. Defensively he's been above average, fearlessly guarding opposing team's best wing players every night. Nobody's asking Marvin Williams to put up numbers like Deron Williams. Being Marvin Williams is fine. Just bring it every night.
When josh didn't make the All-Star Game at midseason, many NBA pundits pointed out that his omission was probably the most egregious. I agreed, and I hoped that Josh wouldn't take the slight and begin to try and do too much, to prove to everyone that he deserved to make the team. Well, he didn't. He continued playing within himself, but if anything he's been more focused and played the best basketball of his life. While his PPG aren't the highest he's ever averaged, his rebounds are up, his assists are up and his turnovers are down. He's been so much fun to watch this season, and he's still got room to improve.
It's hard to find much fault with the way Al Horford's played this year. He's steady, solid. The addition of the mid-range jumper -- flat-footed, no less -- to his game has made him immeasurably more important to the team. He might not be bulky enough to wrestle Dwight Howard or Shaq in the post, but with that shot he forces them to come out and defend him. One other thing I love about Al is how, maybe once or twice a game, he grabs a rebound, looks around and doesn't see a guard, and then just takes off dribbling up the court at full speed and THEN passes it off. It seems like he lives for those moments. Or maybe I do.
The Difference has really been the difference this season. Jamal's been around the NBA forever, but it's this current role that suits him best. He's always seemed to be too offensive-minded to be a true point guard, and not quite offensive-minded enough to be a true two guard. With the Hawks, he brings the ball up court but still creates more for himself than he does for others. Whatever it is he's doing, it's worked, perfectly, and Hawks GM Rick Sund should get credit for having the wherewithal to not only realize Crawford would fit in, but also that he could trade for Crawford basically without giving up any production and in return getting one of our most important pieces. (Also, I just wanted to mention that the little behind-the-back dribble move Jamal uses to shake free is one of my favorite things ever. He has achieved the iso-motion!)
If you're looking for the Atlanta spirit, here it is: If you haven't seen this clip from two years ago, watch it now; probably my favorite on-court interview ever.
I feel like Mo Evans has been the forgotten Hawk this season. Don't forget that when Marvin went down last season, Mo was starting in the Playoffs for us. Mo's got a money jumper from the wings, he's not afraid to go hard to the rack and dunk, and he's a capable defender. His minutes have mostly been displaced by Jamal Crawford, who comes off the pine to get buckets. Mo can obviously still get it done -- he scored 20 against Charlotte the other night -- he's just a victim of a numbers game with the Hawks.
I know that Teague hasn't exactly been given a lot of opportunities, but he hasn't exactly forced his way into the line-up, either.
Joe Beast has been just above average, hence the C-plus. Mostly, he's just a great person to have on your team.
We know what he does, and he does it well. For better and worse.
Neither guy has had a chance to do anything other than play garbage time. But I do need to thank Jason Collins for warning me that Mike Bibby was about to throw a ball of tape at me earlier this season.
I've heard the complaints. So has Mike Woodson. Say what you will about him -- he's too stubborn, not creative enough, doesn't manage his bench well enough, can't get the offense to flow in the fourth quarter. But there is one undeniable aspect to Woody's coaching that I can not overlook: 13, 26, 30, 37, 47. Those numbers are the amount of games the Hawks won in each of Woody's first five seasons coaching the team. And this year, the Hawks have already won 49, with a handful of games to go. Maybe you think Mike Woodson is terrible coach. Fine. But you can't tell me that he hasn't presided over a Hawks team that has improved every single year. Has he had better players to work with each season? Sure. But at the very least, he didn't screw it up, either, which is more than you can say for a lot of coaches.
Me, I think Woody is an above-average NBA coach, and he's done an above-average job with the Hawks this season. The Hawks are about to win 50 games. 50 games! Just six years ago we were a 13 win franchise, and to go from 13 to 50 is completely respectable. I like Woody. Sure, there are philosophies and decisions I don't agree with, but look at the big picture. The Hawks are contenders, and you can never take that away from Woody.
His eyebrows, now that's a different story.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Follow him on twitter at @langwhitaker. 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.