Monday, October 17, 2016

AugBball NBA Preview Part 3: Why the "experts" are dumb for thinkingthe Hawks are worse for subbing Dwight Howard for Al Horford

Link: AugBball NBA Preview, part 1
Link: AugBball NBA Preview, part 2

Because of the addition of Dwight Howard, the 8 time All NBA performer and 3 time Defensive Player of the Year, to Atlanta's roster, I think the Hawks may become the first Eastern Conference team since the 2013 Indiana Pacers to challenge a Lebron James led team. But according to the apparently consensus NBA expert opinion, such optimism is not warranted:

Link to full episode

Zach Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz said as much in a recent "Lowe Post" podcast episode, labelling Atlanta one of the NBA's "most confusing teams." Lowe fretted that Howard has talked about scoring with his back to the basket and (gasp!) even making mid range jump shots rather than allowing the "advanced stats" to call the shots. The numbers that guys like Lowe and Arnovitz swear by would instruct Howard to screen the ball and "dive" exclusively like Deandre Jordan of the LA Clippers does so contentedly, for example.

The pair even suggests that by the time the All Star break arrives, Atlanta may be smart to trade Paul Millsap, Atlanta's three time all star power forward, in a sign of surrender. Apparently the logic behind Lowe and Arnovitz's worry that the Hawks could quickly plummet from a top 2-4 Eastern Conference team is that they will be worse for substituting Howard for long time Hawks center Al Horford, who fled to Boston upon the news of Dwight's coming home.

I am puzzled by such logic. 

Apparently the "ball movement/outside shooting/advanced stats" happy media members have concluded Horford is better than Howard, despite such "old fashioned" evidence like that to the right.

Howard is superior to Horford in every meaningful way. A clear headed "eye test" should reinforced by the two players' regular season and post season statistics, and by the regular season and post season records in the win column. (Those figures are in the right column.) Plus, Howard made his winning reputation in Orlando despite playing with inferior teammates.

Lowe labels Boston as a top 3 Eastern Conference team. So according to him the Hawks may plunge to the lottery after adding Howard and the Celtics will solidify their position near the top of the conference because of Horford's addition. Months after Atlanta bounced Boston from the first round of the 2016 playoffs in 6 games, mind you.

That podcast is not the only show to espouse such nonsense. Trey Kirby of "The Starters," a daily show about the league on NBA TV that I love, said last week in a matter of fact way that behind Kevin Durant, Horford was the off season's second best free agent to change teams. (When challenged about whether Howard is a "superstar," Kirby's partner Leigh Ellis mustered the weakest of responses: "He's better than Jared Sullinger." So I guess there's that.

Link to full episode

I believe so strongly that the "experts" have this wrong that I've watched closely as much of Howard as I can during the preseason to see if there are any early signs I have this all wrong. There aren't.

So I'm calling on a real expert, an AugBball's NBA expert, that is.

"Dr. Kirk" Munsayac is back for another NBA discussion (see our last discussion here) to inject some much needed common sense into the consensus expectations regarding our home team Hawks...

Chad: Kirk, The Cavs sat all their guys in their preseason game against the Cavs. And on a few possessions, skinny James Jones checked him. But that said, Howard was a dominant force in his first game in Atlanta (see video above). I'm hoping he can do his part to bring back post play to the NBA a little bit, but more importantly to make the Hawks a legit contender in the East

Kirk: Hard to say. We are still in that "NFL preseason games" kinda mode. So the jury is still out.

But lemme shed some light on why the Dwight Howard move was key for ATL's hope to contend: Reviewing the playoff matchups with the Cavs, it would be incorrect to pick the low hanging fruit and say "Lebron beat the Hawks." Yes, and no. The Hawks weren't surprised with the numbers LBJ put up. No one in the country should ever be. Its not like the Hawks walked away from it saying "dang, no one told us about this Lebron guy!" No, ATL knew what he was gonna do. And like most teams, they schemed to make LBJ shoot as many jumpers as you can.

The brilliance of the Cavs make up now is simple - Tristan Thompson. Yeah. He's the key. He's more "valuable" than anyone else (aside - DONT get me started on the topic of MVP and how that award has turned into "best player on the best team" and NOT a true measure of "value" ---- which bleeds into my tangent on how the Heisman has turned into "the QB/RB on the #1 team award" but I digress...). Why do you think Lebron fought for Tristan to get paid the ridiculous amount he got? It's genius. If Lebron's weakness is jumpshooting, then not only does he work tirelessly on improving that, but the simple fix is to get a guy who, every time LBJ misses a jumper, gets the offensive rebound and gives him the ball back! Boom. Ring.

That's exactly what they did to the Hawks and their undersized bigs. (Splitter was to be a somewhat answer, but was injured and lets face it, soft as a kitten wrapped in snuggle dryer sheets). So, when the disenfranchised Dwight spoke of "coming home.," ready to be loved again by his high school crowd, the Hawks weren't looking so much to get a bunch of buckets from the guy. They saw a guy who could and would put his butt in Tristan Thompson's stomach early and often.

Chad: I understand. One response I have is that Kyrie Irving really is (or was in the Playoffs at least) other-worldly good. Tristan Thompson is fantastic. And he did (wonderfully) all that you said during the first Finals too. That enabled the Cavs to almost have logged two heroic feats in Lebron's two years. Beating the Warriors without Irving and Love, and with Lebron and Thompson being for real the only two players doing ANYTHING, would have been just as magical as coming back from 3-1 last year.

But Kyrie was the difference in losing valiantly one season, and winning the next. I put Irving in the "fits perfectly alongside Lebron, more valuable than Thompson, maybe one of the league's 5 best players" category. Lebron kind of broke the system last season by going back to pickup game "iso-ball" when all the NBA watchers were in love with the "Spurs/Warriors way." He reminded us nobody will be able to guard him until he quits. And having Kyrie there to take the possessions when Lebron couldn't or didn't want to is the perfect fit. Not to mention Irving, to Glen's point in the last preview, found Curry and exploited him. I guess I'd say Kyrie has to be the world's second best "clear it out and let me take him" player. Behind Lebron. The handful of guys I can think of who are closest are Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry, I suppose.

Anyway, I totally agree that a need for rebounding was the logic for signing Dwight Howard. But I do hope to see an extension of what Lebron has done in Cleveland to what Dwight can do in Atlanta. Throw the ball in to the big guy and let him destroy all these three point shooting big men around the league.

But more than anything I'm just being an optimistic home town team Hawks fan. If the Hawks catch lightning in a bottle, we are suddenly 2 1/2 hours away from the best basketball in the world. Eastern conference and (a guy can dream) NBA Finals time for us!

Kirk: Tristan Thompson needs to be a fine example of the "extinction of the big man" topic. I believe he did more for big men the last two seasons than the superstars. With schemes shifting to the Euro-ball style of court spreading bigs shooting corner threes, and bigs wanting to have cross overs, it is fantastic to see a guy like Tristan show young players that "hey, I can get down low, scrap and clean the boards and not even score but one or two buckets and STILL have the ultimate impact on a game and STILL get paid."

Chad: But don't you want Howard to be the model instead of Thompson? I do because Howard, though awkwardly, still gives hope that the Ewing/Mchale/Dream/Shaq of old type player will yet exist. Thompson is a great player and a great winner. But aren't Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan, and Hasaan Whiteside the same kinds of players when it comes to being told "hey big man, just set this ball screen for the 6'1" guy and dive to the rim. Don't shoot unless it's a dunk and we don't really care too much if you can make a free throw?" I think that is undervaluing what a good post player can do for a team.

As a low post scorer, Dwight is a very poor man's Ewing/Mchale/Dream/Shaq. And maybe there's a better example of a current player who can carry their torch. But those guys could play, including making free throws. And they were always so much more valuable than the little guards. I want there to continue to be those kinds of players. Not exclusively. But I liken it to what you said in a recent Facebook post about diversity of thought and tolerance. Different styles and ways of playing is fun. Everybody copying the Warriors and deciding their way is the only way is boring and shortsighted. So I guess I'm rooting for Dwight, or somebody, to preserve the low post model in some way.

Kirk: I'm with you. Im a fan of dwight now - as my Hawks devotion wills me to be

Actually, the big man's role is more safe now than it has been in past ten years, honestly. With Dwight, Jahlil Okafor, Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns, Drummond, and Boogie Cousins, we have some traditional bigs that are still a problem from most defenses. Heck, an effectively performed pick-and-roll with a good big is just about all you need to torch any team. My example of Tristan is simply a nod of approval for a role model for that a high school center who is asking himself "man, do I need to hire a shooting coach to work on my 3s?" and being able to see, no brother, do what you do big man! It still works.

Hawks picked LAST in division
by the Sporting News
Chad: Last question Kirk. You listed several big men who give you hope that the position still exists.
You didn't mention Horford. Should I gather that you agree that the Celtics optimism and Hawks pessimism in the media is silly if the logic is that Horford makes the Celtics, who were beaten by the Hawks in six in last season's playoffs, better than the Hawks, who just gained Howard?

Kirk: Geez, dont get me started on Horford. All the NBA media guys said for years "Al Horford is not elite" and "a jump shooting 5 won't win rings," etc. He signs a max deal with the Celtics and it's "All Star Al Horford completes this dynamic squad ready to revive the Celtics to days of old!"

SMH. Get outta here with that crap.

Chad: Excellent I love it.

I don't know if this gives you the same reassurance it does me, but Jeff Van Gundy, the man whose basketball opinion I've never disagreed with, seems to think like us when it comes to how wrong the NBA talking heads have it when they say the Hawks will likely stink for signing Howard. Needless to say, I still haven't disagreed with the Notorious JVG:

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