“We’ll be the biggest fans you’ll ever lose, Slim. Sincerely yours…”
Let’s Get It! Amid these downturns in temperatures and competitive play, who better to serenade Atlanta Hawks fans during The Recession than The Snowman himself?
While quadragenerian rhyme-spitter Jeezy enthralls his hometown head-nodders during tonight’s clash with the backsliding Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit), it appears the number of “Stan” stans are dwindling by the minute up in Motown.
Coach-PBO Stan Van Gundy has stridently stuck by his first Pistons lottery-draftee from 2015, swingman Stanley Johnson, handing him the reins as this season’s starting small forward. Johnson got Put On even after he put up a Bagel-for-13 shooting effort in his season debut. The growing pains seemed fine at first, as Detroit broke out of the gate with a pleasant 10-3 start, including a 111-104 victory at desolate Little Caesars Arena (Johnson missed that game while recovering from hip and back injuries).
But like Dennis Rodman riding his motorcycle through the left-lane of an intersection, the worm has turned, causing The Master of Panic to pull whatever strings he can behind the curtain, and Johnson (35.3 FG%, same as last season; 28.6 3FG%, career-low 1.3 APG) was among the most obvious targets to yank.
“He’s got to find his way,” said SVG to the Free Press last week, with his Pistons (14-13) mired amid its current seven-game slump, “and I think he’s very capable of shooting the ball better than he has and that’s what we want to get him doing.”
Pulling the Stanimal from the first unit did nothing, however, to prevent the Pistons from dropping their seventh-straight contest on Tuesday. Losing by 19 versus the Millsap-and-Jokic-less Nuggets squandered a three-game homestand at the Big Pizza Pizza and was their second straight double-digit defeat.
Detroit was granted a chance to get the homestand off on the right foot last Friday, as the Curry-less Warriors allowed them back in the game late. But Reggie Jackson (past 4 games: 32.7 FG%, 2.8 APG, 1.8 TOs/game) Schröder-ed away their opportunity with some ill-advised Ballin’ into a flock of Dubs, forgoing a chance to set up a game-winning or game-tying play with 15 seconds remaining.
Stan benched Stanley… And Then What? Johnson was supplanted by an equally poor-shooting Reggie Bullock (36.8 FG%, 15.0 3FG%), a decisive downgrade on the defensive end. Whatever the case, the pressure is on Van Gundy to firmly establish a team identity going forward. He must figure out some lineups that can make buckets (last 7 games: NBA-low 40.1 FG%) and get stops, or else he’ll need to get with GM Jeff Bower and start making some moves, as a plethora of NBA players become trade-eligible after midnight.
Dem Boyz got blocks? The Pistons rank dead last in inspected-rejected shots (NBA-low 3.2 team blocks per-48; NBA-low 2.4 in the last seven games), making the Hawks look like Tree and Dikembe out there (3.8 blocks per-48, 26th in NBA). They’ve simultaneously been the biggest victim of swats (NBA-high 6.3 opponent blocks per-48), and much like the Hawks, haven’t been rebounding the ball well on the defensive end. During this seven-game skid, opponents have snatched 10.9 O-Rebs per 48 (3rd-most in NBA).
Buoyed by improved free throw shooting, Andre Drummond (61.2 FT%, 16 points, 10 O-Rebs, 10 D-Rebs, 7 assists, 6 TOs vs. ATL on Nov. 11) was the focal point for Detroit during their early success. But the heavy dribble-handoff activity that defined the Pistons’ early renaissance (NBA-highs of 13.2 DHO possessions and 11.0 points per game) has devolved into isolation station for Dre and his teammates in recent weeks (NBA-lows of 3.9 Roll Man possessions and 3.6 points per game).
While Drummond must improve on his defensive imprint, it’s on Jackson and the Pistons’ ballhandlers to keep him involved in plays at the other end. Unfortunately for him, Atlanta’s proficiency in getting carved up along the perimeter may render him an offensive mirage if he cannot create putbacks and second-chances.
Hawk defenders are following Coach Mike Budenholzer’s instructions to Leave You Alone in the corners (NBA-high 8.7 opponent 3FG attempts/game; 40.0 opponent corner 3FG%) if the odds are expected to work out in Atlanta’s favor. Several Piston playmakers will be tempted to Go Crazy, calling their own number from long-range without really setting up a play.
Parked outside like they’re sittin’ on vogues, Tobias Harris (team-high 18.2 PPG, 44.3 3FG%) and Avery Bradley (40.5 3FG%) will be licking their respective chops after Witnessing LeBron’s Cavs light up the Hawks with 20-for-38 shooting beyond the arc on Tuesday. Even ex-Hawk forward Anthony Tolliver (broken nose; 36.5 3FG%) will be donning the mask in hopes of a Kyrie effect tonight.
One benefit to having John Collins back in uniform tonight, even in limited minutes, is his activity around the rim (in tandem with Tyler Cavanaugh and/or Miles Plumlee) allowing the Hawks’ wing defenders to step further out of the defensive paint, hopefully curtailing the bombs-away approach the Pistons’ backcourt and stretch forwards have in store. His presence will also help reduce the success opponents have had converting inside versus Atlanta (53.9 opponent 2FG%, 2nd-highest in NBA; 66.2 opponent restricted-area FG%, 4th-highest in NBA).
Like the Pistons, the Hawks have stuck with the forced-turnover-or-bust approach to defensive activity, although Atlanta has been more successful in separating man from ball (last ten games: NBA-high 16.8 opponent TOs per-48; DET’s 15.6 ranks 7th). Dennis Schröder and the Hawks’ wings will particularly be in Trap Or Die mode, in hopes of forcing Jackson into ballhandling mistakes.
Whichever team is less sloppy on offense, and makes their opponent pay in transition, is likely to have the upper hand as tonight’s game heads toward the final buzzer. Before Jeezy warms up for his final postgame act, which team will prove to be the true Go Getta, with Hustlerz’ Ambition?
Let’s Go Hawks!