You won’t get much zippy commentary on here about the “Real” “House” “wives” “of” “Atlanta”, as the divas grace the Atlanta Hawks and the visiting Houston Rockets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Southwest in HOU) with their presence at Philips Arena today. I zoned out on that show for keeps years ago, back when the recently-ousted Phaedra, Kenya, and frenemies couldn’t figure out for themselves how much of a creep Apollo was. Or maybe before that, when Porsha intimated that the Underground Railroad had to have room for tracks.
While RHOA is here to promote this weekend’s kickoff of Season 10 of the franchise, Hawks fans understand as well as anybody when a near-decade run of something grows a little stale. But so long as they don’t stage a(nother) one of their catfights, having to get separated by Harry and leaving behind weave remnants to get swept up off the floor, I’m cool with it.
What I will delve into is how short-sighted I have been about Mike D’Antoni.
Remember how we all cackled when his Phoenix Suns went all-in with their zany but successful Seven Seconds or Less offense? Well, guess who his boss was back then? Steve Kerr. It takes two to tango on the floor, and these days, Kerr, D’Antoni and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer are advocates for an overall pace of play that, today, leaves even that Steve Nash-led team in the dust.
As noted recently by Kevin Arnovitz, the 2004-05 Phoenix team that won 62 games, led the Western Conference and reached the conference finals before succumbing to Coach Bud’s and Coach Pop’s Spurs in five games, led the NBA with a 95.9 pace. With more teams going smaller and pushing the rock, the ’05 Suns’ tempo (opponents included) would rank 26th in the league as of today.
D'Antoniball would be panned by many, including yours truly, over the later years, but it was not designed to accommodate wholesale dysfunction, as was the case with the Melo-Amar’e Knicks and the Kobe-Dwight Lakers. But most NBA coaches and players have since bought in. Thanks to gung-ho GM Daryl Morey, D’Antoni’s Rockets (6-3) are balancing that need-for-speed with former halfcourt heavyweights James Harden, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul (the latter out for another week or so with a bruised knee) directing traffic.
D’Antoni has implemented a style that compels opposing defenses to pick between two evils and think fast. “Everything that [opponents] preach defensively,” the Rockets coach told Basketball Insiders, “we try to do opposite, or try and get to a spot they don’t want to be in.”
Pringles isn’t wasting time running plays, and he’s certainly not wasting time with what he perceives to be inefficient shots. Houston has taken just 5.0 mid-range two-point shot attempts per game, and the next-lowest team, Memphis, has been hoisting nearly twice as many (9.5). As with Kerr’s Warriors, if you, as a shooter, are going to settle at this range, you had better make it, and Houston leads the way with a 48.9 FG% in this zone.
The gameplan is the same for many Atlanta opponents. Build up a lead by drowning the Hawks in three-point buckets in the first half (17.4 first-half opponent 3FGAs per game, 3rd in NBA), shift inside and let the Hawks wear themselves out trying to claw back in front, then put them away with daggers in the second-half, once the wing defenders are too tired to keep up and overcompensating for the shorthanded presence in the middle. D’Antoni’s Rockets (NBA-high 54.1 three-point attempt rate) seem to be built to do just that.
While it’s not a problem tonight, the design of an offense that turns a good chunk of the floor into a vacuum could pose challenges for the Rockets’ most significant off-season acquisition. Paul’s mid-range runners and spot-ups were a bread-and-butter of his offense for years, but he began to fully expand his range in earnest during his final season with the Clippers, taking 5.0 three-point shots per game and hitting a career-best 41.1 3FG%.
Harden (26.6 PPG, 6th in NBA; 9.2 APG, 3rd in NBA) of course dominates the playmaking (35.0 usage%, 2nd in NBA), at least until CP3 returns to the fold, and how effortlessly the pair share the ball when on-court together remains to be seen. But either of them will need castmates that can hit more successfully from long-range.
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Eric Gordon’s career-high 23.9 PPG sounds nice, until one recognizes he has lofted 11.8 attempts per game from three-point territory alone (31.9 3FG%). Despite the added three-point shot volumes, forwards Ryan Anderson (37.3 3FG%) and P.J. Tucker (35.0 3FG%) and swingman Trevor Ariza (25.0 3FG%) are all shooting at-or-below their career averages.
If wings Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore are doing their letter-best, switching onto Harden and canvassing the three-point line, then Dennis Schröder (probable, despite his sprained ankle; career-low 6.5 D-Reb%) and the Hawks’ remnant guards would do well to help their foul-prone bigs secure the rebounds produced by the many clunkers veering from the rim. Any Hawks player trying to D-up a Rocket standing around the mid-range two-point area, or even in the paint outside the restricted area, risks wasting precious time and falling into D’Antoni’s traps.
The Hawks (1-7) could turn the tables anytime Houston turns a blind-eye toward the perimeter. The Rockets have allowed first-quarter opponents to hit an NBA-high 50.8 3FG% in the opening frame, the sole team to have allowed foes to sink over half of those shots.
The Rockets do have defenders, like Trevor Ariza, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Tucker, and Clint Capela (NBA-high 37.8 D-Reb% and 70.7 FG%). But those players would rather be occupied trying to stem forays by Schröder (one of 11 NBA players with 45/35/90 shooting split, min. 100 minutes played) into the lane, access that should be more unfettered without CP3 around.
Atlanta will need Marco Belinelli (48.9 3FG%), Luke Babbitt (season-high 16 points @ PHI on Wednesday, 2-for-4 3FGs), and Prince (48.1 3FG%) to get early perimeter touches, allowing the Hawks to play their opponent even or in front, rather than scrambling from behind later. If everyone does their tasks for the Hawks well tonight, from the outset, the only “Atlantans” scratching and clawing on the court could be the ones aiming for a boost in tweets and TV ratings.
Let’s Go Hawks!