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“As Seen On TV, it’s Coach Lloyd’s SUB-A-SCRUB-O-METER TM! Now available in Volt Green. In Stores Now!”
((HEEL TURN ADVISORY!))
Would you all, please, lift our dear Brother Taurean up, in your thoughts and heartfelt wishes?
Some are called. Few are chosen. And Taurean Prince is among The Few. The Proud. The Players the Hawks Deal Away in Hopes of a Tasty Draft Pick.
Brother Taurean didn’t ask for this. He was perfectly fine with running it back once more with a rebuilding Atlanta club, enjoying copious feeds from Trae Young along the way. Instead, he returns to State Farm Arena tonight in a Brooklyn Nets uniform (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). Here, he’s got not one, but two, NBA fanbases pulling for him.
Prince himself was the Lottery prize the Hawks received, if not coveted, via Utah in 2016’s NBA Draft, when it was time to recoup some value for the contract-expiring Jeff Teague (I’ll always believe the Magic snatched Domantas Sabonis one pick earlier to keep him away from us, but that’s neither here nor there).
Ignoring a brief Tankbuster Taurean phase at the end of 2017-18, he never emerged as a star-worthy talent in Atlanta. But he did enough to establish himself as a versatile mid-tier starter in this league, sufficient for the Hawks to engage in The Netspick Game with Brooklyn for the first time since 2012’s stunning Joe Johnson deal.
The Hawks also got a mid-level 2019 first-rounder, used by Travis Schlenk to finagle his way further up the draft boards for De’Andre Hunter, and the remains of Allen Crabbe. But the juiciness of a Lottery-protected first-round pick hangs in the balance, carrying over up through the next two seasons if it doesn’t convey to Atlanta in 2020.
Oh, but about those upcoming seasons. Kevin Durant’s Achilles ought to be back to about 90-ish percent by the time the curtain opens on 2020-21, his planned pairing with fellow grumpy All-Star Kyrie Irving making the likelihood of a worse record than the Nets (10-10; 7th in NBA East) will have at this season’s end to be low. It’s the main reason why, from the Hawks’ perspective, charting the progress of Brooklyn’s Prince is all about F.U.N.! (That is, the Fierce Urgency of Now!)
Back in July, things were setting up nicely for Taurean to assume the departing DeMarre Carroll’s solid support role with former Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson’s club. Kyrie this year, KD next year. Rotation players Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris remained in the fold. Veterans Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple and DeAndre Jordan were on the way.
But it seems as if Prince’s signing of Brooklyn’s two-year, $29 million contract extension offer (one of just six 2016 Lottery picks and, along with LeVert, nine Draft classmates to earn an extension) came with a catch or two.
Chandler was supposed to get beaucoup minutes at power forward, as a KD stopgap, but he was slapped with a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s Anti-Drug policy (the nerve of that guy!). None of Rodi Kurucs, Henry Ellenson, or rookie Nic Claxton, in Atkinson’s estimation, are prepared to log major floor time.
All that has left Coach Kenny to turn to Prince (career-high 6.0 RPG, 3rd on his team behind center Jarrett Allen and his backup, Jordan), early and often, to be the team’s starting power forward, as he resorts to essentially a three-guard top line featuring Dinwiddie, Temple and Harris. When Sean Marks had an opportunity to add a player in the aftermath of LeVert’s mid-November thumb injury, the Nets exec chose to add yet another swingman in Iman Shumpert, underlining that to Brooklyn, Prince is their huckleberry at the 4-slot.
Oh, and a busy stretch-four, Br’er Taurean, if you don’t mind. On a team that has last season’s three-point percentage leader in Harris (44.2 3FG%) and a guard in Dinwiddie (career-high 20.7 PPG; 32.5 3FG%) that’s eager to supplant Irving’s offense since he can’t supplement it, the Nets have Prince hoisting more three-point attempts (7.1 3FGAs per game, 15th among active NBA players) than either of them.
On the somewhat good side, he is making threes (39.6 3FG%, down from a career-best 44.1 3FG% last season with ATL) nearly as well as he’s hitting his other field goals (career-low 40.4 2FG%). The erratic nature of his shooting (including a career-worst 70.4 FT%, on barely over one FTA per game) used to be an item left for discussion on random online game threads. But now in NYC’s media powerhouse, Brother Taurean’s up-and-down shooting grabs headliner attention.
“Taurean Prince’s inconsistent 3-point shooting problematic for the Nets,” wrote Brooklyn’s USA Today watchdog outfit NetsWire a couple weeks ago, off a five-game spell where he shot just 32.3 3FG%. Then, late last week from NetsWire, “Hot or cold, Nets encouraging Taurean Prince to let shots fly at all times.” That came after a 5-1 stretch for Brooklyn where Taurean shot 42.6 3FG%, before Sunday’s 109-106 home loss to Miami where he went 2-for-9 from… deep (does Brooklyn have its own “Downtown,” one not named Manhattan? I’m just asking).
“Everybody knows their role,” said Harris (only other Net beside B.T. to start in every game so far) when asked by NetsWire about Prince’s shot selection, or lack thereof on occasion. “And everybody’s on him consistently just to let it go, regardless of make or miss. He could miss his first ten, we all have confidence in him that he’ll make the next ten.” In Atlanta, we had the LTMFF brigade, too (usually led by Brother Kent), but Brooklyn (42 percent of FGAs are for threes, 2nd-most in NBA East) is quite serious.
Irving (shoulder rehab) remains a question mark for the balance of the season himself. Kyrie (28.5 PPG, 7.2 APG) will miss Brooklyn’s next two games and has appeared in just 11 of 20 contests to date. On the plus side, Atkinson has guided the Nets to a 6-3 record without Uncle Drew around to save them. Says here that, tonight ((HEEL TURN ALERT!)), I would not mind if the positive trend continues.
I’m just happy that they’re not putting “secondary play-setter” on Brother Taurean’s already full plate (1.9 APG, 2.2 TOs/game). The Nets would be wise to send more lobs and post touches in the direction of Allen (NBA-high 66.7 FG%), as the Texas Fro-nado can draw lots of fouls despite his struggles converting them into points (58.0 FT%). But without Irving and LeVert around, the ball tends to get stuck in the halfcourt offense, particularly outside the paint. Brooklyn’s leading active dime-dropper after Dinwiddie (5.9 APG) is Theo Pinson (2.6 APG) and, well, yeah.
The Hawks (5-16) won’t hold Brooklyn to 79 points, as they did in Monday’s win over Tarnished State. But if they can produce turnovers like they did on Monday (23 opp. TOs, most since Oct. 29), convert the goofs of the live-ball variety into buckets, and keep Brooklyn off the free throw line (season-low 12 personals and 12 opp. FTAs vs. GSW), Atlanta would have a decent chance of maybe starting a little win streak. Which is fine, although I’d much rather kickstart that during the 3-game road swing next week.
For Atlanta’s revolving door of active players, DeAndre’ Hunter (out, finger discloation) will tag out with his good hand, as Kevin Huerter (activated, shoulder) uses his good arm to sub in. While Hunter’s on-ball defensive skill will be momentarily missed, it’s hopeful that Huerter can give a boost to Atlanta’s league-worst perimeter shooting proficiency (38.6 3FG%). The team ran circles around G-State despite making just 27.6 percent of their triple shots (ATL below 33.3 3FG% in past five games), so if Huerter can help clear a very low bar, Atlanta’s odds for victory will rise.
Playoffs-wise, the East is really a Big Six, as Indiana will soon have Victor Oladipo back to join Miami and the obvious suspects further up the standings. Brooklyn sits at #7 for now. But they are closer to 9-seed Detroit (2.5 games ahead) than they are to the 6-seed Pacers (3.0 games behind). Their pick being more like Minnesota’s (bless you, Adreian Payne) than the unprotected pick swap-option we got from dealing Joe to Brooklyn, having a productive Prince to keep Brooklyn over the hump helps everybody out in the long run.
Irving may or may not be dampening the team chemistry from within, as the usual rumors persist. But whenever he returns, I’d rather the Nets have as many Ws as they can get already in the stead, not trying to stop a potential three-or-more-game losing skid (the Nets visit Charlotte on Friday, a couple days before a rested Hawks team swoops in).
The early 2020 Draft boards are very top-heavy with backcourt talents. If you’re of the mindset that Huerter is not a long-term sixth-man, then where the market is best saturated with bigs, ones that could have more immediate impacts than whatever the Hawks (last in D-Reb%) are throwing out there right now, would come in the back end of the Draft. It sure would be mighty nice to have first dibs on that particular crop.
The Hawks will visit Brooklyn twice over the next 40 days, so there may be more Must Lose opportunities ahead. But I’d much rather see our ex-Hawk lead the way to victory for the Nets, now, to facilitate a mid-tier draft spot come April, so we won’t have to depend as heavily upon Irving and whatever mood he’s in later.
Twisting an old 80s shampoo commercial to drive home the point: If Brother Taurean looks good, we all look good. Lift our dear Brother up on high, Hawks fans, so he can lift us up (at Draft time) in turn!
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Giving up Rookie donut-fetching duties, talk about how tough that was for you!”
Live, from Atlanta, it’s Stupor Bowl I!
We’ve come a long way from that one banner evening, in February 2015 at The Highlight Factory, when our Atlanta Hawks outclassed coach Steve Kerr’s future first-time champion Golden State Warriors. With their record raised to a league-best 42-9, it sure felt like the home team Hawks could do no wrong. Dare we say, NBA Finals Preview?
Not a single player from that day will be dressed when these two clubs meet tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area) on the same floor. It’s better to say that not one of those players will be in uniform, given Draymond Green (sore heel, read that however you wish, out for tonight) won’t exactly show up in a barrel, while Klay Thompson (probably out for the season, ACL rehab) and Stephen Curry are doing their best Andre Aldridge and Kent Bazemore impressions on the sideline. Not even five years later, many around the league are wondering -- if not outright worrying -- whether tonight will be an NBA Lottery Preview.
Back in the Squawk’s Schedule thread before the season began, I suggested that the Hawks were likely to stumble out of the gate, given their need for the young talent to acclimate, the inherent lack of defensive aptitude and, most importantly, a cruel November schedule. I had them at 6-14 coming into December, so being a couple games off the mark isn’t all that bad, considering the injuries, a significant suspension, and pitiful veteran depth. (Glad no one will ever know I picked all four of their actual wins wrong).
Yet I also marked today’s game as a key turning point in Atlanta’s melodious march to mediocrity, a hallmark victory that would propel the team to 40-or-so wins and a shot at putting a nice scare into a 1- or-2-seed come playoff time. What I could not have predicted was that John Collins would not be coming through that door for a few more weeks, or that Kevin Huerter (shoulder strain) would be trying to return to form for a second time.
I also errantly assumed that the Dubs would at least have Curry carrying them with Trae Young-style nightly figures, and Green holding things down until he gets thrown out of games. Without those headliners, or KD consolation prize D’Angelo Russell, or virtually anyone with championship mettle checking in, not even Kerr, who cut his hand after breaking a clipboard in frustration last week, can summon up enough fire or magic to get his team competitive for 48 minutes.
The exception on the championship mettle front is kinda sorta Kevon Looney (7-8 FGs and career-high 5 assists, in GSW’s win here about a year ago), who was thrust to the fore in the 2019 Finals due to the perpetual absences of KD and Boogie. Bothered by hip and nerve issues, he has been greenlighted to play in his first game since the season-opener tonight. The rest of the crew looks like names the players’ union might be worried about crossing a picket line during a strike. Is that Clifford Franklin and the Jackson Brothers I see out there?
You thought your favorite NBA team had issues with key starters and supporting cast members missing time. For G-State, throw in second-year guard and 2018 first-rounder Jacob Evans (strained adductor), who has played in just 3 games so far, or former Hawk and two-way Warriors guard Damion Lee (fractured hand) for good measure. This was the kind of pivotal Hawks-Warriors game I had in mind back when the schedule came out, but not with Golden State (NBA-worst 4-17) looking like this.
This is as much of a Must Win for the Hawks (4-16, 10 straight Ls, 1-13 in last 14 games), in their current state of flux, as one will find in their schedule. They’ve got the Warriors right where they want them. That is, the people wearing Warriors jerseys on the floor today, only slightly more recognizable than the fans wearing Warriors jerseys in the State Farm Arena stands. Aye, but there’s the rub.
It’s one thing to be challenged by names you know well, like James Harden (how bad was he, from Monday through Friday, to NOT win Player of the Week? Cool story for Melo, though) and Russell Westbrook. It’s another thing altogether when you’re engaged in dogfights, on your home floor, with folks you barely know, where no one is remotely an NBA star.
With all due respect to Boogie replacement Willie Cauley-Stein, Looney, former Hawks Killer and Iguodala replacement Glenn Robinson III (team-high 32.0 minutes/game), Klay fill-in Alec Burks, the career-salvaged Marquese Chriss… who do you gameplan for? “Get Out” director (I think) Jordan Poole? And, why?
The Villanova star turned steady interior scorer for the replacement Warriors has not been 2018 Hawks first-rounder Omari Spellman, but Golden State’s 2019 mid-second-round pick, Eric Paschall (17.0 PPG, 19.9 per game as a starter). Kerr has offered Spellman encouraging compliments of late – “He’s really explosive athletically,” the coach said following Omari’s double-double in a suddenly rare win last week versus Chicago. But it’s Paschall who’s getting the top-line minutes, and the rookie has rewarded them with boundless energy.
Together, the body-double Dubs have some nice-enough size, but the offense (104.7 O-Rating, 25th in NBA) gets stilted when Kerr has too many of them out there at once. That’s especially true when Draymond isn’t in the mix. They also don’t rebound well enough as a team (71.1 D-Reb%, 26th in NBA) for players who often have size, or at least girth, advantages on paper.
This is the rare game where Atlanta *should* be capable of asserting itself at both ends, treating Hawks fans in the crowd to their first home win in nearly a month. It’s the rare game where the biggest star on the floor is a Hawk with a chance to shine. But someone who is not a SLAM magazine cover model has to produce consistently from outside the 3-point arc.
Zach LaVine’s Bulls thought they had a lifeline when they traipsed into Chase Center last Wednesday in search of a rare win. LaVine lit up the Nets with 36 points, but his team as a whole shot 38.2 percent from the field, and they found themselves at the mercies of Paschall, Spellman (2 steals and 3 blocks off the bench, in addition to his double-doub), and point-guard-by-default Burks. Aside from slinging the ball around, Draymond (8 assists) barely had to lift a finger.
The offensively woeful Orlando Magic shot 42.5 FG% as a team, but they had to hang on last night for a 100-96 win at home against a Warriors unit, with Green (7 of GSW’s 21 assists) that will shoot much better than 39.6 percent from the floor in Atlanta. One or two players (like Evan Fournier last night) are allowed to go off, but the Warriors are showing they can thrive against unbalanced opposing offenses.
So far, the only semi-reliable option not named Trae for Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has been rookie De’Andre Hunter, whose 3-for-9 shooting from downtown helped road-weary Atlanta escape Houston on Saturday without a 50-burger loss in the pit of their stomachs. Relieved from the travails of defending in Harden’s grand shadow, Hunter may be in for a banner day tonight if he can just figure out which Warriors to lock onto and exploit.
It is a grand test for the Hawks coaching staff to make sure the players understand and adhere to their defensive roles versus Kerr’s nebulous Warrior lineups. If they comprehend who they’re supposed to guard, and how to get open for convertible shots, tonight, they won’t be worrying over where the fifth win on the schedule will come from, tomorrow.
The Warriors have reason to use tonight as a springboard as well. The next games after this are in Charlotte and Chicago, then back home to face Memphis (probably without Ja Morant) and the Knicks. Atlanta is just 4.5 games out of the 8th spot in the East. But even in the rough-and-tumble NBA West, Golden State sits 5.5 games behind the setting 8th-seeded Suns. A nice little run here or there, and maybe the Splash Brothers might not need to sit out the whole regular season, after all.
Such a prospect might scare a first-round opponent or two, but not the rest of the league. Travis Schlenk and company collecting upper-tier first-round talents like Monopoly Game pieces is one thing. But his former employer getting a top pick with healthy stars returning for 2020-21 runs chills up people’s spines as they look on at Tankathon in dismay. No one ever wants to know that a Wiseman once said, “Man, was I lucky to wind up with the Warriors!”
Let’s Go Hawks!
"It's why I always clean my plates, Daryl. Haven't you heard, there are children starving in Africa?"
Still trippin' on the tryptophan today, so I'm gonna give Daryl Morey and his MIT Sloan Analytics peer-inspired empathetic activism a break today.
Our Atlanta Hawks (4-something or other) will try to gin up enough energy, following last night's overtime close call in Indy, to keep up with James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in HTX).
"Don't Foul Harden, and Box Out" remains the prime objectives as D'Antoniball is still in effect (NBA-highs of 45.4 3FGAs and 29.6 FTAs per game, NBA-low 44.7 2FGAs per game). Yet I do wonder whether D'Antoni and the Rockets (105.6 Pace, 2nd in NBA) are trying to pull a fast one on opponents in more ways than one.
While foes are preoccupied with the downhill drives of Harden (everyone's favorite Hawk at the moment, DeAndre' Bembry lives for this matchup, but he will get to watch rookie De'Andre Hunter face off with Harden more today) and Westbrook, and all the volume perimeter shooting. But they're making barely a third of their three-point attempts (33.4 3FG%, 26th in NBA), producing more field goal offense by pummeling the interior (55.7 2FG%, 2nd in NBA) and drawing favorable whistles. With their most accurate shooter in the rotation, Danuel House (illness), doubtful to play, the Hawks can afford to treat Harden's stepback threes and Westbrook's open takes as a white flag of sorts. The Hawks' on-ball defenders just cannot allow them to go around, or through them.
Clint Capela (illness) is also unlikely to participate tonight, and Nene (abductor) remains out of commission. So you can imagine Westbrook and Harden will be doing the most to compensate offensively with paint drives and dishes. The Hawks' swingmen will want to keep Westbrook and Harden from enjoying straight-line trips into the paint, keeping the ballhandler in front or alongside them, and they may be rewarded with one of those mid-range shots D'Antoni despises.
When alleviated from guarding Westbrook, point guards Trae Young, Tyrone Wallace and Evan Turner will need to help secure rebounds and spark fastbreak chances for Atlanta (note to Bembry: when going 1-on-3, consider passing every once in a blue moon). Houston allows the league's second-most fastbreak points (16.7) per-48. Young and Jabari Parker will have to trade off roles of help-rebounding and sticking with P.J. Tucker (52.6 corner 3FG%) in the corners.
Keeping the short-staffed front line of Houston (12-6, beat Miami on Wednesday at Toyota Center to stop a three-game slide) on their toes -- Tyson Chandler starts... more minutes for Thabo Sefolosha at the 4-spot? -- and potentially in foul trouble will require the triple-double-hunting Rockets stars to be more than mere rebounders on defense.
That's all I got! Time to go reheat some mac 'n cheese.
Let's Go Hawks!