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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!
"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!
“I beg your Pardon???”
Happy Georgia Granite Gray Friday!
But for a few shoppers cutting each other off in traffic while fighting to get to that last 60-percent-off smart 4K HD toaster oven at the outlet mall, I’d have already been back at the lab crafting up a gamethread for tonight’s Atlanta Hawks game in Indiana against the Pacers (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana). Alas, here we are!
My large, adult son of what should have been my large, adult father, Domantas Sabonis (18.9 PPG and 13.3 RPG) has gotten over his preseason contract squabbles and is playing really good basketball, y’all.
Coach Nate McMillan’s club has made things work quite well (11-6, 6th in NBA East, winners of 4 straight and 11-3 in last 14 games) despite missing key components for much of the season, including Team USA seat-warmer Myles Turner (back from an ankle sprain), Hawks 30-win-stopper Edmond Sumner (out, fractured hand) and newcomer guards Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb (both back in action; Brogdon’s 96.0 FT% is 1st in NBA). When Victor Oladipo gets back up to speed, watch out!
Hopefully, that won’t be until after December 13, when these teams meet up at State Farm Arena and the Hawks (4-whatever) will (knock on wood) have Kevin Huerter in tow by then. In the meantime, some more of that middle-quarters magic from Wednesday’s Milwaukee loss, spread out earlier and later in this contest, could help Atlanta enjoy a much more favorable conclusion before hitting the skies for Houston tonight. At least DeAndre’ Bembry can’t foul Sumner this time around.
Let’s Go Hawks!