Official Game Thread: Nets at Hawks


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“Excuse me, Mr. Ref? I don’t think this is basketball!”

 

Rasslin’ fans: what is your most memorable heel turn?

Seth Rollins breaking up The Shield? Nobody can forget Bash at the Beach ’96. My favorite WCW shocker in the 90s was big-bro Scott on the Steiner Brothers, sneak-attacking his baby-faced sibling Rick to join that badass new World order.

In more modern times, Tommie Ciampa busting up bosom-buddy Johnny Gargano happened while nobody in NXT was expecting it. They bonded again, but only to find themselves prey to Crossfit Jesus Finn Balor’s stunning heel turn on them.

Shawn Michaels smashing up poor Marty Jannetty, once and for all, in Brutus the Barber’s shop was downright iconic. Go back even further, and Larry Zybysko bloodying his ageless mentor, Bruno Sammartino, with a wooden chair created a lot of buzz.

As a gimmick, the heel turns are all part of a necessary evil. Everybody can’t be friends until the end, or the goodie-two-shoes hero who does everything by the book and bores every fan to tears. To grease up the adversarial relationships, competitors eventually must jump ships and turn on their mates. Pupils defying masters, masters waylaying pupils.

When they’re executed best, the works catch everyone off-guard, tear up old alliances to create new ones, and keep everyone at the edge of their seats. The new heels, from Hollywood Hogan to Big Poppa Pump to the Savior of SmackDown, engender whole new cults of personality. The victims draw sympathy for their plight, making their babyface runs reach unforeseen heights as well.

That’s what made Steve Nash’s heel turn on his disciple, Trae Young, last month more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys.

“Steve Nash is my favorite player of all-time,” the fresh-faced true frosh from Oklahoma revealed in the run-up to the 2018 NBA Draft. “With his size and my size, we’re very similar. He’s very cerebral, he can score from all three levels, he knows how to get his teammates involved and he’s a winner.” Wait a minute, Trae, what’s this about “three” levels? I thought there were just two-pointers and three-pointers for you little guys!

Soon, Trae would up the ante on the fawning by going beyond mere discussions of “favorites”. Kobe’s kid Gigi had her favorite must-see NBA baller, too, but as far as GOATs go, in Trae’s mind, there can be only one.

“If anyone asks me who the best player of all-time is,” Young, starting his second season as a pro, proudly told Sam Amick in November 2019, “I tell them, ‘Steve Nash’. That’s my favorite player, and it’s always been my favorite player. I definitely try to model my game as much as I can to Steve.” Aww.

I’m not sure who Trae would say is his favorite coach of all-time. Lon Kruger? Aww. One thing, though, is for certain as his Atlanta Hawks get a visit from the stupefyingly star-studded Brooklyn Nets tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). It sure as heck won’t be “Coach Nash.”

Steve understands the task at hand. He’s a first-year coach, handed MVP-caliber talent and ordered to earn some rings, and fast. The whole world is watching him, and learning the ropes on the fly is not an option. He understands that, in order to get his Nets (11-8, 5th in the NBA East) to climb the ladder and grasp the title belt, he’s got to knock upstarts like Young and his Hawks (9-8) out the box, leaving them to fend with the lumberjacks below.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant came to their coach’s rescue as Young’s Hawks waged war with the Nets on December 30, their fourth-quarter heroics seizing the final pinfall of a high-flying, fun-filled 145-141 cage match. Trae wasn’t making it easy. After making his defender scramble around a Clint Capela screen, Young delivered a mini-Rikishi as he went up for the jumper.

The ensuing whistle caused Kevin Durant to grab his head in faux disbelief, and a flustered Coach Nash to utter to the referee what had to have felt like a chairshot aimed at his longtime protégé: “That’s Not Basketball!” Oh, really? Et tu, Brute?

“I bet if I was playing for Steve, he’d be happy,” a miffed Young told The Athletic’s superb Chris Kirschner in response to his hero’s outburst. “I think [Nash] wanting to get in the refs’ ears a little bit was just trying to help him. I learned a lot about drawing fouls from him.”

“If he says it’s not basketball, he must’ve been saying it about himself, because he’s done it a couple of times throughout his career and was so successful.” Mic. Drop. Exit Music. But the cerebral mind games of Stevie “The Brain” Nash got into the heads of the refs and Young, at least for quite a while.

After dropping 30-and-11 (14-for-16 FTs) on the Nets, Trae would score just 21 points (7-for-21 FGs) two days later in their teams’ rematch at Barclays Center. Atlanta would win that New Year’s Day game resoundingly, 114-96, in part due to a well-balanced offensive attack and Irving (3-for-11 FGs) cooling off. But Young could only get 4 opportunities to score from the charity stripe, his first game of this season not getting double-digit free throw chances.

That drought would linger for five of the next six competitions, the Hawks dove-tailing from 4-1 to 5-6 as the refs’ swallowed whistles neutralized the offense built around Young. 33.0 PPG on 14.8 FTs/game, and 50.7/34.8/90.3 shooting percentages to close out the 2020 calendar year; 16.5 PPG on 5.8 FTs/game, and 33.3/21.4/82.9 shot splits in the half-dozen games after the Nets series. Nice work, “Classy” Stevie Nashty.

But it appears that over the past five Hawks games, Trae has been drawing his bumps and getting up off the mat (33.0 PPG, 10.8 FTs/game, 46.1/40.7/87.1). The rediscovered effectiveness of his perimeter jumpshot is opening defenses back up for him to exploit them. Trae’s bounceback sets the stage for an intriguing payback match this evening, one with a new, special-guest competitor.

But, first, a quick look back.

In the entirety of his illustrious NBA playing career, MVSteve never once averaged 20 PPG in a regular season. The last time in his life the first-ballot Basketball Hall of Famer did so, he was a 20-year-old, still in college. Go ask Lloyd Pierce and Marlon Garnett, they were standing right there!

The Hawks lead and assistant coaches will recall, back in the 90s, Nashty Nash upping the craftiness of his foul-draws, and thus, his shots at the free throw line from 3.2 to 6.4 per game. In so doing, that took a gangly and otherwise unremarkable Canadian junior from the lowly WCC conference (and not from John Stockton’s Gonzaga, either) and placed him formally on NBA scouting radars.

Fast forward ten years, and the guard reached MVP strata, trying to prove his mettle as the Rated R Superstar in the NBA Playoffs. No more was he simply serving up the ball to watch Dirk Nowitzki drain the life out of the shot clock. In Phoenix, Nash and his coach Mike D’Antoni understood, there’s hardly a need to peek at the clock, as play decisions must be made, and fast. Deservedly facing double- and triple-teams while bringing up the ball and at the point of attack, Nash began drawing contact again.

A 12.9 percent free throw attempt rate (as per bball-ref) for the point guard, in his final season as a first-round exit with Dallas, became 23.0 percent, 31.3 percent, and 28.8 percent rates as his Suns made their peak charges toward the Western Conference Finals.

Thanks largely to free throws, and his legendary accuracy, Nash would average 20+ as a scorer in his first two playoff runs with the Suns. The signature foul draw of his career was getting Rob Blaked by Robert Horry into the sideline boards during a pivotal Game 4 in 2007 and, boy oh boy, Nash sure sold the heck out of that one, eh?

Sold it so good, he tricked two tag team partners, Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw into getting themselves tossed and suspended, sapping any momentum Nash thought his Suns would gain by having the refs kick Mr. Playoff Clutch out of the ring.

“Four years later,” Raja Bell admitted in 2014 in one of those newfangled things called a podcast, “I’m hanging out with Steve at a bar in Santa Monica somewhere, or somewhere in L.A., and he says that he gave that hip check (from Horry) a little bit of flair.” Whooooo!

Just be glad The Canadian Crippler didn’t smash a bottle of LaBatt Blue Light on your head for leaking out the tricks of his trade, Raja! “He admitted to putting a little sauce on that hip check,” Bell confidently shared of Nash’s famously flubbed flop. Mamma Mia, that’s a not a basketball!

It was actually Raja running up on The Horry-ble One and nearly getting chokeslammed, not so much Nash’s zesty sauce, that drew the DQs of Stoudemire and Diaw, but that’s neither here nor there. Horry got two games, the other Suns got one apiece. Advantage: Tim Duncan. The Spurs, not the Suns, would go on to sweep young LeBron in the most royal of rumbles. Despite Nash’s best sell, there would be no new World order in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.

And maybe that’s what gets Nash’s gander up when he watches Trae (57.0 free throw attempt rate) waltz to the line with impunity. Like last night, when an exasperated Tyronn Lue, coaching his clipped-down Clippers in a handicap match, could only look on in horror as Young (11-for-11 FTs, 7-for-7 in the second half, along the way to 26 points in the Hawks’ 108-99 win) curried favor with the greyshirts.

Basketball is not former Nets head-honcho-turned-heel Jason Kidd demanding Tyshawn Taylor run into his gin-and-Coke so Brooklyn could gin up a timeout it didn’t have. It’s not even the player Kidd racing, toward a clueless Mike Woodson standing outside the coach’s box, so he could run into Atlanta’s coach and draw a momentum-swinging technical.

Trae has simply watched what the legends of the league have done, and he works tirelessly on improving upon that. It’s not that petite guards with crafty handles drawing fouls isn’t basketball. It’s that there’s a petite guard in the league drawing fouls better, and earlier in his career, than Nash ever could.

We can’t forget, either, that Nash is no longer just some casual, objective mark, but a manager who’s been handed championship-belt expectations from the jump. He’s standing just outside the ring, begging the refs to give his poor jobbers like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot a break when they forget the game plan and find themselves, once again, hoisted up on Trae’s back. No, not another F5!

If what Trae has been doing wasn’t basketball, the self-appointed arbiter of what is or isn’t basketball should have marched himself right up the glass tower to Sean Marks’ front office and told his GM that under no circumstances should Brooklyn be going after The Dirtiest Player in The Game.

Alas, here is James Harden, in nWo black. That’s right, the guy “Not basketball”-ing his way to leading the NBA in free throw attempts in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, is joining forces with Irving and Durant in a quest for greatness. What’re you gunna do, brudder?

Nash stood by and watched as the Nets tossed Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and I think B. Brian Blair and Rocky King over the top rope to make room for The Bearded One. All that, plus a trove of future picks and pick swaps that Nash could have used if he and Marks were around to rebuild this roster, if necessary, should the grand plan fail. If the inference wasn’t clear that it’s Win or Bust for Nash before acquiring Harden, it is now.

Down the bench, D’Antoni can tell Nash of how he inherited a contender that spent years under Harden and Dwight Howard getting dispatched in the postseasons by the likes of diminutive Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry, only to find his squad getting bounced by Curry and, this past season, LeBron (don’t blame Clint Capela), despite Harden pairing up with another former league MVP.

Harden and D’Antoni escaped H-Town after Daryl Morey’s maneuvers left the Rockets with a sizable hole at the 5-spot that only P.J. Tucker could spackle. In the 2021 Playoffs, at crunch time, who is Brooklyn’s last line of defense around the rim? Will it be Durant (7.2 D-Rebs/game, 1.4 BPG), who is already giving it his all at the other end of the floor (NBA-best 139.4 4th-quarter D-Rating)?

If not KD, DeAndre Jordan? Reggie Perry? Norvel Pelle? Nic Claxton? Jeff Green? Guys like Bam Adebayo, who amassed 41 points and 9 dimes on Saturday propping up a Miami team that’s been missing Jimmy Butler for a minute, would have field days on the interior if Durant is occupied guarding talented forwards.

While the Nets defense (115.2 D-Rating since dumping LeVert, Allen, et al. for Harden, 25th in NBA) contracts to help, the backcourt cannot afford to find themselves getting tuned up like Bickerstaff’s Collin Sexton did while wearing Kyrie’s old number last week. And don’t let a key frontcourt guy like Durant or Jordan get banged up and miss critical time.

Three thirty-point threats, and a guy who can bury triples in Joe Harris (48.4 3FG%), used to be enough when teams struggled to average 110 points and play with pace, but no more. On a shallowed roster with few rotational options, can Nash commit Harden and Irving (1.2 SPG apiece) to a sustainable defensive strategy that’s greater than, “I score, you score”?

Just to be sure, Nash is going to want to see his stars put a squash job on Trae and the Hawks, who avoided a deflating loss last night with a solid second half. But Young has his share of enforcers. John “C-na” Collins racked up 50 points (61.8 FG%) and 19 rebounds in the last two Atlanta-Brooklyn bouts. There’s also Kevin “Fourth Querter” Huerter, whose Hawks high of 13 points (3-for-3 3FGs) in the final frame helped Young and De’Andre “The Giant” Hunter (team-high 23 points @ BRK on Jan. 1) snip the Clips last night.

Danilo Gallinari (probable, ankle) missed all but 3 minutes of the two-game series in Brooklyn. He was held under 15 minutes yesterday and is rounding back into form.  Rookie Onyeka Okongwu was DNP’d against LA and can provide valuable floor time plugging the paint after Capela (questionable, hand; 18 rebounds vs. LAC) and Collins (11 boards, 5 blocks vs. LAC). Any defensive help Cam Reddish (questionable, Achilles) can offer tonight is gravy.

Nash did offer a touch of kayfabe after the December 30 game, flowering his 22-year-old professional prodigy with praise. “[Trae] took a big jump from last year to this year at drawing contact and recognizing situations where he can draw contact to deceive the opponent,” Nash said postgame, as transcribed by Bleacher Report. “It’s impressive, and he’s done really well. He’s getting to the line at a league-leading rate. I’m impressed and I think it’s a real skill he’s developed.”

With Harden sharing usage with Irving and Durant, the race to crown a new #1 contender for the free throw title is on, Young (10.9 FTAs/36) neck-and-neck with giants like Embiid (12.2) and Giannis (10.9) for that coveted spot. As The Beard (7.1) tries to catch up, pulling copious foul-call flops out of his bag of tricks tonight, it would be fun to catch Nash’s other former tutee, Pierce, calling it out: “Hey! Ref! That ain’t basketball!” Nash might think he’s Jim Cornette standing up for his Horsemen and their henchmen, but his old friend LP can bring a tennis racket to the squared circle, too.

 

RIP Sekou! Let’s Go Hawks!

~lw3

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You know how much better this team is?  We are mad as hell because we should have beat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden on the second night of a back to back.  I'm excited! When Capela and

Patient controlled Cam is a problem

Folks acting like we got blown out.  Geez

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Previous Nets game, Cam guarded Durant and Hunter was on Kyrie, now we add Harden into the mix.

If Cam is a no go - who does Hunter guard? Kyrie or Harden or Durant?

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This game is gonna be a good one. Nice test.. wish we had bogie. 

Soo0o0o xcited

1 hour ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Would it be okay to let Clint play while wearing an Ove Glove?

~lw3

Did not know capela was such a monsterrrrrrr

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Cavs beat then twice playing 2 traditional bigs at all times..No Solo at PF tonight please..Going small wont work LP..

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No changes on the 5:30 injury report. Even if Rondo can find the right shoes to wear, he's still listed as Questionable due to a sprained ankle.

EDIT: Clint Beastgood's good to go. See JayBird's post below w/ Sarah's notes on minute restrictions for Danilo and others.

~lw3

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2 minutes ago, bleachkit said:

Rondo has been a disappointment. Thought we had our back point guard position taken care of, guess not.

I said the other day, he hasn't played well.  I wonder if the Pels would want him for Lonzo Ball.

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23 minutes ago, bleachkit said:

Rondo has been a disappointment. Thought we had our back point guard position taken care of, guess not.

Hopefully he pays off later on in the season and playoffs if we make it..

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I don't care what anyone else says Trae shoots TOO MUCH!!!

 

Dre has 2 shots and Trae has 8

 

They both have 4 points

 

He is a pseudo ball hog like I have been saying

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      DeAndre’ Bembry zigged, gambling to deflect a pass out to Atlanta’s own Anthony Edwards on the corner. The Timberwolf zagged, and as the rookie hesi’d and sprinted down the left baseline, Bembry was left trying to warn his two-way Japanese teammate that he might want to not get in the way, and certainly, for all that is holy, not jump.
      Yuta Watayudoin?
      “It was definitely something me and Kyle (Lowry) was joking on,” Bembry recalled to Yahoo Sports’ William Lou (no relation) and gameday reporters a couple weeks ago, about his rookie teammate’s naivete after being left hung out to dry during an otherwise awful Raptors-Wolves game in February. “That’s going to happen, but yeah, we try not to look back at that dunk.”
      It’s always easier to move on from a spectacular play, conducted at your expense, when you eventually win the game. That was the case for the Hawks, who visit the Toronto Raptors once more in Florida (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; TSN in TOR) just two days after Clint Capela got valiantly flushed upon and the Hornets played the rest of the game as if they had already run off the floor in jubilation.
      It was also the case when Edwards’ mates could point to the Jumbotron, but Bembry’s could point to the final scoreboard. The 86-81 victory in Minnesota was about to be one of the final joys of the Flo Raptors’ topsy-turvy season. Even if Bembry and Lowry wanted to look back fondly, there was a lot of awfulness in between.
      Perhaps the first sign the Hawks’ season could be turning around came after the All-Star Break, Atlanta coming into Amalie Arena fresh off a recent coaching change and walking out with a rare buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer, courtesy of Tony Snell off a nifty dish from Trae Young. But the first sign the wheels were coming off the Dinos’ footmobile came about a week earlier, when Dwane Casey’s Pistons stopped by and made Tampato paste, by a 125-104 score.
      On that evening, Nick Nurse’s crew had no answer for Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Svi Mykhailiuk, Mason Plumlee and Saben Lee. Well, they had one answer, as Norman Powell tried to carry the load with 36 points. But the loss dropped the Flo Raptors to below-.500 for what looks to be the final time of the season. The defeat also presaged a near free-fall out of the playoff picture during the madness of March (1-14 that month), much of that period with the looming distraction that Lowry was certain to be moved, by team prez Masai Ujiri, on his birthday, coincidentally the NBA Trade Deadline.
      At least for a few more months, Lowry remains with the organization that he, with a little help and some good fortune, guided to championship glory in 2019. Powell, however, did not make it past the deadline before getting shipped to Portland, Ujiri attaching a trade exception while getting back Gary Trent, Jr. and reclamation project Rodney Hood. Masai cleaned out much of the incumbent backcourt behind starters Lowry and Fred VanVleet (out, hip), sending Terence Davis and Matt Thomas packing for 2021 second-rounders while cutting Patrick McCaw loose.
      Trent is fitting in nicely, having scored 69 combined points on back-to-back evenings in Cleveland and New York over the weekend. But with the Raps (21-33, 4-16 since March 1) back to losing three of their past four games, Lowry lugging through the games with some sort of turf toe, Pascal Siakam (25.6 April PPG; career-low 44.9 FG%, below the 45.3% from last year’s All-Star season) trading choice words with Nurse in postgame locker rooms, and OG Anunoby thinking he’s main-eventing WrestleMania with Dennis Schröder, it’s as though their heads are elsewhere, as if they left their heart in Toronto. Spicy P was Exhibit Z on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
      Just in the Knick of time, New York was about to Knicks the game away in the closing seconds as Toronto clawed back from 18 down in the second half. Up by just two but with a chance to seal the game away, Alec Burks lofted a lazy pass that was plucked by Lowry, and three Raptors were off to the races. Receiving the ball, Siakam had the choice of kicking it to the corner for the probable game-winner, or to get as close to the basket as possible in hopes of a layup or a shooting foul. Siakam seemed to decide he’d try to do both. Double dribble. Knicks win.
      It was not the first of a comedy of late-game errors and shortcomings by Siakam (28.6 clutch FG% team-worst minus-27 plus/minus), leaving many to wonder if Pascal’s wager is that the future teammate to join him, OG and VanVleet for a return toward championship contention exists, in the form of a 2021 NBA Draft Lottery pick.
      Toronto hasn’t missed the playoffs since Casey was coaching Lowry and the Atlantic Division’s last-place Raptors in 2013; Kyle was the reason that year’s pick wound up in OKC’s hands for the selection of Steven Adams. (Later that summer, Toronto acquired a future Nuggets pick from 2011’s Melo deal, and drafted Jakob Poeltl #9 in 2016). The last Lotto pick the Raptors “earned”, and kept, was Terrence Ross in 2012. So, I suspect Siakam agrees, they’re about due.
      As for the Hawks (29-25), they enter today’s game as close to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference (8.0 games behind Philadelphia) as they are to Toronto (8.0 games behind Atlanta) falling out of playoff chances entirely as the #11 seed.
      Atlanta won’t be able to re-animate the Young-to-Snell game-winner, as Young (bruised calf) remains questionable to play while Snell heals up his sprained ankle. Danilo Gallinari (sore foot) also remains doubtful, and there are no pleasant developments among the Hawks’ M*A*S*H ward, leaving some of the Raptors (I suppose, maybe just Nurse at this point) hoping they can win a war of attrition.
      Still, the Hornets provide far more resistance to Atlanta’s advances than the Raps are likely to do, if the Hawks come out swinging as they did when they opened with a 26-10 sprint on Sunday, essential to their eventual 105-101 victory.
      Brandon Goodwin (nine 1st-quarter points @ CHA, on 4-for-4 FGs), yes, Solomon Hill, and yes, Kevin Huerter (five 1st-quarter assists @ CHA) caught Charlotte off-guard, facilitating strong efforts from more usual suspects Bogdan Bogdanovic (career-high 8 threes, Hawks-high 32 points @ CHA; now back over the 40.0 3FG% line) and Capela (Hornets had one O-Reb in the quarter). If the Hawks can follow up with earlier contributions from Lou Williams off the bench, Tampato’s tent might more easily fold.
      The Raps, keyed on by the charge-drawing Lowry, want to keep teams out of the interior (42.2 opponent paint points per-48, 2nd-best in NBA). But if Atlanta can continue to find a hot perimeter hand, from Bogi or elsewhere, Lowry would much rather counter on drives inside, while Nurse’s club doesn’t have the volume-shooting VanVleet to help Trent and Anunoby keep up.
      The Raptors, for the moment, are the edge of the firewall that ensures Atlanta, despite their spate of injuries and early missteps, achieves at least a Play-In reservation. The Hawks need to keep piling on the points and paving on the losses, seeking their first head-to-head season sweep in ages (3-0 vs. TOR in 2010-11) from a club that has swept them over the prior three seasons.
      This is a season to forget for Canada’s Team, and the more unnecessary wins, the less soon they’ll be able to look ahead to next season – knock on wood – back home. If things get dire late in the fourth quarter tonight, you might catch Siakam leading his huddled teammates in a rendition of “1-2-3, CLEARWATER!”
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “I’ll allow one chair throw at halftime, Mel. ONE. Make it count!”
       
      Excuse the good folks of Charlotte, North Carolina if they’re tuning out of social media tonight, shortly after today’s affair between their Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks (1 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in CHA and ATL, 92.9 FM in ATL).
      Following up on great documentaries reviewing the NFL’s 1983 and the NBA’s 1984 draft classes, NBATV is airing “Ready Or Not”, the stories of the many noteworthy players who put on shiny, baggy suits and shook David Stern’s hand at the 1996 NBA Draft.
      Charlotte’s a lovely town, I’m sure, to live in, especially when you’ve got wads of cash to stash, and it’s even a fun place to root on the local teams in teal. But on a couple occasions every year -- some predictable, some not -- a twister of commentary blows across the Queen City, the product of a combination of blissfully unaware Gen-Z’ers and millennials and crabby boomers and Gen-X’ers. The unifying sound, like an oncoming train, blares the same way every time: “The Hornets traded away WHO to get Vlade Divac?”
      25 years of defensiveness and diviseness over a trade that’s become the stuff of legend will wear on anybody. When the quarter-century anniversary of the day of the 1996 Draft comes around, on July 29, and again on 8/24 Day, when the “What If?” thinkpieces make their way back around the Internet, Charlotteans will rather just dip into their shells than go around snapping at people. “12 other teams could’ve had him before he fell to us! We weren’t even trying to draft him!” Okay.
      While trading away a raw high school prospect named You Know Who was arguably the second-most notorious of own-goals in NBA Draft history (as an aside: get ready, Charlotte’s getting an MLS team next year! Copycats.), it was not necessarily the worst in Bobnets/Horcats team history.
      Never mind 2021, former #3 pick Adam Morrison is still crying somewhere over Gonzaga’s 2006 March Madness run, and ACC fans around town sobbed that he couldn’t at least have been Shelden Williams. Missing out on CP3 the year before, and having to settle for Raymond Felton, wasn’t much of a consolation. At least Justise Winslow’s struggles help to make everyone forget about Frank Kaminsky. When they did hit on somebody with a Lottery pick – Emeka Okafor, Kemba Walker – the Charlotte brass failed spectacularly at building around them. Baron Davis might have become the exception, had then-owner George Shinn not literally screwed his way out of town.
      In the middle of 2017-18, GM Rich Cho got the MJ Axe in part because, while backup guard Malik Monk (out, sprained ankle) is a’ight, he’s here while Donovan Mitchell, John Collins and Bam Outtadabyou are not. P.J. Washington is passable as a starting forward, by default, but he’s hanging around here at Spectrum Center only because Cho’s replacement, Mitch Kupchak, is still here, too, while his UK teammate drafted next, the sneering Tyler Herro, is not (statistically, passing up Herro for P.J. has been a wash, but the fawning national media can’t seem to tell).
      As a backup big with the occasional open three and highlight-reel dunk, Miles Bridges is a’ight, as evidenced by his team-high 26 points in Friday’s 127-118 win against Mike Budenholzer’s Half Dollars in Milwaukee. But he’s here, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is not. If you wish to find a Draft day mistake from 2018, it’s a good idea to start, and end, there.
      What may become the 1996 Draft-trade reprise, from 2018, was not the finest hour for Mitch, the beneficiary of the old adage that if you can’t beat the Lakers, hire somebody the Lakers just pushed out. Yet not everything is about the top of the Draft, and not everything Kupchak and the Hornets have done in the past few years have been flops.
      Literally the next hour after trading away SGA, Charlotte sent the Hawks a pair of second-rounders for their selection of Devonte’ Graham, who carried the Hornets through the dregs of last season until the pandemic disruption. While his interior scoring skills have been wretched, Graham has been the league’s premier backcourt on-ball defender (NBA-best 4.20 Defensive Real Plus-Minus, as per BSPN; only Mike Conley and Pat Beverley are in the low 3’s), a literal “3-and-D” point guard that could have been a more useful complement as a backup to Trae Young (questionable for today, bruised calf; 4th-lowest among tracked PGs with a minus-3.23 DRPM).
      A couple days later, Charlotte got the least-stiff among Timofey Mozgov, Julyan Stone, Jerian Grant and Bismack Biyombo in a multi-team deal. Biyombo knows his role – block a shot, dunk a ball, try not to get hack-a-smacked, sit the heck down – and plays it well enough that he’s starting now.
      With the departure of John Wall and Aaron Gordon to other teams, there remain just two NBA players who have yet to leave the team that drafted them Top-5 in 2013 or any years prior. There’s Jordan Brand ambassador Bradley Beal, with the Wizards at least for now. And there’s Cody Zeller, who has remained serviceable in Charlotte for as long as he can stay upright. The big-bag contract extension he signed in 2016 (we’re gonna need a documentary on that train-wreck of an offseason, too) comes off the books after this season, allowing the Hornets space to be players this summer (autumn?) during free agency.
      Living up to his name, Kemba walked in 2019, but Kupchak still managed to get Terry Rozier for his troubles via sign-and-trade. Since leaving Boston, Terry’s jumpshot is no longer scary (40.5 3FG% this year, 40.7 percent last season), and he has embraced his role of being the reliable finisher in the clutch (3.5 clutch PPG, 0.2 PPG more than Young; 52.2 3FG%). Charlotte is 16-6 in clutch situations with a league-best +3.7 team plus/minus, spearheaded by Rozier (+4.0, best among NBA’s highest clutch scorers, min. 15 clutch games played). Mitch also pried agent Gordon Hayward free from Boston’s clutches this past year, netting extra second-rounders in the process, and folks still wonder why the Celtics don’t look so formidable this year.
      The flip side of screwing up drafts so routinely is, you tend to find yourself back in similar spots with a chance to make amends. Charlotte lucked out by leapfrogging Atlanta (and Cleveland, New York, Detroit, and Chicago) to wind up with the 3rd pick in the NBA Draft, and needed only to do so much work as to let LaMelo Ball fall into their laps.
      Coupled with the Hornets’ crunch-time viability, Ball and the flashy play that accompanies his flashy family’s name (team-high 7.7 assists per-36), is what made Charlotte a League Pass darling. Until a broken wrist a few weeks ago derailed his nightly threat of achieving triple-doubles (made good, for the first and only time, so far, in Charlotte’s 113-105 win over the visiting Hawks back on Jan. 9), Ball’s 2.9 Win Shares metric was blowing away the rookie competition (your per-48 Win Shares leader in the rookie clubhouse? Onyeka Okongwu, naturally).
      You can’t say the Hornets would have fared much better, or any worse, under the tutelage of Steve Clifford, but James Borrego has been proving himself to be capable of designing winning plays when the talent is healthy and growing together. Charlotte has suffered a few big losses in games since the All-Star Break, but no actual disappointing ones, unless you count losing by 30 in Boston last Sunday, just days after the oft-injured Hayward (out for at least three more weeks) sprained his foot. They’re back home following a six-game road trip that took them no further west than Oklahoma City.
      A question. When was the last time a reigning Eastern Conference champion kept their coach and their core intact entering the following season, and then failed to win their Division? I’d venture a guess that it has been a minute. Hawks ace assistant Melvin Hunt was with then-player development coach Lloyd Pierce in Cleveland, when GM Danny Ferry’s 2008 Cavs ceded the Central Division to the Rip Hamilton’s Pistons. Coach Bud was primed to pounce, in 2015 with the Hawks and in 2019 with the Bucks, when LeBron bailed from respective locales of Miami and Cleveland, but James was essentially the core, so those teams don’t count.
      With apologies to firestarter Solomon Hill, the Miami heat’s biggest loss in the 2020 offseason was starter Jae Crowder, the Villa Rican heading west to Phoenix in free agency. Literally everyone else returned. Miami added a Top-20 draft pick and sought out mid-season upgrades in the form of guys named Oladipo and Bjelica. And it still might not be enough to secure a Southeast Division title.
      So, sure, at this stage of the season, this Hawks fan is getting greedy. I want another banner to gawk at when peering up in the State Farm Arena rafters next fall. Context, schmontext. Someone is going to have one that says, “2020-2021 Southeast Division Champions”, with no asterisks sewed in, and I’d much rather that joint be dangling in Georgia, than in North Carolina or Florida. Hawks fans had to wait over two decades for our last division title, why hold out any longer for another?
      Atlanta (28-25) can’t win a tie-breaker over the Hornets (27-24, ahead by percentage points for 4th in NBA East), thanks to the defeats at the latter’s hands during the same week back in early January. But the Hawks could get at least one more win in hand in the race not only for a coveted 4-seed, but the Southeast Division title.
      Our futbol brethren, Atlanta United didn’t sit around waiting for old-hat clubs and wannabe regional upstarts to enjoy their days in the spotlight, first. Josef and the Five Stripes entered the sport, named it – We’re the Kings of the South – and claimed it.
      Even as Ball sits, the national media is prepping for Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal to hand LaMelo the baton as the marquee-ready fresh face of the NBA Southeast. Trae Young’s Hawks, however, have a great opportunity to seize not only the division, homecourt advantage over perhaps the Hornets or heat, and a momentous first-round victory, but the prevalent narrative, of who is the Southeast favorite going forward, in the process of it all. Ready, or not.
      Barring a playoff meeting, it looks like the Hornets will avoid the wrath of Tony Snell (out, sprained ankle) and, in they’re lucky, Danilo Gallinari (questionable, sore foot), the latter of whom came alive 15 fourth-quarter points in the Friday’s 120-108 win over the Bulls.
      Graham, Rozier and the Martin Twins, Zan and Jana, were able to sink their teeth into Young (combined 7-for-28 FGs, incl. 0-for-8 3FGs, 13 assists and 12 TOs vs. CHA in January) largely because he had next-to-no perimeter help. Everyone aside from Kevin Huerter in the 102-94 loss at home on January 26, shot 5-for-28 from downtown. Aside from Hill (3-for-5 3FGs) a few nights later in Charlotte, things didn’t get much better (11-for-40 3FGs everyone else).
      The one fellow who could change the outlook today, easing things up for Young (1-for-6 3FGs vs. CHI, but 11-for-14 FTs and copious floaters for 42 points, plus 8 boards and 9 dimes) and/or Lou Williams (15 points and 3 steals vs. CHA w/ LAC on March 20), is Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogi is eager to avoid a slump after missing all four three-point attempts in Atlanta’s comeback win over Chicago (I’m told Zach LaVine is still at The Farm this morning, trying to break Wilt’s record).
      Having outside shooters the Hornets must take seriously will open up the paint (CHA’s minus-1.9 paint points-per 48 is 3rd-largest differential in NBA East, worst among East playoff contenders) for Clint Capela (22-and-10 vs. CHI), Okongwu and the Hawks’ driving guards. If Atlanta is to avoid a season sweep today, they will want to do as other opponents have done and put Charlotte to bed early, avoiding a late charge led by Scary Terry.
      Hornets fans will be tuning in to the game, cheering their team on in hopes of victory in this Sunday matinee of Southeast Division rivals, then turning their watching devices off and unplugging everything for 24 hours. I can’t blame them. It’s not like their team passed up on That Man for Priest Lauderdale or something.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Myyyyy kind of big, CAPELA is…”
       
      According to the tale told by the United States Golf Association, a former manager at New York City’s prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel and part-owner at the Biltmore, was playing a round at a golf course where he was a member, the Country Club of Montreal. The native Canadian, David Mulligan lined up, swung from his shoe-tops at the tee, and was way, way off. Looks like no Masters for you, Davey Boy!
      His foursome buddies found it all the more hilarious that, instead of heading for the forest to play that ball, he reached for another one, and simply teed off again. He called it his “correction shot.” His bon amis found it more apt to name the ploy after him.
      Returning to America, in the NYC suburbs at the legendary Winged Foot Golf Club, Mulligan carried the name to the game that would bring his surname fame. About a century later, the “Mulligan” is granted in the oft-casual play of many of sport. As a more professional example of its application, the Atlanta Hawks earned themselves a Mulligan from fans, for their defensive breakdown this past Wednesday against a similarly short-handed and at least equally-tired Memphis Grizzlies team.
      The “Mulligan” is a fine example of how immigrants influence the nomenclature, the etymology behind so much of our American sports lingo, if not the sports themselves – word to James Naismith. German immigrants in Chicago, after all, are considered to be the fathers of “Cracker Jack,” the snack product that makes peanuts feel a bit redundant at the ballpark. It begs the question: should a Swiss-born center and Trade Deadline acquisition that’s capable of turning around an NBA lottery-level team’s fortunes be called a “Capela”? Or, rather, a “Vucevic”?
      The recent and, one hopes, thoroughly uneventful retirement of former Chicago Bulls rookie and Hawks glue-guy Thabo Sefolosha leaves the NBA with three Schweiz natives. Aside from Portland’s Swiss-Turkish expatriate Eric Kanter, there’s our old friend Nikola Vucevic, the two-time All-Star newly of the Bulls, and the Hawks’ First Team All-Defense finalist Clint Capela. The latter two, born on opposing shores of Lake Geneva, could tip things off tonight (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Chicago) in Atlanta’s first game versus an Eastern Conference foe in 26 days. That is, if Capela can be cleared after sitting out the Memphis game with a sore Achilles.
      He may originate from Geneva, but Clint’s defensive prowess and impact on the Hawks (27-25), since being activated this season, has been far from conventional. By modern NBA standards, he was quite the ironman throughout Atlanta’s West Coast road trip and the extension of the Hawks’ winning streak during the first two games back home. He averaged 15.7 points and 13.7 boards while blocking 2.3 shots in 30.4 minutes per contest. Further, Swiss Bank had been money at decent percentages, for him, around the rim (57.7 FG%) and at the free throw line (73.8 FT%). Capela definitely earned at least a couple days to heal up nagging heel and hand pains.
      Chicago’s newest tag team of executives, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley (“Karsley”?) want that kind of Army-knife impact for themselves. It’s why they went out at the Trade Deadline and nabbed not just one quality Euro import in Vooch (22.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.9 APG in 7 Bulls contests), but a second one, the German ex-Celtic Daniel Theis. While Capela was acquired by Atlanta in 2020 for what I believe was a croque monsieur with Emmental cheese, Chicago was willing to part ways with this years’ (top-4 protected) and 2023’s first-round picks for the chance to double-up on their All-Star roster count while making a sincere run at a Top-6 playoff spot.
      The last two times Capela was shelved, for mid-March contests against Cleveland and Houston, Hawks coach Nate McMillan made do by elevating Italian stallion Danilo Gallinari to Atlanta’s starting five, alongside dunkin’ Deacon John Collins. Neither was available this past Hump Day, and rookie Onyeka Okongwu (13 points, two blocks, 11 boards vs. MEM, his first of many career double-doubles) and public relations director Solomon Hill proved to be valiant but, to the surprise of few, inadequate substitutes against Jonas Valanciunas and friends.
      Atlanta guards, caught overcompensating for the absence of Capela and Collins to help out in the paint, found themselves susceptible to all manner of open gunners and transition runs from their Grizzlie counterparts. Kyle Anderson, shooting 54.5 percent on the night, was the sole Memphis starter making field goals below a 55 percent clip. Despite Trae Young being neutralized along the perimeter and at the charity stripe (0-for-4 3FGs, 2-for2 FTs), the Hawks’ overall offense was fine on Wednesday, but due to the slumped effort at the other end, it was like fighting fire with a Bic lighter.
      New Bulls coach Billy Donovan can only hope for similar generosity from the Hawks’ defenders today. After an adjustment period that stretched a losing skid to six games, Chicago (22-28, 10th in NBA East) has begun hitting their stride. They’re looking to win their fourth consecutive contest after escaping the sidewalk-slamming Raptors in Tampa last night to expand their lead for the final Play-In seed.
      Lead scorer Zach LaVine’s shot has been wayward lately (40.4 FG%, 24.4 3FG%, 72.7 FT% in his past six games). Still, Chicago hopes the Hawks’ struggles to thwart runouts after turnovers and misses will convert one end of the State Farm Arena floor into a runway at O’Hare for LaVine. (Whenever you’re ready, Mr. Dunn, jump right on into the fray).
      The Bulls have been giving their top-10 first-rounder, season-long starter Patrick Williams, trial by fire ever since the season-opener, a 124-104 win by the Hawks in the Second City on December 23, pairing him lately with veteran forward Thaddeus Young.
      The replacement of Wendell Carter and Otto Porter with Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu, plus, frankly, the departure of bench detritus in the multi-team deal that brought in Theis and swingman Troy Brown, affords Billy D the opportunity to re-fashion Finnish big Lauri Markkanen (18 points, 8-for-10 FGs, team-best +23 plus-minus @ TOR yesterday) as a luxury reserve. The transformation of the Bulls into a club that can go comfortably two-deep across all positions gives their postseason prospects new life.
      If Gallo (questionable, sore ankle) and Capela are no-goes yet again today (like Collins, De’Andre Hunter will remain out for several more games, too), Nate Mac may want to grant Nathan Knight, the two-way big who has the size and athleticism to at least track Vucevic inside and out, and the offensively-challenged but functional rebounder Bruno Fernando more minutes at the five-spot, allowing Okongwu to instead split duties with Hill against the Bulls’ healthy and deeper frontline.
      The goose and gander proverb applies today to LaVine, who had three steals last night but also committed five turnovers, and the Bulls on a SEGABABA. On the season, Chicago allows 18.4 points per-48 off turnovers (3rd-worst in NBA), and their team turnover percentage of 15.4 is equally ranked. Donovan’s club ought to be getting a tad road-weary as well, as they’ve played just once at home in their past six games, and won’t see United Center for another three, when Vucevic’s former team from Orlando pays them a visit next week.
      The Hawks are demure when it comes to forcing turnovers (12.6 opponent TO%, tied-3rd worst in NBA) and, because Hawks, Cam Reddish isn’t available to help in that department, either. But the increasingly limited security around the rim should compel a change in defensive calculus for Atlanta. The team’s active leader in thefts, Kevin Huerter, has registered a goose-egg in steals in seven of his last nine games, and the Hawks would do well to have him take a gander when the Bulls’ ballhandlers are caught overdribbling.
      Getting LaVine, Vucevic and Coby White to put the ball on the floor, getting strips, loose balls and outlet passes, and outracing the Bulls to the other end, should help Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic (last six games: 21.8 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 56.5 3FG%) create for themselves and other Hawks. LaVine’s latest starting backcourt mate and defensive stopgap, Tomas Satoransky, had 19 points, 11 assists and a pair of steals on Sunday to help Vucevic and LaVine beat the KD-less and Harden-less Nets in Chicago on Sunday. But if Atlanta takes off repeatedly in transition, the Czech guard can’t conceivably check both Hawks guards by his lonesome.
      Home games today, and on May 1, represent the buns Atlanta will consume on a 13-game Dagwood sandwich of Eastern Conference opponents, a crucial stretch that could accelerate the path toward a coveted Top-6 playoff spot. The Hawks have spent most of the past 30 days watching these teams from afar, rooting on those teams’ opponents to victory while aiding them in the standings. But now Atlanta is tasked with taking care of business, directly, to sew up the postseason themselves.
      If the Hawks (Play-In Magic Number: 14, Top-6 Magic Number: 19) can come away with at least seven wins over that 13-game stanza, then, indeed, that would be a tasty burger. It sure would taste better, though, with plenty of Swiss chard and Swiss cheese. And pile that cheese high, please, because as we know, too many holes is known as a “Kanter.”
       
      RIP, DMX! Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3