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This makes the Knicks tougher for sure.   We'll see if Thibs can manage Rose's minutes or if he'll throw in out there for 35+ a game.  

Knicks are crazy.  Randle leading the team in assists with 6 and it's not even close.   

Doesn't seem like the Pistons got much in this deal.   They couldn't pry Kevin Knox away?

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    • By lethalweapon3
      “What’s that you want, Coach Thibs? ICE? ICE? ICE?”
       
      It’s not just our Atlanta Hawks under a cold spell! They’ll get to understand this from a front-and-center view all this week, as it seems the entire Eastern Seaboard, from the Georgia mountains north, has been walking through a winter plunder-land.
      By the time Our Fine Feathered Friends depart on Tuesday morning for Boston, after tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network) concludes, the near 40-degree temps will feel downright balmy. It’s probably the only time the Hawks will spend this week free of some combination of frigid temperatures and slippery roads and sidewalks.
      Just 0.5 games behind Atlanta (11-15) in the standings, the current 11-seed Chicago Bulls, playing the Pacers in Indy tonight, are the thin layer of ice keeping the Hawks in the Play-In picture. To keep from falling through, unconventionally, the Hawks must bring some warmth to their proceedings with the Knicks (13-15, seeking 3rd straight win) and the Celtics. But on a team that has lost six of their last seven games, with no sign of reinforcements coming in from the cold, who is providing the rays of sunshine?
      “Where my coach? Where my coach?” Johnny Davis’ heart swelled with pride as he was summoned to center court to share in his star player’s glory. “Is he around?”
      Allen Iverson declared his All-Star Game MVP trophy as a “tribute”, to his teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers, his family, his day-one friends. But, first and foremost, to Coach Davis. It had been up to this point a rocky, uphill climb, each of them in their fifth season together. Yet they were reaching the pinnacle of Iverson’s success as an All-NBA superstar, their team was making moves and making waves as perhaps the best in the Eastern Conference, and The Answer left no doubt as to whom he could credit, at the moment of his highest achievement, to date.
      Of course, you know it didn’t quite happen that way. Not for Coach Johnny D. The former Hawks assistant went 22-60 with a rookie Iverson, Jerry Stackhouse, and flotsam on the ever-rebuilding Sixers. The bespectacled Larry Brown would reap the rewards. Davis wouldn’t get another crack at a head coaching gig for seven seasons, as an assistant taking the reins for the struggling and fired Doc Rivers down in Orlando.
      Davis’ reward, for coaching another terrible team through another terrible season? A lottery win, bringing Atlanta prep sensation Dwight Howard down to the Magic Kingdom, joining Steve Francis and a suddenly spry Grant Hill. The Magic carpet ride ended for Davis when a 31-27 start led to a six-game losing streak that began right when Hill, again, got hurt. Five years later, Howard would lead Orlando to the Promised Land of the NBA Finals, but it was Stan Van Gundy holding the coaching reins by then.
      For folks like Davis, Detroit’s Scotty Robertson, Chicago’s Kevin Loughery, Stan Albeck and Doug Collins, Seattle’s K.C. Jones, among those coaches who lived long enough to catch the country ditty “I Got The Boy,” on the radio, I just know they turned that dial all the way up. “Winning” a lottery pick, and even “winning” in the sense of developing the pick into quick stardom, often can mean “losing” a job while coaching up the team around him.
      Nurturing a lottery prize into an All-NBA-caliber talent, as a coach, then being tethered for the rise toward championship contention, is awfully rare. Just go off the top of the 2018 NBA Draft alone. How many of the top-ten lottery picks are already on Head Coach #2, or some higher number, in their current locales? I think we can count the coaches still standing – Rick Carlisle, Steve Clifford, Lloyd Pierce – on one hand, and maybe still have a digit or two left over. In their respective cases, hopefully no GMs or owners are thinking of using those fingers to throw up deuces anytime soon.
      Kevin Knox didn’t even turn out to be the best takeaway for the Knicks in 2018’s Draft (that would be second-rounder and center Mitchell Robinson, who will miss about a month or so after injuring his hand in Friday’s 119-101 win in Washington). Knox and Robinson transitioned from coaches David Fizdale to Mike Miller to current taskmaster Tom Thibodeau, who has the Knicks feeling as confident as they have in quite some time.
      Thibs’ aid in making the Knicks look not-too-shabby is so appreciated, on a high-profile franchise that hasn’t sniffed a playoff appearance in eons, that the fact he has benched and all-but-shelved Knox for the past ten games is no real biggie.
      Thibodeau became one of those “You Got The Man” coaches, when he took over for Vinny Del Negro (for the “crime” of back-to-back seasons of .500 ball and first-round exits) right on time for Derrick Rose to become the league’s youngest-ever MVP in his hometown of Chicago.
      But Thibs didn’t just simply take over. He crafted a defensive juggernaut around a scoring star not known to exhibit much defense at all, using role players like Taj Gibson to lock opponents down. Perimeter scoring help off the bench from Kyle Korver certainly helped, too.
      The balance worked out, to the tune of 60+ win-quality seasons and rave reviews. But for Thibodeau’s reputation for running players into the hardwood, via excessive practices and playing time among those he entrusted, and Rose’s resultant career-changing injury in 2012’s NBA Playoffs, there’s no telling how far the two could have advanced as an offense-defense pair.
      Rose never wavered in his outward appreciation for Thibodeau, even after the Bulls years washed out and the two found their way to Minnesota. “I stuck with him and he looked out for me,” D-Rose wrote in his 2019 autobiography, “I’ll Show You,” as his coach leveled with him about his limited control over the now-veteran’s playing time with the T’wolves. “That’s one of the reasons I stuck with him and wanted to come back.” Now they’re reuniting again, and it feels so good.
      “I’m feeling grateful, anxious,” said Rose (14.7 PPG and 1.7 SPG in 3 Knicks games, 54.8 FG%), now a former Piston after being traded to New York in exchange for Dennis Smith, Jr., to the New York Post, “but at the same, I know what I have to do coming here. It’s about helping the young guys, playing as hard as I can, and, for one, thanking Thibs.”
      Styles clash, as do eras, yet Rose’s age-22, MVP-season stats (24.1 points, 7.4 assists, 3,0 rebounds 1.0 steals per-36; 48.1/33.2/85.8 2FG/3FG/FT shooting splits) can be compared with Trae Young’s current age-22 line (27.2, 9.8, 4.1, 0.7, 45.1/36.7/88.6). Perhaps even favorably, in Young’s case. Unfortunately, a half-baked Hawks team around Young only adds to the skepticism as to whether Pierce will be around to see things through. The swirl of media-borne skepticism around their team’s direction will only heighten as the losses mount and the touted All-Star weekend in Atlanta approaches.
      Much was made of LP’s defensive 75-second ramble last week, when pressed about how, exactly, he expects Hawks opponents to “feel us” defensively. If Young (now ahead of only 3 players, out of over 460, with his minus-2.67 DRPM, as per ESPN) sincerely hopes to keep Pierce around, he would do well to adhere to any of those defensive details, focus on perfecting them in games, and then publicly praise his coach when those efforts lead to stops and transition buckets.
      To be a player-coach duo worthy of keeping together for the long haul, it’s incumbent upon Young to make opponents, and fans, “feel” them as sympatico. As the subject of LP’s derision, The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner infers, post-game statements after a loss like, “I just think a lot of teams are throwing things at us that we’re not prepared for right now,” are another day, another opportunity to d@mn one’s coaches with not even faint praise.
      Trae fans have been miffed by the perception of a souring relationship between the Hawks star and his head coach, likely emanating from the cold reception LP initially gave to Young being omitted from the Team USA “finalist” list of 40-some players last winter. With the likelihood that a multitude of American veterans, particularly those that had limited postseason exposure and can afford to wait for 2024, will graciously bow out of playing under Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Pierce this summer in Japan, there is a reasonable chance Trae will be tabbed as an alternate. It would be ideal for Young and his coach if, into and through this summer, they still share the same NBA employer.
      In New York, Thibs isn’t weighted down with the misguided decisions of Knicks management past, as evidenced by the Smith trade. The regime that passed up on SGA, the Bridges, Empire Stater Kevin Huerter, and Michael Porter for the upside of Knox has been impacted, too. GM Scott Perry now answers to team president Leon Rose, the former CAA super-agent who hopes to woo top-tier talents to Manhattan again, or at least away from that other borough.
      A team-wide commitment to inchworm tempo (lowest pace in NBA) and vice-grip defense (107.2 D-Rating, better than all except the Lakers and Jazz) includes Julius Randle, a candidate for All-Star and Most Improved honors (career-highs of 22.4 points, 9.6 D-Rebs and 0.8 steals per game; also 36.6 MPG, because Thibs), Alec Burks (1.2 steals per-36), 35-year-old addition Gibson, and even lotto-rookie Obi Toppin (1.3 blocks per-36). Thibs has taken vinegar to several players’ defensive oil and, with some vigorous shaking, made a tasty vinaigrette.
      Even without Robinson, the shot-swatting pivot, the Knicks have shown the ability (and willingness) to step up defensively while dialing up the offense all the way to 11. To sweep its back-to-back this weekend, New York returned from D.C. and heated up the nets by hitting 12 of 28 3FGAs in a 121-99 win over the Rockets. The day before, season-highs of 50 defensive rebounds and 11 steals (4, by the inspired Rose) helped cast a spell on Alex Len and the Brad Beal-less Wizards (held to 9-for-34 on threes).
      With steady veteran Elfrid Payton helping rookie Immanuel Quickley handle the rock, the Knicks’ players turned the ball over against Houston just seven times. They’ve only committed more than 20 turnovers as a team on one occasion, back on December 29 in a win at Cleveland. Thibs knows that when his team wins the turnover and loose-ball battles, or, in the case of their win in Atlanta on January 4, taking higher-quality shots, his team gives itself the chance to prevail on most nights. Randle enjoyed a 28 point, 17 rebound, 9 assist evening in Atlanta last month, as did second-year pro RJ Barrett (26 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) in a similar fashion.
      New York starters took just 12 threes against the Hawks last month, sinking only one. But they played to their strengths, unimpeded by Hawks defenders (4 ATL steals, 2 blocks vs. NYK), and superior bench play from Austin Rivers and Quickley helped the Knicks overrun Atlanta in the final frame. As with the 38-13 Pacers fourth-quarter run along the way to a 125-113 home loss on Sunday, it’s a painfully perpetual theme for Atlanta (NBA-worst minus-8.4 4th-quarter Net Rating, incl. 118.1 D-Rating, 29th in NBA) that only Pierce, and an offense-minded “closer” in Young (NBA-high 5.7 TOs per-36 in clutch minutes, min. 10 games played), can collaborate to fix.
      Nerlens Noel, the #6 pick of 2013’s NBA Draft, moved into the Knicks’ starting lineup on Sunday, in place of Robinson, and he is putting up the kinds of modest yet impactful numbers (last 3 games: 6.7 PPG, 10-for-15 FGs, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG) one can only hope we can one day see out of the NBA’s most recent #6 pick. While Onyeka Okongwu figures out how to blend into Atlanta rotations on both ends of the court, tonight may be a good time to offer Syracuse native Nathan Knight some steadier frontcourt minutes behind Capela and John Collins.
      Pierce and his staff get little public credit for helping mid-tier pick Huerter (career-bests of 54.1 eFG%, 1.3 TOs/game and 1.2 SPG) become an All-Rookie second-teamer and a decent perimeter gunner, for ensuring Collins remains a worthy “Hey, let’s see if Atlanta will take our trash so the restricted free agent won’t leave them for nothing!” talent, for helping Clint Capela be the contributor everyone hoped he could be, for helping De’Andre Hunter become the sophomore pro hardly anyone was expecting. And it is just a rolling assumption that Trae’s swift ascension toward All-Star strata is all-natural, a foregone conclusion.
      That is all understandable LP’s positive work gets overlooked, given the results in the standings and the scoreboard often fall below expectations for Atlanta’s Basketball Club. Without a voice with gravity standing up on behalf of Coach Pierce before, during, and after the games, with persistent floundering and the appearance of tone-deafness, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility Young wakes up one morning to a bucket of ice water, courtesy of an old-fashioned drill sergeant like Jim Boylen, or winds up extracting splinters from his video-room seat while enduring a Hubie or a Fratello-type telestrator tongue-lashing.
      It’s not Lloyd’s job to be his star player’s eternal source for spotless, sunny dispositions. But Trae and his fellow young core of Hawks may soon figure out, too late, that there ain’t no sunshine when he’s…
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “OMG, Claire! Can you believe this? Our Lyft driver is the one and only Kris Humphries!”
       
      It’s Game #2 of Must-Win Week #2! Despite a C-minus effort on MLK Day, our Atlanta Hawks passed their first test with a win over the shorthanded Timberwolves. But here’s a Red Alert. The last-place Detroit Pistons returning to State Farm Arena today (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit) are not the last-place Pistons that the Hawks beat here in December.
      When the then-unbeaten Hawks fended off winless Detroit (now 3-10), coach Dwane Casey’s crew had two first-rounder rookies, Killian Hayes (now out indefinitely with a hip tear) and Saddiq Bey starting together in the backcourt. Grizzled vets Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose were rested and inactive. And the Pistons had to fly back home, saving their energies for a game against Golden State the next evening.
      This isn’t to say the Pistons are good now. Just that they’ll knock you clean off your high horse, if you roll a D-plus effort out there on the floor. Just ask Miami. Absent Jimmy Butler due to COVID protocols, the heat strolled home after dropping two straight in Philly, the last one by 17 points, only to fall at home to Detroit by 20, Miami players giving up the ball 22 times due to turnovers (sounds familiar?).
      The defending Eastern Conference champions, still sans Jimmy Buckets, got their chance at revenge in the same building two nights later. Yet they dug themselves in a 12-point first-quarter foxhole, then had to scramble and hang on to escape on MLK Day with a 113-107 victory over the Pistons.
      Coach Casey’s seat is warm, by design, as a lame duck under the purview of new GM Troy Weaver. He remains confident that his long-term status isn’t dependent on near-term player development. Youthful charges Bey, center Isaiah Stewart, Svi Mykhailiuk, Deividas Sirvydas and Sekou Doumbouya aren’t getting much burn as Casey relies on multi-year vets (including 23-year-old wayfarer Josh Jackson, whose defense is giving his slipshod career new life) to fill his short rotations. The Piston pupils are nearly non-existent on nights that aren’t part of back-to-back pairs.
      If he had his druthers, Detroit’s head coach would have them checking in against the Skyhawks and the Bayhawks, not the Hawks (6-7). “…they should be learning the G-League,” Casey told Omari Sankofa of the Freep about his blue-chippers on Tuesday, “making mistakes and learning from them in the G-League instead of our (NBA) games.”
      Even without much reliable depth for Casey to turn to, only one of Detroit’s ten defeats have been by more than ten points. They’ve stayed within shouting range throughout because Jerami Grant has been making plenty of All-Star noise. The Son of Harvey, already in his fourth NBA stop over seven seasons, is dropping career-best numbers (24.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.7 3FGs/game, 86.3 FT%).
      As a 2020 free agent, Grant expressed his appeal for working under an African-American coach+GM combo, and Casey is rewarding him with free reign as the Pistons’ new franchise face, good timing since Griffin’s gasket is leaking lots of oil (career-lows of 14.3 points per-36 and 0.1 BPG; 38.3 FG%, 35.2 FG% in 18 brief appearances last season; 67.9 FT%). Like Charlotte’s Gordon Hayward, and New York’s Julius Randle, Grant (27 points @ ATL on Dec. 28, tied with Jackson in the 128-120 loss) needs teams, like the Hawks and heat, that get caught slipping defensively to help his team escape the Eastern Conference basement and shine up his resume at All-Star voting time.
      The final bell hasn’t rung for Professor Griff just yet. Bleak Blake’s still averaging 4.3 APG (1.7 TOs/game), aiding Rose (team-high 5.1 APG, off the bench) and Hayes’ replacement starting point guard, Delon Wright (4.1 APG, 0.9 TOs/game) in creating ample shot opportunities, at least many more than Detroit’s foes can hoist (NBA-low 83.8 opponent FGAs; 17.2 opponent TO%, 2nd in NBA). Grabbing more steals, taking higher proportions of threes from the field, and crashing the offensive glass more frequently than last season, is all what keeps the Pistons more in the ballpark than the Tigers.
      The problems come when Grant’s teammates, like hot-and-cold Hawkslayer Wayne Ellington (7-for-11 3FGs @ MIA; 2-for-7 @ ATL on Dec. 28), Griffin and Wright aren’t hitting shots outside, or finishing inside (team 48.3 2FG%, last in NBA; 49.8 eFG%, 28th in NBA). Atlanta, fortunately, has a forward duo that can keep Grant and Griff inefficient when they’re on the floor together.
      I am here for De’Angry Hunter! (Way better than The Angry Whopper, no?) De’Andre is out here having it his way -- going up for ferocious dunks, wrestling away 50/50 balls, lofting threes with no hesitation, keeping candy away from babies at game’s end, even chewing out refs on bone-headed calls and drawing techs? My large, adult son!
      While watching Zion and N’Awlins taking their turn at getting flame-broiled by the red-hot Jazz on national TV last night, one of my Hawks Twitter faves (@REGGIES_WORLD) asked aloud, “You know who would look good on the Pelicans right now?” Aren’t you hungry? A double-digit scorer all season long, this will be the 12th opportunity in Hunter’s budding career to serve up consecutive 20-burgers for the first time (10.5 PPG in prior 11 chances), if he is indeed good-to-go tonight (probable, sore knee).
      With Clint Capela (28.8 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA; 23-and-15 plus 3 blocks vs. MIN) doing the dirtiest of the dirty work around the defensive glass, John Collins and Hunter are ((slides on titanium draws)) powering forward. Their positive +12.6 Net Rating as a duo in Atlanta lineups is surpassed in the NBA East only by KD and Joe Harris (+13.6, min. 300 minutes played), and currently 6th-best overall.
      Tack on Trae Young (8.9 APG and 88.9 FT%; multiple 3FGs, despite a season-low 8 FGAs vs. MIN, for the 2nd time in his past seven games), even with his wayward floaters and jumpers, and with refs trying their darnedest not to fall for his Nashketball tactics, and the Collins-Hunter-Young trio (+12.7 Net Rating, 3rd-best among NBA East 3-Man Lineups w/ 200+ minutes, 6th-best anywhere outside L.A.) is only a Crosby or a Stills short of a supergroup. Teach your children well, LP!
      Hopefully, Cam Reddish (upgraded to questionable, bruised knee) or Kevin Huerter (3-for-8 3FGs, 8 assists, 2 TOs, 4 steals vs. MIN) can become that fourth wheel, although four shouldn’t be needed to turn Atlanta into the true Motor City tonight.
      Individually, Young (probable vs. DET, sore heel, although the ggod news is his wrist is fine) is just a marginally superior defender in the early going, compared to the balance of his past season. But after enduring Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, the esteemed Vince Carter, and the M.I.A. tandem of Alex Len and momentary Piston Dewayne Dedmon in last year’s frontcourt, Trae’s learning that not being the league’s worst defensive player often comes down to the company you keep.
      My only ask of De’Andre, as the serene sophomore begins to shed his Dr. Bruce Banner persona, is that he not try to keep up with Trae in the turnover department. It can be easy being green, if you play possessions looking less like Kermit The Frog flailing about, and more like The Incredible Hulk.
      The Hawks can be top-tier competitive (2-1 w/ team TO percentages below 10.0%, as per bball-ref; wins over Philly and the Nets, with sole loss @ BRK) when it’s only Young turning the ball over frequently. Hunter’s six TOs versus the T’Wolves on Monday, tying Trae and contributing to Atlanta’s season-high 24 player goofs, negated his and his team’s own defensive stops and were but his only significant blemishes.
      Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce must work on his game plans to improve off-ball anticipation on offensive possessions, his players effectively resetting when a play call is countered and the need to shift to Plan B, with a Drew-ian sense of urgency, arises. Such execution is essential against a Detroit team that thrives off scoring chances after producing turnovers (19.5 points per-48, 5th-most in NBA). A slop-fest won’t work against the Pistons as it did against the shorthanded T’Wolves.
      The Hawks need not look ahead, but that doesn’t mean their fans can’t. COVID-craziness notwithstanding, next week’s slate includes a visit to Budworld, where Giannis awaits, and home games with first Kawhi & PG, then the fat-suit-less Harden, KD & Kyrie in town on back-to-back nights. Will we get a well-rested and recuperated Wizards bunch in Washington next weekend? We’ll see.
      The week after that? A four-game homestand, but with LeBron and AD, then Luka and the Jazz on a back-to-back, then a Tampato team that’s shedding dead weight (sorry, Alex) and is on the mend. Atlanta will then get four days off, but only before heading to Lukaland for their next, and finally scheduled, national TV appearance.
      Things could go south, or soar north, in a hurry for the Hawks. But it’s the outcomes of those games, not the ones against the Knicks, Cavs, Hornets, Timberwolves and Pistons, that ought to define how one looks at this season’s success. It’s why Must-Win Week #2 cannot afford to go the way of Must-Win Week #1.
      The Georgia Tech men’s basketball team is aiming to win their third-straight ACC game, and fifth in a row, with a chance of rising to 7-3 tonight by beating 20th-ranked Clemson on the road. Unfortunately for Tech, they’re not Top-25 ranked, and may still not be even in victory, in part because their season has already been defined, by Thanksgiving weekend losses at home to local Peach State “rivals” Georgia State and Mercer. Once you do that, nobody wants to hear about how you beat blue-bloods Kentucky and UNC.
      You don’t want to be the Yellow Jackets; you want to be the team that does the stinging of weak opponents around here. Atlanta will have roster reinforcements coming along soon, and they don’t need to show perfection yet, although cutting the turnovers in half would sure be nice. Today, and on Friday in the rematch with D’demono Russell in Minnesota, we do need the Hawks to avoid another buzzkill, by at least showing us they’ve mastered their B-game.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3