Scouting Report: Denver Nuggets

Saturday, March 15, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Scouting Report: Denver Nuggets

The Hawks (28-35) will host the Nuggets (29-36) Saturday night with an opportunity to string together three consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 16-20. Both teams come in with two-game winning streaks, and the Nuggets will be fresh off of a victory in Miami over the Heat on Friday night.

The Nuggets — like the Hawks — had a terrible February, losing 10 of 11 games from Feb. 7 to March 3, but have recently found a rhythm with four wins in their last six games. For the season, the Nuggets are 3rd in the NBA in pace at 97.5 possessions per game and have the 10th best offense in points per game at 103.6, but, playing at such a high pace, their offensive rating is just 105.9 (17th in the NBA).

Defensively, the Nuggets have struggled allowing 105.7 points per game (28th in the NBA) with a defensive rating of 108.1 (21st in the NBA). Playing with the tempo they do, their points per game allowed are a bit inflated, but they have struggled — particularly defending the paint. The Nuggets are 24th in the NBA against post-ups, allowing 0.9 points per possession (per Synergy Sports). Kenneth Faried and JJ Hickson both struggle defending the post and Timofey Mozgov has been inconsistent as a defensive presence at the rim. 

Lacking a rim protector, the Nuggets have also struggled against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, allowing 0.84 points per possession (27th in the NBA). Jeff Teague had a big second half against the Bucks on Thursday night, finding success being aggressive and penetrating the defense. Against the Nuggets he will have opportunities to do the same, and if he can play with an aggressive mentality he could find a lot of success in the pick-and-roll game.

The Nuggets offense is led by Ty Lawson, who is averaging 18.6 points per game and 9.0 assists per game. Lawson’s speed sets the tone for their up-tempo attack. Lawson forces 1.5 steals per game, and with his speed he is able to convert those steals into fast-break points extremely quickly. In the halfcourt, Denver is an average team with strengths in pick-and-roll ball-handling — led by Lawson — (8th in the NBA) and spot-up shooting (13th in the NBA). Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler provide three-point shooting threats on the wing and are excellent running the floor in transition.

The Hawks — who always place an emphasis on playing with pace — do not have to slow the game down, but rather play with pace under control. Against the Bucks, the Hawks had 19 turnovers — 13 live-ball — that led to 24 Milwaukee points. The Nuggets thrive in transition, and when their transition offense fuels their half-court pace, so limiting those opportunities is crucial for the Hawks’ success. On defense, the Hawks will need to keep a defender between Lawson and the basket on pick-and-rolls and be crisp with their rotations out onto spot-up shooters.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Al Horford Talks For First Time Since Injury

Friday, March 14, 2014
By Robby Kalland

Al Horford spoke to the media for the first time since tearing his right pectoral on Dec. 26 in Cleveland. Horford was in very good spirits and spoke openly about the challenges ahead of him in rehabbing his injury, but also spoke with optimism about the future of his game and the Hawks as a team.

Horford took us through the initial reaction to the injury and whether — because he has had two torn pectorals — the doctors had told him he was more susceptible to the injury than most people.

” was as surprised as I was with the injury. Dr. Duralde, he’s great. I mean, my left side feels great, which was the first injury. We just sat there looking like, ‘really?!’ We couldn’t believe it. One of the things we looked at, he said when we had the procedure he noticed there was some scar tissue — some old stuff — we didn’t really know how long it had been there. It could’ve been years…It was just unfortunate. He said it could’ve been one of those things where I could’ve played the rest of my career and it would’ve been fine, but under the right circumstance it could’ve happened — and it happened.”

Horford is two months removed from the surgery and says that he is still in the early stages of his rehab, but having gone through the same injury with his left pectoral two years ago, he’s got a better idea of how to rehab and what all it will take to be back on the court.

” elliptical and stationary bike. I’m starting to do leg workouts and abs, but nothing with the upper body. Just my rehab routine working on strengthening my shoulder and my back a lot…Yeah, I think I am more confident because it’s an identical injury. It’s the third one that’s happened in basketball and I’ve had two of them. I know what it takes. I know what I have to do, and I take care of my body as best as I can. Not only with the rehab and things, but eating the right way and trying to stay on top of it. So, I’m confident…For me, this is a setback and a challenge, but I welcome it. It’s something that I’ve experienced before and I can do it. I know I can, and I’m working.”

With the injury being to his right pectoral, Horford does expect the rehab to take a little longer before he’s comfortable getting out on the court because it is to his dominant hand.

“No, I think it would be hard, honestly . It’s a little more severe than my other one, and it’s my right side — my shooting arm. So, I want to be 100% confident in it, so I think it’s going to be a little slower.”

While the injury presents a considerable challenge to Horford, he’s not only confident that he can return to play at a high level, but feels that it will force him to improve his game, particularly in forcing him to work on his left hand.

“I think so. I think this is going to make me better. I was joking with Coach Darvin Ham when I first did it. He said ‘when they clear you you’ll have to start working on your left.’ I’ve always neglected and hated using the left hand as much as I can, just to dribble, never to shoot around the rim and stuff. So, I think this will really challenge me to work on that and it’s a big challenge, but I’m up for it.”

Seeing how positive and optimistic Horford is about his future despite the injury, and how he looks at it as a challenge and opportunity to get better speaks volumes to his character and determination. Already an All-Star twice — and he was playing at an All-Star level prior to the injury this season — Horford continues to look for ways to improve. Further developing his game around the rim by adding a left-handed option to his post repertoire would make him an even more dynamic offensive threat, and this injury might be the impetus to add that skill.

Two months removed from the injury, Horford appears to have taken the best approach possible. Rather than being devastated by another lost season, he’s looking at it as a chance to keep improving. The Hawks will have to make it through this season without the Boss, but come next fall they can expect to have a rejuvenated — and possibly improved — Al Horford back on the court.

Jeff Teague’s MONSTER Dunk and Celebration

Friday, March 14, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Jeff Teague’s MONSTER Dunk and Celebration

If you missed Thursday night’s Atlanta Hawks game against the Milwaukee Bucks, you missed Jeff Teague’s game-clinching dunk, which was pretty epic.  You may have also missed his celebration afterwards, which was equally as epic.  Fortunately we put them both in a place where you can see them:

Hawks Comeback To Beat the Bucks

Thursday, March 13, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Comeback To Beat the Bucks

The Hawks fell behind by as many as 13 points in the first half, but fought back in the second half to get a 102-97 win behind strong point guard play from Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder and a flurry of fourth quarter points from Kyle Korver. Teague led the Hawks with 22 points on 70% shooting along with a team-high eight assists and put an exclamation point on the victory with a huge dunk with 27 seconds left in the game.

Hawks vs. Bucks

Photo Gallery

Stats

Teague’s Dunk

Paul Millsap got off to a hot start with 12 points in the first seven-plus minutes, but he foul trouble got him out of his rhythm. Even still, Millsap played well and made a couple clutch free throws late, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

The Hawks were down 89-87 with 2:16 to go, but went on a 9-0 run capped off by Teague’s dunk to set themselves up for the victory. Korver scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter including a big three off an Elton Brand offensive rebound — of a missed Korver three – to give the Hawks the lead at 90-89. Korver was 3-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter and made all four of his free throw attempts.

The Hawks led by one entering the fourth quarter, but the Bucks jumped back in front via a quick 6-0 run. Coach Bud kept Schröder in the game and was rewarded as the Hawks rookie put forth one of his best performances of the season with eight points and five assists with no turnovers. Schröder was able to find a balance between playing aggressive while being under control, and it paid off with four points and a big assist on a DeMarre Carroll three pointer in six minutes of play in the fourth quarter.

“I think I worked on everything with Coach Q and all them coaches, and, yeah, I think I was under control and tried to lead the team and tried to make some good plays,” said Schröder. “Coach said play pick-and-roll and do what you do; try to read it and I tried to be aggressive. If they go under, take the mid-range jumper and the second time they tried to go over and I saw DeMarre in the corner so I pass it to him and he shot it.”

As Dennis continues to get more minutes his comfort with the game is becoming more apparent, and Coach Bud is beginning to trust the rookie in bigger spots.

“I think the beginning of the season I was comfortable, and then I lost it a bit when I was in Bakersfield,” said Dennis. “Now, I think it’s going better and I think Coach trusts me right now and I try to do the best for the team and make some good decisions.”

“He’s played well in a few different games and a few situations,” said Coach Budenholzer. “The Oklahoma City game comes to mind I thought he was really good that night. Considering the circumstances of the game, you know we were behind for most of the game and they came out of the fourth quarter and went on a little 4 or 6-0 run and we lost that lead, the way he responded with a couple buckets and he got DeMarre that three in the corner, I think just considering the time and score and everything that was what we want to see from him and one of his better performances. I just think his attacking and ability to get into the paint — I think they played really good defense tonight, they pressured us and I think that bothered us — but he was able to turn the pressure into a little of a positive for us by him getting into the paint.”

The Bucks got big games from Ersan Ilyasova – 22 points and 10 rebounds — and Brandon Knight — 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists — but were unable to come up with enough offense down the stretch — or get enough stops. Milwaukee did a great job forcing the Hawks into turnovers and converted 19 Atlanta turnovers into 24 points — 16 of those turnovers were in the first three quarters. The Hawks were able to cut back on the turnovers in the fourth quarter and got just enough stops in the final minutes to pull away for the win.

Carroll and Brand both had solid outings as they continue to be key role players in the Hawks’ successes. Carroll had 15 points and six rebounds and made 4-of-6 from three-point range. Brand had just six points, but he was a big factor on the glass late getting a two key rebounds and got on the ground for a loose ball late with Zaza Pachulia — who had four points and five boards in his return to Atlanta.

When asked if the back-to-back wins felt as though they had stabilized the team, Coach Bud simply responded, “No.” Bud pointed out the game was sloppy, and while happy with a win, there was still plenty to build off of. The Hawks showed some of the same defensive lapses that plagued them on their five-game losing streak, but — thanks to aggressive point guard play — they were able to find enough offense to counteract some sloppy defense.

The Hawks will take the win though, as Teague said, “Nobody is bad in the NBA. Any given night, anybody can beat you.” The win gave the Hawks their first back-to-back wins since January 31-February 1. Atlanta will take on the Nuggets at home on Saturday night as they look to string together three-straight.

Tweet of the Night

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Scouting Report: Milwaukee Bucks

Thursday, March 13, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Scouting Report: Milwaukee Bucks

The Hawks (27-35) snapped their five-game losing streak as they closed out their west coast road trip with a win over the Jazz Monday night. Atlanta will look to string together consecutive victories for the first time since January 31-February 1 when the Bucks (13-51) come to Philips Arena on Thursday night.

This will be the Bucks first and only visit to Atlanta this season, which means it’s the only time former Hawks center Zaza Pachulia and coach Larry Drew will be in town. The season has been a disaster so far for the Bucks, who own the NBA’s worst record. The few bright spots for the Bucks this season have come from their young players led by rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-year big man John Henson.

Antetokounmpo is still a very raw player, but at times has shown the potential that has the Bucks — and the NBA as a whole — excited about his future. Giannis is averaging 7.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game on just 41.9% shooting, but as the season has progressed the flashes of brilliance have become more common as he gets more comfortable in the NBA.

The Bucks offense has been inefficient on the whole, with an offensive rating of 99.1 (fourth worst in the NBA) and the team has a collective true shooting percentage of 51.4% (also tied for fourth worst in the NBA). Brandon Knight is the Bucks leading scorer with 17.4 points per game, but takes 14.7 shots per game to get there.

On defense, the Bucks have been just as bad with a defensive rating of 107.7 (second worst in the NBA) giving them a net rating of -8.6 (also second worst in the NBA). With Larry Sanders sidelined for much of the year — playing just 23 games — the Bucks have been without their best defender and rim protector, and the backcourt of Knight and OJ Mayo has provided little resistance to opposing guards.

The Hawks, coming off of back-to-back solid performances, will look to continue their good play as they attempt to get back in the rhythm they had established prior to Pero Antic and Paul Millsap‘s injuries. With Antic and Millsap back in the lineup, the Hawks offense has picked up, scoring 108 and 112 in the last two games. Against the Bucks the Hawks will have a great opportunity to keep that pace going and maintain their hold on a playoff spot in the East.

Defensively, the Hawks have still had problems despite the return of Millsap and Antic. The Hawks will be helped by going up against a struggling offense, but they will have to do a better job communicating on rotations at the rim and on three-point shooters than they have been in recent weeks.

With the Bucks’ defensive issues, this would also be a great opportunity for Jeff Teague to get back on track after a few difficult outings on the west coast trip. Teague is such an important player in getting the Hawks offense going with his ability to penetrate and both facilitate and score on his own that the Hawks need him to get going again during this late season playoff push.

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

Hawks Mascot Buys Video Game “Titanfall” at Midnight

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Hawks Mascot Buys Video Game “Titanfall” at Midnight

Harry the Hawk continues to be the greatest mascot in the NBA.  He’s constantly seen out in the community, engaging with fans at games and just being all-around awesome.

But who knew he was a gamer?

Harry confirmed this fact early Tuesday morning by purchasing Microsoft’s new game “Titanfall” for Xbox One at midnight.  Well…technically Harry had the game in-hand at 12:07 a.m., as there were a few folks even more hardcore than him in line at the store.  Nevertheless, Harry passed the time by doing a bit of gaming while he waited.  Here are a few photos:

 

Analyzing Truly How Amazing Kyle Korver’s Streak Was (And Whether Or Not Curry Can Break It)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Analyzing Truly How Amazing Kyle Korver’s Streak Was (And Whether Or Not Curry Can Break It)

The following analysis is presented by professors Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi of Emory University in Atlanta:

On March 3, Kyle Korver took five three-points shots against the Portland Trailblazers and missed all of them.  This marked the first time in two years that Korver had played in a regular season game without making at least one three-point shot.  Korver has played in over 790 regular season games in the NBA, but his previous streak for games with at least one three-point shot made was only 28.  Clearly, Korver’s 127 games streak is remarkable, but how likely was it?

One method for understanding the likelihood of the streak is to simulate the chances of Korver making a three-point shot in each of the 127 games.  Given Korver’s long history in the NBA, we can use his career statistics to inform our simulation of the streak.  What follows is the setup and results from our simulation. We also offer potential extensions to this analysis, whose completion is truly a function of the level of data available and the level of effort a researcher wishes to expend.

While we know that Korver hit at least one three-pointer per game during the streak, we’d like to know what was the probability of him hitting at least one three-point shot in each game.  In order to do that, we first need to model the number of three point shots attempted in each game.  We assume that the number of three point shots taken in a game can be modeled using a Poisson regression.  This type of regression is common with count (non-negative integer) data.  We model the number of three point shots attempted in each game as a function of factors such as whether the game is at home or away, minutes played by Korver, the record of the opponent, whether the Hawks are in playoff contention, etc.

Once we have estimated the number of three pointers attempted in a game, we simulate the probability of making at least one three pointer using the binomial distribution.  The binomial distribution provides the probability of k successes over n trials, where the probability of success in each trial is p.  In this context, k is a made three-pointer, n is the number of three point attempts (estimated from the Poisson regression), and p is sampled from a normal distribution based on Korver’s historical three-point percentage mean and standard deviation.  The binomial distribution assumes that the probability of hitting a three point attempt in a game is not connected to if the shooter hit or missed his last three-pointer (there is independence across trials).  We can express the probability of making at least one three-pointer as:

We then multiply these 127 game probabilities together to compute the overall probability of Korver’s streak.  By taking the product of the individual game probabilities, we are assuming that they are independent.  There have been several arguments for why there is no “hot-hand” while shooting within a given game, thus we don’t feel it is unreasonable to assume that there is no “hot-hand” across games (although the “hot-hand” can be easily incorporated into our model).

Now, we are ready to run our simulation.  For all 127 games of the streak, we simulate the probability of making at least one three-pointer.  We then multiply these simulated probabilities together to obtain the overall probability of the streak.  We perform this exercise 500,000 times to get a better understanding of the simulated overall probability of observing Korver’s streak.  Figure 1 is a plot of these 500,000 simulations of the overall streak.  The average of these simulated probabilities is just 0.0000000003843 (where 1 = 100%)!
Figure 1

If you are anything like us, your head is already full of criticisms of our approach.  Let us address these criticisms through potential extensions of our simulation.  First, it is possible to relax the independence assumptions (both within and across games) if you believe that there is a “hot-hand” in basketball.  Second, of course, the ideal Poisson model of the number of three-point shots attempted would also employ play by play in-game data, where we would observe the score differential, the time remaining, the defense being played, etc.  These in-game situational factors would help determine if Korver launched a three-pointer.  Such an analysis would require access to in-game data and a great deal of time and resources.

The longest current streak for at least one three pointer made in a game is 51 by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.  In order to tie Korver’s streak, Curry would have to make at least one three pointer in each of his next 76 games.  We decided to simulate the probability of Curry tying Korver’s streak.  Once again, we estimated the number of three-point attempts for each game using a Poisson regression.  We had to limit the covariates in the regression, since we are projecting into the future.  We also truncated the regression to guarantee that Curry attempted at least one three-pointer per game.  We then used the binomial distribution to simulate the probability of hitting at least one three pointer given the estimated number of three-point attempts.  We took the product of these 76 games to determine the overall probability of Curry tying Korver’s streak.
Figure 2

Figure 2 is a plot of 500,000 simulations of Curry tying the overall streak.  The average of these simulated probabilities, 0.000006281 (where 1 = 100%), is more than 15,000 times that of the probability of observing Korver’s streak!  This reflects not only Curry’s prowess as a three point shooter, but it also shows the true exceptionality of Korver’s accomplishment (please take note, Mr. Rovell).

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University, 2014

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Dominique Wilkins and Karl Malone are BFFs

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson

Karl Malone, who works part-time as a coach for the Utah Jazz’s big men, attended Monday’s Jazz game against the Atlanta Hawks.  He and Hawks color commentator Dominique Wilkins (arguably the greatest players in their respective franchises’ histories) are friends,  and they obviously have a good relationship.  Here’s them before the game:

And here’s The Mailman knocking ‘Nique’s flip phone during an interview with SportSouth’s Andre Aldridge:

Happy Homecoming For Korver, Millsap and Carroll

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Happy Homecoming For Korver, Millsap and Carroll

Kyle Korver had a game-high 26 points, Paul Millsap added 23 and DeMarre Carroll finished with 11 as the three former Jazz players led their current team, the Atlanta Hawks, to a much-needed 112-110 win in Utah Monday.

Hawks vs. Jazz

Photo Gallery

Stats

Highlights

Jazz Players Return

Former Players’ Tribute

The win is just Atlanta’s second in 16 games, but it moves their record to 1-1 in the two games since the modified starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap and Pero Antic returned to full health.  The loss was by one point on the road against a title contender in the Clippers, so it’s safe to say the Hawks are back to being competitive again.

Atlanta’s record improved to 5-4 overall when that combination starts.

The three former Utah players, all excited to be back in Salt Lake City, received a warm welcome from the team and the fans.

Korver (8-12) and Millsap (7-14) shot the ball extremely well as the Hawks’ offense was in high gear once again.  Even though the focus was on the three Jazzmen, it’s perhaps Antic’ return from injury that has sparked the improvement most.  The Hawks are now able to stretch the floor in ways they haven’t been able to for the past six weeks, which has opened up all kinds of options.  Antic is 5-11 from three since returning to the starting lineup and leads all rookies in long-distance percentage.

Coach Bud now has the luxury of using a true “second unit” again, and actually went 11 deep tonight as Mike Muscala saw some second quarter action.

The Hawks Monday began a stretch of five games against opponents with losing records over their next six.  Atlanta needs to hold off Detroit, Cleveland and hard-charging New York for the final playoff spot.

Yes, the defense still needs work, but it’s good to see the regulars back.

Tweet of the Night

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

Jazz Show Former Players Lots of Love

Monday, March 10, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson

The Utah Jazz sure know how to make their former players feel welcome.

Hosting the Atlanta Hawks Monday night for the first time since new Hawks Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll left Utah, the team did plenty to show the two, as well as former Jazz guard Kyle Korver, that the franchise appreciated what they had done.

First there was a message waiting for them on the white board in the visiting locker room:

Then a tribute video for Millsap, who spent the first seven years of his career in Utah:

And finally, the fans gave all three a warm welcome during pregame introductions:

All three of the former Jazz men had fond words about their time in Utah.