Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 26 November 2014 - · 13 views
“Hey, Danny! HOW DOES IT FEEL? …”
Atlanta Hawks fans, say hello to ATL’s Own and the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week… Sit down, Smoove, not you. I’m talking about Lou Williams!
This holiday season, Lou's giving thanks to Danny Ferry for sending him to a team that seems thrilled to have him around. After being traded in June, along with 2013 first-rounder Bebe Nogueira, roughly for the equivalent of chipped beef on toast, the Snellville Sniper has found a new pep in his step with tonight’s opponent, the first-place Toronto Raptors (7:30 PM Eastern, SportSouth, Sportsnet in Canada). Lou (36 points, 15-for-15 FTs) left LeBron James looking like Anthony Tolliver on defense, on his way to a 23.6 PPG, 10-for-19 3FG kind of week. He followed that award announcement with 17 points on Monday night, as the 12-2 Raptors edged Phoenix for their fifth win in a row.
Toronto is second in the league in scoring (106.7 PPG), but it’s not so much due to sharpshooting (45.3 FG%, 17th in NBA) as it is their ability to bang away, draw fouls and get to the free throw line (24.6 opponent fouls and 24.1 FT makes/game, 2nd in NBA; 80.1 team FT%, 5th in NBA). Seven of Toronto’s eight top-scorers shoot 79 percent or better from the line.
Although they’ve performed well on the road, including a convincing win last week in Cleveland, the Dinos have mostly fed off of a rabid home crowd (#1 in the league in home attendance). Toronto has prevailed in nine of their league-high ten home games thus far. This game kicks off a four-road-games-in-five stretch, but (with apologies to Sacramento) none should be as challenging as their trip to Philips Arena.
Opponents may also have been cowed by the Raptors’ noisy fans in Air Canada Centre, as they’re shooting a league-low 67.8 FT%, the only set of opponents shooting worse than 70 percent and leaving up to 8.0 PPG on the table. In their home opener on October 29, Toronto watched the Hawks shoot 9-for-17 (and the good guys 26-for-33) during the Raps’ 109-102 victory. The Raptors are the only NBA team with a double-digit differential (+12.3%) in free throw accuracy.
Toronto opponents have also coughed up 16.6 TOs/game (2nd-most in NBA), and the Raps’ minus-5.6 turnover differential leads the league. The Raptors produced 7 additional steals and 8 fewer turnovers against Atlanta in October. Kyle Lowry, who leads Eastern point guards with a 3.74 assist-turnover ratio, and (yes) LouWill (career-high 3.5 steals per 100 possessions, 4th in NBA) have an awful lot to do with that later discrepancy. Williams’ defensive activity is indicative of his rediscovered agility, following his struggles in Atlanta to recover from a January 2013 ACL injury, as well as Raptors coach Dwane Casey’s imprint on the team. Casey’s confidence in Williams may be growing at the expense of Lou’s fellow backcourt mate, Greivis Vasquez, who’s struggling to find the basket (career-lows of 33.3 FG%, 25.0 3FG%, 21.3% assist percentage).
Jeff Teague goes from D’ing up John Wall, who leads the NBA East with 7.8 PPG off pull-up shots, to Lowry, who ranks 2nd with 6.1 pull-up PPG. Teague will want to deny Lowry (career-high 18.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG; 25.3 PPG on the road) easy layups around the rim and render him purely a jump-shooter (39.4 FG% on jumpshots; 31.7 3FG%), avoiding bailout fouls as well. Lowry is only shooting 27.6 FG% on catch-and-shoot, all of those shots being three-point attempts.
DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha will spend a good deal of time trying to do something similar with Raptors leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (20.2 PPG, 40.0 FG%, 15.4 3FG%), who makes up for wayward shooting and preciously few other offensive contributions with 80.9 FT% on 8.2 FT attempts per game (4th most in NBA). That will leave Kyle Korver and/or Thabo to try to keep Williams and/or Terrence Ross (career-high 42.4 3FG% and 93.3 FT%) in front of them.
Coming off of back-to-back season-high tallies of 28 points, Teague has long been a lot for Lowry and the Raptors to handle. Jeff shot a season-high 67 percent (8-for-12 shooting) in Atlanta’s season opener at Toronto, and he matched his career-high in scoring (34 points) here at Philips Arena against the Raptors last March, a 118-113 overtime victory. Coincidentally, in that game, Paul Millsap (19 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) notched his first career triple-double. It will be interesting to see how much Casey will use Williams to help Lowry defend Teague.
If Atlanta’s backcourt does its job, then it will become crucial for the Hawks to keep Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Patrick Patterson off of the offensive glass: both teams have a subpar 73.1 defensive rebounding percentage (20th in NBA). Four Raptors, including both starting guards, had at least 3 offensive rebounds in the previous meeting with Atlanta.
One good matchup to watch will be floor-spreading forwards Patrick Patterson (41.5 3FG%) and Mike Scott, whose offense thawed on Tuesday evening after two weeks of struggling from long-range. Both players will be needed to help crash the boards and close out on one another. Scott’s 17 points last night are the most he contributed since putting up 20 (8-for-11 FGs, 4-for-6 3FGs) on Toronto in October. Against the Wizards, Scott managed 4 of Atlanta’s 12 offensive rebounds.
JV (59.4 FG%, 5th in NBA) was full varsity on Monday against Phoenix (27 points, 10-for-11 FGs, 11 boards). But after the Suns went Chock Full o’ Guards, wiping out a 17-point fourth-quarter Raptors lead in 8 minutes, Casey was compelled to sit Valanciunas in crunch time, in favor of a smaller lineup just to try and match up. It will be interesting to see if Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer tries a similar small-ball approach (albeit with less-talented guards than Phoenix) to keep Valanciunas’ stints short and minimally impactful. Dennis Schröder and especially Shelvin Mack (season-high 13 points) shined during last night’s win at Washington.
Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s Go Hawks!