Commentary: Atlanta’s Secret Weapon?
In an all-time, symposium inducing trade deadline to trump every trade deadline that ever was—two franchise players were dealt, resulting in a seismic, anti-exploratory geographic shift from west to east,and a top flight championship contender traded its starter who most embodies said team’s tried and true, gritty identity—he’s been called the most treasured piece acquired. Not Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Kendrick Perkins, or even Jeff Green, but Kirk Hinrich. A solid, unspectacular point guard who’s limited athletically and wears funny goggles. This was, in one coach’s eyes, the most prized possession; the difference maker capable of partially leading the hapless Hawks past the first round and into uncharted waters.
And now, just as the Hawks finally defeated their personal Dwight Howard/Goliath, Hinrich’s done, hampered by an ill-timed hamstring injury. Normally the loss of a proven defensively adept guard would be a death blow for any team facing a point guard able to wreak as much havoc as Derrick Rose, but what if this injury turns into a blessing for Atlanta? An injury to Hinrich opens up the door for two possibilities: 1) Second year pro Jeff Teague gets the nod as a starter, is thrown into the playoff’s already burning fire, and is held partially responsible for defending Rose, or 2) The Hawks first round leading scorer, Jamal Crawford, is thrust into the starting lineup for the first time all season, seeing more minutes, more shots, and sticking Teague into the role of dynamic bench scorer. Either way the Hawks have an unknown entity on their hands which isn’t exactly what they’d like heading into the Semifinals, but it shouldn’t put a smile on Thibodeau’s face either. This from the league’s Coach of the Year in a recent AP piece looking at Atlanta’s second round chances:
“They have quality depth,” he said. “Crawford has played a lot of minutes. Teague has played extremely well when he’s been in their rotation. He’s a guy that you can’t overlook. Joe Johnson has the ability to handle the ball. They’ve got a lot of depth in their backcourt. Their perimeter guys are really skilled.”
There’s a good chance that on the defensive end Atlanta deploys a hefty dose of the longer Joe Johnson on Rose, but this strategy can’t be a four quarter solution or Johnson will likely see himself get in a wee bit of foul trouble. But on the offensive end, maybe this turns into the most pleasant of surprises for Atlanta. Maybe Teague’s speed and athleticism give Derrick Rose and his not so great perimeter defense an unexpected headache. Maybe he’s able to push the envelope and force Rose to the bench with his own foul trouble quicker than the Bulls would like.
The Bulls can’t win a championship unless Rose averages 35 points a game. This hypothetical theory is of my own creation thanks to Boozer’s expected forfeiture of offensive responsibility (his splits against Atlanta this year are an unmemorable 8.5 points and five rebounds, his lowest scoring total against all teams) and the Bulls’ brittle reliance on Rose to take over in the fourth quarter. I’m not saying Atlanta will win this series, but with Teague they have somewhat of a secret weapon. A player with blazing speed, great handle, and an aggressive attack the basket mentality. The series will more likely come down to how well Josh Smith and Al Horford can handle Joakim Noah and Boozer, but today’s game ends in the backcourt. Ironically, given Hinrich’s injury, it’s where the Hawks could have the unexpected advantage.