Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Surge Versus The Amalgam Crash: Nuggets at Hawks 12.29.08

Notes from the Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks, December 29th, 2008.

  • Is Marvin Williams human or is he dancer? The most frustrating of all the Hawks young guns is arguably the most important improvement on this Hawks squad. Bibby's simply living up to his perceived potential, Johnson is the same killer he's been, and the team synergy is certainly something we've seen glimpses of, even if it's never been palpable like this. But Williams was supposed to be the glaring reminder of losing Josh Childress, the disappointment compounded by inconsistency. But instead, he's been the Hawk that's one step ahead of everyone, even his teammates. You notice him making passes his teammates don't expect, finding cutters where there were none. Several times Horford turned the ball over, surprised to find the ball whipped towards him even when he was cutting. Williams' points and assists are down this year, but take last night's line. 16, 8, and 4 with 1 turnover. That's more than enough, given the way the rest of the team is playing.
  • It's certain that Billups was the turning point for this team, but I'd argue that Billups was the conceptual shift, the attitude pull that allowed for the Nuggets to embrace their natural identities. If you want the meat and potatoes of why they're a better team, and simultaneously why they're still vulnerable, take a look at Renaldo Balkman. His minutes are erratic due to injury and his predictable capacity for vanishing. However, when he strikes it's like a thunderbolt, and it wakes up the whole team. He blasts through for rebounds, put-backs, and dunks. He's obsessive on defense tonight, even if his discipline isn't always in the right place.
  • Kleiza is somehow the de facto redundant player, able to produce offense in spurts, but unable to do anything any coach would rationally want him to do.
  • Mike Bibby is having a killer timer. He's smiling, laughing, making all the right plays, shooting when he should, passing when he should, playing with poise and aggressiveness. He's been simply killer.
  • But not as killer as Johnson. The problem Johnson poses is a constant danger. You get lulled to sleep waiting for him to appear. He's not Kobe, where you obsess over his every movement on the floor. He slips and glides in and out of the offense. He vanishes like a lot of players for minutes. But then he appears like Raiden and blitzes you. You're overwhelmed by his versatility and explosiveness. He's got a bigger game coming, and my hope is he's saving it for April and May. The look teams get when he starts to execute them is some sort of bleakness, like they've just been snuffed out.
  • I keep leaning to compare Horford to Duncan, but he's not nearly as big and way more mobile. Then I lean to compare him to Brand and he's more workman-like. He's polished, but not in the new-age, prototypical ballhandling big way. He's not the best of all worlds, just some of them. The vacation planets, maybe, but ones visited by the working class and with mountains to climb instead of neon beaches and drinks with umbrellas.
  • Josh Smith's not dead. He's just biding his time. The energy and ability is coming back to him after the injury, and I would anticipate a detonation and follow through after the All Star Break.
  • Sometime, take a look at the trucker hats and three day scruff on the camera crew and ball boys in Atlanta. It's like a truck stop on hardwood.
  • The whole idea about Johnson being stymied by Billups made sense, until you started to factor how much Johnson moves without the ball. Early in the third, Billups tried to cheat on the under screen, Johnson had full rotation and nailed a three. It's not a bad idea, per say, but I feel like the Nuggets would have done better to focus on Bibby with Billups straight up, neutralize him, and let the help defense focus on Johnson.
  • People are coming to games in Atlanta. Ye Gods.
  • Denver focused so much on cutting down on Johnson and Bibby's perimeter, that they left themselves wide open when Smith sliced in, saved it on one foot, one hand, and found Horford for a huge dunk.
  • Next Wednesday, Hawks, Magic. Be there or be the Spurs.

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