The Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and are on top of most of the power rankings, and have generally beaten up on some very tough opponents. The front court is playing as well as anyone in the NBA, and is carrying this team to heights we haven't since the House of Mutombo was torn down. However, I feel the timing is right to take a look at one of the bigger question marks coming into the season, new acquisition Jamal Crawford.
After starting out extremely hot, he's posted consecutive performances of 2-10 and 3-10 shooting. And we knew this was coming-nobody expected that he was going to be the guy who put up 27 points against Portland on 16 shots and 9 free throws. I feel better looking at his numbers now that he's had a few cold shooting nights to counteract his hot ones-he's bound to be streaky. So what impact has this had on his overall effectiveness? Well, so far, Jamal is still having a career year in a lot of respects.
Despite the fact that he hasn't yet found his rhythm from three, he's still posting a 44.5 FG%, good for a career high if we discount his injury shortened 01-02 season with the Bulls. He's done this by making 55.8% of his 2 point attempts (75% on attempts in the immediate vicinity of the basket). He's been getting some good looks driving off of the dribble and on the fastbreak. This has also led to his drawing fouls at a higher rate, which can only be good for a career 84% foul shooter. Overall, his efficiency numbers are great-his eFG% (49%) sits right below the league average (49.4%), and his TS% (56%) is above league average (53.7%), both of which are career highs. And those of you who are fans of PER, he's posting a very respectable 17.4, also a career high.
After the jump, a look at usage.
The bulk of Crawford's minutes so far have been as part of a three guard unit involving Johnson and Bibby. I can't give you an exact percentage because I don't have all the data, but it's at least 35% of his total minutes. Most of those are with the starting five, in which he essentially replaces Marvin Williams and JJ plays at SF. Despite some recent struggles this group has had facing a 2-3 zone, it remains the most effective 5 man unit the Hawks have employed (excepting the very limited Bibby/Johnson/Evans/Josh/Horford minutes), allowing .94 points per possession while scoring 1.41 points per possession.
Right now, it's unclear to me exactly why this combination is doing so well defensively. Thus far, JJ's on/off data suggests he's been fairly pedestrian, and that Crawford has been rather poor (as expected). Bibby's on/off data is over the top good-his defensive efficiency on the floor is 100.7, while the efficiency with Bibby off the floor is 115.6, for a differential of 14.9. There is nothing in Mike Bibby's history to suggest this is remotely sustainable, and he's an aging smaller guard. So far, it seems like a lot of minutes where Bibby is off the floor involve Maurice Evans and/or Jeff Teague, neither of which have played very well on defense in the early part of the season. None of this explains why the three guard line-up is playing so well on defense while placing two poor defenders and a fairly average defender together, so for now, I'm expecting a regression unless an explanation is found.
Approximately 28% of Crawford's minutes are coming as a point guard. He's only posting a PER of 12.6 in that role, with an EFG% of 46.1, and the Hawks have an efficiency differential of -5.3 during the minutes he's been playing at point guard. Thus far, he's been much more effective, and the Hawks have been much better off, when utilizing him at the 2 guard-which is essentially what I predicted back when this trade was made.
I also was curious as to whether he's been effective during his minutes when he's not scoring-ie, does he provide anything off the bench besides scoring punch?-and here's a very simple view. During the 8 efficient scoring games he's had (TS% greater than league average), he's added 26 assists (3.8 per36) and 16 rebounds (2.35 per36) in 245 minutes . During the other four, he's had 7 assists (2.47 per36) and 6 rebounds (2.12 per36) in 102 minutes. The Hawks are a combined +7 while he's on the floor in his "bad" games while being +68 with him on the floor in his "good" games. Overall, when he's not scoring, he's not useless, but he's not doing a lot, either.
I was also interested in seeing if Woody is giving him the hook in games in which he's not shooting well. Three of his longest stints have come against Portland, Sacramento, and Denver, where he's dropped 27, 26, and 25 points respectively. Of course, he also played over 34 minutes while shooting blanks against Charlotte, and only got to play 28 minutes while he was shooting 50% against the Hornets (and hitting 3 of 8 3PAs). So far, there's only a very weak correlation (0.464) between his TS% (my preferred measure for scoring efficiency) and playing time, meaning Woodson hasn't been particularly quick to cut his minutes when he's been ineffective scoring the ball.
After 12 games, I'd say he's been basically as expected-providing scoring off the bench with the ability to create his own shot. Placing him into an offense that's (surprisingly) functional and removing the responsibility of playing distributor have, thus far, made him a fairly efficient scorer, though it's still early. He may not continue at this pace, but I suspect the talent around him will keep him from killing his efficiency by shooting 31 times on nights when he's ice cold (though his teammates may not be immune to this). And certainly, his 25.5% from 3 should eventually regress toward his career average of 34.6%, which would give this offense an additional boost.