Atlanta Hawks Honesty Corner: Jeff Teague, John Jenkins and more

There are many things about this picture that say smile. - Kevin C. Cox

What should be excited and what shouldn't, why John Jenkins matters, why trust is still being earned, and a lottery push update... it's the truths!

Welcome to the first in-season Honesty Corner for 2013-14. As noted in the preseason review, this will be the season of research. There was some digging in the crates to find some information I thought might be pertinent to giving some context and perspective to the start of the 2013-2014. Let’s get to it – straight no chaser.

What We Should Be Excited About?

There are 3 things that have delighted me greatly to start this year. They are:

  • Jeff Teague – First, an admission – I’m WRONG. Yep, I said it. Did some research and found that while there were wayyyy more people saying I was crazy to suggest starting Teague his rookie season over Mike Bibby, I did have some backers in the comments. For proof, see this (and what started it all - this). Now, that said, I think the proof is in the pudding. Teague is averaging double doubles, assists, and consistently attacking. It’s as if they just said go be Tony Parker. Something I suggested about, oh, 4 years ago...
  • Paul Millsap – Another admission – this research thing is awesome when it reveals things that make you look as smart as Kris Willis. So, if you read this or feel free to search for Milsap (incorrect spelling is key) at hawkstr8talk.com to see the six blogs about my mini-crush on Paul Millsap. While I haven’t made a determination on whether I’d like to keep him or move him in an attempt to find a better star talent, I can say – he is as advertised. Not missing Josh Smith a lick.
  • On Court Development – It’s awesome to watch our new talents (Dennis Schröder, Mike Scott, Pero Antic) playing in all situations (early, 4th quarter, late game). You don’t prepare people for all game scenarios by never playing them in ALL game scenarios. Regardless of whether it loses you some games due to misplaced trust, it’s a necessary building block.

What We Shouldn’t be Excited About?

There are a few things that have bothered me so far this year. They are:

  • Our Record – Well, it’s not really our record. It’s more about the fans who seem to be impressed by what’s happened so far this season. We were three points away from a winless preseason. We have won four games vs. teams we're better than and lost four games to teams who are all equal or worse than us save the Knicks (and the Knicks aren’t that good). Not sure I’ve seen much on a team level that makes me optimistic about this team’s prospects.
  • Kyle Korver – I don’t care that Lou Williams should change this when he returns. We are relying on Korver too much. There’s no reason that your 4th best player should be leading the team in minutes. This may sound like a dig, but it isn’t – Kyle Korver shouldn’t start for a team that wants to win a championship. Our team isn’t at that level, so I’m fine with him as a temporary starter, but if Danny Ferry thinks he's a fixture with Lou at the shooting guard, then we are treating him as a critical cog that must punch well above his weight. Worked for Evander Holyfield, but Kyle is no Evander Holyfield.
  • Jump Shooting – I’ll admit that the Knicks game is fresh, but this has been true in other games so far and that’s that we still are relying too much on making jumpers. The motion offense, like many other offenses, are good at creating jump shots. Teams want you to shoot them. You don’t win much that way, though. Jury's out on the offense until I see how it benefits the inside post game.
  • Subs – Simply put, seeing Pero Antic in crunch time replacing Al Horford is unacceptable. We did fire Larry Drew. Coach Bud, learn the lesson.

Why John Jenkins' Playing Matters

Similar to my crusade for Jeff Teague’s increased playing time in 2009-2010, I also was pretty adamant that we play John Jenkins more last year. In both cases, I was swimming upstream in my opinion here. And the dissent to that opinion is that you trust that the coach knows best who should and shouldn’t play for their teams and this idea that minutes are won in practice (Newsflash!! There's not much competitive practice once the season starts). Unfortunately, it doesn’t correctly assess some very critical factors that are baked into my push for John Jenkins to start for the Atlanta Hawks at best and to have significant minutes off the bench at worst. Mainly, that we need to KNOW who John Jenkins is. Knowing requires game play.

The Hawks have a habit of being unable to assess whether our draft picks are hits or misses through play on the court. For young players in this salary cap era, you almost have to ‘give’ them an opportunity. Rarely will those young players be better than the veterans in front of them, so the assessment is - will that always be the case? Will Jenkins be worse than Korver or Williams 2-3 years from now when I'm hoping we're ready to contend? If not, do I need to replace him with someone who can? There are instances where forethought helps you determine how best to make the best use of your future trade/draft/free agent options. This plays out in both scenarios. If Jenkins is good, you don’t need Korver and you can spend that cap space on something you do need (small forward, center, backup small forward, a star). If Jenkins isn’t good, then you know that you have a shooting hole that you still may or may not need to fill.

So, if it comes to pass that John Jenkins has fallen out of favor, the downside of that happening without on court evidence is meaningful. It either a) means that Danny Ferry made a mistake in drafting him (and for those – there was no one else to draft folks, I would argue that the other possible options – Draymond Green, Tony Wroten [of recent triple double fame], or Jeff Taylor could be part of our rotation) OR b) means that it’s possible Coach Bud isn’t as good at reaching all players. It’s too early to be definitive there, but it’s worth watching for more clues.

The Lottery Debate Continues

I keep hearing reasons we shouldn’t care about the lottery at the expense of this season and all I’ll say is – I was more entertained watching Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins than I have been during any Hawks game this season. The possibility of Jabari Parker balanced against 2014-2015 Demarre Carroll - worth the gamble? Unrelated Note: I’ve been very entertained watching the Hawks this season.

Blind Trust – Too Soon?

Final note – I’ll start with this disclaimer. I’m very happy about many elements of what we’re doing in Atlanta from a management and coaching standpoint. That said, I refuse to go so far as to give full trust to Danny Ferry and Coach Bud. The reason is simple – I’ve seen this before. For everyone who is excited about Coach Bud’s offense, I think it’s important to remind them that Larry Drew’s offense looked very similar out the gate. In fact, many people were saying exactly the same thing when we came out of the game well each of his seasons as coach - hey, we like that motion. Down with the iso-Joe, yada, yada, yada. Nothing radical has changed scheme-wise and so, while there are still bad jump shots, it's just refreshing that Josh Smith isn't shooting them for some. Watching Cartier Martin or Mike Scott shoot them seems to make some people feel better about it - I'm not one of them. Same for Ferry - he's still on the clock for as long as a star doesn't walk through those doors.

I don’t say any of that to say I’m not optimistic, but I just caution the fan base against going all in just yet. The moves made and work done hasn’t risen to the level of blind trust and total faith. Let’s continue to make the accountable for all the moves made. Coach Bud unlocking Teague’s potential doesn’t absolve him of developing John Jenkins or developing a post presence or putting together an above average defense. Danny Ferry’s clearing of cap space doesn’t absolve him of finding star talent to use it on.

And if you aren’t sure about that – do some research to make the case! See you in the comments…

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