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Review/Preview: Team Offense

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Or, How Will the Hawks Miss Josh Childress? Let Me Count the Ways.

The Hawks were 16th in the league in Offensive Efficiency before they lost their most efficient offensive player. That can't be good.

Details after the jump...

I'll break this down in terms of the four factors.

Stats and league rankings courtesy Basketball-Reference.com.

eFG%: 48.3% (21st)

Whereas traditional FG% treats made two-point and three-point baskets equally, eFG% accounts for the fact that a made three-point basket counts as three points rather than two. Here's a list of Hawks players who bettered the league average eFG% (49.7%)  last season:

Name eFG%
Childress 59.0
Lue 51.5
Richardson 50.0
Horford 49.9

NOTE: Richardson had just 31 FGA.

Childress ranked 7th in the NBA in eFG%. Quite simply, the man rarely took a bad shot and, in doing so, stood in stark contrast to his teammates. Richardson's appearance in this table speaks to the potential value inherent in giving him a chance to be a part of the rotation. Al Horford's promise stems from being above average in two of the four factors (eFG%, OR%) as a rookie. If he can get to the free throw line more often in 2008-09 and/or cut down on his turnovers he should be a very effective offensive player. If Horford can carry a greater offensive load, that might be enough to improve Joe Johnson's (48.9 eFG%) shot selection such that he betters the league average shooting standard.

There were some below average shooters who won't be around this season. Salim Stoudamire shot 44.2% in 180 FGA (Poor, but still a higher percentage than any of Zaza Pachulia, Acie Law IV, Mario West, and Solomon Jones shot. Also, higher than Flip Murray's career average.), Shelden Williams shot 37% in 100 FGA, and Lorenzen Wright shot (an accurate in its description of his offensive usefulness) 29.4% in the 17 FGA he hoisted as a Hawk.

Unlike Murray, Maurice Evans is an above-average shooter for his career. Evans is just a good addition to the team, something which should not be forgotten amidst regrets that he's not able to replace Josh Childress by his lonesome.

Just to match a figure that ranked 21st in the league and was 2.8% below the league average pretty much everyone has to improve. One could make a plausible case for each of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, and Acie Law IV to shoot a higher percentage from the floor than they did last year through some combination of better shot selection, skills, or health. It's unlikely all will improve but they must improve collectively in order to prevent a significant decline in the team's already sub-standard shooting accuracy.

OR%: 29.7% (4th)

League average: 26.7%

The Hawks got away with their poor shooting by grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds. Of course Childress was a significant part of that, collecting 9% of available offensive rebounds when he was on the court. That figure put him just outside the top 20 offensive rebounds in the league and represents an objectively good figure for any player but a ridiculous contribution from a swingman.

I'm less concerned about Childress's absence in this facet than I am w/r/t field goal shooting. Al Horford got 11.4% of available of offensive rebounds (10th in the league), Zaza Pachulia got 11% which was both below his career average (11.7%) and were condensed into less than 1000 minutes of playing time due to injuries, Josh Smith (career OR%: 7.4) should improve some on the career low OR% (6.6) he posted last year, Maurice Evans, though not in Childress's class, is a good offensive rebounder for a guard (career OR%: 7.0) while, at the very least, Randolph Morris and Othello Hunter should better the pedestrian offensive rebound rates of 2007-08 end-of-the-rotation big men Shelden Williams (9.6) and Lorenzen Wright (5.5), and Solomon Jones (2007-08 OR%: 15.5) can't do much but he can grab his share (and someone else's) of offensive rebounds.

I would be shocked if the Hawks were a below-average offensive rebounding team in 2008-09.

FT Rate: 26.3 (6th)

League average: 23.1

Free Throw Rate is the number of free throws made divided by the number of field goal attempts with (when represented as a number greater one) the result of that multiplied by one hundred. Therefore, for every 100 field goal attempts last season, the Hawks made 26.3 free throws.

In this respect also, Josh Childress lead the way (FT Rate: 38.7). Marvin Williams wasn't far behind (FT Rate: 36.6) while Josh Smith (FT Rate: 29.4) and Al Horford (FT Rate: 23.2) were also above the league average.

Whereas Childress and Williams are good free throw shooters (as is the slightly below average, in terms of FT Rate, Joe Johnson) Smith (71 FT%) and Horford (73.1 FT%) could increase their rate simply by making a higher percentage of their free throw attempts.

Zaza Pachulia is also a slightly below-average free throw shooter but he gets fouled so often when he's on the floor (career FT Rate: 43.2) that it doesn't really matter. A healthy Pachulia will pay dividends for the Hawks' offense both at the free throw line and on the offensive glass.

TO%: 14.0% (24th)

An average NBA team turned the ball over on 13.2% of their offensive possessions last season. The Hawks averaged a (slightly below par) 91.1 possessions per game. That works out to an extra 3/4ths of a turnover per game more than an average team would commit if playing at the Hawks' pace.

This is the area where the cost of hoping to replace Josh Childress's contributions with bigger offensive roles for Horford and Smith, more minutes for Pachulia, and sophomore season improvement by Acie Law will be paid. Each of those four turned the ball over on at least 15% of the possessions they used whereas Childress (natch) proved himself better than average by turning the ball over on just 12.4% of his possessions.

Another worrying data point is that Mike Bibby posted the highest TO% of his career (15.5) since he was playing in Vancouver.

In more positive news, Maurice Evans (career TO%: 8.0) never turns the ball over though that speaks to his need for his teammates to create shot opportunities for him.

As with their field goal shooting, it's difficult for me to envision the Hawks improving their turnover rate enough to post a league average figure. Unlike their field goal shooting, this will have more to do with the players here than the player that has left.

Conclusion

Josh Childress wasn't the Hawks best offensive player but he was far and away the team's most efficient offensive player. (If he'd played more minutes than Marvin Williams, then he might have been the team's best offensive player but that's a subject for another post.) He will be missed. He masked, to a degree, the team's offensive weaknesses (field goal shooting, turnovers) and contributed greatly to their strengths (offensive rebounding, free throw shooting). It's impossible to imagine how the Hawks' weaknesses will become strengths in 2008-09 but it's almost as difficult to imagine how their strengths will devolve into weaknesses relative to the league.

Prediction

20th in the league in offensive efficiency*

*margin of error +/- 2 ordinal rankings