Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lynching by Laptop: Palast Reveals New Jim Crow System

By Buddy Grizzard

Approximately one in seven African-American voters and one in eight Asian-American voters were purged from the voter rolls in states carried by Donald Trump, according to investigative journalist Greg Palast of Rolling Stone. Palast conducted a press conference Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to share information on Interstate Crosscheck, a voter purge system that is the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Trump adviser. When Trump talks about the millions he alleges voted twice, he's stating the rationalization for voter purges via Crosscheck, which may have removed 1.1 million voters -- predominately of color -- from the voter rolls in those states.

"It's probably what you would call intentional and purposeful racial discrimination in voting for Crosscheck to exist," said voting rights activist and attorney Barbara Arnwine at the National Press Club conference. "It is an overly-broad program, it is over-inclusive in violation of the 14th amendment of the constitution, it has clear racially-discriminatory impact and it's avoidable."

Not only is Crosscheck discriminatory but it violates federal law according to Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida. The former federal judge hand-delivered a Congressional member letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting an investigation and calling for indictments.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016 Atlanta Hawks Season Preview

It's the start of a new NBA season and that means it's time for the annual low expectations for the Atlanta Hawks. During the season premiere of Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley emphatically declared that the Hawks will miss the playoffs this season. Doesn't Barkley do that every year?

ESPN.com currently ranks the Hawks fifth in the Eastern Conference and 13th in the league although NBA.com ranks Atlanta fourth in conference and a surprising eighth in the league. Last season I had outsized expectations for the Hawks with the caveat of a healthy Tiago Splitter. That remains one of the biggest questions facing the Hawks, and Splitter's uncertain health led to the extraordinary step of waiving Jarrett Jack's fully-guaranteed contract for just under $1 million. The Hawks opted to go with only two point guards entering the season so the team could keep both Mike Muscala and Edy Tavares to bolster the front court depth.

My expectations for the Hawks are more modest this season: 50 wins. But that's still higher than most projections. A healthy Splitter last season wouldn't have put the Hawks anywhere near the preceding 60-win season, but just one additional win would have given the Hawks a top three seed and consecutive division championships for the first time in franchise history. Atlanta would have also avoided the Cavaliers in the playoffs unless the teams met in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hawks Ready to Let Real Games Begin

ORLANDO, Fla. -- In one of the final tune-ups before NBA teams must cut their rosters to 15 players, the Atlanta Hawks got a bounce-back game -- of sorts -- from Tim Hardaway Jr. and a dominating performance from Paul Millsap in his first action of the preseason.

Millsap returned to live basketball for the first time since undergoing a non-surgical procedure to reduce swelling in his knee. He was the only Hawks starter to appear in the game as coach Mike Budenholzer rested Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver and Dennis Schroder. Millsap torched the Magic for 19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a game-high +21 in just 19 minutes. Millsap was in midseason form, especially with his passing, as you can see on NBA.com's highlights.

Hardaway meanwhile was the first sub for Atlanta and scored 19 points on 15 shots. He had a key basket down the stretch to help thwart a comeback attempt by the Magic. Coach Frank Vogel used his starters for much of the fourth quarter while Budenholzer countered with mostly reserves. Only Nikola Vucevic was held out of the game for rest, with offseason acquisition Bismack Biyombo filling in at center.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hawks' Offseason: A Master Class in Risk Management

Hey folks. So I'm working to get a magazine off the ground. No progress to report but I want to go ahead and get this piece I've had in the can published. I know there's a limited audience for the sort of longform stuff I like to write but I'm grateful to every person who reads me. Images courtesy of the Atlanta Hawks and NBA.com. Kacy Sager and I couldn't figure out which parts of this were her original ideas, so please consider this a co-writing credit. - Buddy Grizzard

When the rumor first circulated that the Atlanta Hawks were interested in signing former Rockets center Dwight Howard, my reaction was immediate and visceral.

This was the Dwight Howard who put his arm around Stan Van Gundy moments after the coach had confided that Howard was seeking to have him fired. In addition to being painted as disingenuous by that infamous moment, I felt he had committed the cardinal sin for a basketball player: failure to respect the game.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hawks 2016 NBA Draft Depth Chart by Jim Gaylor

In 2013, while writing for ESPN TrueHoop Network, I started a tradition of creating an NBA Draft Depth Chart for the Hawks. The idea is to list in order of preference a number of first round prospects equal to the Hawks' draft position in the first round. That year the Hawks had two first round picks and the depth chart consisted of 18 players since 18th was the last of Atlanta's two picks. The highest-rated player still available when the Hawks pick then becomes the player recommended for the Hawks to draft.

This system has allowed me to have a lot of fun playing armchair GM. It has also proven to be a huge success. In three drafts since I started publishing the depth chart, my first round picks for the Hawks were Lucas Nogueira, Gorgui Dieng, Rodney Hood and Sam Dekker. The players the Hawks actually selected were Nogueira, Dennis Schroder, Adreian Payne and Jerian Grant, who was traded to the Knicks for Tim Hardaway, Jr.

To take the comparison further, I'm going to cheat a little and back up to the 2012 draft. I hadn't decided to do a draft depth chart at that point but I'd had some success in identifying sleepers in previous drafts such as Ty Lawson and Eric Bledsoe. In the comments of the AJC Hawks blog for that draft, I had identified three players I was targeting: Evan Fournier, Festus Ezeli and Marquis Teague. Fournier was a wing with a nice shooting stroke and some point guard abilities. Ezeli had dominated top overall pick Anthony Davis in the SEC championship game. Teague had my interest because I believed the Hawks might seek a backup point guard in the draft.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Offseason Overview Part II: Roster Evaluation, Free Agent Planning

In Part I, I detailed how the Hawks have failed to address the gaping hole at small forward. In this installment, we'll evaluate the current roster and discuss plans for free agency.

Prior to the playoffs, I wrote for BBall Breakdown that the Hawks this season did things backwards compared to last season. During an historic 2014-15 -- in which the Hawks won a franchise-record 60 games -- Atlanta's top five in net rating through Jan. 15 saw a decline in the second half. I created an Infogram to show these changes and how the players performed in the postseason. I added a second tab to show the same in-season change for the current season. By contrast, most of Atlanta's roster improved in net rating in the second half of the current season. The Hawks appeared to be getting hot at the right time as the playoffs approached.

Sadly, although the Hawks didn't peak too early this time, the playoff results were the same: a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. Below is a chart showing net rating for Hawks rotation players for the regular season, each playoff series and overall for the playoffs. It also shows the change in net rating from the regular season to the playoffs.

I've been shouted down on Twitter for making too much out of the limited sample of net rating from a single playoff series. However, I'll argue that those limited samples have more value than a full, regular season sample. As I showed with my graph on BBall Breakdown, it didn't matter if the Hawks finished the regular season hot or cold. The result in both cases was a four-game sweep by the Cavaliers. The regular season is a meaningless exercise in revenue generation. The playoffs are the only season that matters, and each successive series is vastly more relevant than the last.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

'Blow It Up' Is Not a, Or the, Plan

During the first 10 minutes of Monday's Lowe Post podcast, Zach Lowe gave some succinct thoughts on what faces the Hawks this offseason.

"Blowing it up and losing everything is not really a plan," said Lowe. "A plan would be using your cap space to try and get a two way wing who might be able to have a prayer against LeBron James. The Hawks are that kind of player away from being very good."

Lowe was emphatic in saying that the Hawks are too good to tear it all down and start over again.

"They probably are the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has played like garbage for the entire playoffs."

Let's assume the Hawks keep Al Horford but renounce the cap holds for Kent Bazemore and Kirk Hinrich. With a projected cap next season of $92 million, the Hawks would have just over $76 million committed to 11 players plus a $1.2 million cap hold for Kris Humphries and an $18 million cap hold for Horford. That leaves the Hawks with about $16 million to spend on free agents.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, this is a weak free agent class. With about half the league expected to have cap space to offer one or more maximum contracts, the demand for free agents has never been higher. However, the supply was diluted by last year's free agency, when so many players took the money that was on the table rather than bet on themselves in 2016 free agency. So supply is slim while demand is higher than the NBA has ever seen.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hawks-Celtics Game 4 Preview

It's been said that a team never establishes itself in a postseason series until it wins a game on the road. Thus far in the Hawks-Celtics first round playoff series, neither team has done so. However, Celtics coach Brad Stevens made the series' first significant and successful adjustments, leading to a Game 3 victory in Boston.

Following Game 2 in Atlanta, Jae Crowder summed up the Hawks' defensive approach in the first two games.

"They fly around," said Crowder. "They are very physical on your cuts. They went under a lot of things, made us make shots and jammed the paint on our drives and protected the rim like they've done in this whole stretch where they've been the best defense in the league."

One glance at Boston's stat sheet for the season makes an obvious strategy jump out: With Isaiah Thomas averaging 22.2 points and no other Celtic averaging more than Avery Bradley's 15.2, the idea is to make Thomas' life hell and make his less-prolific teammates beat you. Stevens' rotations in the first two games lent themselves to this strategy with the earthbound Jared Sullinger in the starting lineup for both games and bricky Marcus Smart replacing Bradley in the starting lineup for Game 2.

Sullinger's struggles in this series were entirely predictable. Paul Millsap and Al Horford are multi-talented and extremely mobile. One glance at Boston's net rating for the first two games made Stevens' front court adjustment for Game 3 equally predictable. The Celtics were outscored by 17.8 points per 100 possessions with Sullinger on the floor while surrendering a team-worst 112.1 points per 100. Meanwhile, in Jonas Jerebko's 37 minutes, the Celtics were plus-13.2 per 100 and limited opponents to 85.5 points per 100, Boston's second-best defensive rating.

Although Smart scored 15 points in Game 1 on 50% shooting from the field (5-for-10) and three-point range (3-for-6), his hot shooting did not continue in Game 2 as a replacement for Bradley. As an emergency starter, Smart was limited to 1-for-11 from the field, including 1-for-6 from three-point range, and recorded a game-worst minus-20 in the box score. Since Smart performed much better off the bench in Game 1 than as a starter in Game 2, moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup for Game 3 seemed like another wise adjustment by Stevens.

The moves paid immediate dividends. The Hawks were unable to sag off other players and focus on limiting Thomas with Jerebko -- who shot 39.8% from three during the regular season -- pulling an Atlanta big man out of the lane. Although Jerebko has shot just 2-for-9 (22%) from three in the series, he's too dangerous to play off of. Meanwhile Turner is shooting just 1-for-6 (17%) from deep in the series. However, his presence as a starter gave the Celtics a secondary ball handler, which allowed Thomas to play off the ball at times. Turner recorded 17 points and seven assists in the Game 3 victory as the Hawks struggled to respond to Stevens' lineup shuffle.

After averaging just 4.4 points during the regular season, Jerebko rewarded Stevens' confidence by notching 11 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers in 37 minutes. He recorded a game-high plus-14 in the box score and the Celtics outscored the Hawks by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with Jerebko on court. For the series, Boston is plus-14.6 in Jerebko's 74 minutes. The only other Celtic with a positive net rating is R.J. Hunter (plus-15 in a limited 25 minute sample).

For Atlanta, it falls to Mike Budenholzer to respond in kind to Stevens' successful Game 3 tweaks. For Coach Bud, it almost certainly won't involve tinkering with the starting lineup. For Atlanta, the most obvious adjustment would be to shorten the bench. Every Hawk with double-digit minutes in the series has a positive net rating except Dennis Schröder (minus-5.1), Tim Hardaway Jr. (minus-20.6) and Mike Muscala (minus-26). Schröder is indispensable. After a rough first two games, Schröder was second in net rating for the Hawks in Game 3.

Hardaway and Muscala, however, could see their minutes curtailed. Muscala appeared to be coming on toward the end of the regular season but that hasn't translated to the playoffs. He played a key role for the Hawks against the Wizards in last season's playoffs, taking minutes away from Mike Scott. But in these playoffs, Scott has been Atlanta's biggest difference-maker off the bench.

In Scott's 59 minutes for the series, the Hawks are outscoring the Celtics by 10.9 points per 100, a rotation-best net rating. Atlanta is effectively 38 points per 100 possessions better with Scott on court in the series and Muscala on the bench. The Hawks are scoring a microscopic 57 points per 100 with Muscala and Hardaway on court.

Game 4 will be huge for the momentum of the winning team. If the Celtics draw even, it becomes a best-of-three series. If the Hawks prevail, the Celtics would need to win three straight to survive. With those kind of stakes, it wouldn't be surprising to see Budenholzer shorten his bench by extending minutes for Schröder, Scott and Thabo Sefolosha while also leaning heavily on the starters.

The Hawks must also hope to heat up from long range. Although the Hawks are known as a jump shooting team, Atlanta is hitting just 27.5% from three in the series while the Celtics are shooting a respectable 33.5%.

"Three pointers are the equalizer in this league," said Bazemore after Game 2.

Thus far the Hawks haven't shot well enough to deliver a knockout blow to the Celtics. Atlanta shot just 9-for-36 (25%) from three in Game 3 while Boston shot 11-for-32 (34.4%). For the series, the Hawks have three players shooting over 40% from three, including Al Horford (44.4%), Mike Scott (44.4%) and Kyle Korver (43.5%). However, the rest of the roster is a combined 7-for-50 (14%).

Bazemore, who has shot 4-for-18 from deep (22%), predicted that nothing would be easy in Boston.

"We're going into one of the toughest playoff environments ever."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Europeans Fear American Soccer

So I read this screed by Jonathan Clegg on WSJ.com titled "Why I Hate American Soccer Fans," and I figured it was time to respond to Europe's unending football snobbery. Clegg's main issue is Americans "aping" the behavior of soccer fans in Europe. Since I've never been guilty of this heinous act (the only team I've ever cared about is the United States men's national team), I can't respond to the specific charges. However, I do have a theory about why Europeans are so worried about having their pastime co-opted by Americans. First, some background:

I became a soccer fan watching the American Underdogs (that link goes to an amazing 4-part series you should read every word of) perform miracles during the 1994 World Cup. The most riveting moment of the tournament for me was a missed goal, Marcelo Balboa's bicycle kick that would have put the United States up 3-0 on Columbia (a side the Yanks weren't supposed to be competitive with). What's really amusing all these years later is to view the old, low-def Youtube video and watch Balboa muttering every cuss word in the book to himself. He was PISSED it didn't go in.

To really appreciate the degree to which American soccer has been nay-sayed and underestimated, we must fast forward to the present. One of Europe's leading soccer snobs is the USMNT's very own coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, who has stated unequivocally that the USA cannot compete for a World Cup championship. Klinsmann is one of the leading goal scorers in World Cup history and a former World Cup champion. Surely we can take his word for it that Americans are unable to compete on the global soccer stage, right?

But wait. I seem to recall a quarterfinal match during the 2002 World Cup in which the United States sprayed the face of goal with shots, most turned aside by German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. But there was one shot that got past Kahn. Claudio Reyna, whom I wrote about during his college years at Virginia, sent a perfect cross in to Greg Berhalter. His shot went through Kahn only to be stopped by the hand of... God? No... of defender Torsten Frings. Had a penalty been awarded for the hand ball, it was anybody's match. A victory against Germany (and I remind you, the Americans, including a young Landon Donovan, were absolutely SHELLING the German goal) would have left only an over-achieving South Korea between the United States and a World Cup final. But Americans can't compete on the global soccer stage, can they Jürgen?

It all makes me wonder if this isn't a ploy by Klinsmann to put some American backs up. Is Klinsmann trying to reprise the tactics of Herb Brooks, who coached the US Olympic hockey team to the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980? Brooks was so acerbic that his team of college rivals banded together with Brooks as the common enemy. Could Klinsmann be playing similar mind games, trying to unite his team in its resentment of him? Who knows? Maybe Klinsmann is just a run-of-the-mill European soccer snob after all.

While Clegg bemoaned the preponderance of Arsenal fans among Americans, the English Premiere League side may have inadvertently strengthened North American-based Major League Soccer by snubbing America's best player: Michael Bradley. Before transferring from Italian Serie A side Roma to Toronto FC of MLS, Bradley was considered by Arsenal, which ultimately signed Sweden's Kim Kallstrom. The latter proved ineffective for Arsenal and former USMNT manager Bob Bradley (Michael's father) opined that Arsenal signed a lesser player due to ingrained European bias against American players.

And that brings me to my theory on why Clegg and other Euro's are weeping so many bitter tears about the growing popularity of soccer in America. The reason they hate American soccer fandom is because they know that when MLS begins to wield more financial power, those European sides will be competing directly with MLS for the top soccer talent in the world. Bradley, Clint Dempsey, English striker Jermain Defoe and Spanish striker David Villa have all signed big-money contracts to play in MLS. The money is already starting to flow and expansion is on the way, including a new club for my beloved ATL. More money and more rosters to fill... you know what that means, don't you Europe? 

What would happen if the salary cap for MLS teams was raised from the current $3.1 million to somewhere around the current NBA salary cap (projected to rise to 63.2 million)? About half of Clegg's beloved Premier League teams would be picking from the leavings of players who opted against the States' warmer climates and higher standard of living. 

All MLS needs is one last push to get over the hump. That could happen as soon as today when the United States gets its opportunity for revenge against Ghana, the team that has eliminated it from the last two World Cups. A result for the Americans in this match would set up a showdown with Portugal, ranked 4th in the world and led by Christiano Ronaldo, possibly the best soccer player in the world. We're going quickly discover the truth of Klinsmann's anti-American decree. This is about to get good.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Was the D-League more than Royce White could handle?

(Editor's note: Hey folks! I let this blog die after I was welcomed to the stable of writers for HawksHoop.com, but I may still use it from time to time for stuff like the below piece on Royce White. I find his story fascinating, so here are my observations about his time in the D-League.)

The ominous silence from the Houston Rockets regarding Royce White's departure from the team's D-League affiliate makes it pretty clear that it was not a mutual decision. White may be returning to Houston, but an analysis of his performance as a pro thus far will show that the RV ride from Hidalgo probably doesn't get him any closer to the NBA.

Let me start by saying that I am an unabashed Royce White fan. Kenny Anderson's freshman year at Georgia Tech made me a basketball fan, and I've loved passing more than any other skill since then. White makes passes I didn't even know were possible.

However, White's self-announced departure from the D-League leaves unanswered questions, including questions about White's attitude, his commitment to conditioning and his dedication to improving the numerous deficiencies in his game. I have watched and taken notes on several of his D-League appearances, all of which are archived for viewing at nba.com/dleague. As a fan, I would like nothing better than to see White prove himself at the NBA level. I have no doubt that White can be a rotation NBA player, but what I've seen of his career thus far leads me to question if he ever will.

First, let's look at White's game. In 26 minutes per game, White averaged 9.6 points on 42% shooting from the field and 62% shooting from the free throw line. The official stats show that he missed all six 3-pointers he attempted. He also averaged 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game. While his passing is spectacular, he tends to fall in love with the showy play and force passes that aren't there. In fairness, he would average more assists if his teammates converted more of the wide-open looks he routinely manufactures.

In White's first few games, I felt his teammates froze him out and limited his shot opportunities. As time went on, his teammates seemed to warm up to the fact that if they gave him the ball, he would create open shots for them. Possibly his best game came against the Idaho Stampede March 13th when he had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. After several spectacular passes, White started to over-pass and ended up with more turnovers (four) than assists.

Now let's talk about White's emotional state. It quickly became clear to me that D-League refs are not there to simulate the way games are called in the NBA. If White ever makes it to the NBA, it will take about two games with the attitude he showed D-League refs for him to become a marked man. I thought the D-League refs showed remarkable restraint and appeared to give players every opportunity to stay in games.

In a March 2nd game against Santa Cruz, White completely overreacted after the refs failed to call a borderline over-the-back on Hilton Armstrong. After the 2nd quarter expired, White continued to jaw at the refs as he walked off the court and earned a tech. In the second half, a big-time rejection by Armstrong seemed to cause White to lose his composure. The refs let a shove by White go, but on the next trip down court he was called for throwing Travis Leslie to the floor and ejected.

After the game in Idaho, White seemed to be coming on strong. He was averaging better than a double-double per 36 minutes with good assist numbers, albeit with high turnovers. But in White's last game on March 16th, he put all of his shortcomings on display.

White was called for a questionable foul on Jerome Jordan in the 1st quarter and the poor body language began. White consistently failed to get any elevation when attempting shots and was blocked by Jordan with 7:35 to play in the quarter. Less than a minute later, on one of the rare occasions when White was ahead of the ball in transition defense, he made no effort to stop the ball handler and allowed Lazar Hayward an uncontested layup. 

Moments after that, White used a quick first step to the baseline to lay it up over Jordan. Feeling there should have been a foul, White hurled the ball out of bounds resulting in a delay of game warning. The refs showed restraint to not call a tech, especially as White continued to jaw at the ref afterward. White finished out the quarter by bricking a baseline jumper, missing a dunk, missing a runner with no elevation and making a layup after a nice crossover at the 3-point line.

White got an extended break and checked back in just before halftime. He ended up with a dunk because L.A. turned the ball over on a fast break and White was still standing under the offensive basket. In the second half, White's effort was undistinguished other than a pick-and-roll layup when Jordan helped on the ball handler.

Again, I must emphasize that I love White's game and hope that he succeeds. He was consistently among the top players on his team in plus/minus, even if his point and rebound totals weren't high. On the question of what is best for White's mental health, I will, as White has requested of Houston officials, defer to medical professionals. But on the question of what is best for White's professional basketball career, I feel qualified to voice some opinions. White is very engaging in interviews and seems to be having fun when he's not sulking over calls. He's somebody that I can relate to because of his progressive politics. If I ever had a chance to sit down with White and tell him what I think, this is what I would say.

"Royce, you need to hop in the Winnebago and head back to Hidalgo to finish the season. If you let Rockets management think that the emotional strain of playing in the freaking D-League was too much for you to handle, you will N E V E R get called up to the senior squad. You're athletic, but if you dropped some weight and got in NBA shape it would help your explosiveness. Your ball skills are elite, but you need to prove that you can be trusted not to over-dribble or over-pass. And you need to stop with the refs. D-League refs don't have the egos that NBA refs have. If you get called up and go in with a Kobe-level sense of entitlement, they will eat you for breakfast."