Hawks vs. Bulls Series Preview

May 01, 2011 No Comments

Can the Bulls hang another championship banner from the rafters this season? Photo by: Eszter Hargittai

By Sportsgrinder 

Regular Season Records

  • # 5 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
  • #1 Chicago Bulls (62-20)
  • Season Series: Chicago 2-1

Regular Season Offensive Statistics (NBA Rank)

  • Atlanta Hawks: 95.0 PPG (25th) .462 FG% (12th) .352 3P% (17th) 22.0 APG (12th)
  • Chicago Bulls: 98.6 PPG ( 19th) .462 FG% (12th) .361 3P% (13th) 22.3 APG (19th)

Regular Season Defensive Statistics (NBA Rank)

  • Atlanta Hawks: 95.8 PA (9th) .460 FGA% (18th) 39.3 RPG (28th) 6.1 SPG (29th) 4.2 BPG (28th)
  • Chicago Bulls: 91.3 PA (2nd) .430 FGA% (1st) 44.2 RPG (2nd) 7.2 SPG (17th) 5.7 BPG (5th)

Point Guard Match Up

Derrick Rose has the city of Chicago thinking championship once again. Photo by: Keith Allison

The league’s Most Valuable Player award will likely end up in the windy city this season compliments of Derrick Rose. In just his third full season in the league, Rose has developed into the league’s premier point guard. Rose is a game changer in multiple aspects for the Bulls. First and foremost, Rose is a student of the game. The moment he arrived in the league back in 2008, he dedicated himself to developing into the player he is now. Rose has increased his PPG, RPG, APG, STL, 3P%, and FT% every year since 2008. Rose’s superb first step allows him to get past just about any opposing defender in the league. Rose is special player when it comes to finishing near the rim. He uses a variety of shots to score with relatively ease in the paint area. Rose accelerates significantly well on fast break opportunities. So much so, that he usually finds himself on the free throw line as a result. Only the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook (7.7 FTA) attempted more free throws per game than Rose (6.9 FTA) at the point guard position. Every NBA GM and head coach would love to have a Derrick Rose on their franchise right now. Rose averaged 25.3 PPG, 38.5 FG%, 5.0 RPG, and 9.0 APG in 3 games against the Hawks this season.

Tough break for starting point guard Kirk Hinrich and the Hawks. Hinrich suffered a severe hamstring strain in the closing minutes of the Hawks series clinching win against the Magic on Thursday night. His status for the entire series is currently listed as doubtful. Larry Drew will likely turn to second year guard Jeff Teague to replace Hinrich in the Hawks lineup. Of course, Drew also has the option of starting Jamal Crawford, however I believe he will choose to keep Crawford at his primary 6th man role. At 22nd years of age, Teague has been touted as the future point guard in Atlanta since they selected him 19th overall back in 2009. He will get his chance to showcase his talents before a national audience come Monday night. Teague averaged 7.3 PPG, 58.3 FG%, and 1.3 APG in 3 games against the Bulls this season.

This could be a nightmare scenario for head coach Larry Drew and the Hawks. Teague is definitely a talented player who possesses the necessary quickness to match up against Rose. However, his lack of big game experience probably will land him in early foul trouble often in this series. As a result, Drew will likely be forced to stick Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford on Rose for spurts throughout the game. This isn’t the ideal scenario for the Hawks since they need Johnson and Crawford to preserve their energy for the offensive side of the floor. Look for Rose to have a monster series with the absence of Hinrich from the Hawks lineup.

Edge: Rose and the Bulls

Shooting Guard Match up

Joe Johnson will likely need to increase his 13.7 PPG against the Bulls for the Hawks to have a chance in this series. Photo by: truthaboutit

The Hawks possess the best shooting guard tandem in the league with Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. The Hawks were criticized in the off season by offering Johnson a max deal (6 years at $123 million). There were times during the season where Johnson seemed to struggle with his game. His 18.2 PPG and 29.7 3P% were the lowest totals during his 6 year tenure with the Hawks. Still, Johnson is the league’s quietest superstar and single most important player on the Hawks roster. Johnson loves isolation on the perimeter. He is an excellent ball handler and can get his shot off at anytime via the jump shot or penetration. The Hawks like to showcase Johnson at the end of ball games along with Jamal Crawford. Johnson is averaging 18.0 PPG, 39.6 FG%, and 6.5 RPG in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Jamal Crawford is instant offense off the Hawks bench. Jamal Crawford has never seen a shot that he didn’t like. He has a scorer’s mentality and will continue to fire jump shots and attack the rim at any cost. Larry Drew is very comfortable with Crawford taking key shots for the Hawks down the stretch, and for good reason. Crawford has delivered for the Hawks during his two seasons with the team. He won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award last season by averaging 18.0 PPG and 44.9 FG%. He was sensational in the first round against the Orlando Magic where he averaged 20.5 PPG. Johnson averaged 13.7 PPG, 39.1 FG%, 5.3 RPG, and 4.7 APG in 3 games against the Bulls this season. Crawford averaged 9.3 PPG, 44.4 FG%, and 3.0 APG in 3 games against the Bulls this season.

The Bulls implement a 3 man rotation at the shooting guard position between Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver. Each player has their own strengths and head coach Tom Thibodeau is comfortable splitting up the minutes between each player. Bogans (17.8), Brewer (22.0), and Korver (20.1) all averaged more then 17 minutes a game for the Bulls this season. Korver usually tends to find himself in the lineup during late game situations. He is one of the league’s premier three point shooters. He ranked 13th in the league for the shooting guard position with 120 three point field goals made. He ranked 6th in the league for the shooting guard position with a 41.5 3P%. Korver is perfect compliment to Rose in the Bulls backcourt, as he usually finds himself open on the perimeter thanks to the dribble penetration of Rose. The trio of Bogans, Brewer, and Korver averaged 5.1 PPG and 57.1 FG% in 3 games against the Hawks this season.

The Hawks have a huge advantage at the shooting guard position with Johnson and Crawford. Bogans and Brewer are above average defenders, however they won’t be able to contain Johnson and Crawford on the perimeter. Johnson especially, will need to have a huge series for the Hawks to have a chance at the upset. He has proven in years past to be up to the challenge when the spotlight is shining upon him. Look for the Hawks to take complete control of this match up throughout the series.

Edge: Johnson/Crawford and the Hawks

Small Forward Match up

Larry Drew is likely going to implement his small lineup in this series and go with Marvin Williams at the small forward position (Josh Smith and Al Horford will likely be the frontcourt). Williams has never lived up to his draft status (2nd overall in 2005) during his career with the Hawks. Having said that, Williams is still a key component in the Hawks offense. He has averaged double figures the last five seasons in Atlanta. Williams has developed into an above average shooter from the perimeter. He is a bit of a streak shooter, but is capable of knocking down key shots if left open (hit 4 big jump shots in Game 6 against Orlando). Williams averaged 7.0 PPG, 34.8 FG%, and 3.0 RPG in 3 games against the Bulls this season.

Even former Chicago legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have to be impressed with Luol Deng and the Bulls this season. Photo by: extinction blues

Is there a more underrated player in the league than the Bulls Luol Deng? The Bulls “quiet assassin” has averaged double figures every year since he entered the league back in 2004 (16.0 career average). Deng is a fundamentally sound player who excels in different categories for coach Thibodeau. Deng has a superb mid range game to compliment his three point shot. Deng ranked 8th among NBA small forwards with 115 three point field goals made this season. Deng ranked 6th among NBA small forwards with 416 two point field goals made. He shot an impressive 50.6% on his two point attempts. Deng has played in 26 playoff games during his career with the Bulls. In those games, he is averaging 18.1 PPG, 47.5 FG%, 6.6 RPG, and 1.1 SPG. He is arguably the second best player on the Bulls roster behind Derrick Rose. Deng averaged 20.0 PPG, 51.1 FG%, 6.0 RPG, and 1.7 SPG in 3 games against the Hawks this season.

Deng is a far more consistent player than Marvin Williams. He is one of the premier small forwards in the NBA, as well as one of the more under-appreciated. Williams is definitely a talented player and has a chance to make a difference for the Hawks in this series. He will need to knock down his shots consistently for the Hawks to have a chance to challenge the Bulls at this position.

Edge: Deng and the Bulls

Power Forward Match Up

The Hawks Josh Smith is one of the more athletically gifted players in the NBA. He has the ability to post up, rebound, block shots, and run the floor on fast break opportunities. If there is a downside to Smith’s game, it is definitely the fact that he roams on the perimeter and settles for jump shots. Bad shot selection has hampered Smith throughout his career. He is best suited to stay on the block, where he can use he superior leaping ability to finish near the rim. Smith averaged 16.5 PPG, 47.7 FG%, 8.5 RPG, and 1.6 BPG for the Hawks this season. He has the unique ability to play either the power forward or small forward position for Larry Drew. Smith has been one of the premier shot blockers in the league during his career with the Hawks. He has averaged more than two blocks a game (2.2 to be exact) during his seven years with Atlanta. Smith averaged 14.5 PPG, 40.0 FG%, 4.0 RPG, and 2 BPG in 2 games against the Bulls this season.

The Bulls signed Carlos Boozer to a large contract during the off-season (5 year at $80 million). Boozer missed 23 games during the season due to injury, but was still effective in games in which he did play. Boozer averaged 17.5 PPG, 51.0 FG%, and 9.6 RPG during the season. Boozer prefers to do his damage in the low post area, where he can use his large frame to muscle opposing defenders. Boozer also has a more than capable mid range game from about 15 feet in. Boozer struggled in the Bulls opening round series against the Indiana Pacers. Boozer averaged 10.0 PPG, 35.8 FG%, and 10.2 RPG. He will need to perform at a much higher level as the playoffs progress if the Bulls want to have a shot to bring home another NBA Championship trophy to the city of Chicago. Boozer averaged 8.5 PPG, 42.1 FG%, and 9.5 RPG in 3 games against the Hawks this season.

The real question in this match up is what Josh Smith will show up for the Hawks? Smith is definitely a match up problem for Boozer because of his extreme versatility. However, until he proves that he can consistently refrain from taking poor shots, we can’t possibly give the Hawks the edge in this match up. Furthermore, until Boozer proves that he has broken out of his mini-playoff slump, the same can be said for the Bulls.

Edge: Draw

Center Match Up

Will Al Horford be the difference maker for the Hawks against the Bulls? Photo by: truthaboutit

Al Horford has developed into one of the best big men in the league today. Horford has increased his PPG, FG%, FT%, and MIN every year since his rookie campaign (07’-08’). Horford is very polished low post player. He has excellent foot work and strength that allows him to get high percentage looks at the rim. He will use a wide array of moves on the block, including face ups, hook shots, and spin moves. Horford also possesses an outstanding jump shot, which forces the teams opposing big man to come out onto the perimeter. This is a huge aspect of the Hawks offense, and enables them to create open lanes within the key without the teams top shot blocker looming. It’s no coincidence that the Hawks have made the playoffs every season since Al Horford was drafted back in 07’-08’. Horford averaged 17.0 PPG, 62.9 FG%, 8.7 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in 3 games against the Bulls this season.

Similar to Carlos Boozer, the Bulls Joakim Noah missed multiple games (34) this season due to injury (hand). Noah is a high energy player who teams around the league have tried to pry away from the Bulls in trade attempts the last couple seasons. The Bulls were smart to hang onto to Noah, as he will be the corner stone of their front court for years to come. Noah has increased his PPG every season since his rookie season of 07’-08’. Noah was one of 7 players (Love, Howard, Randolph, Griffin, Humphries, and Gasol) to average a double-double this season (albeit in 48 games). Noah will likely be matched up with Al Horford for the majority of this series. 16 year veteran Kurt Thomas backs up Noah should he get into any early foul trouble. Noah averaged 7.0 PPG, 43.8 FG%, and 10. RPG in 3 games this season against the Hawks.

These two players are very familiar with each others game from their playing days at the University of Florida. Noah is much more of a defensive oriented player for the Bulls. However, he can certainly finish around the rim when given the chance. Horford is definitely the better offensive player between the two. He will be much more of a focal point in the Hawks offense than Noah is for the Bulls. Horford has a chance to shine in this series for the Hawks. He should have the upper hand in this match up.

Edge: Horford and the Hawks

Prediction:

The loss of Kirk Hinrich will definitely have implications on this series. The Bulls handled the Hawks rather easily in their last two match ups with them during the regular season, winning by an average of 25.5 PPG. The Hawks are a hard team to figure out, they have all the talent in the world but fail to compete on a consistent basis. You know what you are going to get from the Bulls every night, a strong defensive effort and a heavy dose of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and possibly Carlos Boozer. The Hawks on the other hand, are your classic Jekyll and Hyde team. Some nights they look like the best team in the league, other nights they just come out completely flat and play uninspired basketball. So which Hawks team can we expect in this series?

No doubt Rose is the best player in this series (possibly the entire league right now). However, the Hawks have now had this nucleus of players together for four straight playoff runs. These players should be well aware of the implications of this series. The Bulls are heavy favorites in this series for good reason. Yet, something tells me that the Bulls will have a tough time containing Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Al Horford in this series. Josh Smith is definitely the X Factor for the Hawks. If he plays like he is capable of playing, I think the Hawks have an excellent shot to pull off the upset in this series. The Bulls might have to wait another season to return to their glory days of the Jordan era.

Hawks in 7

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