Who Is the Most Important Hawk This Series?
*Photo via USA Today
Earlier this season, the Atlanta Hawks became the first team to have their entire starting five share the Kia Player of the Month award. Four of those five starters were also named to the NBA Eastern Conference All -star team. The one that didn’t, DeMarre Carroll, is the most important Hawk in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Through 12 games this postseason, Carroll has averaged a team high 17.1 points per game, while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 43.9 percent from three. All three statistics have improved from the regular season where he averaged 12.6 points per game on 48.7 field goal percentage and 39.5 three-point percentage. Carroll has also improved his assist-turnover ratio from the regular season to the playoffs.
However, the Hawks have gone in the opposite direction of Carroll. While having a similar number of possessions per game, Atlanta is down 4.2 points in offensive efficiency in the postseason (points per 100 possessions). Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague have all seen major dips in their respective field goal percentages as well as field goal and three-point percentage dips for the entire team this postseason.
When Atlanta needs a stop on the perimeter, they call upon the Junkyard Dog. According to statistics on NBA.com, opponents guarded by Carroll have shot 44.6 percent from the field this postseason. During the regular season, the Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard held his opposition to 44.7 percent shooting. DeMarre Carroll can flat out play D.
Atlanta’s defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) was ranked seventh best in the league. Their postseason defensive efficiency places second out of 16 teams, and the highest ranking of the remaining playoff teams. They’ll need to play up to their high ranking during the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the first two rounds Carroll defended Joe Johnson and Deron Williams from Brooklyn, as well as John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce from Washington. The Junkyard Dog now finds himself with his toughest defensive assignment, LeBron James.
Carroll and James both played in two of the four regular season meetings between the Hawks and Cavs. In those two Atlanta victories, Carroll helped limit James to 19.5 points per game and forced LeBron into 5.5 turnovers per game. According to statistics on NBA.com, James’ field goal percentage, three-point percentage and turnover were all significantly worse with Carroll on the court.
In this postseason, James has not been his normal efficient self, especially since Kevin Love went down. Against the Chicago Bulls, LeBron was held to 39.8 percent shooting from the field, 10.7 percent shooting from downtown and averaged 4.5 turnovers per game. Even with James being inefficient, he was still able to lead his Cavaliers past the Bulls in six games.
Along with being the primary defender on LeBron, Carroll will be asked to be productive and efficient on offense. Add in the NYPD taking Atlanta’s secondary LeBron defender, Thabo Sefolosha, out of the playoffs, and Carroll may have too much on his plate.
In a series with matchups galore, the Junkyard Dog vs. King James will be the matchup that determines the series.
Game 1 -- Wed. May 20, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 2 -- Fri. May 22, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 3 -- Sun. May 24, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 4 -- Tue. May 26, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 5 * -- Thu. May 28, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 6 * -- Sat. May 30, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 7 * -- Mon. June 1, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT