Sunday, February 17, 2008

Billy Knight Finally Addresses The PG Position - Mike Bibby Headed to the ATL

The Atlanta Hawks appear to have finally landed themselves a point guard, trading the expiring contracts of Lorenzen Wright, Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson along with 2006 lottery pick Shelden Williams and a 2008 second round pick to Sacramento for PG Mike Bibby.

Why Atlanta Did This

To put Atlanta's need for a point guard into perspective, allow me to tell you the tale of Hawks GM Billy Knight's recent draft history. The relationship between Atlanta Hawks GM Billy Knight and the point guard position has been a rocky one. During his tenure in the ATL, Knight has seemingly gone out of his way to construct a roster overflowing with tweeners, guys stuck between 2-3 positions given their height, build and/or versatile game. 

Tweeners, like anything else in life, aren't necessarily a bad thing in moderation. However, when a majority of your roster consists of athletic swingmen and undersized power forwards, you better have a system in place that caters to their strengths (Nelly Ball In Golden State) or a floor general at point guard to run the team with efficiency.

Let's take a trip back in time to June 2005. Atlanta had the 2nd pick in the draft and with the #1 overall pick guaranteed to be Andrew Bogut, the Hawks had their choice of two premier point guard prospects in Chris Paul and Deron Williams. In fact, Paul went as far as to say that he wanted to play in Atlanta; a bold statement given the Hawks commitment to losing in 00's. 

After Bogut, the next 3 players on the board were the two aforementioned point guards and UNC's Marvin Williams, a young, athletic player with great potential as a SG/SF in the NBA. Given that the Hawks had already used lottery picks in prior drafts to select SG/SF/PF 'tweeners' Josh Smith and Josh Childress, had Al Harrington on the roster (another tweener) and finished the season with an awful combo of Tony Delk and Tyronn Lue running the point, this seemed like a slam dunk. Naturally, Knight took the guy with the most "upside" - Marvin Williams.

Fast forward to June 2006, after another poor season, there was some hope in Atlanta due to the great play of combo guard Joe Johnson, acquired from the Suns in a trade in the 2005 offseason. Johnson spent a lot of time at the point, but being an excellent scorer he really thrived when playing off the ball. In addition, lottery pick Josh Smith was starting to develop into a force on the defensive end while developing an offensive game. 

The Hawks were slotted to pick 5th and again were sitting on two good point guard prospects in Brandon Roy and Randy Foye that would fill their biggest need. Unfortunately for Hawks fans, Knight this time gave into his infatuation for undersized PFs and selected Shelden Williams 5 picks too early. Needless to say, the Landlord hasn't helped secure any playoff rent during his uneventful year and a half in Atlanta.

Which brings us to Friday February 15th, 2008. At the midway point in the 2007-08 NBA season, the Hawks are seriously competing for a playoff spot and have been in playoff position in the Least for a decent amount of time. However, the team is 7-15 since the start of 2008 and has fallen to 9th place in the east due to glaring weaknesses in outside shooting and at point guard. Atlanta's failure to stretch the floor and insistence on playing around the rim have made them easy to scheme on defense while the lack of a true point guard has put a lot of wear and tear on Joe Johnson who has seen his numbers drop each month.

The arrival of Bibby gives Atlanta a good outside shooter, more than capable of hitting the open 3 as well as a veteran point guard who can run a half court set as well as fast break with the Hawks athletic young players. Bibby is playoff-tested, playing in plenty of big games with the Kings, and his game should improve as the thumb injury which sidelined him for the first 35 games of the season becomes a distant memory. 

With the emergence of Josh Smith as a defensive stalwart and offensive threat at PF, Marvin Williams settling in nicely at SF and 2007 #3 overall pick Al Horford a double-double machine at center, a lineup of Bibby, Johnson, Williams, Smith and Horford is my pick to secure the 6 or 7 seed in the East. 

Why Sacramento Did This  

The Kings motivations in this deal are fairly clear - they wanted to create immediate cap space and add a young forward to a thin front court. Unloading Bibby, who is owed 28 million through 2009, and taking back over 9.5 million in expiring contracts puts the Kings under the cap a year earlier and makes them a player this offseason. The acquisition of Shelden Williams provides Sacramento with a young option at power forward with little obligation as he is only signed through the end of next season. 

Fantasy Fallout

Atlanta Hawks

Mike Bibby will have plenty of responsibility in Atlanta, both in terms of scoring and distributing the basketball. Bibby is currently putting up 13.1 points and 5.4 assists a night in 31 minutes of play; however, his burn will increase to the 35-37 minute range in Atlanta as he is the team's only quality point guard option. As time goes on, I expect Bibby's numbers to return to his career averages of around 17 points, 6.5 assists, 1.5 three pointers and a steal a night making him an excellent point guard option late in the season.   

The player helped most by Bibby's arrival will be Joe Johnson who will now get the opportunity to play off the ball more. His offensive numbers are down across the board from a year ago due to overuse and the presence of Bibby at the point should help his points and three point production. Additionally, with two backcourt bench guys going over to the Kings in the deal, look for rookie point guard Acie Law to see more minutes. 

Sacramento Kings

The departure of Bibby makes early season fantasy sensations Beno Udrih and John Salmons into good fantasy options once again. Beno will return to the Kings starting lineup at point guard and should regain the 14 point and 5-6 assist form he displayed earlier this season when getting consistent playing time. Udrih can also help teams in three pointers, steals and FT%.

Salmons should see his playing time rise as the first man off the bench on the new look Kings. A good scorer averaging around 15 points a game, Salmons can is versatile fantasy contributor who can help in points, assists, rebounds, steals and FT% when receiving 30 minutes a night. As the trade deadline approaches, keep in mind that Salmons is a Ron Artest trade away from potentially being a regular starter at SF.

Shelden Williams will be given ample playing time in a thin Kings' frontcourt, as the team uses the second half of the season to assess what they have in the former Duke star. The defensive-minded Williams serves as a decent complement to Brad Miller and has the potential to rack up admirable rebound and block numbers. 

Finally, should this be the Kings' last trade this season, Ron Artest, Brad Miller and especially Kevin Martin will see increases in offensive production with Bibby gone.

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