Before every playoff series this season, we’re going to do some rundowns on the opposing roster for each team. We’re starting with the Hawks, but hopefully we’ll do a lot more! Here’s Part I. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Ivan Johnson: The only player in the league named “Ivan” and therefore the only one allowed to say “Ivan make basket,” after every FG, which I assume is something he does. Johnson is a reasonably feel-good story about a 28-year-old rookie who got his NBA shot after being kicked out of the Korean Basketball League “forever” for actually giving a ref the finger. Just the lamest thing to get in trouble for in the world. He should really start curating his Wikipedia page to keep that a secret. He also went to Jared for his teeth.
Basketball-wise, Johnson probably sits at the back end of the Hawks’ playoff rotation, depending on the health of Al Horford and JarJar Pachulia. He’s an undersized banger PF who’s not afraid to pull up for a long two, but who should be because he’s a 29% shooter from there. Defensively he’s strong, athletic and a decent rebounder. When he and Pachulia both come off the bench, they make messy business for the other team. But if he’s all alone in the backup frontcourt, he probably won’t hold up.
Joe Johnson: A lot of people rag on Joe Johnson and say he’s the Hawks’ third-best player and that his contract is a blemish on the integrity of professional sports. They say those things because they’re true. But Johnson is still a player to be taken seriously, because if he’s shooting well, he will decide a playoff series on his own.
Injuries to the frontcourt have forced (that might be a strong word) Larry Drew to move Johnson to small forward, which is not his optimal position. According to 82games, Johnson’s PER is higher when he’s a shooting guard, and his opponent’s PER is lower. That implies that he doesn’t score or defend as well when he’s at the 3, an implication borne out by in-person observation. Johnson’s tall for an SG, and he can post up on smaller guys, but with bigger defenders his attempts at the rim have dropped significantly this year.
So Pierce should have the advantage against Johnson, but their two matchups this season have been wars of attrition, and Pierce has shot pretty terrible. There are two ways Pierce can beat Johnson. One is spotting up and hitting long jumpers: Johnson is terrible at recovering in time when he gives his man too much space, which he almost always does because he doesn’t know how slow he is. He’s 299th at defending spot-up plays, according to Synergy. But if Pierce is running cold, this strategy is not sound.
The second, more efficient option for Pierce is taking a quick pass from Rondo and cutting RIGHT TO THE BASKET. Johnson cannot stay in front of Pierce. He couldn’t stay in front of Marquis Daniels last week. Pierce needs to take Johnson off the dribble. Posting up doesn’t really work because that plays into Johnson’s desire not to travel long distances by foot: Pierce’s attempts to do this in the last two Hawks games mostly began and ended ten feet from the rim. He should drive. Hey, that was long!
Tracy McGrady: Another guy who everyone enjoys making fun of but who could potentially swing this series, this time in a supporting role. McGrady decided this year to shoot less and get to the rim more often, which is apretty rare shift for a veteran (especially one who’s been called lazy his entire career). He’s shooting at a higher percentage than he did any year from 2008-2011. He occasionally gets the keys to the reserve offense and rarely screws it up. Overall, he’s been able to contribute an efficient, harmless 13-17 minutes for the Hawks this season. I imagine McGrady is aware that he’s never won a playoff series and would like to have a role in changing that, so he’s going to be looking to do stuff. Finally shaking off that monkey would be a nice note on which to retire for him, which he should probably do anyway because his giant eyelids look bigger every year.
ZaZa Pachulia: The relationship between Zaza and KG is like the first act of a early-2000s Disney summer camp comedy where two girls, probably Hillary Duff and Raven-Symone, hate each other at first before they realize they’re exactly alike. Zaza and KG have all the same interests: needlessly antagonizing their opponents, discreetly punching each other in the back, and putting their faces close to other people’s faces. They really should be friends. Imagine Zaza at KG’s retirement ceremony, removing his Hawks warmups to reveal a green Number 5 jersey underneath.
Until that day, Zaza is going to keep wearing the Celtics frontcourt out with his huge forearms. He’s absolutely not a replacement for Al Horford, but he’s maybe a better rebounder and he’s easily as strong. The most effective way for KG to exploit Pachulia while also embarrassing him would be to draw fouls. Zaza’s been a backup big for most of his career, so he’s traditionally been used as a foul bank and never learned to avoid getting calls. If Horford can’t play, Zaza will need to stay on the floor, so KG should go after him.
This is, of course, assuming he plays at all. Larry Drew’s been remarkably cagey about Pachulia’s foot. But I’m predicting he appears in Game 1.
Jannero Pargo: Lots of basketball siblings on this team. Jannero Pargo has Jeremy Pargo of the Grizzlies. Jason Collins has Jarron Collins of the Jazz and Suns. Jeff Teague has Marquis Teague of some NBA team eventually. Zaza Pachulia has Julia Pachulia of the Georgian Women’s National Team. I think that’s it.
Pargo shoots a lot and turns the ball over a lot. He prefers to spot-up, and he produces the third-most points per possession of anyone in the league when he does, according to Synergy. Every other kind of offense from him is complete junk. He’s not a good defender: minutes when Rondo is matched up with him will be big minutes. His wife is on Basketball Wives: LA and is more famous than he is. Goodbye!