The Horford-Millsap pairing is worse than the Horford-Smith pairing (so far).
The Hawks saved an average of four million per season over the next two years when they chose Paul Millsap over Josh Smith -- not including the additional $27 million Detroit owes Smith in the third and fourth years of his massive four-year, $54 contract.
Signing Millsap was a coup, in retrospect.
Though, through less than a quarter of the 2013-14 season, the Hawks are outscoring their opponents by fewer points per 100 possessions when Millsap and Al Horford share the floor (+1.5), compared to last season's Horford-Smith tandem (+4.5).
And Millsap doesn't even take that many bad shots!
Atlanta has been decent on both ends of the floor in these minutes -- holding opponents to 100.1 points per 100 possessions, putting them squarely among the top eight teams in defensive efficiency over an entire season -- but they haven't been nearly as good offensively.
Which is weird considering Horford is a pliable interior option with range extending to 19 feet -- he's the league's most efficient shooter among players with at least four catch-and-shoot looks per game -- and Millsap is an efficient scorer within five feet of the basket. Either can roll to the hoop, or slide into open pockets of space and knock down the shot. Horford is averaging 0.43 points per halfcourt touch, while Millsap is averaging just under a half point per touch on Atlanta's offensive side of the court according to SportVU. Efficiency is not their problem.
Millsap's size hasn't been a problem either; opponents have made 49.2 percent of their shots in the restricted area when either Millsap or Horford is defending according to SportVU.
If you insert Jeff Teague or Kyle Korver alongside Millsap-Horford, this "problem" is a non-issue.
They aren't quite Smith-Horford good, but I'm betting Atlanta is fine with this alternative.
Jeff Teague is better this year, though.
Teague's usage rate has climbed in his first season under Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer's tutelage. He's possessing the ball for more than five minutes on 81 touches per game -- basically, Teague is handling the ball often and for a long time.
There's two reasons: Atlanta doesn't have many reliable shot creators (unless you count DeMarre Carroll and Shelvin Mack, which you shouldn't) and Teague has been much better as a distributor.
Teague is creating 15.4 assist opportunities per game, and Atlanta is scoring 18.9 points per game from his passing, the sixth-highest mark in the league.
He's still rough around the edges, particularly on his drives to the hoop. He's driving to the basket nearly 10 times per game according to SportVU, and Atlanta is scoring 1.1 points per drive, even though his 42.5 shooting percentage is way below-average.
As the primary perimeter hub of the Hawks' offense, Teague settles for pull up shots, which would be fine if he was making them. Teague is shooting an abysmal 31.6 percent on these shots -- he's essentially sacrificing half a point each time he settles for a transition pull up, instead of continuing to the basket and creating juicy shots for him or his teammates. Add this up and the Hawks are losing 2-3 points each game. The margin for error is razor thin in the NBA, even if you play in the Eastern Conference.
Teague is still subsisting on the same diet of shots compared to last year, but he's made just six of 38 above the break 3-pointers (15.7 percent). Some of this will even out, and Teague is an improved player, despite his middling shooting efficiency.
The Hawks will miss Korver.
Lou Williams, battling a sore knee, will start tonight in place of Kyle Korver, who is nursing a bruised rib.
Atlanta's offense will miss him. They are scoring 5.1 points per 100 possessions more when Korver is on the floor, a wide enough margin to make up for the defense they are sacrificing. Their field goal percentage dips to 42.1 percent -- New York Knicks territory -- when he sits.
He's been especially deadly on catch-and-shoot attempts this season; he's scoring 1.47 points each time he's shot without dribbling, and his 73.3 effective field goal percentage (adjusted for 3-pointers) is third in the NBA.
Teague's forays to the hoop will be decidely less threatening with Williams spotting up instead.
Atlanta's defense is approximating the San Antonio Spurs philosophy.
They don't have an elite wing defender, or two interior defenders quite like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, so Atlanta can't literally approximate the Spurs' second-ranked defensive outfit. But they're doing Spurs-y type things on defense, like protecting the rim, avoiding fouls, conceding mid-range shots and avoiding foul trouble.
Atlanta is in the top 10 in each of the aforementioned categories, but much of their success is contingent on Horford playing, since they are allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions when he hits the bench.
This roster isn't chock full of plus-defenders, but Budenholzer has them doing the things good defenses should be doing.
It's a start.