Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 07:18 AM HAWKSVILLE - Twelve games on the bench provides a starter in the NBA with a unique perspective that he simply cannot get when he's in the middle of the storm.
Hawks center Al Horford is the second Hawks starter to experience that perspective this season, his 12-game absence (with a bone bruise in his right knee) following Josh Smith's 12-game stint on the inactive list from November and early December.
Horford's conclusion about what the Hawks lacked while he was out (and in part because he was out) is rooted in the same things that have been the topic of conversation around here for the past few years.
"Not being out on the floor you se the game a whole lot different," said Horford, who will make his return to the floor for Wednesday's game in Minnesota. "I think we definitely have to become a more consistent team if we want to have a shot at becoming anything this year. And that's definitely something that has to be addressed with the team."
No doubt you see what Al sees, right?
I know it's the one that's struck me about this team, perhaps more this year than any other.
After starting off the season like they could not be stopped, the Hawks promptly dropped four straight games, forcing all of us to wonder if the 6-0 start was a mirage.
Look at the Hawks' season since those first 10, though, and it's clear that they're a wave-riding team that can't seem to kick the habit. Since those first 10 games the Hawks have had eight different multiple game streaks (four winning streaks and four losing streaks).
That's consistency for you Al. The Hawks are consistently inconsistent.
And there couldn't be a worse trait for a team that with the kind of February schedule the Hawks have - all but three of their 11 games this month are on the road, where the Hawks have collected a rather unimpressive 9-15 record.
Hawks point guard Mike Bibby has talked repeatedly this season about good teams avoiding the doldrums by avoiding two straight losses (which often turn into three straight losses and four straight losses and so on).
Now would be the time for he and his Hawks teammates to try and live that theory.
* KNOCK ON WOOD *
Losing two starters for 24 games before the All-Star break sounds horrendous. But the Hawks have actually managed to stay afloat in spite of the injuries to both Smith and Horford (they went a combined 11-13 without them).
Now we're going to see how a couple of league powers manage without their big guns. The Magic loses for Jameer Nelson with a separated shoulder (nothing I read had a good estimate of how long he'd be out) and the Lakers lose Andrew Bynum for the second straight year (three months is apparently the optimistic estimate) with a knee injury.
You hate to see injuries determine anything or shift the balance of power. Yet it's clear that both of those injuries could have a tangible impact not only on those teams but also on the teams they're competing with for supremacy in their respective conferences.
"Injuries can derail a season, there's no doubt about it," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "It's the teams that find a way to overcome those injuries, mostly by other guys that step up, are the ones that will be there at the end."
* DRAFT CHATTER *
I know the lottery is no longer one of our central topics of discussion around here (I know, strange huh, after all those years of debating draft prospects), but a former advance scout friend that is now the player personnel director for an Eastern Conference team warned me last week about my impending infatuation with the domestic college crop.
Don't get me wrong, he loves Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and is sure he will be a lock for the top two spots.
But he also insisted that the party crasher at the top of this draft will be Brandon Jennings, the American teenager that spurned Arizona last year for a contract with an Italian team.
Even with the lukewarm reviews that have floated back across the Atlantic, my friend cautioned me about overlooking Jennings. And this is the same friend that scolded me before the 2005 draft about underestimating Chris Paul.
"I don't think people realize what Brandon Jennings did," my friend said. "This kid left everything he knew, went to the other side of the world and is competing against grown men and playing for a tough coach that is making his entire game better. He's going to have an edge to him when he comes back that wasn't there before. And he was already as talented as any point guard prospect there is in this upcoming draft. You add in what he's learning over there right now and the experience he's gaining ... Griffin is No. 1, but I wouldn't just assume that Jennings isn't going to make it a conversation."
That's high praise for Jennings, heavier than anything I've heard from anyone else. But again, this guy has been right on just about every single player we've debated (pre-draft) the past five years. So it's worth keeping an eye on.
As for the pickings in the bottom third of the first round, where the Hawks might end up drafting if they maintain their current spot in the standings, my friend said the pickings are slim.
And that's where a scouting staff earns its keep.
I'll be interested to talk to more scouts after the All-Star break to see who has emerged from the pack in the college game to fill out the first round. There has to be a Tayshaun Prince, Jameer Nelson, Josh Smith or someone like that available in the late teens and early 20s of this draft.