Preseason Game 2 was an even more difficult game to draw conclusions from since Larry Drew scattered minutes among 15 players, none playing more than Damion James' 22. I'll go ahead and make two conclusions right now. James should be the opening night starter at small forward. In those 22 minutes, he scored 11 and pulled down 8 rebounds and posted a team-best +11. Chew on that, John Hollinger.
Secondly, Keith Benson should make this team. How is that possible with 13 guaranteed contracts plus Mike Scott and Kyle Korver's partial guarantees? I'll tell you.
Ferry needs to waive Johan Petro.
In July I called Petro "a clear upgrade over [Jason] Collins and [Erick] Dampier." After watching him play in two preseason games, I no longer feel that's anywhere near the truth.
Take a moment and go read Brad Rowland's excellent player preview for Petro at Soaring Down South. Rowland really says it all. Petro is an average defender with some athleticism but he has hands of stone and is horrible around the basket. The guards kept trying to get the ball inside to him tonight but he couldn't catch anything.
Meanwhile Benson matched up directly with Tiago Splitter, arguably the best backup center in the NBA. Splitter would start for at about 10 NBA teams right now. Benson caught everything and scored in transition, put backs and on a nice spin into the lane. The box score says he scored 10 with 2 rebounds but I saw more rebounds than that. After Benson shut Splitter down on one defensive possession, Splitter passed it out of the post on his next two touches and did not attempt a shot.
Meanwhile Petro scored 2 points with 3 rebounds despite the Hawks' determined efforts to get the ball inside to him. He missed a wide open layup on a cut through the lane that he should have easily dunked.
You're probably thinking I'm getting way too excited about 10 points from Benson in a preseason game in which both coaches played the end of their bench most of the night. My concern is that if Ferry doesn't waive Petro, Drew will play him 15 minutes per night. If that happens, it will cost the Hawks at least 5 wins.
The first thing I ever wrote about Petro was that he was "the only player under contract who fits the washed-up veteran profile that seems to fascinate Drew." Like Josh Powell and Jason Collins before him, Drew is certain to over-utilize Petro if given the opportunity. I don't know why Drew has to give minutes to big men who barely belong in the league, it's just what he does. It's a compulsion that I doubt even the specter of losing his job could dissuade him from.
If Ferry wants to keep a 4th center on the roster to play behind Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson (who brutalized Eddy Curry, for anyone who doubts my classification of Ivan as a center), it should be Benson. He is demonstrably better than Petro at every facet of the game including, most importantly, catching the ball.
I also think the Hawks should cut Mike Scott, despite his 11 points which included a dramatic three to tie it at the end of the 4th quarter. The reason is that before Scott started hitting jumpers, he guarded the aforementioned Powell on several isolation plays and got flat embarrassed. Powell scored 14 on 6-for-7 shooting and posted a game-high +17, mostly while guarded by Scott.
This is the same Josh Powell who was out of the NBA last year despite being Drew's first big man off the bench in the 2011 playoffs. He's probably a long shot to make an NBA roster this year as well, but he torched Mike Scott.
I'm not sure if it was Ferry or Drew that owed a favor to Squeaky Johnson's agent, but what chance did he really have to make a team with three starting-caliber point guards? He failed to impact the box score in 13 minutes and that's likely all the NBA action he will ever see. Ismail Muhammad was unsteady with the ball and will likely join Powell and Squeaky in either Europe or the D-League this year.
Meanwhile John Jenkins got his first minutes and shot 3-for-5 from 3 for 9 points. I caught the game starting in the second quarter when the Hawks were down by 10 as Curry was having his way inside against Horford. I can't believe I just typed that sentence, but that's what I saw. Then in the blink of an eye Korver and Jenkins started hitting threes and San Antonio's lead was gone. I may end up liking Ferry's first Hawks draft more than I thought I would.
The starters played most of their minutes in the first quarter so I missed that, but I did get to see a healthy dose of Ivan Johnson. Ivan played a very physical game against Curry and was obviously trying to get under the 7-footer's skin after Curry's strong start. The refs swallowed their whistles on several offensive fouls, including when Curry raked his elbow across Ivan's face, instead calling a defensive foul. At one point Ivan stopped in transition in an effort to draw a charging foul on Curry, and Curry actually shoved him to the floor. Foul, Ivan Johnson.
This is the weapon that Drew could have unleashed in the playoffs against Kevin Garnett. Instead he sent Josh Smith and his recurring knee tendinitis in to play center. This year, barring injuries, the Hawks will be the deepest team in the league at point guard and center, and will have excellent depth at power forward. James and DeShawn Stevenson give the Hawks two wings that are above average defensively, and Korver looks like a perfect fit for Drew's offense. I'm predicting 5th seed in the East again this year.