Despite a team of great athletes and shooters, the Atlanta Hawks are not all that hard to defend. It was a lot of isolation basketball for Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Even when Mike Woodson was calling plays, the team was blowing him off to run more isolation.
Larry Drew may have been Woodson’s assistant, but he is doing things differently. He had his coaches in for a five-day camp this week to teach them his new offense, and Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution got to watch.
There was lots of motion and ball movement, yes, but what stood out was how much of the action had players cutting to the basket. It seemed there always was an option for the next man in the sequence to either accept the ball while moving to his position or reverse field and look for a cut to the basket. Not everything happens on the strong side, either, so ball-watching and inattentiveness by defenders can mean backdoor baskets.
“It’s very difficult to guard,” (assistant coach Lester) Conner said. “You have to be precise in your defensive schemes. You can be beat at any spot on the floor at any time. NBA teams don’t like to guard a lot of movement and screens. I’ve heard the guys [Hawks players] are all for it and are excited about it.”
The idea is to free men up with things like pin down screens. Or if you do run a pick-and-roll to have backdoor cuts from the weak side (something that works well in the NBA as guys tend to watch the ball on those high screens). The goal is to force movement.
Drew also is bringing in something Pat Riley was a big fan of as a coach — interchangeable parts.
“We have the luxury a lot of interchangeable positions. We’ve got twos that can be play 3, threes that can play four, fours that can play five. We can even move Josh to the five against certain matchups. You might see the five at the three. You might even see the five at the one. [Regardless of lineup] nothing changes as far as the action on the floor. I want to utilize our abilities as interchangeable pieces.”
This all should work, but while maybe not pretty the Hawks offense was pretty effective last year — they scored 108.9 points per 100 possessions, the third most efficient offense in the league. Their points per game was not reflective of that because the Hawks played at a slow pace (92.5 possessions per game, 27th in the league).
However, the Hawks were pretty much an average defensive team, and that came back to bite them in the playoffs when they struggled to get stops. There was never consistent focus on defense by Atlanta. If Drew can get them to play at that end of the floor, the Hawks become a much more dangerous team.