Hawks see their offense as evolution to defeat modern defenses

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The story of the Atlanta Hawks’ free-flowing, ball-movement/player-movement offense starts with the 2008 Celtics.

That was the year Tom Thibodeau’s defense took the league by storm and propelled Boston to the title. With Kevin Garnett as the quarterback and help defender, Kendrick Perkins snarling in the paint, and Rajon Rondo’s length on the perimeter, the Celtics unleashed a defense the NBA had not seen. That defense was designed to overload the strong side, take away options for penetration, and keep the ball on one side of the court. The defense targeted players who dominated the ball in isolation sets on the wing — say, Kobe Bryant during the 2008 NBA Finals — and it clogged their path to the basket. The defense also makes old-school, standard post up play from a big man far more difficult.

Over the years, as more teams adopted that style, the result has been declining percentages of isolation plays in the league. Now when you see players get the ball in isolation out on the wing it is more with the goal of starting the offensive set — drive the ball not to score but to quickly swing the ball to the other side and get the defense scrambling. Kick the ball to the opposite corner for a three. Make the extra pass. Break the defense down, and then get the open shot.

Which brings us to the Hawks… well, actually to the Spurs. They won a title last season with a motion offense made up of a handful of plays like the “loop” that are designed to tear apart a Thibodeau-style defense with player and ball movement. If executed properly.

This season’s Hawks — ranked sixth in the NBA at 106.6 points per 100 possessions — are executing it properly and it’s a thing of beauty.

“Coach Thibs’ defense, it was built for isolation basketball,” Hawks’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver told ProBasketballTalk, in an interview discussing the End It movement. “We’re going to keep the ball on one side of the floor, we’re not going to let the guys on the other side of the floor be a part of the game, and we’re really going to load up to that one guy. The way to beat that kind of a defense — even though it’s very difficult to do — is to get the ball to the other side of the court. So for us, I really think we try to get the ball to the middle and kind of read the defense.”

It’s part of the evolution of the game if you ask Hawks head coach (and former long-time Spurs assistant) Mike Budenholzer.

“I think the defenses have gotten better, the attention to detail on how to work defensively…” Budenholzer told ProBasketballTalk during All-Star weekend. “I think sometimes the defense is ahead of the offense and you have to adjust to score. I think the defense just gets better and better in our league. The effort, the commitment, the size of the players, so offenses have to figure out, what can we get?”

Every team has had to adapt on some level to what the Thibodeau defense took away. For example, look at the Golden State Warriors — last season Mark Jackson ran a lot of isolation-style sets and despite all the offensive firepower on that team they were 14th in the NBA in points per possession. Steve Kerr added motion and ball movement to get the defense scrambling, and now the Warriors are second in the NBA in offensive rating.

Not every team can do what the Spurs and Hawks do. It takes a certain mindset of player. Plus if you have talent you can get away with some old-school offense — the Clippers run a predictable pick-and-roll heavy offense, but they get away with it because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are great talents. The issue for them is their margins of error are small — they need to execute brilliantly to win.

Meanwhile, the Hawks and Spurs are having fun and success playing this selfless, motion system — but putting together the right chemistry in the locker room to make it work is not easy.

“A lot of that is just because of how unselfish we are,” Korver said. “You’re going to touch the ball. Every quarter. You matter every single time down the court. Even if you don’t take the shot, you’re going to effect the shot in some way — you’re going to set the screen, you’re going to make the pass, you’re going to make the cut that opens it up. Every single time down the court everybody who plays matters and I think when you play that style of ball it’s just more fun.

“It’s just like anything in life, when you feel like you matter you do it with a little more energy, you invest a little more, you take ownership. And I think everyone on our team has done that, and it’s showing.”

So are other teams going to start running the loop, doing the same things?

“Is it going to catch on?” Korver asked. “Are more teams going to do it? I don’t know, but I think probably. I think everybody was trying to do the defense that Coach Thibs kind of created, everyone was trying to go to that the last few years. Because it is really hard to play against. maybe you will see more of this type offense, too.”

For the basketball purist in me, I would love to see that.

But the reality is that it takes a veteran team with the right players willing to do it. Teams have been trying to copy what the Spurs do as an organization for years, with limited success (at best). That’s not going to change now.

However, the Hawks may be the exception to the rule.

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.