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: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.

Raptors outlast Bucks in 2OT to take Game 3 of ECF

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Don’t count the Toronto Raptors out yet.

On Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and his bench mob outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 118-112, in 2OT.

Finally back at home, Toronto showed up in the biggest way possible, and in exactly the way they had been needing in Games 1 and 2. Pascal Siakam, a non-factor in those contests, scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, grabbing 11 boards to go with three steals. Norman Powell scored 19 off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers.

Of course, the Raptors were led by none other than Leonard, who had 36 points and dominated at the free-throw line, going 12-of-13. Toronto’s best player also had nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, Game 3 was about Toronto finally hitting on all cylinders from the 3-point line. Where before almost no players outside of Leonard were able to get it going from deep, Game 3 was a much different story. Eight Raptors combined to make at least one three each, and Toronto shot 37.8% from the arc.

By the same factor, the Bucks struggled. As the home crowd pushed Toronto forward, Antetokounmpo and his squad just couldn’t get it going. The first half only treated the Raptors right, who scored 58 points. And although Antetokounmpo started to come on a bit better in the third quarter, the game eventually developed into a bit of a rock fight by the fourth.

Toronto looked like it had sealed up the win the end of regulation. Fred Van Vleet came up with a crucial block on Khris Middleton on the final possession, but the Milwaukee guard scooped up the loose ball and put it back in the hoop to push it to extra time.

By the time the second overtime rolled around, Antetokounmpo only had one foul left to give. The Bucks’ superstar then fouled out just 36 seconds into the second overtime while trying to draw a charge on Siakam.

That allowed Leonard score eight of Toronto’s 15 points in the second OT en route to the six-point victory.

It took a wondrous night on defense for the Raptors to force Antetokounmpo to shoot just 5-of-16 from the field. Even still, Milwaukee’s star had 23 rebounds and seven steals, and it took until he fouled out in the second overtime for Toronto to grab a win.

The Raptors should be happy about what they were able to accomplish on Sunday night. Getting wins at home in a crucial playoff games is what championship hopeful teams should do. Still, it took every single ounce of what Toronto had, and even then it was only just barely enough to grab their first win of the series at home.

Nick Nurse will need to build on what he learned from Game 3 and see if they can improve upon it to level the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Report: Grizzlies interviewed Igor Kokoskov for head coach gig

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The Memphis Grizzlies now have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Many believe that Memphis will trade Mike Conley and draft Ja Morant as a means to move the franchise forward.

The only problem? The Grizzlies still don’t have a head coach.

Memphis fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff and demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout back in April. The Grizzlies are moving forward with some non-traditional front office hirings that include Jason Wexler, Zach Kleiman, Rich Cho, and Glen Grunwald.

According to one report, at least one inquiry has been made about the head coach position: former Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov got a shot to interview with Memphis.

Via Twitter:

Memphis is taking its time selecting their coach, and it’s not necessary that the team has someone in place leading into the draft. Whether the next guy will be “the guy” or simply “the guy who helps them rebuild in the future” we aren’t yet sure.

Kokoskov got a raw deal in Phoenix, with many feeling as though the Suns wasted their hiring of the Slovenian national team’s coach by not drafting Luka Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick last year. It would be nice just to see him back on an NBA bench at the start of next season.

Draymond Green on techs: ‘I was doing more crying than playing’ (VIDEO)

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Draymond Green believes he’s the best defender ever. The Golden State Warriors star was certainly incredible against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, with the Warriors beating the home team, 110-99.

But one thing that has bothered Green’s detractors over the years is how much he speaks to the referees, particularly to his own detriment. It’s one thing to work referees the way that Chris Paul or Damian Lillard or James Harden does. It’s another to continuously antagonize refs en route to a whole mess of technical fouls, which have been a problem for Green in the playoffs in the past.

But Green has been pretty subdued when it comes to technicals this postseason, and that’s apparently in due to a concerted effort by the Golden State forward to curb his attitude and realize that he’s doing more damage than good.

Via Twitter:

This postseason, and particularly this Western Conference Finals, have been an interesting shift in the narrative around Green. Where before it seemed like haters could glom onto how much Green whined, at this point he’s simply dominating the Trail Blazers from a play standpoint and nothing else.

It’s been impressive to see, and I think all of us are happy to watch Green play the way he has without flapping his gums and putting the Warriors at a disadvantage because he wants to yell at the boys in gray.