We saw the first real sign of it in Boston, fleeting though it was. Then again against Golden State, only moreso. It spread further against Detroit, and is readily apparent again tonight against Oklahoma City. What am I talking about? The layup. The dunk. The finger roll. The Inside Score.
For good or for ill, the Hawks had become primarily a jumpshooting team, relying time and again on the 3 ball more often than not. There is an argument in favor of “for good” as the 17-10 record so far would attest. Others maintain that so many jumpshots only bode ill , be it sooner or later. Of course, anybody saying that probably doesn’t like Mike Bibby, or has a split personality, because you just can’t have it both ways. Bibby is definitely the tip of the spear when it comes to our newfound perimeter prowess (as so many of us have lamented the lack thereof last season and in seasons past). But that’s not what gets our attention lately. Oh no.
It’s this team’s sudden ability to finish at the rim. No check that, the ability has always been here. It’s the sudden execution. The drive (both literally and figuratively). The aggression. The “we just scored right in your face, and what are you going to do about it when we come at you again next possession?” of it all. It started for me when we played Boston, where Josh Smith drove and threw down that thunderous jam over Kendrick Perkins. It continued when we watched Marvin Williams, a player known for taking bad angles to the basket when he actually decided to do so, score repeatedly on drives. Watching Marvin throw down a dunk, then follow it with an assortment of tip-ins and layups….was just plain beautiful. And while he did not score 20+ points against Detroit, he had the same look and form about him.
Meanwhile, Joe Johnson caught the bug. Instead of trying to shoot jumpers over Stuckey, Hamilton, and Iverson all night, he drove the hole. And voila! Two layups that looked easy as pie! Let us not forget Mike Bibby, who seemed allergic to attempting a shot anywhere closer than 18 feet of the basket. Watching him get a layup here, and collecting an assist there off of the drive reminded me of the old Bibby that played for Sacramento. Ah, those were the days. And here lately, those days are back.
And Josh, who’s legs still aren’t back to their usual explosive selves, is attempting several moves in the post, along with short drives to the basket. I’m noticing a lot of spin moves once he hits the paint, evidence of his work with Olajuwon. Call it what you want, but I think Josh is learning a valuable lesson right now. Sooner or later, he will no longer have the ability to outjump over 90% of the competition. Sooner or later, his athleticism will not rule the day, and some other 20 year old will be showing off his 40-inch vertical. Just ask Antonio McDyess how that feels. Better for Josh to learn now while he’s young…how to score on the block with savvy.
So, was this an aberration? Will JJ go back to nothing but 10 seconds of dribbling before throwing up the fade-away jumper? Will Bibby stay camped out behind the 3-point line every time? Will Josh go back to jacking long jumpers, or will he revisit his days as a dunk champion? Has Marvin finally turned that last switch on? This remains to be seen, but as I watch Marvin swoop in and throw down a nasty dunk (he’s wide open, but it’s still beeeeautiful), I think not. The Hawks are finally mixing in that last ingredient that will make them harder to beat than ever: the inside finishing touch.