…You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out,
You put your right foot in,
And you turn yourself about,
You do the hokey-pokey,
And you turn yourself around,
That’s what it’s all about!
I can’t follow my pal HB Ando’s ode to Bon Jovi, but I sure can remember a song from early childhood. The problem is that what mimics a nursery school rhyme also best describes the play of the Atlanta Hawks lately. While injuries have taken a toll, this team has learned how to win with a key player, starter, or reserve out of the action. What’s frustrating is the lack of consistency, sometimes on both ends of the court, and the love/hate relationship the Hawks seem to have with the inside game.
It’s not like it’s a secret or anything. The Hawks have a dynamic starting backcourt duo which they’ve made the focal point of their entire offense, and the rest of the league knows it. We have one scorer/combo guard to back up the two starting guards. Sometimes this offensive system/design works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it REALLY doesn’t. Most good teams are able to shoot and score from the outside, but they understand the need to score inside. So it is with most good coaches. The only exceptions tend to be teams like Golden State and New York, and coaches like Nelson and D’Antoni. Guys like that are unique, and so are their offenses, which are also dependant on certain types of players.
The Hawks have been roundly criticized for not having that scoring inside presence, and rightfully so. But has it been a lack of personnel or a lack of something else?
Unfortunately, Horford has missed the last several games (8, I believe) due to injury, but his scoring has gone up a bit this year, and his moves are a little better than before. Josh Smith has proven that when he’s focused (which has been a lot lately) and when he’s given the ball in the right place, he can really hurt teams. Fans (and probably players and coaches) have yelled and screamed for him to quit hanging out on the perimeter, taking lazy, uncontested jumpers, and the man has responded by doing his work inside on a variety of hooks, drives, finger rolls, and vicious dunks. He’s raised his field goal percentage to a career high 49%. In the month of January, Josh has recorded 20+ point performances in 7 of 13 games, with 17 and 19 point contributions in 2 others. A couple of 13 point performances, an 8-point, and a 14 pointer round out the month. That’s good for 19.2 ppg on 54% shooting for the month. Add Horford’s 52% shooting and 10.8ppg, and we have something to work with. No inside presence? Two guys beg to differ…
What’s mind-boggling is the fact that after the proven effectiveness of going inside, the Hawks just cannot seem to stick with it. Too many times we’ve watched Horford, or more recently Smith, get hot in the first quarter or half, only to get frozen out for the better part of a quarter (sometimes two), with the plays going right back to the guards. As was mentioned earlier, when it’s working, it’s great. When it’s not, it’s usually too late to try and re-establish the inside game. Not only that, but the Hawks have a bad habit of going away from the hottest shooting player. Bibby gets hot, then suddenly we aren’t running screens for him anymore. Marvin gets hot, and suddenly we don’t give him the ball. Flip gets hot, and suddenly he’s back on the bench…to stay.
The bottom line is that the Hawks have to pay attention to more than just the usual Woody-isms. Sure, you have to play defense and rebound. But you also have to take advantage of what is working for you. And you have to adjust at the proper times, and as often as necessary. There are only so many superstars in the NBA. Wade was very good last night, but he’s not what really beat us. What beat us is what keeps on beating us: failure to contain role players. Miami played more than a quarter without Wade, who only managed about 34 minutes, due to early foul trouble. While he had a fine game, why weren’t we able to go on a run and pressure Spoelstra into putting him back in early? Speaking of Spoelstra, he seems to be doing quite the job with one star player, and a pile of role players. Oh, and a rookie point guard. But that’s a story for another day. What’s bad is the fact that we couldn’t stop guys like Daquean Cook, Mark Blount, and Udonis Haslem. Offensive juggernauts they aren’t (particular without Marion, and Beasley only played 8 minutes), but they beat us like we stole something, and added 12 blocked shots as insult to injury.
Up next is the New York Knicks, on their home turf. These guys are going to be even more of a challenge, due to the nature of their coach. With D’Antoni, if you can shoot, you’re on the court. If you’re on the court, you have the green light. These guys will be gunning from beginning to end, with no slow-down in between. To beat them, you have to make them slow down, contain their best shooters, and NOT GET BEAT BY THEIR ROLE PLAYERS. On a team like this, role players are not the shooters. They are the guys who rebound, play defense, and just hustle in general. The Knicks are by and large NOT a defensive team, and we have guys who can score. The trick will be taking away what they like best, and imposing our will on them on the other end of the court. That, and go with what’s working. If we’re beating a team by going inside, we need to KEEP going inside, rather than chucking one miss after another from the outside while we let the other team creep closer and closer.
Games will be harder as we reach the halfway point, and beyond. The last place you want to be in the second half is doing the hokey-pokey….
One foot in, one foot out….