Around the rim.
Such a simple, unassuming fragment of a sentence that seems. Sounds like one of those short answers or descriptions you hear both in rural and urban settings all the time. “Over yonder”, ” ‘Round the corner”, “Up the Street”, “Around the way.” Stuff like that, right?
Yet for Hawks and their fans, there is much meaning in this fragment, this piece of a statement, this seemingly colorless shred of adjective. No, this is no over-used, cliched parcel of catch phrase, of John Madden-like proportions. For the Hawks, this is winning vs. losing. Good vs. Better. Enough vs. Not Quite.
Around the rim is where the Hawks need to make their most concerted effort to score. Lord knows they have enough weapons to do it. But it needs to be a consistent, steady, part of the offensive design. It’s something the Hawks need to start the game with. It’s something they have to be able to flip a switch and go to right away, particularly when their jump shots aren’t going in. All good teams know how to get points in the paint. It’s a way of life for them. All great scorers know how to do it too, as much scoring comes from the free throw line. You can’t always hit those jumpers. And if you don’t go inside, you’re not going to the stripe that often. And if you can’t get to the stripe….well, we know the only free shots come from the stripe. The rest are either the results of very good, solid offensive design and execution…. or inept defense. The Hawks do not possess any consistency in the former, and won’t be seeing much of the latter from their remaining regular season opponents. And things only get tighter in the playoffs. Scoring around and close to the rim will be more important than ever. The Hawks have to get back to making this a focal point of their offense.
Not only that, but points close to the basket is something that engenders confidence in role players and back-ups. Especially the low post guys. Last night’s game against Boston was pure evidence of the kind of impact a backup player can have on a game when he is able to score in the paint. Can the Hawks get that kind of impact from their low post backups on a regular basis?
Around the rim is where a team has to be at its stingiest on defense. No layup drills, no easy dunks. Those are the kinds of things that get opposing teams fired up. Easy points in the paint work both ways. You don’t want the opposing team’s role players rising to the occasion because they got a dunk or layup or two here and there. The only thing worse than battling a starting unit that’s on fire, is having to battle a backup unit that is just as intense. Protect the basket. Guard the rim. Make opponents take their “easy” shots from outside.
Around the rim is also where the Hawks must be the most aware. Rebounding is absolutely pivotal in a tight game. One offensive rebound by the opponent equals one second chance. And that one second chance could lead to the one basket (which is all it takes) that can turn the tide of a game, or win it outright. Being in the right position for the rebound is not all there is to rebounding. Too many times, the Hawks have been in the right position for a defensive rebound, and simply waited for it to fall, instead of going after it. Too many times, opponents have either tipped the ball back into the basket, or tipped it out to teammates for a second shot or reset of the offense. The Hawks have to work as a unit. Guys closer to the basket need to block out, and guys further away need to fly to the ball.
Conversely, the Hawks have to be the team to attack the glass on offense. Again, too many times Hawks players have been in position to attack the basket, but stood around to watch an errant jump shot clang off, and go right into the hands of the opposition. You know, there are times when you really miss Josh Childress. As it is, Al Horford does this on occasion, and Mario West is the only man to do it nearly every chance he gets. Marvin Williams had gotten into the habit before he was injured, and Josh Smith is worse about standing around then almost anybody else. The Hawks are often at some type of size disadvantage or other. But they have the ability to overcome it regularly. Besides, you don’t need size to attack the offensive glass. You only need awareness, some athleticism, and desire. Josh Childress taught us that.
These are the things the Hawks must do if they are to finish out the season well. Clinching a playoff berth was great, but finishing well has much merit. Besides, a good team knows that getting into a good habit….. is keeping a good habit. As you practice, so shall you play. And as you play normally, so shall you play in all situations. All too often, teams realize halfway through a playoff game what they should be doing. Like, when they’re down by 17 points. As recent times would suggest- “too little, too late.”
There’s a saying that bears a lot of weight. It goes, “In tense situations, people do not rise to the occasion. They are reduced to their level of training.” So it can be often times with NBA teams.
Around the rim. If you’re the Hawks, it’s like VISA….everywhere you want to be.