We all know that regular season games are where the story is told for teams and players. But what about the story behind the story? I’m talking about practice. Yeah, I know. Some are probably reacting to that much like Allen Iverson did (”Practice? Practice!”), but is there not something to be learned from this?
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking too much on the topic myself until talking to fellow Hawks enthusiast Sautee one day, and he put it in a different light. I was droning on about the benefits of having veteran big men Joe Smith and Jason Collins on the roster this year, and how many different frontcourt combinations we could use. And then Sautee said, “This also will probably give these guys some of the best practices they’ve ever had, particularly Horfy and Smoove.” Now you know that’s when I went Iverson. Practice? Practice! We’re talking about practice?! But then he explained, and it dawned on me that he was right in so many ways.
During the regular season, teams don’t see the same opponents every night. And, they may not see certain opponents more than a couple times a year. While the game is on, you don’t have time to work on a move over and over. There is no coach blowing the whistle and saying, “Okay, let’s run that again!” No, it’s perform or ride the pine. We as fans don’t have access to NBA practices, and we don’t think much about it. But this is where players get to work on things. This is where coaches get to work on things. This is where a team as a whole gets to stop, review, and do it over again. No time for that in games.
And for the first time in years, the Hawks should indeed have good, effective practices. Because now they have the personnel to do it. Think about it. If you’re a coach, you want your team to practice in various units. But you have two main units: the starting five, and the bench. Sure, you can mix them up, putting some starters with some reserves, but in the end, you need both units playing exclusively with each other to build chemistry. The starters will spend the most time on the floor more often than not, and they will also spend more time with each other than they will with reserve players. Yet, for this to be effective, the starters need reserves that can push them and compete with them to an extent.
In retrospect, can we say that the Hawks starters have had such a thing over the past few years? Who has Josh Smith been practicing against? Does it help make him better? I doubt it. How about Al Horford. Zaza Pachulia is a good reserve to have, but does practicing against him prepare Horford for what he faces night in and night out? Collins and Smith present a different dynamic to the practice atmosphere, at least for our two “post men.” Collins is a defensive-minded 7-footer with enough size (255 pounds) to offer a daily battle to the shorter and slightly lighter Horford. Where Joe Smith lacks the height and girth, he makes up for it with savvy and the ability to move out to the perimeter some. This mixture should mean better preparation for Al Horford and Josh Smith.
But what of the backcourt? Mo Evans was here last year, and I’m sure he’s had his fair share of guarding Joe Johnson in practice. On the other end of the court, Evans is solid, but certainly nobody that Joe has to follow too very closely. Jamal Crawford is another story. This guy likes to score, and can do it in a number of ways. Joe won’t be able to lay off of him. There isn’t a shot Crawford has met, that he didn’t like (just ask his field goal percentage). And then there is Mike Bibby. He will likely spend time trading jumpers with Crawford at times, but he will be doing so with Jeff Teague as well. More than likely, Bibby will be doing far more for Teague than the other way around. Or will he? Bibby knows the nuances of the game, and Teague can learn a lot from him. But Teague is faster, and Bibby is not exactly a defensive mentor. And word is, Teague can get his own shot. All the same, Bibby is the old bull, and Teague the young one. Practices should be interesting.
Before you say it, no I did NOT forget Marvin Williams. But that is the question. Who does Marvin practice against? Mo Evans is the first name that comes to mind. And while he will give good effort, what can Marvin learn against him, other than how to back a smaller opponent down? Not that this is something to scoff at, as the number of times we’ve seen Marvin do that can be counted on one hand (and not need all of your fingers). But seriously, where’s the challenging matchup? He can practice against Josh Smith, but that requires that you not have your starting five playing together. From this thought alone springs another question about training camp. Do the Hawks need to retain a combo forward or guard/forward combo?
What do y’all think? Do the Hawks need to retain a combo forward or guard/forward other than Mo Evans (he’s signed up for the year, so we can’t just cut him, before anybody suggests that)? Do you think practices will be more competitive and edifying with the new additions?