I think it’s safe to say that the Hawks have concluded their offseason roster moves where the frontcourt is concerned. Having signed Etan Thomas and Josh Powell to fill the depth in the paint behind starters Al Horford and Josh Smith, and backups Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins, what’s next?
Nothing, quite possibly. In addition to the aforementioned six frontcourt players, the Hawks also have Marvin Williams, Mo Evans, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Mike Bibby, Jeff Teague, and Jordan Crawford under contract. This meets the roster minimum of thirteen players, and the Hawks don’t want to get a single penny closer to the luxury tax if they can help it. That begs a question or two (or four). Who will the Hawks invite to training camp? Why bother, if they aren’t very likely to carry more than the league minimum? Is it a good idea to carry just 13 guys, keeping a 14th spot open for any possible trades down the line? What about the point guard position or small forward position? In the meantime, we continue to wonder if we’ll ever get a credible report and answer on whether or not second round pick Pape Sy will be joining the team for training camp and the start of the season. While that isn’t huge news, it would be an unprecedented move for this Hawks front office, and might signal just how much they intend to back Larry Drew in his endeavors. After all, Drew managed to convince the decision-makers that he was the man for the job. How much support are they going to show him when he recommends that they make a move?
The Switch Offense
For all the talk about Larry Drew’s magical offensive schemes, do we know anything at all about them? As fans, most likely we don’t know a thing. We can hope that it is as revolutionary, or better yet “effective”, as advertised. Of course, that’s the question. Will it be effective, or is it a gimmick? Can Drew take better advantage of various players’ talents and maximize or optimize what he has to work with? Or is his offense designed to gloss over the limitations of his players? If it’s the former, then Oh Happy Day! If it’s the latter, then guess what? We’ve gone from “switch defense” to “switch offense,” and nothing more.
As discouraging as that may have sounded, I do not believe that Larry Drew wishes to install a gimmick-filled offense that is designed to mask weaknesses. I believe he means to exploit strengths. I believe that he wants to install an offense that is difficult to defend, and constantly puts pressure on opposing defenses through not only the talent of the players we have, but the design of the offense itself. And I believe that anything less will result in the same thing we’ve seen the last two years, or worse.
This may be the difference in this team’s ability to close out games, or blow them wide open (and keep a lead). A team that creates pressure all the time through both talent and design, has a better chance at winning in every game, than a team that creates pressure through talent alone. Does that mean more wins and better playoff performance? We shall see. Having said that, there will be some “switching.” No, not players switching to different positions during game play, but guys switching to different positions as others are brought in to play the vacated position. Drew has already mentioned playing Al Horford at power forward here and there, with one of the backup centers playing center. Might he also be looking to play Joe Johnson as small forward? What about Marvin Williams at power forward? Jamal Crawford at point guard? Things like this could explain why the Hawks seem disinterested in adding another small forward or point guard to the roster. Speaking of which….
Getting to the Point
The Hawks will begin training camp with Mike Bibby tabbed as the starting point guard. Per Larry Drew, Jeff Teague will have to take that spot from him, nothing will be given. That’s bad news to some, and good news to others. The bad news for some will be that this new offense begins with the incumbent starter. Mike Bibby, he of the non-explosive speed, mediocre assists, and general lack of penetration. But also he of the low turnovers and threat to hit a shot anywhere inside of 25 feet or so. The good news is that Jeff Teague will be given a chance to earn the spot if he can, which means he will be given significant (if not substantial) playing time in which to prove himself. Besides, would you want your coach to just hand the starting job to a guy who hadn’t earned it? But what if this experiment fails? The only other option at point guard is really Jamal Crawford, who clearly plays better off the ball. What happens to this high-powered offense then?
One thing I’ve consistently heard from some fans is that Drew’s system will or may not require a traditional point guard. Really? And just how do we know that? What we should know by now is that regardless of what our differing definitions of “traditional” might be, a team MUST, I repeat MUST have a solid floor general who will have the ball in his hands when it matters most. The guy who protects the ball all the way to the other side of the halfcourt line, and then goes into attack mode, setting up the offense. As we’ve seen in times past, this is not the best way to utilize Joe Johnson, nor is it the best way to utilize Jamal Crawford, as both guys are scorers first, and playmakers second. Putting the ball in their hands for the sake of getting a basket is one thing. Going to them to initiate the offense is another. It’s not that they can’t pass the ball or create for others (though stats show Joe is better than Jamal on this front). It’s that they are scorers first and foremost, and should be used as such. The initiation of the offense must fall to a floor general who can make the right decision, as far as where the ball should go first, or what play needs to be run. A guy who attacks equally by looking to pass, or looking to shoot, making the proper decision on how best to proceed.
What is non-traditional about that concept? Isn’t that what a point guard is supposed to do? Does this offensive scheme somehow change the job of a point guard (protect the ball, make the right pass, initiate the offense)? Why would we not expect Drew’s offense to require a point guard to do those things? The answers to those questions still exposes the Hawks to the same thing they’ve never been able to get out of the spotlight with. Mike Bibby is aging, and we wonder what level he can contribute at now, even in a different offense. And we still do not know if Jeff Teague is ready or has what it takes to take over the offense, physical talents notwithstanding. Again, new offense or not, he will have to be a ball-handler, facilitator, and know when to look to get his shot. If he plays the way he did last year, passing the ball off quickly to a shooting guard as soon as he crosses the halfcourt line, then nothing changes. If he continues to defer instead of initiate, then nothing changes.
Maybe we should not be looking for Drew’s offense to take the pressure off of Teague, or hide him a little from the spotlight. Maybe we should look for it to force him even more, to prove himself. After all, how could a more sophisticated offense not rely even more on the headiness and steadiness of it’s point guard? Drew says his style means all five guys attacking all the time.
The point of attack still begins with the point guard, does it not?
What do you think?