Is that all it has really come down to? Every time you turn around, some guy wearing a Hawks jersey is saying, “we’re not playing hard enough.” Oh, wait just a second. I forgot the rest of what has become a sickening cliche. They’re not playing hard enough “…all the time.”
Really. Is that your final answer?
It’s amazing. A fan base that is constantly accused of not caring enough is now being told by the team’s players that apparently, they don’t care enough. For all the criticisms of the moves that the Atlanta front office made or didn’t make (for whatever reasons), nothing is as ominous as that which just keeps coming up in print after every game, win or loss. The assertion being made at the moment is that it’s not about what the Hawks can’t do, it’s about what they won’t do. Now of course, your first indication might be to point to the Hawks’ record, which at 7-4, would not indicate that things are nearly as bad as we make them sound. That is, until you examine precisely who the Hawks have beaten, and in what fashion.
Let’s not push the panic button. Why? Not because it’s too early in the season. That would be the easiest cliche to latch onto. No, we don’t need to push the panic button because panic is what happens when that what you least expected and least predicted to happen, is exactly what happens. It’s when you have nearly every reasonable expectation of being safe, then finding out you’re in a lot of danger. Panic is when you don’t know what to do. But the Hawks swear up and down that they do know what to do. They just won’t do it…all the time.
A mere eleven games into the season, Larry Drew sounds like a man who isn’t beaten yet, but you have to wonder just how much he can take. The man has listened to and observed the same issues for the last six years. Now, as head coach of the same crew, he has to find a way to convince a group of guys to do the very things they already seem to know that should be doing.
The Fault Line
Where do you place Larry Drew on the infamous “fault line?” Is he doing his job? Has he given the team a good guideline and gameplan? Despite the turnovers, which some would argue are a natural by product of the situation and obligatory learning curve, Drew’s offense seems to take better advantage of the team’s talents than we’ve ever seen before. With the exception perhaps of Jamal Crawford, guys “get theirs” without having to make a concerted effort to do so. In fact, it’s good enough to where some teams find themselves going to a zone offense just to slow Atlanta down. All during camp and preseason, everything out of the mouths of the players suggested that they were very pleased with the new offensive scheme. Okay, so then why deviate from it?
Defensively, Drew has decided against scheming to hide the abilities or efforts of some players, and simply holding guys accountable for defending. It doesn’t always work (the argument here is usually that it centers on ability), but there have been concerted flashes of effort from previously unlikely sources. So is Drew to blame here? What is he doing wrong?
Two guys need to be paying very close attention right now. Michael Gearon and Rick Sund. If you think the idea of the core of this team comes from Rick Sund, you might want to think again. Two theories abound here. Either Sund has come up with the idea of the core of Hawks players, and has sold Gearon on the concept…or the concept is Gearon’s , and Sund simply complies with his wishes, offering little or no input. Perhaps neither theory matters at the moment. What does matter is how much attention these guys are paying to what their players are saying and doing. Obviously the answer to the fan base during the offseason, was that the team as constructed merely needed a new guide. Now the new guide is saying some of the exact same things the old guide was saying. Again, didn’t the new guy bring a new plan? Didn’t the players say they liked the plan? Has there been any evidence to suggest that the new plan is ineffective or otherwise flawed?
All this time, we as fans screamed for changes, horrified at the efforts and results of last season’s playoffs. Sure, there was a lot of hollering about coaching, and that had plenty of merit on it’s own. But there was also a lot of hollering about the roster. Of course, that was when times got tough, especially at the end of the season. Here we are at the beginning of the season, and already the looks have started, with the finger pointing right around the corner. And the noise…the noise is coming from the players themselves.
Is this overreaction? Analyzing too early? Well, after which of the Hawks seven wins has there not been a caveat of some type attached, by the players themselves? Why all this noise from a group of guys with a winning record so far? And what ever happened to being one of the best home teams in the League? Seven games in, the Hawks are an even 3 and 3 at home, and 4 – 1 on the road. Should we rejoice in this?
HAWKS VS PACERS
Every year there seems to be a team that flies under the radar for a while, before coming up strong. Arguably, the Bucks were that team in the East before suffering the loss of starting center Andrew Bogut at the most inopportune of times. This year, the sleeper team is not what some would call a sexy pick. It’s amazing what an offseason will do for some teams, and some players. Everyone watches the wonder that is John Wall up in Washington, D. C. Chicago’s once bright future is in doubt with the loss of newly signed Carlos Boozer, and the fact that they still must lean too heavily on pg Derrick Rose. But what of Indiana?
No one on their squad short of Danny Granger gets any headlines, yet here the Pacers are, chugging along with a .500 record, not quite the one dimensional joke that they were last season. Indiana has only been truly blown out in one game, a 101-75 loss in Philadelphia back in early November. On the other end of the spectrum, they completely crushed Denver 144-113 about a week later.
Here’s the deal with Indiana – you can’t just game plan to contain Granger and let the rest of the guys do their thing. For the first time in a while, the Pacers have a fairly solid starting lineup. Guess what that means? They also have a somewhat viable bench, as the guys they were forced to start last year are now reserves. Let’s get into the key players.
The addition of Darren Collison to the Indiana lineup has given the Pacers a solid pg with some decent size and shooting capability. Collison has yet to show exactly where he belongs in the East pecking order of point guards, and doesn’t figure to be too very high in a field that boasts Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, and other credible names (forgive me if I don’t mention them all). But, Collison has proven that last season was no fluke, when he filled in admirably for the injured Chris Paul in New Orleans. Third on the team in scoring and first in assists, Collison is shooting quite well from the field and adds some credible defense as well. Collison’s play allows the Pacers to bring the lightning quick but fragile TJ Ford off the bench, instead of burning him with starter’s minutes.
Point guard play isn’t the only thing that has improved Indiana, though. The return of guard/forward Mike Dunleavy gives them another legit perimeter threat with size. The heady Dunleavy can play the two or the three, and makes it even harder for defenses to key in on Danny Granger. As a result, Granger is shooting 48% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc, scary numbers indeed when you’re talking about a guy with his talent. But that’s not all. Dunleavy also defends a bit, and provides both passing and is a legit rebounder. Better yet, he allows the Pacers to choose between Dahntay Jones and Brandon Rush when deciding who to bring off the bench, rather than having to thrust either one into the starting backcourt.
Literally the biggest story for this franchise is the seemingly quite sudden transformation of center Roy Hibbert. Gone is the slow, soft, and largely ineffective first round project that we saw last season. In his place is a guy who is second on his team in scoring, first in rebounding, and someone who looks like he could keep New Jersey’s Brook Lopez from making the all-star team a second year in a row. Whatever Hibbert did in the offseason has paid off, and it’s showing even against the better front lines in the NBA, as his potential looks to be catching up with his size.
Beside Hibbert is the energetic, athletic, and physical specimen known as Josh McRoberts. He’s neither Troy Murphy nor Jeff Foster, but what McRoberts gives up in scoring talent and outright rebounding/toughness, he’ll make up for with hustle and effort. Behind him is Tyler Hansbrough, a smart hustler who shoots a very high percentage from the floor, and provides enough rebounding and effort when McRoberts inevitably gets into foul trouble.
Here’s the Deal
The Hawks are still more talented than the Pacers. I believe they’re still 10 to 12 points better on a given night, in which they play as they should. But the Pacers are on the cusp of proving to be a team that can’t be ignored or run roughshod over anymore. They’re healthier, they’re deeper, they’re experiencing some success, and they would like some more. If the Hawks lose focus in this game, they will lose this game, plain and simple. If they “don’t play hard enough”, I’ll wager that the Pacers will embarrass them. Now is not the time for this foolishness, and this ain’t Minnesota, where the talent pool alone all but guarantees a win for the opposing team.
Matchup to Watch – Al Horford vs. Roy Hibbert
Last season, Al Hoford made Roy Hibbert look like a draft bust, despite giving up a solid 4-5 inches and probably 40 pounds to the 7′2″ 280 lb center. Will the Hawks start Horford at center against Hibbert, and will it have the same results? Hibbert still gives up the quickness and ability to run the floor to Horford, but his improved game could be a load for Al on the other end of the floor. Could Hibbert force the Hawks to adjust the matchups?
For the sake of Afterthoughts – Jeff Teague vs. TJ Ford
Quick meets quick. Undeniably, Ford has the better jumpshot right now, but his quickness is a problem anytime he’s on the court. He’ll shoot past Bibby and make Jamal run through one screen too many, so maybe Teague gets another shot to make his presence felt here by keeping Ford from running the Hawks into the ground while Collison gets some rest. In fact, without such an effort, the Hawks could get into all sorts of trouble on the defensive end.
On the other side of the ball, Teague simply must improve his attack. The kid knows how to pass the ball, often to the right people and at the right times, but he continues to be no threat to score.