Well, after 41 games played, the Hawks sit with a record of 26 wins and 15 losses at the literal halfway point in the season. Is this where we should expect them to be? Are they further along than last season, or behind it? On pace to win 52 games if they can match the results of the first half, the Hawks would seem to have not lost much ground. However, two major factors could stand in Atlanta’s way of once again winning a top 3 or top 4 seed to the playoffs: a tougher second half schedule, and the Chicago Bulls.
In the meantime, how is Head Coach Larry Drew looking? At the suggestion of Hawks fan and blogger Astro Joe, we’ll review some major topics involving the “new” sideline prowler. I would post Astro Joe’s thoughts on the situation at the time of his excellent suggestion (which was weeks ago), but he may have taken a different view on some subjects by now. At any rate, here is some of what he (and I’m sure many of us) thought we should review on Larry Drew:
1) The offense. Clearly, things are different for the team from this aspect. Well, that is to say that they have the potential to be different. Two things have been constant for Atlanta the last couple of years. One, they knew they could win by sharing the ball, and often win big. Two, they have relied on the work of two go-to scorers in the backcourt when other things weren’t working, or when things got tough. In other words, the ball movement of Drew’s offense makes this team better when they choose to execute it consistently. Truthfully, the ball and player movement is better. But neither is as consistent as it should be. Is this an issue with the guys wearing the jerseys, as it was last season? Does it fit a team that boasts two of the most talented offensive backcourt players? Has Drew truly improved the offense, or does more credit go to the growth of guys like Al Horford? How has this new offense fared in the tougher, tighter games? Last season, the Hawks scored 101.7 ppg on 46.8% shooting. This season? 98.1 ppg on 46.9% shooting.
2) The defense. Larry Drew said he would hold everybody accountable on defense, and he’s more or less been true to his word. That is to say, Drew has the Hawks playing man-to-man defense, rather than switching all the time. What of the results? The Hawks are allowing 95.3 ppg and 45.3% on field goals for opponents. Last season, the Hawks allowed 97 ppg on 46% shooting. However, it seems more like the Hawks are trying to outscore opponents more than they are trying to stop them. But, as some of you have already noted, this may be the best path for a team that isn’t built for great team defense. Also, the Hawks are rebounding slightly less than last season. Is Drew truly holding the Hawks accountable on defense? The last game (a loss to the Rockets) demonstrated some unfavorable defensive results, as well as more of the same observations. How about what Coach Drew thought about it? Well, it’s a bit interesting. At the same time, we’ve seen better defensive efforts out of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford than we’ve ever seen out of them in a Hawks uniform. Is it enough? What about team defense overall?
3) Developing the youngsters. Where does second year guard Jeff Teague truly stand? In the beginning, Larry Drew proclaimed that he wanted Jeff Teague to compete for the starting job. Teague didn’t even look the part, to be honest. After probably 30 games, it seemed that the kid finally came out of his shell, showing himself to be more aggressive on both ends of the court in most games where he got any real playing time. However, he still isn’t even a part of the rotation. Is he simply not good enough? I’d argue that the answer is “yes” in the beginning of the season. But now? Well, it seems that Drew is seeing things precisely the way his predecessor saw them: it’s more productive from an offensive standpoint to bring Crawford off the bench as THE backup guard. Is Drew still committed to Teague’s development, or is the young point man simply caught up in a situation where Crawford’s recent offensive output is just too much to ignore?
What about Jordan Crawford? With Joe Johnson back in his groove, and Crawford playing like he’ll get the Sixth Man award a second straight year, the rookie shooting guard doesn’t look to have much of a chance at playing more than 2-3 mpg. Maybe Drew can’t be blamed here, seeing as how the Hawks have trouble finishing a game off early these days. But back to Teague – is it situational, or is the head coach simply not keeping his word?
4) Josh will play more in the paint, Horford more at the 4. This is sort of like the promises a presidential candidate makes during his/her campaign. Drew said he would get Josh off the perimeter, and more into the paint. He also said he would play Al Horford more at the power forward position. The latter? Check. The former? Well, um…..
The situation with Josh Smith continues to be a bit of a roller coaster. From a positive perspective, Smith has finally developed an actual jump shot, and is shooting respectably from three point range. From a negative perspective, his field goal percentage is down from last season’s 50.5% to 46.6%. What about all the shots in between the paint and the three point arc? This is where much of the trouble is, as Smith doesn’t hit enough of those to justify his shot selection. If you want more details into this one specific aspect of Hawks basketball, read the blog after every game and look for Hawks fan/blogger Niremetal’s “Josh’s jumpers update.” Yes, we do some interesting things around here.
Either way, Josh hasn’t gotten into the paint more than usual. Perhaps the most likely indication is his free throw attempts. Smith is on pace to have fewer of those this season than he did last season. Suffice it to say that he doesn’t get fouled much on jumpshot attempts. Is this typical stubborn Josh, or is it a result of Drew’s offense? Either way, the promise isn’t being delivered on.
5) Lineups and use of the bench. Larry Drew has made his mark with the way he uses this roster, if nothing else. Marvin Williams’ absence due to injury is possibly all that keeps Drew from revealing whether or not he’ll go with a different starting lineup from here on out, than in year’s past. Interstingly enough, it may be Marvin Williams who finds himself a starter no longer, and a super sub (we hope, if that be the case) instead. Drew helped motivate Jason Collins into better physical condition, then rewarded his hard work and savvy with 14 game starts, mostly against teams with bigger centers. The results have largely been favorable, as that Hawks lineup has proven statistically to be the most effective lineup overall in many situations. Oddly enough, most guys are playing the same minutes they played last season, with some notable exceptions. Joe Johnson is down to a more manageable 36 mpg, while Mike Bibby is up to 31 mpg (27.4 last season). The difference? More guys playing double figure minutes when they do get into games. Last season, 9 guys played double figure minutes, with a tenth averaging just under 10 mpg. This season, there are 11 Hawks playing in double figure minutes, with a twelfth averaging just under 10 mpg. The rotation itself is largely the same.
Yet, another major difference is where guys are playing. While Al Horford enjoys more time at his more natural position of power forward (don’t argue with me, he says it and the coach says it), Joe Johnson has played more small forward, and Mo Evans has played more shooting guard.
So there you have it. How would you grade Head Coach Larry Drew so far this season? You can grade him according to the above categories, but don’t stop there. Come up with your own categories and grades as well.
HAWKS VS. KINGS
Last Meeting: The Hawks needed a heavy dose of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford to close out a somewhat tight win over the Kings. The frontcourt struggled all night. But that was in Sacramento. Will the frontcourt guys get their act together and supplement the red hot Johnson and Crawford back home in the Highlight Factory?