Big Ray brings the funk today with strong takes on iso and D. They are seemingly unrelated topics but I’m going to tie them together after taking a look at what he’s saying.
Ray observes that “the Hawks don’t seem to buy into the defensive precepts of Mike Woodson anymore.”
What happened? A team once known for getting wins by playing a suffocating defense, now finds itself as one of the more defensively inept teams in the league. Hawks commentator Bob (
RathburnRathbun) noted that Atlanta is in the bottom third of the League in defense. Why? Is the defensive concept an issue? Are the players not listening to the coaching staff? Can it really be attributed fully to one or the other, or (solely) to any other theory?
First, let me say the Hawks aren’t quite that bad on D. If
Rathburn Rathbun was referring to points allowed per game, the Hawks actually rank 12th at 97.3. I prefer to look at efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), where the Hawks rank 13th at 103.8. They finished last season ranked 11th at 104.6.
(Edit: Rathbun emailed me: “I referenced on the air our field goal percentage defense. We finished FEB 25th in the league in FG% defense (.479).” What he didn’t say is I butchered his name twice. My bad.)
But the point stands that the Hawks just don’t seem to be defending as well lately. And it is weird since Woody is all about D. Ray ponders whether the concepts are the issue, and from what I’ve seen one big problem with the switching D is the Hawks sometimes are waaaaay too slow to help when there’s a mismatch in the post or on the perimeter. Pat Riley calls it “pulling triggers” when player are really scrambling and reacting with every pass and teammates are covering for each other. Riley pounded “pulling triggers” into his team’s psyche so much that it’s part of the Heat culture, and if players didn’t buy into it they didn’t play (that’s one reason Beasley, for all his offensive talents, has come along slowly there). “We weren’t pulling triggers tonight” was a common quote from Heat players after a bad defensive outing.
I just haven’t seen that kind of intensity and commitment from the Hawks lately. Recently Woody said the Hawks might think they can just outscore opponents. And usually that might be true but these poor fourth quarters lately show the danger in that approach. Which brings us to isos. Ray says: “Iso-Joe (j)ust really isn’t the issue. Oh sure, it’s a hot button topic if you’re focused on who you want to blame for stagnant offense or a loss. As stated by folks like Niremetal . . . the Hawks run a series of ISO plays.”
I’ve seen some of my blog people say Woody only runs isos. That’s not true, of course. The Hawks have other plays but Ray is so on point when he says those plays end up in iso because the Hawks just aren’t very persistent in running their sets to completion or resetting when option No. 1 isn’t there. It’s part of the problem I’ve had with tracking Iso-Joes: If he gets a screen, gets doubled, backs it out and goes one-on-one for the last 18 seconds, is it an iso? I’d say yes, but technically it wasn’t the play.
But the Hawks do tend to go iso-heavy late in games, especially lately. I think Ray is a little bit too dismissive of Iso-Joe as an issue. So was I when I first got on the beat because I figured that it works most of the time so it’s a good thing (and I still think that to a certain extent). But the part I underestimated is the psychological effect Iso-Joe can have on the team when it doesn’t work.
I’ve seen enough scrunched faces and slumped shoulders from other guys after Joe goes one-on-one and misses to know that it has an effect. I’ve seen the telling eye-rolls when Iso-Joe is brought up in conversation with some guys. I saw Josh get fed up at Utah and start demanding that his teammates share the ball. Last night I saw Josh bring the ball up himself a couple times and try to make passes inside, and then I heard him say (again) after the game that the Hawks need to share the ball more. Maybe he was trying to make that happen himself. When Iso-Joe (or whomever) doesn’t work, and the players get frustrated, and the home fans groan, or the road fans roar, and things go bad–I think it does have an effect beyond Woody’s (and my) bottom-line assessment of it working more often than not.
And here is where I tie Ray’s observations about defense and isos together: What you see from the Hawks isn’t always what Woody wants. After spending time watching this team at practice and shootarounds, and hearing how what Woody says from the bench plays out on the court, I think I can say that the Hawks aren’t always a very focused group.
At practices I’ve seen Woody show a guy exactly what he wants him to do against a screen-and-roll, ball reversal, or whatever, then watch that guy do it wrong 10 seconds later when the Hawks run through the situation. “Where are you going?” is a common refrain from Woody during these sessions. I’ve heard Woody repeatedly urge his guards to get the ball inside to Smoove or Al only to see them passively pass it around the perimeter. Last night against the Bucks, I heard Woody yell at Josh four times to give up the ball and get inside when he brought it up but Josh instead tried to whip passes to the post (as noted above that might be because he doesn’t want the Hawks to end up in iso).
Now please don’t take these examples and conclude that the players have tuned Woody out. That’s a big reach, and I’ve seen nothing to support that. What I’ve seen is the normal frustrations when something doesn’t work and the Hawks lose. All I’m saying is, what you see from the Hawks on offense and defense may not be what Woody wants.
– Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus takes a statistical look at the 2010 free-agent class and projects that J.J. may be a risky proposition as a max salary guy as he hits his 30s. He ranks Joe at the bottom of the second-tier of potential free agents.
– I love my blog people. You care enough to come here and read my stuff and vent your frustrations about the Hawks. Like I said when I started, I respect that you care so I try to keep you coming back. Hopefully you’ve seen that I can take it when you think I’m full of it (except for maybe a bad day or two) and in fact encourage healthy disagreement. It keeps me on my toes, might make me consider something I hadn’t before and generally makes for a fuller conversation. That’s all good.
Having said that, if you come on here with some weak stuff I might send it back. If you are unreasonable, rip me for not addressing something I already have, say dumb things or try to punk me, you might get called out. Just remember it’s nothing personal. If you give it, got to take it.
But I really do love my blog people. Do you like me back? Check yes, no, or maybe. (Remember how you used to put “maybe” when you weren’t confident, to give the girl the chance to let you down easy so you could save face with your boys? I remember because I just did it last week.)
(J/K, blog people, my game is stronger than that! Well it usually is, anyway.)
– Talk amongst yourselves, Hawks fans.