Three weeks and nine games until the regular season ends and the Hawks still have issues. But there also are a couple things you might have worried about a few weeks back that look more promising now.
First, though, the issues. Every team headed for the playoffs has them, of course, but the Hawks have more things to worry about than Cleveland and Orlando and maybe even Boston. Tops among them is that the defense just hasn’t gotten any better, ranking in the middle of the pack and threatening to finish at or near its pecking order in 2007-08.
Notice that Orlando, Boston and Cleveland are all significantly better defensively than the Hawks. Also note that potential first-round opponents Charlotte, Milwaukee and Miami are also better at getting stops. I’m still looking for evidence of the Hawks’ defensive disposition that I heard about before I arrived. I’ve simply not seen anything like the singleminded, obsessive defensive culture I witnessed with Pat Riley’s Heat. Now that I’ve been around for a decent minute I eventually plan to blog on why I think that might be and, no, that theory will not consist of “Woody sucks” with a period.
The Hawks likely are going to have to be much better defensively in the playoffs if they want to get through to the East finals. If you want to be optimistic and say they will get better at it, here are two issues you might have been gnashing your teeth over at one point that now look to be positives (at least to me).
Bibby is better
Have you noticed something different about Bibby?
“He’s had a little bit more bounce in his step and he’s been a lot more active,” J.J. said. “That makes us a deadlier team. I’m glad he’s been real amped up here at the end of the season.”
Look, I get the love for Rook’, particularly those who don’t necessarily want him to supplant Bibby but merely supplement him as a situational defender/pace pusher/drive-to-the-bucketer. But can’t we at least agree that even if Teague got more chances to do those things, it’s still more important for the Hawks that Bibby be Bibby?
Remember, the Kings won 61 games and went to the Western Conference finals (where they got jobbed) only after they got Bibby. I’m not saying he’s still that player, of course, but the guy has played in 69 playoff games. He wants to win. He knows how to do it.
Yes, Bibby can be a liability on defense even with the switches. That’s not going to get better at this point. At least Woody gives him the hook when it becomes too hard to hide him. But Bibby has been and can be a great asset in the playoffs with his spot-up shooting, leadership, vet savvy and a good sense of how to keep his teammates happy and involved. He’s more assertive and consistent now.
“I know coach cut my time down but I figure when I am out there I need to, as best I can, get aggressive,” he said. “I think it makes it easier on everyone else if I get involved and make things happen for myself and the team.”
This is good.
The bench is better
Whether your complaint was that Woody didn’t use his reserves enough, didn’t use them correctly during the flow of the game, that the bench guys weren’t producing when he did give him a shot or all of the above. . . lately those concerns should have subsided if not retreated.
Mo’s minutes are up in March. So are Zaza’s. Even Teague’s minutes have managed to pretty much hold steady even as the playoffs approach. Joe Smith might be another matter but, hey, everybody can’t play.
The reserves are playing consistently now, and Woody has said all along he would use his them more if that happened. For a while it seemed to be a chicken-and-egg deal with “minutes” as the chicken and “production” as the egg with some circular logic taking hold. But now the chicken and egg appear to be in harmony and–behold!–a rotation with defined roles and expectations has been born.
The development has helped to create cohesion and chemistry with the reserves. The starters, too, seem to get energized by watching the subs do their thang from the bench.
“The talk with the second unit is to have fun,” Zaza said. “If you are paying attention, you see after every made bucket it is high-fives. We really don’t care who is going to score. We all know Jamal is the go-to guy (but) we share the ball. We try to have fun. If we make mistake, we just keep playing and bring the energy. As a team, we benefit for that.”
This, too, is good.