Dropped in to Philips yesterday for the last day of Larry Drew’s “clinic” for his assistants. He took five days to school them on the finer points of his offense so they’ll have it down by the start of training camp. The Hawks also will run some “traditional stuff,” L.D. said, but the goal during this camp was to work on Atlanta’s motion stuff.
The lineup: Bob Bender as Bibby, Lester Conner as J.J., Duane Ferrell as Marvin, Kenny Gattison as Smoove and Tyrone Hill as Al. L.D. filled in for Conner late in the session.
(Not exactly the Hawks but, shoot, I wouldn’t mind taking that squad down to the rec league.)
L.D. recorded the session on video so he could show it to his players when camp opens Sept. 28– he said he felt like he was directing a movie, and Conner called him “Spike Lee. There were lots of cracks from the coaches about getting clowned by players once they see their old bodies working this hard. L.D. had to tell his assistants to take it easy a few times.
L.D. (understandably) didn’t want any video in the public domain. So I’ll try to explain what I saw even though pictures would do the job much better than words (also keep in mind the coaches were working against air). . . .
There was lots of motion and ball movement, yes, but what stood out was how much of the action had players cutting to the basket. It seemed there always was an option for the next man in the sequence to either accept the ball while moving to his position or reverse field and look for a cut to the basket. Not everything happens on the strong side, either, so ball-watching and inattentiveness by defenders can mean backdoor baskets.
“It’s very difficult to guard,” Conner said. “You have to be precise in your defensive schemes. You can be beat at any spot on the floor at any time. NBA teams don’t like to guard a lot of movement and screens. I’ve heard the guys [Hawks players] are all for it and are excited about it.”
For weeks L.D. has said his system would “force the ball to move” and I get that now. Things happen so fast there’s not much opportunity for holding the ball. The screens and cuts happen quickly and if the first option is not there then the ball quickly swings the other way, leading to move movement.
Not much possession time is spent on the one- or even two-man game. Each guy gets a chance to touch the ball at different spots on the floor. Decisions must be made quickly for things to flow correctly.
Some of my notes: “pindown screens with curl to free-throw line. . . dribble hand-offs, sometimes with roll man. . . backdoor cuts. . . high-post pick-and-pop. . . flare screens with roll man. . . ball reversal to quick weakside seal post-ups. . . high-low post-ups. . .”
L.D. has some philosophical principles to go along with the Xs and Os. He said he believes his system will work because the Hawks have so many “interchangeable pieces” to work with. Al will play some power forward with Zaza or Twin at center but Drew said the combinations won’t end there.
“We have the luxury a lot of interchangeable positions. We’ve got twos that can be play 3, threes that can play four, fours that can play five. We can even move Josh to the five against certain matchups. You might see the five at the three. You might even see the five at the one. [Regardless of lineup] nothing changes as far as the action on the floor. I want to utilize our abilities as interchangeable pieces.”
Such an approach could make the Hawks less predictable. It’s theoretically tougher to hone in on a player who is deployed at multiple positions and can be used multiple ways within the offense.
L.D. said his emphasis is on exploiting Atlanta’s strengths rather than covering for its weaknesses. For example, here are his views on Smoove playing minutes at small forward:
“He has the ability to erase a lot of defensive mistakes because of his athleticism. I won’t match him up against a lightning-quick guy where he would have to defend multiple screens. But he certainly will be able to play some 3. At the same time, he can be a tough matchup at the 3 as well. You play him at some 3, there is a high probability he is bigger than that three man, stronger than that three man. Certainly the way to take advantage of that matchup is to post him up. We will certainly try to utilize his ability against a smaller guy. It won’t necessarily be about us adjusting to what the other team does. We want to put the opponent in a position where they have to match up with us.”
It’s an aggressive approach. There certainly will be more turnovers. Theoretically there should be fewer isolations and long jump shots. I figure L.D. will have to use his bench liberally, too, if he wants the Hawks to run a lot of motion offense and while also becoming a bona fide defensive team. He’ll have to make lineup adjustments on the fly.
The Hawks are going to have to be in good shape to run this stuff; L.D. said conditioning would a “top priority” early in training camp. The Hawks also are going to have to be precise, unselfish and persistent. L.D. has some work to do with that Woody had a lot of stuff he wanted to run too but he never could coax guys to do it consistently. Things got tough and the Hawks freelanced.
Drew is going to have to break the Hawks out of their iso offense, sometime-y defense mold. It will be interesting to see how he manages it and how the players take to it once it’s time to do the work.