(Checking in from a Miami holiday weekend filled with beaches, BBQ and . . . beverages)
We’ve heard about L.D.’s offensive philosophies but what about D? The short answer to what I know is the No. 1 question: Atlanta’s base defense under Drew will not feature switching on all (or most) screens.
But what he hopes to accomplish goes beyond Xs and Os and lineups. L.D. said he wants to develop a true defensive disposition for a team known more for finesse.
“Playing defense, it can be ugly sometimes,” Drew said. “Sometimes guys don’t like to do the ugly stuff, the dirty work stuff. Good defensive teams, their mindset is to go into games and outwork you. They don’t care how they do it. They do whatever it takes to shut you down. They have that aggressive mentality, where each game they go into it thinking ‘I am going lock in on my guy.’ and that works its way to the rest of the guys. You have to have that team concept and that aggressive mentality.”
A fanatical devotion to shutting down opponents is a trait of all true contenders. Atlanta’s lack of that quality has to rank at least alongside strategy and personnel as a major reason the Hawks have been a middling defensive team.
The Hawks ranked 13th in defensive efficiency last season, 11th in 2008-09 and 13th in ‘07-08. They were 24th in defensive rebounding rate in ‘09-10, 24th in ‘08-09 and 26th in ‘07-08. Atlanta’s rank in opponent true shooting percentage was 19th last season, eighth in ‘08-09 and 18th in ‘07-08. You can keep going down the list of ways to measure defensive performance and lately the Hawks rarely ranked in the top 10, never mind the top 5.
Defense is another area where L.D. is going to have to find a way to get more out of the guys he’s got. Changing their mentality is the obvious place to start. Drew has to galvanize a group that wilted so badly against the Magic. He has to help his players reach the “uncomfortable” effort levels that Al said they didn’t reach last spring.
There are familiar questions about Drew’s roster, too. It’s the same group of defenders (with an asterisk next to Jamal’s name) that couldn’t contain the perimeter. It’s still a power rotation that lacks a menacing 7-footer in the middle. It’s the same group that too often looked to Al and Smoove to go to work on the boards.
Does L.D. think he has the horses to play good, tough, straight-up D?
“I think we have the personnel to do it,” he said. “That’s why I use the term ‘accountability.’”
One way to annoy NBA players is to talk to them about defensive “stoppers.” So many times I’ve heard guys, especially guards and wings, scoff at the notion. There is no such thing, they say, because there are too many good offensive players and the hand-check rules make it nearly impossible to stop those kind of guys straight up.
Point taken, and L.D. said it’s one he recognizes. That’s why he said he there will be times when switching and other help-type schemes will be necessary.
“I think you have to make a decision on how you want to guard certain people,” he said. “Certainly game-by-game, adjustments will be made defensively. But you go into the game with the mindset of guarding your own people. I think we are deep enough we can get that kind of defense out of our guys.”
Drew said he doesn’t want that to go so far with tricking up the D that players use it as a crutch. You could see that happen with the Hawks last season. Players became so reliant on the switches that they tended to relax in anticipation of screens. Why fight through picks to stay with your man when he can be always be passed off to a teammate?
“I know exactly what you mean,” L.D. said. “You are not the first person I’ve heard say that. Different coaches have different philosophies on how they do things.”
The switching defense has its advantages. It can be effective against pick-and-rolls. It helped the Hawks cover up some of their limitations (even if it also could create other problems). But I think there is no question that using switches so liberally blunted Atlanta’s defensive aggressiveness.
Getting away from the switches is a matter of strategy for Drew, whose goal is for the Hawks to make only what he calls the “switchable switches” that don’t leave them in clearly bad matchups But ditching switches also is a matter of mindset.
“We need guys locking in and focusing on what the defense calls for,” Drew said. “We have the tools for it. We have some areas where got to get better at, but I think overall we have the tools to be a good defensive team. That is the challenge I am going to put to the guys.”
– Nothing new on the Jamal front. He still wants either a satisfactory contract extension or a trade but the Hawks still haven’t indicated if he will get either.
– French club Le Havre announced on its Web site that it has completed a buyout of Pape Sy’s contract. The Hawks haven’t received the paperwork and so don’t consider the deal to be official but they are optimistic there will be no snags.