The Hawks scrimmaged live for the first time today and and us media types got to watch. It was different from when I watched L.D. and his staff run the motion offense against air last month, and I came away with three thoughts:
1. To keep this up, the Hawks are going to have to be in tremendous shape and L.D. is going to have to go deep into his bench.
2. The first time you see the Hawks run the offense it’s going to be a shock to your system because it’s such a radical departure from their norm.
3. Because of No. 2, it’s going to take some time for it to look the way L.D. wants.
“I think probably we will have it boiled down and going pretty good by the third preseason game,” J.J. said (that would be Oct. 12 at Washington. “Everyone is pretty much picking it up quickly but when game time comes it will be a little bit different.”
For the Hawks, learning the offense is just the first challenge and probably the easiest–these are pros, after all, and some of this stuff already was in the playbook. More difficult than digesting Xs and Os could be the mental adjustment to playing such a different style.
You could see this on the very first possession of the controlled scrimmage today. J.J. got the ball on the right wing and waited for someone to flash to his side. No one did, so he held the ball until jacking up a fadeaway jumper at the shot-clock buzzer. Another possession also ended in Iso-Joe.
It was as if the Hawks are so conditioned to throwing it to Joe and watching him work they don’t know any other way. Actually, it wasn’t “as if” that’s what happened–one player said that’s exactly what happened. Old habits are hard to break, I guess.
On another play, Smoove saw the backdoor open and tried to feed Joe with a bounce pass. But Joe reversed direction and Smoove’s pass sailed out of bounds. The offense is designed to get shots going to the basket or create open catch-and-shoot 15-footers but Atlanta’s guards are accustomed to working off the dribble far out on the perimeter.
There were some good things, too. Two or three times Marvin confidently came off hand-off screens and made jumpers. Zaza twice got to the basket on backdoor cuts and drew fouls. Smoove caught a backdoor oop from Teague.
“We saw a lot of good things out out of it but we got a little helter-skelter at times,” J.J. said. “But if you run it right, you definitely can get open shots out of it.”
L.D. plans to have all of the plays installed by the time camp wraps up Saturday.
“They kind of know the shell of it, we are just adding different options of it,” he said. “Some of this is going to be a learning experience, especially when they go against a defense. The tendency is to speed up and get out of control. But for the most part they executed pretty much the plays we’ve been working on these first five practices.”
And they were running
The morning practice sessions so far have all lasted at least 135 minutes and the Hawks have run, run and run some more. Near the end of today’s practice, they ran a series of “suicide” sprints” that increased in length each time through. For the final sprint, players ran the length of the court eight times.
Only, that wasn’t really the end. L.D. lined up each group and asked for one final suicide. If they did it in less than nine seconds, the running was over.
“I don’t think there will be a better-conditioned team out there,” Jamal said.
L.D. is asking a lot but so far he said he’s getting it.
“The type of juice they still have left in the tank tells tells me they are in pretty good shape,” he said. “I am pretty happy about that.”
It’s one thing to push guys like this during training camp but I’m not sure how that plays during the season. Already there has been a bit of grumbling among players but nothing too serious. That inevitably would change if it went on like this during the season, when long, frequent, intense practices can take their toll.
Is this something L.D. is doing only for training camp only or will it carry over into the season?
“A little bit of both,” he said. “Any time you come into training camp, for any new head coach, I think he has to set the tone. One, how his practices are going to be. Also, with it being training camp, you do want to get yourself established and get the team established with the mindset that you want going into the regular season.
“I told our guys from Day One, everything we do, we want to do with an aggression. We want to be the hunter, not the ‘huntee.’ Our mentality offensively and defensively is to attack. It all starts in training camp. We have to do it at the pace and the speed and [with] the type of energy we have put into it.”
‘Nine, 10 deep’
The other part of that equation is the Hawks will need a rotation deeper than eight to play this style. Jamal, Zaza, Mo and Teague are mainstays, and L.D. will probably need even more numbers.
“I am very confident with us being a team that can go nine, 10 deep,” he said. “We have some guys, you look at their minutes last season they didn’t play as many minutes as they would have liked. I am going to give those guys every opportunity to show me what they can do and play minutes where they can get into a rhythm.”
L.D. said he will mix and match lineups during practice so all of his bench players can get comfortable playing with the starters. Today he had Teague running with Josh, Joe, Marvin and Zaza (Al sat out the second straight day with a left ankle injury he says isn’t serious).
“Last year he didn’t practice a lot with those guys on the same team,” Drew said. “I want him to get familiar and comfortable with those guys. That all starts in practice. You build that confidence and camaraderie in practice and it carries over into the games.”
Mo (knee) and Pape (back) also sat out today. Mo hasn’t been cleared for contact work and Pape is resting with the hope that a break will alleviate the tightness.
Jamal’s back tightened up during practice but he finished.