Despite some of the uncertainty surrounding the Hawks on the eve of the regular season, I think they they will end up being very good again offensively.
There’s the talent, of course. J.J., Jamal, Al, and Josh will score. I think all are willing to share the ball, including J.J. When the motion breaks down or when the Hawks play more traditional sets (which they still will do a large percentage of the time), J.J. and Jamal can score with the best of them.
The preseason turnovers were a function of playing too fast in transition and trying to figure out all the “reads” that are part of L.D.’s motion offense. Once they get a feel for the latter, I think the Hawks will be tough to guard late in games. You could see it at times when the regulars were playing together. The open shots were there. It looked really good.
With more motion sets Bibby won’t just be standing on the weakside watching and he’s so good at slipping into space and making shots. I think Zaza and Mo are going to benefit from the motion, too. So will Marvin, who must have said “I know where my shots are coming from each night” 30 times during the preseason.
But then there’s the defense. I’m not sure the Hawks can meet L.D.’s goal of being a legit top 10 defensive team. He’s saying a lot of good things about defense, including not switching on screens.
“It puts ownership on us guards to really guard our men and get over picks and fight through them,” J.J. said. “That’s pretty much it.”
“Chasing around little point guards and stuff kind of took us out of what we wanted to do defensively,” Al said. “I think it’s good he’s got everyone staying with their man.”
The Hawks are fine on the backline. The problem will come in those games when Bibby, Jamal, or J.J. (is there any way to avoid regularly matching him on point guards?) can’t contain the perimeter that way. Then what for the Hawks? The answer can’t just be as simple as more Teague, can it?
Woody talked a lot about defense but never got this group to play it a high level consistently. L.D. said he’s ready to back up his talk about defense becoming Atlanta’s “staple” by awarding playing time based on defensive effort.
“We have a plan in place as far as expectations where we want to be as a team defensively and where we want to be defensively individually,” L.D. said. “As I told the guys at the beginning, they are going to be held accountable. We go into every game with a defensive game plan and schemes and I expect them to put forth all the energy into it. If we have to make adjustments, we’ll make adjustments. But no matter the coverages, guys have to put in the effort.”
That last part figures to be repeated throughout the season by L.D. He’s put in a defensive system that theoretically won’t create terrible mismatches for the guards or the bigs. But it won’t work if the Hawks fall back into the lax habits the switches sometimes encouraged.
“I think we are at our best when we play with energy defensively, when we are flying around and doing something,” L.D. said. “I think one of our attributes is we are athletic and we have to utilize that to the best of our capabilities. It’s easy to gauge when we are in our spots, making the right rotations. We have a blueprint of our defense and where people should be. It’s very easy to see when guys are not putting the forth the effort.”
It will also be easy to see what L.D. handles it when they don’t. The Hawks won’t be a serious contender until they can defend like Boston, Orlando and Miami, nor can they count on staying ahead of Milwaukee and Charlotte unless they get tougher on D.
The Hawks are going to score. The next step is getting stops when things get hard.