Sacramento–Probably a major reason the Twin lineup has been Atlanta’s most efficient defensive alignment is because L.D. has focused it so narrowly.
When the Hawks need a big body to contend with an opponent’s inside power (or at least what L.D. perceives to be an inside threat), Twin goes in. Now the Hawks don’t have to double in the post and scramble. As a bonus, Al is freed from having to tangle with a bigger, stronger opponent at both ends, allowing him up to face the basket and score and theoretically decreasing his chances of falling victim to the two-foul rule.
So Twin’s starts and most of his minutes have mostly come against teams with physical big men: Phoenix, Orlando, Milwaukee, New Jersey, San Antonio, Boston, Oklahoma City and the Clippers. With the exception of Phoenix (when Twin lasted just four minutes) and Boston (which was missing all of its regular big men but L.D. for some reason was focused on getting Al away from Semih Erden)), the Thunder and Clippers games seem to be the outliers in that group.
It could be a hint of what’s to come. L.D. said he’s considering making the big lineup his regular lineup even after Marvin returns from injury.
“I’ve given it some thought,” he said. “I haven’t made a clear-cut decision if that’s what I want to do across the board. For right now I will keep doing what I’ve been doing and match big when we feel we need to go big and move Al to the four spot.”
Atlanta’s most-used Twin lineup is the one that also includes Bibby, J.J., Josh and Al. Looking at the details of that alignment*, Atlanta’s effective field-goal percentage made and allowed both are dramatically better than the usual starting lineup of Bibby, Johnson, Marvin, Josh and Al. The other numbers are all similar.
(*Those numbers from 82games.com do not include the Thunder and Clippers games.)
If defense is about personnel, execution and effort then L.D. is hamstrung in the first category, which directly affects the second. He said he likes the effort over the last couple weeks and credits the big lineup.
“I think one thing that really helped us when we’ve gone to the different lineup changes,” L.D. said. “We are not getting involved in as many rotations because we can play one-on-one in the post. Being bigger allows us to play at home more and not have to get into as many rotations. I think our pick-and-roll coverages have been pretty solid. We still have to get better at it. But we’ve made a conscience effort defensively to get back and get our defense set.”
(Drew said that before the Thunder and Clippers sliced through the Hawks on pick-and-rolls, but that’s happened all season so I doubt those two games will change his thinking on the subject.)
When the Hawks face teams that dump the ball into the post and play the power inside-out game, then Twin can be effective individually and the Hawks are sounder as a team. When the Hawks face teams that relentlessly attack them on pick-and-rolls, which at this point should be any team with a decent point guard, then Twin can be a liability. Because, let’s face it, one of the main defensive requirements for Atlanta’s bigs is to help when everything breaks down against pick-and-rolls and Twin’s help radius is pretty small.
The Twin lineup also can have problems against teams that push the pace–it’s why Collins quickly was pulled from the Suns game when he looked like a wagon on the freeway.
“It can definitely hurt you defensively if you are big and they are small and you can’t match their speed,” Drew said. “Jason has been absolutely phenomenal for us, but if we are playing against a team that has the speed I have got to be a little big more selective of whether to go big because that does put me at a disadvantage.”
But did you notice that at one point against the Warriors last week L.D. had Zaza and Al playing together against Golden State’s smallish lineup? In the first half those two were on the floor with Jamal, J.J., Josh and Al; in the second half, they were with Jamal, Mo, and J.J. The Hawks were plus-12 with those two lineups and Zaza had 11 points and seven rebounds while clamping down on David Lee.
That’s anecdotal evidence that the Hawks can go big against small and dictate to their opponents (and maybe it means Zaza is better suited for that than Twin):
“That’s my line of thinking when I go to that change,” Drew said. “I will go there if we feel like we need to defend that spot or go big and gain an advantage defensively. I feel good going big with Zaza at the five, Al at the four even against a guy like Radmonovic, who is basically a perimeter player. Al is a smart enough defender to not lose him on the perimeter. I know on the other end Radmanovic is going to have a tough time guarding Al in the post. Some teams flip flop and they will put their best defender on Al and they may go small on Zaza. If they do that, we will go to Zaza. It gives me a little leeway. I have some room to play with some certain lineups and certain matchups and certain situations. If defensively we are being hurt going big then obviously we have to go a little big smaller. If we can go big against a smaller lineup and we gain an advantage offensively, I will do that.”