J.J. may have gotten to the crux of the matter when asked today if the way for the Hawks to get their offense back on track is to attack the basket.
“Maybe,” he said. “But you look at a jump-shooting team–we are a jump-shooting team. If shots are falling then, great, we are rolling. But one through five, we all are jump shooters. That’s pretty much what it is. Like I said, if we are making shots then we are probably unstoppable. But when we are not making shots those are the games we have to grind out.”
With the notable exceptions of the recent games against Portland and Chicago, the Hawks haven’t been able to “grind out” against better opponents. They remain, essentially, a group that wins by outscoring opponents, and one that generally must do so by making a high percentage of their long jump shots.
They still do so at an above-average rate for the season but not well enough to counteract their lack of scoring on free throws, their below-average 3-point shooting and their conversion of 2.4 full less baskets at the rim per game than the average NBA team. Atlanta’s effective field-goal percentage has nearly dipped to the league average.
Go figure: The Hawks now have a below-average NBA offense and an above-average defense. The Hawks had a much more efficient offense last season because they were much better at offensive rebounding and taking care of the ball.
I figured all along Atlanta wouldn’t be as efficient scoring this season, with a potential trade off that they wouldn’t be as predictable to defend in the playoffs. I didn’t know the offense would end up falling off this much. And now they are predictable in another way. It used to be that the ball stayed on one side of the floor as Joe did his thing so the defense had it easy. Now the proper plan vs. the Hawks is to induce them into taking long jump shots, collect the rebounds and beat them in transition as they scramble.
Back to J.J.’s point: Since the Hawks are clearly best at regularly creating open jump shots (no small thing in the NBA) and making them, why shouldn’t they just keep jacking jumpers until they fall and try to grind when they don’t? Their rate of making them is going to fluctuate but at least we know they can do it. Eventually. I mean, right?
What are the other options with this roster? They have no post game to speak of, unless L.D. can suddenly convince Smoove that he’s better off in the paint (unlikely since both men see this as a viable option). Joe, Jamal and Al can attack off the dribble but Joe isn’t making his floater now, Jamal’s iso game seems stymied by the offense and Al is more pick-and-pop than pick-and-roll or drives.
The Hawks can try to run more but that means defending, rebounding and/or forcing turnovers (which the Hawks do at a below-average rate). Running also means more turnovers, unless Kirk Hinrich (who is off to a high-turnover start with Atlanta) can organize the break.
And, anyway, the design of L.D.’s offense, at least as recently executed, seems to lend itself to creating open jump shots. Notice that when he talked about a Plan B yesterday, it involved feigning jump shots and driving to the basket past closing defenders. In other words, the main impetus is getting an open jumper and then using that threat to create a better shot, not getting that better shot through the execution of the offense in the first place.
What happened to all the post-ups and cuts we saw in the preseason and early in the year? Dare I say more Iso-Joe and Iso-Jamal going at the basket is a better plan than swinging the ball around only to jack up long jump shots anyway?
“I just think we have to continue to know where we are trying to get to and know who we are trying to get to score that play, whatever it is,” Jamal said. “If we point the ball in a certain direction I think we will be more efficient offensively.”
“We have to be more aggressive going to the basket,” Al said. “I think we can get baited into taking a lot of jump shots. Even though we are good jump shooters, at the end of the day you have to have a balance. We have to be able to do both to be successful.”
If he’s right about that but the Hawks just can’t do it because, as J.J says, the are a jump-shooting team at heart, then they are capable of looking really good in the playoffs because those shots are falling or really bad because they are not. Taking into account the nature of the playoffs, Atlanta’s poor ability to stick to a plan, and the fragile psyche as exposed by Orlando last spring, do you think the jump-shooting Hawks can carry the day as an underdog in a seven-game series?
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat