The Hawks want to run more often than they did last season. It makes sense when you look at their personnel.
“They call can get up and down the floor, which gives us I think a tremendous advantage in transition if we commit to the run, which I am really trying to get these guys to do,” Larry Drew said. “Jeff [Teague] can really exchange ends. Joe [Johnson] can run. Marvin [Williams] can run. Josh Smith is a deer and Al [Horford] is probably as fast as any five man in the league.
“Running, to me, it has to be habit-forming. It can’t be just a sometimes thing. When you develop that habit it becomes a part of who you are.”
We’ve heard this before. Before last season the Hawks said they would run more often. And then, according to Synergy Sports Technology, they ended up ranking 11th among Eastern Conference teams in the percentage of their total possessions used (shot, free throw or turnover) in transition and tied for sixth in points per possession in transition (1.14).
Turnovers were the biggest reason the Hawks weren’t a more efficient running team: 13 percent of their transition possessions ended with a turnover, worst in the East. Josh Smith was the leading offender with 20.6 percent of his transition possessions used ended with a turnover. Al Horford wasn’t far behind at 18.2 percent but he only used 77 transition possessions while Josh used a team-high 223.
I looked at the video of Josh’s 44 turnovers in transition. It confirmed my subjective view that the vast majority of his turnovers in transition are by way of bad passes: 32 of the 44 by my count, with eight coming on the dribble (though I thought two of those should have been credited to others for bad passes to Josh) and four on charging fouls.
Josh is a pretty good ball-handler in the open court but he often tried to make what Larry Drew called “hero” passes that got swallowed up in traffic, sailed out of bounds or clanged off the backboard. (Frequently heard from Dominique Wilkins during those clips: “There’s where Josh needs to give the ball to a guard. I can’t say it enough.” And oft-repeated by Bob Rathbun: “Josh with the rebound. . . throws it away.”)
Josh would be better off finishing the play himself. He shot 69.8 percent in transition, induced fouls on 14.3 of possessions used and had 15 and-1s–all team highs–and his 69.8 field-goal percentage was second to Al (76.8).
Al, by the way, also led the Hawks with 1.3 points per possession used in transition, suggesting that he should be involved in the fast break more often. So should Marvin Williams, who was second on the team in the percentage of fouls drawn on transition possessions used (13.8 percent) with a low turnover percentage (5.2)
This is where Teague comes in.
“It’s perfect for me,” Teague said of the plan to run more. “That’s the big thing I tried to come in and preach to the guys when I got here is I want to start pushing the ball. We are still young. We are a young team we’ve got to use that to our advantage and use it.”
I’m thinking Al and Marvin should benefit from Teague making more of the decisions on the break. I’m thinking Josh will give it up to Teague because he knows Teague will run with him. It’s not hard to imagine that combination regularly ending with lob dunks, especially since Josh is lighter and faster.
“He looks a lot more explosive, too,” Teague said. “I see him dunking the ball every time now.”
Teague looked to run more than any other Hawks player Last season he had the highest percentage of possessions used in transition among Hawks regulars (23). He turned it over on 9.6 percent of those transition possessions used, drew fouls on 11.4 percent and scored 1.13 points per possession.
Just 10.8 percent of Mike Bibby’s possessions used were in transition, though he was efficient (1.29 points per possession) in large part because he made 16 of 33 3-point attempts on the break, and 13 percent of Jamal’s possessions used were in transition with a good foul percentage (10.7).
To run, the Hawks will have to rebound. Look at how each player’s s defensive rebounding rate ranks among NBA players at their position with more than 15 minutes per game, and it’s not hard to see who needs to pick it up (all rankings according to Hoopdata.com): Al (13th among centers), Josh (15th PFs), Teague (tied for 13th PGs but played less than 15 minutes per game) Joe (25th SGs), Marvin (23rd SFs)
The 6-7 shooting guard with the chiseled body and the 6-9, athletic small forward should not be average or slightly better at defensive rebounding for their position.
“I’m going to challenge both of those guys this year to be better rebounders than they have been in the past,” Drew said. “There is no reason those guys can’t become better rebounders. They have the size. They have the bodies. Rebounding is a dirty job. We are going to challenge them. When we can get the two or the three on glass, they can initiate a fast break effectively. They’ve got to pull more weight in that area. We’ve got to get more rebounding from those spots.”
So, to summarize how the Hawks might improve their transition offense: Run more often, let Teague makes the decisions, send Josh to the rim, get Marvin and Al more involved, and prod J.J. and Marvin to rebound more so there will be more opportunities to run.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat