The Hawks ranked 16th among NBA teams in defensive efficiency last season.
Some of their defensive category ranks, according to Hoopdata: 12th in opposing true-shooting percentage (53.7); fourth in opposing 3-point percentage (33.8); 22nd in opposing assist rate (20.98); 29th in opposing turnover rate (12.29), 11th in defensive rebounding rate (74.57); 24th in block rate (12.3); third in opposing free-throw rate (27.4), meaning they sent opponents to the line at the third-lowest rate in the league; and 29th in defensive plays rate (blocks, steals and charges).
More than a few of those numbers could be interpreted as a lack of aggressive defense by the Hawks. I’m looking at the opposing turnover rate, the block rate (and, by extension, the defensive plays rate) and the opposing assist rate.
Larry Drew said he’s changing the defensive approach.
“We are doing some things differently this year,” Drew said. “One, you have to be in shape. Two, you have to play with energy. We are doing some things where we are flying around a little bit more and guys are picking it up fast, which is important because to play defense you have to all be on a string.”
How would he describe the new strategy?
“Being a little more of the aggressor,” he said. “Go out and dictate, be the initiator. It’s like boxing. We don’t want to be a counter-puncher. Dictate the pace, dictate the rhythm.”
Does that mean more ball pressure, more stalking the passing lanes?
“That’s all part of it, too,” he said. “But we are doing some things defensively to energize us more. Not just sticking with your basic principles on defense. We are trying to do some things that will energize us.”
Does he hope the Hawks collect more steals, force a faster pace?
“It’s kind of a combination,” Drew said. “It’s certainly to change the pace and the rhythm of the game. Steals? Yeah, some, but I would rather be a defensive team that can disrupt and then we come up with the rebound. Steals, kind of the tendency is more to gamble. Defensively, I want to be solid and allow our team to dictate the rhythm and the pace of the game.”
It sounds to me like Drew essentially wants the Hawks to compete harder on D. That’s more of a philosophy or style than a strategy, but I’m curious to see how it looks.
This is how Jeff Teague described the new approach:
“I think we are trying to speed people up. We are rushing people off the 3-point line. We are trying to make a lot of effort. Last year somebody got an open three, we just let them have the open three. This year we are closing out and trying to make everybody drive to the basket.”
Does it mean he will pressure the ball more?
“Yeah, more picking up full court,” he said. “It’s going to be tiring. That’s what you play for. You’ve got to be in shape.”
Al Horford described the new defensive approach like this:
“[Drew] just wants to be more aggressive defensively. I think in the past we’ve been passive and just let the offense come to us instead of forcing the tempo. It’s going to be a challenge with the shortened season but I think we can do it. It’s about bringing the right energy.”
Drew said his players have embraced the changes.
“They are very, very receptive,” he said. “I understand that in being that kind of defensive team, you have got to have the right personnel to do it. You have got to have guys that are energy guys. But again you’ve got to pick and choose times and spots. That will be something we try to really harp on with these guys when we do change defensive strategy.”