Larry Drew deserves credit for holding Hawks together

Larry Drew has held the Hawks together despite the loss of Al Horford. (AP photo)

Larry Drew said last season's Hawks "would've surrendered" in Minnesota. (AP photo)

A curious thing has happened since Al Horford’s pectoral exploded: The Hawks’ season hasn’t exploded along with it.

They have won three straight. Granted, Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto are somewhat like the last three ingredients listed on the wrapper of a QuikTrip microwave burrito. They make you think, “Huh? What’s that?”

But it says something that a notoriously fragile team such as the Hawks hasn’t caved. It says something that a bunch that trailed by 18 points late in the third quarter against Minnesota not only didn’t roll over, but actually rallied to win.

“Last year in most cases like that, heads would’ve been down, and we would’ve surrendered,” coach Larry Drew said.

Now, this is not to project that the Hawks will be just fine without Horford (who was scheduled for surgery Tuesday and is a long shot to return before the playoffs, if even then).  But it says something about Drew and what his players think of him.

In Drew’s rookie season as a head coach, the Hawks upset Orlando in the first round of the playoffs and took Chicago to six games in Round 2. In his second season, we’ve seen Josh Smith morph into a smart and consistent basketball player and young point guard Jeff Teague play with more confidence and aggressiveness. We’ve seen the Hawks start 10-4 despite a schedule that saw them open with a league-high nine games in 12 days following a training camp and preseason that lasted approximately seven minutes.

It hasn’t all been great. The embarrassingly lethargic performance nearly two weeks ago in the home overtime loss to Miami (which was minus Dwyane Wade and LeBron James) provided Charles Barkley with a sledgehammer and a three-hour monologue. But the Hawks are 6-1 since then (the only loss coming in the game at Indiana when Horford was injured).

After the injury, Drew’s soundbites to players hardly qualified as ground-breaking. Stay mentally strong. Elevate your game. One soldier goes down, another picks him up. It’s probably nothing Mike Woodson didn’t say to them a million times. The difference is they’re listening to Drew.

“It helps that he has been here for a while, and he knows everybody in this locker room,” said Smith, referencing Drew’s days as an assistant under Woodson. “It would’ve been hard for a guy who wasn’t familiar with the team to pull this together. But I think he knew exactly what to say and how to act when [Horford's injury] happened.”

On Monday at Philips Arena, Drew grabbed a microphone before the opening tip-off against Toronto and addressed the crowd on the significance of playing in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He touched on all of the right themes. Then the game started and he connected with his players. Smith (28 points, 15 rebounds) made his first six shots, then Hawks led by 13 in the second quarter, survived a couple of hiccups and won by nine, 93-84.

Sometimes it’s easy for a first-year head coach to get the attention of players, simply because he’s new. But there’s a tendency for players to get comfortable in Year 2.

Smith’s take: “It’s like drafting a guy in the second round. The first year, he may be guaranteed [a job], but you have to prove yourself to come back and then prove yourself again. He might have more pressure on him than any other coach right now.”

Drew says he has been watching and “listening to the whispers” of his players since Horford’s injury. Have they bought in?

“I sure hope so,” he said. “I’ve tried to look at our team and pinpoint the personality of it. In the past in these kind of situations, we’ve been known to just put our heads down and succumb to what’s happened to us, but that hasn’t happened. At some point we’re going to hit some more bumps in the road. I’m just hoping we can respond to it and crawl our way out of it.”

The early signs are encouraging.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

62 comments Add your comment

Matt

January 17th, 2012
11:48 am

I hope for the best from the Hawks… I’d sure like to see them play, but I won’t give a penny of my money to the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Jamaaliver

January 17th, 2012
11:50 am

It really burns me to give the Atlanta Spirit credit, but this was a really good hire. He was an average coach last year, but has improved over the long offseason.

Xs and Os he was always good at, but this year the guys eemed motivated and prepared every game.

The only Hawks coach in the last 10 years+ with a winning record with our team.

Who’d have thunk.

Tom

January 17th, 2012
12:03 pm

I think Drew has done a good job. But why was teague on the bench all of last year until an injury to heinrich forced his hand to play Teague in the Chicago series?

Harry Who

January 17th, 2012
12:08 pm

This team is hard to figure. Sometimes they look like they just stepped out of bed and are rubbing their eyes on the court and others times they can compete with any team in the league. The concern here is they live and die by the jump shot. If JJ and Smith are hitting shots it is a completely different team but the consistency is what they need to establish.

FLoze

January 17th, 2012
12:09 pm

I think we should credit the schedule maker as much as we credit Drew. Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto should go 1,2,3 in the lottery.

The bench looks deep though – who would have thought that this bunch would have given the hawks one of the deepest benches I have seen this year. Ivan Johnson and Willie Green? Never saw it coming.

steve brown

January 17th, 2012
12:13 pm

He deserves a lot of credit along with the players and Sund. Teague and Josh (finally) are maturing under Larry’s leadership. Joe Johnson has something to prove and Drew will do everything he can to support him. The new guys are getting minutes and becoming part of the team in rapid fashion. Hinrich and Williams might just provide some booster rockets as the season unfolds. Ivan Johnson makes me smile every time he provides help on defense and hustle on offense. Drew is the leader and this season just might be as special as we have seen in years.

C dog

January 17th, 2012
12:23 pm

Minnesota played the Hawks at Philips, not at Minn

C dog

January 17th, 2012
12:27 pm

Washington, Nets < Charlotte, Minn, Toronto….

The win against Minnesota was impressive. If these were the Hawks from last year, they would have collapsed against an 18 point lead late in the third.

lea

January 17th, 2012
12:27 pm

I wish all of those complaining about the schedule would shut up.. The hawks didn’t pick it, so why are you guys constantly complaining about the opponents? a win in a freakin win in this league, nothing is guaranteed just because you are a better team

DC

January 17th, 2012
12:41 pm

couple weeks back im sure these people complaining about the easy schedule were complaining about how hard the schedule was…

mountain_jim

January 17th, 2012
12:46 pm

They would be better prepared for those upcoming ‘bumps in the road’ if Sund would go out and get them another center, imho. Be pro-active, don’t wait until the car is in the ditch.

Najeh Davenpoop

January 17th, 2012
12:54 pm

LD does some things well and is maddeningly annoying at some other things, but he has improved over the course of his time as a head coach. The willingness to analyze his mistakes and improve is an edge he has over his predecessor. Good to see the Hawks show some mental toughness over the last few games.

With that said…

“They would be better prepared for those upcoming ‘bumps in the road’ if Sund would go out and get them another center, imho. Be pro-active, don’t wait until the car is in the ditch.”

Exactly.

Edgar

January 17th, 2012
1:02 pm

I’m just glad to see Schultz write about the Hawks. Now, if only the AJC’s sports page and talk radio stations would consistently cover the best and most interesting team in the city (at least over the past few years), I’d be happy.

This is an appreciated step in the right direction.

Rev in Tampa

January 17th, 2012
1:06 pm

Jeff,

You sound genuinely surprised that Drew is pulling this team together. I’m with you. After observing the Hawks tune him out at the end of last season (before the playoffs) I have more confidence in Josh Smith’s jumpshot than Drew’s ability to effectively lead this team.

John V

January 17th, 2012
1:06 pm

The schedule might be easy now but remember who they started with: Miami, Chicago, Miami, and Chicago in 4 out of 5. That was an insanely tough stretch.

KBP

January 17th, 2012
1:15 pm

. . . the last three ingredients listed on the wrapper of a Quik Trip microwave burrito. Hilarious, Jeff! Feel better about Drew, still not completely sold.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2012
1:23 pm

Jeff, have you ever had your picture made on the Henry Grady statue? Are there plans to move the HGS to Dunwoody? We was wondering.

falCANS

January 17th, 2012
1:30 pm

JOSH SMITH was.ready 3 years ago!!!! Just NEVER got the support from coaches or fans. He still turns the ball over at an alarming rate and always will. Only difference is hes scoring BIG TIME!! Soon as the season started hes taken it upon himself to score early and often. THIS WAS NOT LARRY DREWS DESIGN!!!! JOSH SMITH FA PRESIDENT

jdewayneatl

January 17th, 2012
1:32 pm

“I think we should credit the schedule maker as much as we credit Drew. Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto should go 1,2,3 in the lottery.”

I don’t think the schedule maker new that Al would go down right before a 4-game home set featuring some not so good teams.

oldmike

January 17th, 2012
1:38 pm

In light of Horford’s value to theteam’s chemistry and energy they have been pretty solid since Al went down. Long term who knows but things may be looking up. There is no way we can undervalue the contribution that Teague makes to the on court personality of this team. He to me is the major difference 2011 to 2012. Comments?

Ray

January 17th, 2012
1:42 pm

I think the key to the Hawks future is to run the ball– as well as taking good shots and rebounding hard.
They’ve got the size and the speed to play with most teams– and they can beat them up and down the floor on offense and defense. Teague makes them go when he pushes the ball and he’s making making good decisions because he has matured. Larry Drew is getting them to play harder because these guys know that the team will be blown up– if they don’t go deep into the playoffs this year!

Will hate on Thomas Dimitroff on Hawks blog

January 17th, 2012
1:48 pm

When Drew didn’t play Teague last year… it drove me so angry. It was like he wasn’t paying attention to what got Mike Woodson fired.

In many ways, Hinrich’s injury is saving Coach Drew from himself.

As falCANTS wrote, Josh Smith has been long overdue to be given this opportunity to be “the man”.

In some ways, Horford’s injury and Joe Johnson being Joe Johnson is forcing Josh to become the scoring machine he was always suppose to be.

Now what injury could help Marvin Williams? :)

oldmike

January 17th, 2012
2:06 pm

He (Drew) sure has upgraded his wardrobe this year. Who is he endorsing?

Dr. Warren

January 17th, 2012
2:08 pm

I heard LD made the team listen to clips of Barkley’s insults. Now that is a good motivational technique.

Rev in Tampa

January 17th, 2012
2:08 pm

“When Drew didn’t play Teague last year… it drove me so angry. It was like he wasn’t paying attention to what got Mike Woodson fired.

In many ways, Hinrich’s injury is saving Coach Drew from himself.”

Haha. That is EXACTLY the way I felt last year.

Kj22jr@comcast.net

January 17th, 2012
2:26 pm

Enter your comments here

Kevkat

January 17th, 2012
2:29 pm

I agree not to get excited over the past 3 wins. I still believe a free agent addition is needed. The next couple games will tell alot

Big Crimson 75

January 17th, 2012
2:36 pm

Why does this town get a bad rep nationally? Cause they will not under any circumstances support this team!
Screw the Owners. What the hell has A. Blank done for you? Besides charge $8 for a glass of beer & put a joke of a “pro” football team on the field.
The Hawks need to be supported. These guys are the only shot we have at success in the playoffs. No body hates the Spirit more than me, butt we need to support our basketball team.

rash

January 17th, 2012
2:38 pm

yeah once again i remember when the gm sund hired l drew all of these comments on the ajc from yall writers and the so called fans…now yall wanna be like yall was for drew all the time .just like koetter oc for the falcons will be the same way..like that when mike smith was hired yall so called atl fans need to look in the mirror and you will find the problem with atl sports teams…im all for who ever they hire cause im a true diehard fan

Gator

January 17th, 2012
2:52 pm

Perhaps a longer period before we dole out too much credit!!!

Jim

January 17th, 2012
2:59 pm

I agree the Hawks look the best I have seen them since their remodeling under Knight & Woody. i also agree that Teague has made a large contribution. However, if Sund doesn’t find something resembling an NBA center to add to this unit they are going to be in trouble— lots of games each week and really nobody other than Zaza to play the position—Collins is a disaster and although Smith is talented, he isn’t big enough to do this night after night. Has anyone told Sund Al is out 4 months not 4 weeks?

Who Me?

January 17th, 2012
3:01 pm

Went and saw the team play when the Bulls were here a week ago. They played solidly and destroyed your boy Derrik Rose in the house. If this team can play like that all the time, who knows how good they can be?

I still think its a little too early to be handing out kudos but sometime around mid-February when the routine of the schedule has settled in, lets see where we are then and revisit this squad. Right now i’m like Missouri, I’m still in the “show me” mode…and BTW, I didn’t pay for those Bulls tickets either. ASG can bite me…

Harry Hawk

January 17th, 2012
3:02 pm

The Hawks are good enough to beat the bad teams. We know that. The question is whether they are good enough to beat the best teams in the playoffs. They haven’t been able to do that. It’s up to them to change our minds about their ceiling.

justahawkfan

January 17th, 2012
3:02 pm

I know everybody put Teague’s “bench sitting” on the coach. You said things like the coach killed his esteem, confidence, spirit and etc. You know, Sometimes it you! When a person fail sometimes he needs to look in the mirror. That was teague did doing last season and over summer. He has gotten better and is representing as he should. I invite you all to do the same when facing life problems. Somtimes it not the ball, somtimes not your boss, or your spouse, sometimes it you!!!

Section 303

January 17th, 2012
3:03 pm

Wow! A positive article about the Hawks! I did not know you had it in you, Jeff.

Rev in Tampa

January 17th, 2012
3:41 pm

justahawkfan,

Every time Jeff Teague played in a game last year we saw the same things he is doing this year. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR PLAYING BIBBY OVER TEAGUE LAST YEAR!

The fact that Teague sat on the bench last year was all on Drew and not on Teague.

TylerThe Creator

January 17th, 2012
3:57 pm

Remember Hawks fans we have suffered some key injuries and are still 10-4. Feels good man

KBP

January 17th, 2012
4:02 pm

justahawkfan,

I am all for taking responsibility for yourself, but it was clear that Teague should have played significant minutes early last year and his rookie year. I agree with Rev in Tampa, Bibby should not have played ahead of Teague last year (bad coaching decision) and neither should Hinrich when he comes back.

On another note, what does Drew mean he has to find minutes for Ivan Johnson? His rebounding, defense and underrated offense can make a strong case for him at 4 in Al’s absense and move Josh to 3. Let Marvin and T Mac spell Josh and Joe. We need rebounding and interior defense and he BRINGS it.

Hawk4Life

January 17th, 2012
4:11 pm

Jeff Teague has the potential to be an all-star point guard if only he had some players around him that had an Basketball IQ above 10. The Hawks have talent but very few of the “Starters” understand “how” to play the game. The Hawks would indeed be “awesome” on the fast break if:

1) Josh Smith stops making feeble attemps to be the point guard and run hard to fill the lanes instead.
2) If Marvin Williams would just simply “run” instead of joggin all the time.
3) If Joe Johnson wound “run” to the rim instead of to the 3 point line on the break.
4) By the way….when did the 3 Point Shot become option #1 on the fast break…ever?!!! Will someone inform the hawks tthat that’s outside the realm of “Retardedness” if that’s a word.
5) If Al Horford stops shooting jumpshots all the time like he’s Reggie Miller on steroids or something and get in the paint where he belongs

Overall though this team is pretty solid …they just need to unerstand their roles a little better and learn “how” to play the game above the shoulders a little more. Go Hawks!!

rollo lawson

January 17th, 2012
4:14 pm

Why don’t the Hawks go ahead and sign Rasheed Wallace. He would give us length and give us that “pick and pop” game we miss with Horford out. Also, the guy also is a battle tested vet. with NBA Finals experience. An instant upgrade over ZaZa and Collins.

justahawkfan

January 17th, 2012
4:30 pm

Friends, if i can call you friends, Mike came to atlanta, took us to the playoff his first year. The next we won more games, he was our savior, savior dammit!! He put us on the nba map. Did you expect coaches to turn thier back on Bibby for a unconfident rookie/sophmore. Please be realalistic in your assessment of the situation. Now you’ve already installed Hindrich as our future starting PG, are you just trying to ceate controversy? Be fans not critics.

Bring on baseball

January 17th, 2012
4:36 pm

Yeah, make it past 1st or 2nd round in playoffs and we might care.
Until then…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Gwinnett Fred

January 17th, 2012
4:41 pm

Let’s don’t get too carried away with Drew. Since Horford’s injury, the team is 3-0 against 3 horrible teams.

Once I see a team that can hit free throws, not allow crummy teams to shoot 50% from the floor and Josh Smith quit chunking up jumpers THEN I will credit Drew for accomplishing something!

JSS

January 17th, 2012
4:51 pm

Old style Hawks would have been 0-3 against terrible teams. They use to wilt like a UGA co-ed in 100 degree heat! I compliment them for the new found ability to close out those types of teams. Would really like to have those Miami and Chicago give aways back!

Therut

January 17th, 2012
5:09 pm

See what a little winning wil do? Love all the positive comments about the hawks

Round Mound

January 17th, 2012
5:12 pm

I did the Hawks the biggest favor of their lives by saying they are nothing but bunch of nice guys, cause now Josh looks pissed and Ivan is a BEAST!!!

@Rollo

January 17th, 2012
5:15 pm

I saw Sheed the other day. He’s pulling about 4 bills on the scale now….

Double Zero Eight

January 17th, 2012
5:23 pm

Let’s hold the praise and applause a little while longer.
This team is capable of imploding at any time.
They have been a pleasant surprise to this point.

oDogg

January 17th, 2012
5:55 pm

Josh Smith plays better with Al out of the lineup. We need a real center. Al takes up space and still hasn’t developed a decent low post game.

sports genius21

January 17th, 2012
6:11 pm

Hawks are playing great basketball im excited to see how things play out GO Hawks!!!