Friday, August 13, 2010

Qualifying Expectations For the New Offense, or, What About Defense?

Disclaimer: Trying to spin multiple posts over consecutive days out of a single subject is made difficult by the presence of astute readers and colleagues.

Larry Drew's as-yet-unseen motion offense is great fun to contemplate and project upon but, from a practical perspective, it's important to remember that, over the course of 82 games, the Hawks were excellent offensively. Now, that didn't count for much in two playoff series against top-3 defenses and it's perfectly fair to hope and argue for a less-predictable offense to pay dividends in that context even if it's not as efficient over 82 games.

I'll admit that it's hard for me to imagine these Hawks running a motion offense. My conception of the players has been significantly influenced by Mike Woodson's offense. Evn if Drew's offense helps Horford and Williams and Josh Smith fulfill their abilities it might stifle the abilities of Jamal Crawford and, to a lesser extent, Mike Bibby. For all the reasonable criticism Woodson received, he probably didn't get sufficient credit for getting career years out of Flip Murray and Crawford. In addition to the improbability of Crawford repeating a career year at the age of 30, his skills, because they are so individualistic, are unlikely to translate perfectly to a motion offense. The lack of basketball instincts that so limits him as defender and rebounder could further suppress his production in 2010-11 if he's asked to do more in a team context. On the other hand, his ability to create shots for himself and his fine work on the pick-and-roll with Al Horford could serve as a fine safety net.

That Drew's system doesn't figure to be as extreme a low turnover offense worries me with regard to the team's already dire transition defense. As does the fact that all the public attention has been directed toward improving a generally effective offense and (unless switching every screen was an even worse idea than it seemed at the time) the average-at-best defense has not been addressed at all. Unless Jeff Teague plays a lot and proves a useful defender, it's difficult to see how Larry Drew will coax a significantly better defensive performance out of the same personnel that frustrated Mike Woodson.

It wasn't just Woodson that capitulated in the Orlando series. The players exhibited a substantial unwillingness to compete in difficult/uncomfortable circumstances as well. I fear that weakness may still be lurking within. In the best of circumstances, it's difficult to execute at a high level over the course of a season. The Lakers don't always deign to run the triangle but they can get away with taking the ocassional shortcut because they're good defensively, they have Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson's there to point them in the right direction. The Hawks have none of those lodestars with which to re-orient themselves should they go off-track.

There's a general human reluctance to embrace change. Whether or not the Hawks give themselves up to a new system and stick with it through the difficult patches is a fair question. With the relative lack of commitment (considering the amount and length of his contract) the organization has shown Drew, his ambition to remake the team's offensive identity is laudable. The new offense could well make the 2010-11 team more interesting* than the 2009-10 team. It may not remake the team to the same degree addressing the team's defensive weaknesses, both in terms of personnel and tactics, might.

*There's a certain selfish appeal to this that I try and repress.


Rufus1 said...

Basketball 101

The Hawks appeared to be a good offense on the surface. When you examine the numbers the Hawk were a TERRIBLE 4th qt offense.also, the ball movement was most stagnant in the 4th qt.The problems in the playoffs, when teams are playing 4th qt defense the entire game.

If you remember the Magic game on Thanksgiving, the Hawks had great ball movement and we were up by 20pts. The 2nd half, no ball movement and we lost BADLY.

The key is not the offense but creating a culture of sharing the ball and developing his young players. The Hawks cannot sacrifice the develop of its youth, so Jamal Crawford can be the 6th MOY.

The Hawks have been playing HORSE for the last 6 years and have lost the idea of fundamental basketball. LD offense will force the Hawks to play more sound discipline basketball....Which will make them a better team.

Astro Joe said...

I think the basic framework of Drew's strategy is to create an addictively satisfying offense that provides him the leverage to demand defensive effort. That is the only theory that explains the pairing of a PhD type offense with a community college level defense. If the players are awe-inspired by the offense then they may be willing to put forth ridiculous defensive effort to remain on the court. Of course, the possible fallacy in that strategy is the assumption that NBA offenses can be impeded simply by "guarding your man" as opposed to sophisticated defensive schemes. We shall see.