Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Stop Switching

Even though it should surprise no one, Larry Drew talking about how the Atlanta Hawks will switch less on defense certainly counts as breaking news during the dead days of the NBA calendar.

Drew, as told to Michael Cunningham of the AJC:
"Good defensive teams, their mindset is to go into games and outwork you. They don’t care how they do it. They do whatever it takes to shut you down. They have that aggressive mentality, where each game they go into it thinking 'I am going lock in on my guy.' and that works its way to the rest of the guys. You have to have that team concept and that aggressive mentality."
That's great in theory but how does it apply practically to a team that features Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford in its first eight?

"I think you have to make a decision on how you want to guard certain people. Certainly game-by-game, adjustments will be made defensively. But you go into the game with the mindset of guarding your own people. I think we are deep enough we can get that kind of defense out of our guys."
Adjustments. That's where Drew can differentiate himself as a defensive coach from Mike Woodson. Woodson didn't commit to the all-switching, all the time defense in a fit of philosophical inspiration. He committed to it because his guards (mostly guards he wanted for their offensive contributions) couldn't stay in front of anybody. Jeff Teague pending, that's not going to change. But, if the Hawks can adjust to their opposition by giving up what they have to given their personnel limitations* in order to take something away, there's plausible opportunity for defensive improvement. Improvement that figures to be needed if the Hawks fail to maintain their (regular season) offensive efficiency of last season.

Let's be clear, though, if the Hawks don't switch on ball-screens, they will likely be more susceptible to dribble penetration than they were last season. However, by not inverting the defense, there's a reasonable expectation that the defensive rebounding will improve enough to offset that. Plus, if the Hawks stop switching so many off-the-ball screens, they should be better able to play active team defense and provide the help the veteran guards will need.

This change in defensive philosophy does create one rational fear. Whereas, in past seasons, Al Horford and Josh Smith were charged with cutting off dribble penetration away from the basket where they either succeeded or got beat, this season they figure to take on more traditional roles (and floor positions) protecting the basket. There, facing dribble penetration at full speed, they could be more susceptible to committing fouls** and thus testing the depth that impresses no one outside of the organization.

*Drew compliments the team's depth but I wouldn't expect anyone other than Teague to be good enough defensively to overcome their offensive limitations and work their way into the rotation. Frankly, I don't expect Josh Powell, Jason Collins, or Etan Thomas to be good defensively full stop. Pin your hopes on Pape Sy.

**One thing you could never say about Woodson's defenses was that they fouled a lot. (Mario West excluded).


Drew Ditzel said...

Maybe it is just because I am in the throws of the Wire right now on Net Flixs, but I this may be the best post title ever.

Drew Ditzel said...

I mean throes. Don't act like you don't miss my ability to mess up the english language.