By Bo Churney
[Ed. note -- Bo Churney writes for Hawks blog SoaringDownSouth, and can be reached @bochurney on Twitter]
Few plays in basketball can influence an entire crowd to express a joint emotion: a thunderous dunk can cause an uproar of elation and awe. A bad foul call can incite the collective chanting of obscenities. And an opposing team's three-pointer can force absolutely silence upon 20,000 people.
Meanwhile, Josh Smith's three-pointers have sent an entire metropolis into panic, prompting screams of, "NOOOOO!!!"
I'll start off by saying this: I think Josh Smith is the best player on the Hawks. His defense is outstanding (top five DRtg), he's a marketable figure, and he has the ability to dominate the offensive end in several facets like few others can in this league. But why does it seem like that last one has become so absent from his performances on the court?
The stats don't lie. Over the past two years, Josh Smith has expanded on his game from outside 15 feet, also meaning that his shots from around the basket have dwindled from a career high 549 in 2009-10. Gee, what happened before the 2010-11 season that could have caused Josh to field his best Larry Bird impersonations? Anything at all? Oh, wait a minute...
Can all of the blame be pinned on Drew? Of course not; Josh still has to take those ill-advised shots that leave you scratching your head. But to act like there is not an underlying issue here by placing all of the blame on Josh (like Atlanta loves to do) is borderline ignorant.
So, what is the case against Larry Drew? Let's start with the Hawks' recent 89-87 OT win over the Magic. Coming fresh off of another All-Star snub, Josh was playing out of his mind; he was grabbing every rebound, making all of the hustle plays, and was playing well enough on offense despite taking a few of those objectionable long two-point jumpers. Late in the game, Larry Drew kept calling for Josh in a post-up against Ryan Anderson. And guess what? It was working! Josh was either getting a good look close to the rim, or he initiated a pass-heavy sequence that led to an open shot. The Hawks were up eight with a little over three minutes left in the game. Then, Orlando went on an 8-0 run to send the game into overtime. What happened?
Iso-Joe happened. The Hawks tried to rely too much on their $120 million man, leading to a stagnant offense and bad shots. Is it Joe's fault that Drew keeps calling the same play that won't work, even though Joe often had a small defender on him? Is it then Josh's (or some other player's) fault that they have to try to get up a shot with little time remaining on the shot clock?
Need another example? Look at Wednesday's game against the Suns. The Hawks were running some sort of "offense" early that clearly wasn't working and allowed the Suns to get out on the break. At several times throughout the game, the team started resorting to Josh in a high-iso, where he was then able to find open shooters after being double-teamed. Each time the Hawks did this, they were about to either close or expand the lead. What happened on offense for the rest of the game? Well, as some of my fellow bloggers said, "Are we even running any plays right now?"
This is something that completely falls on Drew as the Head Coach. It's the same thing that helped lead to the ouster of his old boss, Mike Woodson; relying on isolation plays, and hope that someone can get up a shot if the isolated player can't beat his man. The difference this time, though, is that Larry Drew has shown that the team can function well when it keeps the ball moving. Even though Horford is out, Drew now has the benefit of a deeper bench than Woodson ever had. There is no reason this team should still have the offensive problems that it exhibited under the now Knicks assistant.
For the last three years under Woodson, the Hawks ranked 9th, 22nd, and 6th in shots from 16-23 ft. Under Drew, the Hawks are 2nd and 3rd so far this season, with the worst percentage under either coach. (36.1%) The team is taking more attempts from that range this year (24.6), despite the fact that Al Horford, the most efficient shooter from that distance last year, is out for the season. To keep it simple, that is completely unacceptable.
Now, back to Smoove; some still go as far as to call Smith "uncoachable", "lazy", and "dumb", asserting that he has a "low basketball-IQ." However, both Drew and newcomer Tracy McGrady have stated that Josh knows the offense better than any other player on the team. To simply put this to rest, one cannot attain such praise from two different people by being "uncoachable", "lazy", or "dumb." Are some of Josh's jumpers bad shots? Yes, but to act as if he should carry all of the blame is absurd. This is a problem that I think Larry Drew can easily fix by continuing his preaching of his motion offense. By letting the offense get stagnant, he is only fueling the same problems that led to Atlanta's quick departures from the 2nd round in previous years. With the Eastern Conference Finals sitting with a reachable distance, this is not something that Larry Drew should scoff at.