Friday, June 01, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Larry Drew's Season

Previously: Rick Sund

With a couple of exceptions, Larry Drew had a very good regular season. With a couple of exceptions, Larry Drew had a very poor playoff series. There are some commonalities between these disparate results.

Larry Drew really trusts his bench and likes to use them a lot. In addition to giving Jannero Pargo and Willie Green credit for making shots this season, one has to give Drew credit for consistently putting them in situations to succeed, to the extent they can. If you're going to play Pargo and Green, you can't get too upset about the things they do (or don't do) that made them freely available talent in the first place. Sure, injuries played a role, but Drew's instinct to look for additional players he could use also gave us Ivan Johnson's delightful regular season.

Johnson was something of an exception as Drew's trust typically extends to veterans. The career years from Pargo and Green were off-set (not so much on the court but at a franchise level) by the absurdity of the team going over the luxury tax line to have Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier sit at the end of the bench.

Tracy McGrady was something of an exception to the rule as well though the reluctance to extend the trust inherent in a regular rotation role to a player physically unable to play both ends of a back-to-back during a compressed season, a player physically unable to finish every game in which he did play more isn't so mysterious.

Certainly not as mysterious as Drew fundamentally underestimating the difference between regular season and playoff basketball. Though not an especially good professional basketball team at this point, the Celtics are a clear cut above the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, against whom the Hawks ably padded their regular season record by winning 22 of 25 games. Furthermore, Doc Rivers made every effort to highlight his team's remaining strengths while mitigating their numerous limitations.

One trait of Drew's benefited the Hawks in the playoffs. He's a players' coach. In the regular season that trait manifested itself in such ugly ways as letting Kirk Hinrich come back from shoulder surgery weeks before he was ready, letting Joe Johnson play on one leg for a stretch in February, and letting Josh Smith shoot 500 jumpers with an eFG% below 37%. In the playoffs, the trait manifested itself in letting Smith and, especially, Al Horford play significant minutes while injured. Both were clearly limited by their injuries, but they were also easily the team's two most productive players and central in extending the series to the final seconds of Game 6 despite Drew's self-sabotage over the first three games.

To be sure, Larry Drew drew a bad hand for the playoff series but he played that hand poorly. He willingly rested his few above average and healthy players en masse for the first three games of the series, with disastrous results. He too often tried to defend Kevin Garnett with either Jason Collins or Marvin Williams. The former (from Game 2 onward) couldn't cover Garnett in space, the latter couldn't handle him on the post. He repeatedly allowed the team to go away from what was working (usually Jeff Teague in a two-man game with either Smith or Horford) to Joe Johnson dribbling toward an empty possession.

The series was there for the taking. One flawed team made a concerted, unified effort to take it. The other team did not.

Depending on where the breakeven point on home playoff games is exactly, the franchise is probably getting good value on their investment in Drew but not so much to make up for the money wasted on other people or to push the team significantly closer to contending for a championship.

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