The Team Defense Post

Is anyone panicking? I hope not. Mild concern is certainly appropriate in my opinion but I think a fair rule of thumb is that one's degree of concern over last week's defensive performance(s) should not exceed the degree to which one enjoyed the first five defensive performances of the year. Just as it was unrealistic to expect the team to continue to post defensive numbers this good...

TEAM DEFENSE GAMES 1-5

Team Poss Def Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91.6 0.94 43.2 18.0 27.6 16.7

...for an entire season with or without 82 games from Josh Smith, it's unrealistic today to expect this dreadful defensive form*...

TEAM DEFENSE GAMES 6-9

Team Poss Def Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 92.7 1.20 51.7 36.1 35.2 14.4

...to continue even before one factors in the positive impact of Josh Smith's eventual return.

*I think it's fair to feel more concern after seeing the cumulative defensive rates from the last four games. I did. It's why this post didn't get finished yesterday.

The Hawks' field goal defense will improve with Smith's return. The Hawks' will get more defensive rebounds* when both Smith and Pachulia are healthy, and their opponents' free throw rate should decline as soon as Mike Woodson is no longer faced with a choice between playing a small lineup or going big with Solomon Jones (17 fouls in 125 minutes) and/or Randolph Morris (7 fouls in 20 minutes).

*I believe they stand a pretty good chance of remaining a below average defensive rebounding team for the course of the season though that may be me just hoping that I'll make one correct prediction regarding this year's team.

One more thing to consider: The Hawks good defensive start featured not only a healthy Josh Smith but also Joe Johnson guarding the opposing teams' point guards. That works great when Johnson can sag off Jameer Nelson or Chris Paul and the Hawks can hide Mike Bibby on Mickael Pietrus or Morris Peterson without fear that Bibby will get abused in the low post. You can't hide Bibby* defensively against a Derrick Rose/Ben Gordon or Devin Harris/Vince Carter backcourt.

*The defensive performance in the loss to the Celtics had more to do with the Hawks not having anyone capable of guarding Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. Those defensive limitations did create a bunch of open three-point shots (a problem which persisted through both games against the Nets) for Ray Allen and Eddie House, both of whom, quite politely in my view, missed the vast majority of those shots.

Some nights the Hawks are going to have to pay a defensive price to reap the benefits of Mike Bibby's shooting, passing, and ball-handling. Some nights, though, they'll be willing and able to acknowledge his defensive limitations and minimize the deleterious effects. On those nights the Hawks will be very difficult to beat.

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