Hollinger: Hawks quietly excelling under Larry Drew

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew is among John Hollinger's lists of positive surprises in the NBA this season.

ESPN.com's John Hollinger lists Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew as one of his positive surprises for the 2012-13 season thus far. Hollinger points out that since a rather lackluster first season, the Hawks have been really good under Drew.

Remember Larry Drew's first season in Atlanta? Here, I'll help you out: The Hawks gave up more points than they scored, openly mailed in several games -- especially late in the season -- and generally looked like they were trying to get him fired. Given Drew's low-key presence, it wasn't clear whether he could reach his players and coax maximum effort from them.

Well, apparently he reached them, because Drew quietly has been among the league's most effective coaches since. Atlanta managed to win a playoff series with Orlando that first year, and since then Drew's team has overachieved on defense in consecutive seasons. The Hawks were just 15th in Defensive Efficiency in 2010-11, but moved up to sixth a year ago despite missing Al Horford for nearly the entire season.

The defensive improvements have been a surprise because virtually no one in the league expected this year's team to be anywhere close to as good defensively as they have been.

In 2012-13 Atlanta is even better, both nominally (fifth) and relative to the league (just 1.5 points behind first-place Memphis). Drew has done this despite having a lineup full of tiny guards that presents size mismatches on the wing on a nearly nightly basis. He also has only one true small forward, Kyle Korver, who isn't exactly renowned as a defensive specialist. Also, Drew has taught his players how to do this.

Somehow, he's making it all work

There are still issues. It felt like Doc Rivers exposed Drew at times in last season's playoff loss to the Celtics. Players still seem to move in and out of the rotation for seemingly no reason. However, the bottom line is the bottom line and this team is winning under Drew and competing nightly. The success really couldn't come at any better time for Drew who just happens to be in the final year of his contract just like so many of his players.

Mike Woodson is showing in New York that perhaps coaches improve over time just as players do. Drew is showing similar improvement and so are his Hawks.

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