It's been a long season for the Atlanta Hawks who at one point looked like they could compete for home court advantage in the playoffs and now are fighting for their playoff lives as the final stretch of the season unfolds. There have been bright spots but most of those came during the first part of the season. Since then, injuries have robbed this team and left it with little hope.
Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry talked with USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt about the season and naturally all of those injuries came up.
"The injuries that compounded after Al the past two months certainly can't be ignored when you look at the whole of the season," Hawks general manager Danny Ferry told USA TODAY Sports. "We don't want to use them as excuses. It's been a reality, and I like that our group has continued to compete. It's part of the reason I like the substance of our group. It will allow us to be competitive going forward."
Injuries are part of the game and shouldn't be used as a crutch but they can't be ignored either. Atlanta initially remained competitive after losing Al Horford to a season-ending injury in December. However, their front line was decimated in January and the slide began.
This season has shown that when healthy the group is good and can perform at a high level. However, it has also shown that if you remove one or two pieces of the puzzle then it crumbles. No team plans for losing three of their four centers on the roster at one time. However, this team is painfully thin on the wing and that is felt anytime Kyle Korver or DeMarre Carroll is unable to play and the team's record without either of those players reflects that. Depth is something that must be addressed during the offseason.
"Throughout the year, I felt we've been on a good path," Ferry said. "When healthy, we've been a very good team. I like the way we play. It's system-based. I like our players. There's some substance to them. With the way we're set-up from a salary cap standpoint and a roster standpoint that good things can continue to unfold."
The system is good but it's not perfect either but that has more to do with who is available to play than anything. The Hawks, like a number of teams, could benefit from a stronger post presence and not relying quite as much on the three-point shot. Its refreshing to watch the team share the ball and we are light-years removed from the isolation dominant system that the Hawks employed in the past.
Ferry doesn't touch on it, but if there is a disappointment, it has come on the defensive end of the floor. Ferry and head coach Mike Budenholzer came into this season preaching "competitiveness" and talked about its importance at every opportunity. There was a good reason for that. Given this team's lack of size, it was a must for them to outplay their opponents on a lot of nights to be successful.
As the losses have mounted in the second half we have seen that go away. It's been proven time and time again in the NBA that teams can't simply outscore their opponent regularly enough to be successful. It was apparent again on Monday night after the Hawks sleepwalked defensively against the Sixers before clamping down late and getting some stops. Against good teams, Atlanta has to sustain that focus and effort for four quarters. They haven't been able to do that consistently during the second half of the season.
This season's not over and by all accounts Atlanta plans on fighting it out for the last playoff spot. When it does come to an end it will be up to Ferry to find the next piece of the puzzle. He's correct that the team is in good position. It has a lot of flexibility. Now it needs some depth.