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Review/Preview: Team Defense

Looking back at last season's team defense to imagine how (and how well) this season's team defense might function.

(See also--Review/Preview: Team Offense)

Details after the jump...

In the absence of (many) really useful and reliable individual defensive stats, I'll present the defense's performance in terms of defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), the four factors (plus 2ptFG% and 3ptFG% defense) en masse and discuss them below.

Category Hawks Rank League Avg
Def Eff 108.9 18th 107.5
eFG% 50.1 17th 49.7
2pt% 48.9 18th 48.5
3pt% 36.2 16th 36.2
OR% 28.3 26th 26.7
FT Rate 21.7 14th 23.1
TO% 12.9 17th 13.2

Stats and league rankings courtesy

With the exception of defensive rebounding the Hawks were a uniformly mediocre defensive team last season. I doubt this surprises anyone who watched them play regularly. Individually, no one on the team stands out defensively other than Josh Smith and the benefits of his outstanding help defense are undermined by his poor on-the-ball defense whether playing out on the floor or in the post. Joe Johnson? Okay defender. Al Horford? Okay defender. Josh Childress? Okay defender. Marvin Williams? Struggles with match-ups, tries hard. Mike Bibby? Slow and small's a terrible combination, ergo, poor defender. Zaza Pachulia? Slow and big's not as bad as slow and small, adequate defender.

Looking at the on/off individual defensive numbers from last season, it's apparent my subjective analysis in the previous paragraph most likely gave Smith the short shrift as the Hawks were 6.5 points better defensively when was on the court compared to when he was off the court. His mistakes must not be as damaging as they seem. Looking further at the table to which I linked, it's apparent that only Joe Johnson (1 point better, on v. off) and Zaza Pachulia (0.2 points better, on v. off), among returning Hawks, were better than average defenders relative to their teammates. I don't think this is a case of the Hawks trading away their better defensive players so much as it's that the players traded for Mike Bibby never shared the court with Bibby.

Looking forward to the 2008-09 season, Hawks fans can take some comfort in the hope that Bibby likely can't be any worse defensively than he was after arriving in Atlanta. Furthermore, while Josh Childress's absence will be felt greatly on offensive glass, he was no better than an average defensive rebounder. Maurice Evans should be capable of replacing Childress as an on-the-ball defender (though Evans is no better a defensive rebounder than Childress). Since Evans is unlikely to play as many minutes as Childress did last season, Childress's absence may be a net positive for the team's defensive rebounding rate.

Should Evans prove capable of taking on difficult defensive assignments that Joe Johnson has drawn previously there maybe some trickle-down benefit to the team's overall defense. It's difficult to see how this roster might become a significantly better than average defensive team but there is an obvious opportunity and reason to believe they can improve their defensive rebounding. As with hoping that Evans taking on some of Joe Johnson's defensive responsibilities might preserve energy Johnson can now use on the offensive end of the floor, a better defensive rebounding Hawks team will increase their opportunities for transition offense. Staying out of the half-court offense has never appeared to be a priority for a Mike Woodson coached team (NBA ranking in pace of play the last four years, most recent to least: 18th, 24th, 17th, 13th) but there's a certain symbiosis between the necessity to get the ball back from the other team without them scoring and being able to get out in transition consistently.