clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hawks have no Plan B against better defenses


It's a genuine problem: You plan and plan for a certain way of doing a project and then something comes along and derails that plan. What do you do?

If you are the Atlanta Hawks, you're left standing in your kitchen, scratching your head, paralyzed by the turn of events.

Against lesser defensive teams, the Hawks run their offense and are fairly efficient, ranking 12th in the league. Against stronger teams, teams that know how to take away what you do best, the Hawks struggle mightily.

Consider, the Hawks average 105.6 points per 100 possessions, but against these teams, look at their offensive efficiency (thanks, hoopdata!):

In the 2 games against the Celtics, who are #1 in defensive efficiency, the Hawks offered: 83.5 points per 100 possessions, and 102.3.

Against the Spurs (7th in def eff): 98.9

Miami (3rd): 88.5

Dallas (6th): 102.2

Milwaukee (8th): 97.8

and even in the two games against Orlando (4th), where we've given them credit for somewhat turning it around, they have posted games of 95.7 and 87, the latter of which is the big win in Orlando.

Before that game, I talked to Larry Drew about the previous game, the loss in Miami, a game in which the Heat, after getting beat by Al Horford in the third quarter, overplayed on defense, thereby taking away that play. When the Heat did this, Drew shared with me that the team broke down offensively, not able to go to the second option.

"In our offense, there is always a second option," Drew noted. "We didn't do a good job of quickly getting to that option."

True enough, the Hawks run their plays, but when teams overplay to take that first option away, the Hawks break down like a backup quarterback, unsure of where to go with the ball and defaulting to their basic instincts, usually some kind of isolation featuring whoever ended up with the basketball.

Going back to Orlando, the stats show that the cure for the second round blowout hasn't been better offense, rather more effective defense.

It's a growing pain of switching to the flex/motion offense and, often enough against lesser teams, the Hawks can get away with it thanks to some fantastic offensive players. But against top teams, this brings about tough shots from further away from the basket and, therefore, worse performance.

How do the Hawks do better? Well, being more mentally strong to stick with the motion even when having to go to the second read in the offense is one, being more sure of themselves when defenses attack is another. Stronger play from the guards help, quicker decisions from the bigs when they get the ball at the top, and overall trust in the system.

In the Heat game, Drew said fatigue was a factor, and that when tired, the team late in the game wasn't sharp enough to react to the Miami adjustments, relied on old habits, and broke down offensively as a result.

This again reared its head in Boston, as the Celtics made sure the frontcourt of Horford and Josh Smith were not going to beat them, pushing the pair further and further outside and collapsing on them inside the few times they entered the paint. The results? Smith has scored a puny (3) points in (56) minutes against Boston and Horford (14) in (53) minutes. This is a pattern that we'll see against  good teams until the Hawks completely give themselves to moving at all times and understanding that, if they do, they'll get better shots than if they give up on the play and try to take matters, literally, into their own hands. 

Because, against good defenses like Boston and the like, making isolation your Plan B will result in poor offensive efficiency, putting more pressure to overachieve defensively to win else, ultimately, the team gives way to defeat.