Ken Sugiura caught up with some of the team after practice on Monday and was searching for answers to why the team has struggled of late. It seems that the players are also searching. Coach Larry Drew cautioned that it wasn't time to panic. Although I have to admit that I have moved my hand several inches closer to the panic button. Atlanta is 37-26 and still just 2.5 games behind the Orlando Magic for the fourth spot and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Yet the Hawks have done little to provide confidence coming down the stretch. Atlanta is just 4-8 since a Feb. 5th victory over Washington that put them a season high 15 games over the .500 mark.
The one common theme given off by the coaches and players after Monday's practice was shot selection needed to be improved. Sugiura summarizes Drew's comments:
After losing two games in a row, Hawks coach Larry Drew assured the team Monday that it was not time to panic. He did think, though, that the Hawks need to play better in transition and not settle for jump shots.
As has been often pointed out here, Atlanta inflicts damage upon itself more often than not by settling for long jump shots. They have neither showed the discipline or desire to buy completely in to the motion offense principles that coach Larry Drew has installed. It doesn't take a trip to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to figure out that a team will probably score more efficiently closer to the basket than it will from distance. I believe it runs even deeper and perhaps Josh Powell is on to something.
"Offensively, sometimes you have to turn down a good shot to get a great shot or set a screen or make a hard cut, look out for somebody else."
It is called doing the little things. It is called believing in the system and the game plan and trusting your teammates. We have seen at times individual players like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson go into hero mode when things are going bad. Smith at times tries to do too much and is equally capable of producing a highlight or a costly turnover. Johnson is paid like a goto player. This is college and has been debated at length lately in other areas using other players. Fact is you want the ball in your best players hands at the end of the game. You just hope that your offense can provide him with the situation where he can make a play. Often LeBron James is ridiculed for making the pass which may be the correct basketball play but he is the superstar and is supposed to step up in those situations. It is a slippery slope and there isn't one correct answer. In fact that answer is probably different for each team.
Coach Drew also said that the Hawks perhaps needed to speed up their play and look for easier shots in transition. Sugiura notes that Atlanta has averaged 9.5 fast-break points in the past four games. Turnovers have been a huge issue and it would be interesting to see how many of those have been committed in transition rather than the half-court. This team needs to get back to flying around on offense and defense and having fun on the court. To do that they may need to lock themselves in a room yet again and air it all out. We don't always know how many times that happens during a season but this team no longer looks like it is together and working for a singular goal. It instead looks like it is pulling apart. That is good enough to beat the bad teams on a lot of nights but you are not going to beat the top teams even at home and it is certainly not a recipe for success in the playoffs.
This franchise has put a lot of faith in this core group and you have to feel that if this season continues to go south, then changes will have to be made in the off-season. If the group can't come together and thus can no longer work together then there is no other alternative. In the meantime things won't get any easier and we like the team will continue to search for answers. Time is running out.