Lloyd Pierce is now headed into his third season as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.
In last season’s exit interviews, Justin Anderson pointed out the one difference between playing for Pierce with the Philadelphia 76ers and playing for him in Atlanta.
“The only difference is his defensive mentality,” Anderson said. “He hasn’t brung that to Atlanta. When that does come, it’s going to be really fun to watch. This year, we wanted to outscore a lot of guys. We wanted to make sure our offensive flow and our rhythm was good because we had so many high-octane scorers.”
Coming from Philadelphia, Pierce was known as the team’s defensive specialist. The 76ers finished the 2017-18 fourth in defensive rating, per basketball reference. Philadelphia slipped to 15th in the category in the first season without Pierce.
The Hawks finished the 2018-19 season ranked 23rd in offensive rating and 27th in defensive rating, according to basketball-reference.
Anderson received a follow-up question on Pierce’s different approach to defense.
“I think he just didn’t want to come in being the new guy saying ‘alright, you guys are going to get in a defensive stance for 35 minutes and are going to have to guard,’” Anderson said. “I think he wanted to earn the respect of guys allowing them to do what they’ve worked on all summer.”
He then used Kevin Huerter as an example, describing how Pierce allowed him to get adjusted and comfortable on the offensive side of the ball.
Season two came-and-went for Pierce, and the Hawks slipped to 28th in defensive rating, according to NBA.com. The team finished last in points allowed in the paint, 29th in second-chance points allowed and 29th in points given up after turnovers.
Without context that includes severe personnel issues at key defensive positions, the numbers can read a bit head-scratching given Pierce’s history and reputation on the other side of the ball.
“Let me clarify this defensive system statement that everyone seems to hold onto,” Pierce said in Tuesday morning’s exit interview that included Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk. “When you’ve been with the program and you’ve been with the team that has a lot of chemistry and experience of playing together, you’re able to create a system of who you are and an identity of who you are.”
Pierce elaborated with the roster he worked with in Philadelphia, the players were together long enough to implement a defensive system. Whereas, in Atlanta, the team is still adding pieces to its corps, molding its identity.
“When Justin Anderson made that comment, he was referring to my relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers defensively,” Pierce said. “We had a system in play for that team. And so, no, in Atlanta, we are establishing our identity and our system of how we’re going to play on both sides of the basketball.”
Pierce concluded the answer and reiterated it makes no sense for him to implement a system with a group that is still in its infancy stages of growing.