Drew over at Peachtree Hoops posted a great article about the Hawks defensive inconsistency and how it is one of the biggest problem that the Hawks face moving into the playoffs.
The real white elephant is the defense. The Hawks cannot stop enough people to make a comeback. The Charlotte game, one of the two exceptions, saw Atlanta hold the Bobcats to 15 points. That needs to happen far more often than it does. Since the all-star break, the Hawks are giving up 25.4 points a game in the fourth. In those 19 games, Atlanta has scored more than 25 points in that quarter only seven times.
Basically this is just rehashing what we have said many times. The offense does bog down at times but the lack of a consistent defense magnifies those problems offensively. Why is the defense so wildly inconsistent? Sometimes it comes down to effort, sometimes it also comes down to strategy.
And whereas we clamor for offensive sets and variety in the fourth quarter, we get the same thing every time on defense. We get switching screens and the same six guys seeing time. The same lineups, the same defense, the same everything. Now, most teams move to match-up advantages in the fourth. The Hawks are not odd for moving away from certain forms of variety. (Woody just thinks our match-up advantage is whichever shooting guard has the ball every game no matter who Atlanta plays.) No team needs to get certain players established with six minutes to go, and so more than ever, you see offense run to seek out advantages. The switching screens by the Hawks allows this easier than just about any defense I have ever seen. It happened every time John Salmons had the ball last night. It is ridiculous. If the perimeter defense is that bad, the lineups should change. Because right now, the offense is not good enough to out score people and those people that get the opportunity to out score those people are the ones that force outscoring in the first place.
The switching screens is the Billy Knight plan at its best. The theory is to have long, quick, athletic players that were versatile and could be successful at multiple positions not only offensively but defensively. The problem lies in the fact that the match ups are not always in the Hawks favor. Especially after the switch happens.
Mike Bibby is seldom a great match up on defense against anyone particularly if he gets isolated in the post against a bigger offensive player and that is a strategy that a lot of teams that run the screen roll look for. The other match up problem usually sees Al Horford or Josh Smith matched up on a point guard twenty feet from the basket. Both are capable defenders. Horford did a great job in this situation against Raymond Felton and Manu Ginobli in the Hawks last two victories. Josh Smith is equally capable of winning that match up when sufficiently motivated to do so.
The downside is that it takes one of the Hawks best rebounders and forces them away from the basket. Also sometimes it puts them in match ups that they simply can’t win because of a much quicker opponent. That often leads to a foul or a high percentage shot for the opponent. A lot of this is just the nature of the game. Match up problems are a goal of every coach offensively. What I would like to see is more variety in the way the Hawks attack these situations. A good example was shown in the Charlotte game. The Hawks trapped a D.J. Augustine/Tyrus Thomas pick and roll and forced a time out. Augustine walked back to the bench with his palms up as to say “where did that come from?” It completely caught the Bobcats off guard because I am sure that wasn’t on any scouting report that they had seen coming into the game. The Hawks only switched on some screens during the Bobcats game.
Variation on the defensive end is also the subject of a Ken Sugiura article in the AJC.
At the team’s Tuesday film session, Smith said coach Mike Woodson was contemplating a few different defensive game plans for the Magic that he wanted to sleep on and present to the team at the Wednesday morning shootaround. Boiled down, it comes down to a few options — double-team Howard and risk leaving the Magic’s cadre of 3-point shooters open, defend Howard straight up and risk him eating the Hawks alive, or alternating between the two.
I think you have to throw every wrinkle you have available at the Magic. Lets just be honest that you have to double team Dwight Howard if you are the Hawks. I love Al Horford but he gets physically over matched by Howard in the post. The only other option is to use the Hack a Howard method and I am not sure the Hawks have enough big bodies to pull that off. Howard’s one big explosion game aside what has really hurt the Hawks is Orlando’s three point shooting. Guys like Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick, or Mikael Peatrus. Someone from that unsung group (usually Anderson) always comes up with a big shooting night.
Therefore the Hawks rotations off of that Howard double team have to be sound for a full four quarters. However, they choose to attack a team they must stick too the plan and believe that it can work as Sugiura writes:
“I feel like we go into the game and we have a game plan, and then we get hit in the mouth and then everything gets thrown out the window,” said swingman Mo Evans.
The Magic are going to be a tough out for any team. They have the best big man in the NBA and surround him with more than capable shooters at all times. They went to the NBA Finals last year. A team will really have to play well to beat them in a seven game playoff series.
To summarize this the Hawks are predictable. Offensively and Defensively. At the end of the game the ball is going to be in the hands of Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford. Defensively you can bet this month’s car payment that the Hawks will switch every screen no matter who it is. It might be unfair to pick on the Hawks because a lot of NBA teams out there are predictable. The NBA brand is a much more predictable than the college brand. That said there are adjustments that are to be made by NBA coaches, whether it be switching or hedging on the screen, trapping, or adjusting personnel to better match up. These are things that you don’t see on a nightly basis from the Hawks but will be that much more important heading into the playoffs.