There was a time before the Joe Johnson trade, before Danny Ferry and before cap space, when Jeff Teague sat on the bench and watched Mike Bibby attempt to run an incoherent offense. One of isolation and long jump shots, this offense failed to capitalize on the true potential of a young and athletic core.
It would be foolish to unload an abundance of blame on Johnson as he did, at times, singlehandedly keep the franchise afloat, but his penchant for over-dribbling and his affinity for stall-ball stagnated the offense and relegated teammates to inactivity. They were forced to watch the infamous iso-Joe formula unfold before their very eyes whilst passively standing by, viewing as idle spectators. Maybe “blame” is the wrong word to heap on Johnson, but his departure has certainly opened up some intriguing options.
The results of iso-Joe, as you might have guessed, produced rather inefficiently for the majority of the time it was employed and moved at the pace of a snail. The Hawks, a team bubbling with athletes bred for a fast-paced game, routinely found themselves trapped within the confines of a struggling half court offense. They tallied the 27th, 27th, and 24th lowest number of possessions per game in the three seasons before Jeff Teague became Atlanta’s fulltime starter (08-09, 09-10, and 10-11). The one year under Teague’s watch, the 2011-2012 season, wasn’t too much better. The Hawks were 23rd in possessions per game. However, now that Johnson is in Brooklyn, the doors might have just opened for a new sheriff in the backcourt, one who could increase the pace of a team that has never been more primed for a run’n’gun system.
As Beckley Mason of ESPN astutely noted, it would be wise for the Hawks to adopt the spread pick-and-roll offense in the half court or in semi-transition. The spread pick-and-roll’s primary goal, according to Mason, is to open the middle of the floor:
Typically, two or three shooters align themselves along the 3-point line (often in the corners, to make helping off even harder) while the point guard and big man run a pick-and-roll in the middle of the court. As the screener rolls to the rim, the other big man (assuming he isn’t a Ryan Anderson-type that can camp out on the perimeter) flashes up from the baseline to the top of the key.
While there are countless permutations, the essential goal is to create a 2-on-1 in the middle of the court between the point guard and the big man rolling to the rim. When a defender rotates off a shooter to help down low, the point guard must find the open man.”
Obviously the Hawks would use Teague as the ball handler and Smith as the role man. Horford would be the big who flashes to the top of the key because he can hit an open 18-footer, and you’d stash 2 shooters from the Hawks’ stable of 3-point snipers in opposite corners.
While it wasn’t exactly a spread offense, the Hawks experienced limited success with Teague in just about every pick-and-roll scenario he was placed in during last seasons playoffs. His explosive first step is one of the best in the league, and his ability to attack the basket is nearly unparalleled even if at times he does have trouble finishing. In a spread pick-and-roll offense, Smith rolling to the basket would be a force nearly unstoppable and a tantalizing cover for any defense, especially with the deadliest of shooters flanking the initial attack. With all 3 cogs of this offense being willing and able passers (Smith, Horford, and Teague), this could be a system capable of picking apart even the stoutest of defenses.
An uptick in pace could be the product of this system, but also the product of new personnel. With additions like Korver, Jenkins, and Morrow, the Hawks are no longer obligated to run almost exclusively through a clock absorbing isolation machine (sorry JJ, love you). With the ever-pushing Teague at the helm, it’s safe to assume that the Hawks will skyrocket into the upper ranks of possessions per game. They were never suited for the grind-it-out offensive style that they clung to for so long, especially with Johnson’s skill as a spot up shooter. But now, they almost have no choice but to let the horses run, to let release the hounds and see what they can do in the open court. The roster almost enforces it with the natural tendencies of players like Smith, Jenkins, Korver, and most especially Teague.
The most frightening part of this whole thing is that Teague could be the complete focal point of this offense. It’s almost a make or break season. It’s a chance for him to truly establish his place in this league, or at least take another serious step in doing so. He may not have the most plays run for him (that’ll be Josh Smith or Al Horford), but his initiating of the offense will be the key to the Hawks’ season.