When the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Chicago Bulls by a 92-75 margin on Saturday night, it marked the 100th win for head coach Larry Drew. This was the second-fastest track to 100 wins by any coach in Hawks history, as Drew completed the task in just 173 games, bested only by 166 games from Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkens. This is an impressive achievement for Coach Drew, but it’s not the only positive from his era as the head man in Atlanta.
Larry Drew has posted a .578 winning percentage since being promoted to replace Mike Woodson on the Hawks bench, and that mark would be good for the best mark in Atlanta Hawks history. That is the biggest “plus” of the Larry Drew era, and it speaks volumes of his impact on the squad. Although it has only been 2-plus seasons, Drew has kept the Hawks afloat despite huge personnel moves this season, and a potentially-crushing injury last season to the team’s best player in Al Horford.
The most ironic part of Coach Drew’s tenure has been the emphasis (and requisite improvement) of the defense. When he was promoted, the media focused almost wholly on a “new and improved” offense with ball movement, cutting, and in short, a movement away from “Iso-Joe”. Some of that took place, but until Joe Johnson left, the offense looked remarkably similar, at times, to Mike Woodson’s version. With that said, the defense has taken big-time strides under Drew. In his first season, Atlanta surrendered 104.6 points per 100 possessions on defense, which was good for 15th in the league. Since then, the Hawks achieved a vastly-improved mark of 98.6 points per 100 possessions in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and have improved even more thus far in 2012-2013, with a 98.4 mark in defensive efficiency. It has become a calling card of Larry Drew to deploy his players in optimal defensive ways, and the improvement on that end, without a vast improvement in personnel, can and should be directly tied to Drew.
I was openly critical of Drew during his first year-plus as the Hawks coach, as I did not see the improvement offensively that I desired, and last year, I didn’t feel that Drew was put in a position to succeed with Horford. However, Drew has very much impressed me in recent months, as the offense has blossomed into a much more watchable/desirable product, while the defense has become a staple in the league’s top-10. The next step for Drew should be his arrival on the national scene as a Coach of the Year candidate this season, while leading a Joe Johnson-less roster to a potential top-4 seed in the East. Congratulations to Coach Drew.