When it was announced prior to Saturday’s game that the Hawks would be without Josh Smith, my reaction was one of both trepidation and intrigue. On the one hand, I am one of the more consistent Josh Smith detractors in the blogosphere, and the thought of examining the Hawks, especially on offense, without him was a pleasant one. On the other hand, the prospect of encountering David West and company without Smoove on the defensive end or the ability to isolate him (on the block we hope) in a big spot struck some fear into my heart. Add in the fact that the Hawks were already without Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris and the reality that Al Horford (soreness) and Ivan Johnson (illness) were expected to be limited and I wasn’t at all sure what we would see.
And then… the offense shined.
Before I continue, please read this and take it into account. I do not feel that the Atlanta Hawks are better without Josh Smith. Ok, exhale. With that out of the way, the offense was extremely effective last night, and while that has more to do with the ball going in the basket at a higher-than-sustainable rate than anything else, credit should be dispersed for the ability to win a game like that in the absence of one of the team’s elite talents. Overall, Atlanta shot 55% from the field, 50% from 3-point land, and assisted 26 of 44 shots in running up 109 points against one of the elite defensive teams in the league. Six Hawks scored in double-figures including all five starters notching 15+ points for the first time all season.
When examining the roster, it should certainly be noted that I don’t believe this is a game that the Hawks would have won in previous seasons when limited by this many injuries. Lou Williams picked up the role as “primary scorer” last night, and while he was just 7-17 shooting, he generated offense through 3 made threes, 4 free throw attempts (all converted), and he was the “end of shot clock” go-to option for Atlanta in Smith’s absence. Kyle Korver gave Atlanta 16 points on just 10 shot attempts including 4-5 from downtown, and once again reminded everyone that he is one of the elite shooters on planet Earth. Are you noticing a trend? Both players are new acquisitions this season from the Danny Ferry regime, and when you throw in the fact that 1st-round pick John Jenkins contributed a surprising 10 points off of the bench, it was a stellar night for the Ferry camp.
I would be remiss to not include Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia in the praise for last night, as both guys stepped up in a big way. Pachulia gave Larry Drew 38 highly-effective minutes including 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Horford was, once again, the stabilizing force in the front-court for the Hawks with 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. In addition, I’ll credit Larry Drew with a willingness to experiment with some unique 5-man lineups, and the fact that he unleashed Jenkins in a Morrow-like instant offense role when he was on the court.
Overall, there isn’t a terrible amount to be gleamed from this performance, as the established ceiling of the Hawks with Josh Smith is even lower without him. That said, it was encouraging to see adaptation amongst both the coaching staff and the roster, and when you add in Drew and company’s success last season when playing without Al Horford, this core has proven itself to able sustain a blow or two. Josh’s quick return likely won’t do wonders for the offense, but if rumors of increased scrutiny from Larry Drew concerning his shot selection are true, an additional, highly-skilled weapon could only help the improving Hawks offense.