Before the Hawks took the court on Wednesday, Larry Drew made a tactical error. In the midst of a stretch where the Hawks had lost 4 of 5 games, Drew made the conscious decision to “shake things up” and insert a big lineup featuring Kyle Korver at the shooting guard spot, with Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia all manning the front-court. In a vacuum, this wasn’t a crazy decision, as that 5-man unit had excelled in an admittedly small sample size this season. That said, it also sent Lou Williams to the bench after a stretch where he had notched 20+ points in 4 of the last 6 games, and as a result of his demotion, his minutes were limited to an inexplicable 21 on Wednesday night.
Now, it is quite easy to play Monday morning quarterback with a head coach’s decisions, and that is especially true after an embarrassing loss. That said, I actually muttered (admittedly to myself) about this decision before it even happened. It screamed overreaction and indicated undue panic, but the funniest part is that the reason I muttered initially wasn’t even a result of this panic. Quite simply, there were better ways to “shake it up” than removing Lou Williams, who is the only player on the roster at this point that gets to the free throw line (we’ll come back to this), and going big against a Cavs team that didn’t even have the services of its #1 front-court player in Anderson Varejao. Did we really need the additional size against Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and the Alonzo Gee experience? I didn’t think so.
One additional symptom of this “new” starting lineup remains the fact that it exposes the Hawks lack of front-court depth on the bench. With Pachulia (the team’s only “true” center that isn’t named Johan Petro) in the lineup, the second-unit has serious issues, and the roster construction doesn’t lend itself to this change on a permanent basis. This is admittedly a side-note, but it matters nonetheless.
You may read this as an overall criticism of Drew’s performance, and that’s simply not the case. That said, I felt that the move was reactionary and short-sighted, and frankly, the type of move that I would’ve expected from Drew before lavishly praising him at times this season. This is a results-based society, and the fact that the Hawks didn’t perform to expectations in last night’s loss is the reason that this column was written. Plain and simple. But at the same time, I firmly feel that this move was ill-conceived, and while the focus shouldn’t be just on this one tactical decision, I fear that more panic is coming as a result of an additional loss.
On a night where the Hawks tied a franchise-low in free throw attempts (five) and set a new league-low for the season in free throws made (two), it doesn’t take a scientist to tie that back to the lack of Lou Williams on the court. I always caution against the use of small sample sizes to make arguments, but this is one I can’t avoid. I’m sure it is time for the next “shake-up”, and let’s all hope that it features more than 21 minutes from Lou.