Are the Atlanta Hawks Fighting Themselves? (Video)


The Atlanta Hawks dropped game one of their second round series against the Washington Wizards after a very strong first quarter. Coach Mike Budenholzer and his troops once again found much needed consistency in the opening minutes by relying on the system that got them here. That system earned them 60 regular season wins and the Eastern Conference crown.

The regular season and playoffs are literally two different seasons. Certainly the work done during the first 82 games of the year prepared the Hawks to follow suit in the post season. That hasn’t been the case so far. Atlanta is suffering from a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” syndrome.

The system Bundenholzer brought with him has kept the Hawks competitive and given them a chance to win. When the Hawks have stayed inside the blueprint, their play, to some degree, has been “elite”. But when they get away from what has worked, it often ends like it did in game one against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. In a loss.

The Blueprint For Success and the Importance of Passing

The blueprint for success truly begins with moving the rock. In fact, the game of basketball was built upon this principle. It could be argued that passing is the single most important component of the game. This is because scoring the basketball can often times be made easier with good old fashioned “team work”. Historically, all of the great NBA teams did this both effectively and efficiently.

Budenholzer learned from one of the best ever to do it. That man was Greg Poppovich. Pop coached the San Antonio to five titles. Coach Bundenholzer has found a nucleus that works for the Hawks. A large part of the Hawks success can be attributed to their ability to unselfishly move the basketball.

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  • Atlanta’s best 2015 post season performance came during game six versus the Brooklyn Nets. Jeff Teague and company accumulated 34 total team asissts, their highest number of total helpers during the series. Statistically, the Hawks are still averaging a shade under 26 team assists during this year’s playoffs which is solid.

    The problem is, some games have been better than others in this department. To win consistently, the Hawks need to move the ball consistently.

    When the Hawks offense is working at its best, you see it fluently flowing like something out of a basketball textbook. When this occurs, you see players being able to create space coming off the ball as a direct result of ball rotation, both in the half-court set and in transition. Teague and Dennis Schroder are both great at creating dribble penetration, then kicking the ball out to an open player. Even when the ball goes into the post, guys like Paul Millsap and Al Horford are such good passers they can then defer to the corner or back out to the top of the perimeter.

    Atlanta looks best when you see three or four touch passes before the ball ends up in the hands of a player who ultimately has a clean look. It is poetry in motion for anyone that can appreciate the mechanics of a team’s offense in basketball.

    Where things get tough for the Hawks is when they move away from crisp passing and into forcing things offensively. Game one of the Wizards series was truly a “tale of two halves”.

    Atlanta came roaring out the gate scoring 37 first quarter points. The Hawks had come into this game with a record of 52-7 after leading in the first quarter. Atlanta couldn’t protect that lead because of the simple fact that the team got away from what earned them the initial lead, what helped earn 60 regular season wins, and what got them past the Nets.

    Game one was a good example of what happens to shooting efficiency when the ball rotation stops. Three point attempts all of a sudden became forced and weren’t falling anymore. The Hawks totaled an astonishing 19 team assists in the first half, subsequently going 9-for-17 from three point land. The second half looked much different. Only eight total second half assists.

    The reduction of passes and helpers directly contributed to the Hawks putting up a dismal 9-of-21 from downtown. When the passes disappear, it causes the flow of the offense to decrease at a significant rate. Shooters get cold and can’t create the same kind of space they can when the ball is being spread around.

    The Hawks have made a name for themselves on the defensive end and rightfully so. Great defense almost always translates into effective offensive chances.  One of the ways that the Hawk’s defense creates turnovers is by using what we call “active hands”. Defense is often times based on effort and intensity. Using game one of the Wizards series again, Atlanta only registered three total steals defensively. There are other ways to create turnovers but the Hawks have done well with points off turnovers from active hands with the intensity turned up.

    Contributions from the bench are also key in winning a championship. The Hawks have enough depth and help to get some good production from their second unit. They don’t need to be spectacular, just consistent. Turnovers plague any team that commits them regularly. The Atlanta Hawks are no different.

    Protecting the basketball is imperative in any game, especially the playoffs. The Hawks are committing close to 14 turnovers per game in both the regular and post season. Points off turnovers are a killer in the playoffs because they are avoidable. It’s like handing the other team a way to win.

    The Hawks Are At War With Themselves

    It is hard for any team to play perfectly within their system, certainly through the entirety of four quarters. The Hawks can play well in both the half-court and in transition. Atlanta lacks what some consider the tranditional NBA “superstar” yet they are immensly talented. Their team work and lack of ego gives them a chance to beat anybody on any night.

    The Hawks don’t necessarily have a player that is going to drop 25 or 30 in a comeback attempt.  Atlanta has to work as a unit, staying in sync. Bundenholzer’s system helps make all of that happen. Believe it or not, sharing the ball also helps everyone defensively. Psychologically, when everyone is getting touches, it impacts the effort on the defensive end. Guys are committed to the entire process when engaged on the offensive end.

    When the Hawks abandon the blueprint for success, they suffer. The 2015 post season has showcased this exclusively. The Hawks have looked really good and then, at times, very mediocre. Atlanta absolutely needs to continue to do what has worked all year long.

    Their identity got them here. But, their ugly counterpart may get them sent home, once again. Look for Atlanta to get back to the basics and what earned them the title as one of the East favorites to appear in the 2015 NBA Finals.

    It is time for the Hawks to prove to themselves they can do this. It might be DeMarre Carroll that ends up being the X-Factor in this series. Washington is going to have a tough time defending him. Carroll will be needed to lock down Paul Pierce, especially down the stretch.

    Next: Demarre Carroll Must Lock Down Paul Pierce