Coming towards the quarter pole of the season, the Hawks are 9-10, which is cause for celebration for this team after eight years of varying degrees of miserable. The team has won six of nine, but the wins haven't exactly come against a murderer's row of opponents: Minnesota (twice), Miami, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Philadelphia. For those of you who haven't been following the NBA this year, I just listed five lottery teams. The Hawks haven't dominated any of the games and they required this to beat the worst team in the league at home:
The home game against the T-Wolves was as depressing as the opening wins over Phoenix and Dallas were exhilarating. The Hawks' third quarter in the game was simply wretched, as they turned a significant lead into an eight-point deficit. The offense was stagnant and they allowed Corey Brewer to get just about every available rebound. The team gutted out a win in the fourth quarter, thus preventing a season-crushing loss (or at least as much of a season-crushing loss as you can have in an 82-game schedule). The final two possessions for each team were telling. Minnesota got a pair of lay-ups; the Hawks got a contested 16-foot bank shot and a fade away 18-footer. The sequence seemed to be a microcosm of what's wrong with this team, especially on the offensive end. The Hawks have good individual players, but everything comes much harder to them, either because the team's schemes are poor or the team doesn't know how to implement them. Either way, the implication is not good for Mike Woodson.
The numbers back me up here. The Hawks are 24th in the league in points scored. If you normalize for pace, the Hawks shoot up all the way to 21st in the league in points per possession. Atlanta is 22nd in field goal percentage. The charitable explanation is that the Hawks' injuries at the point guard position have hurt the offense and there is certainly some truth to that. The more concerning explanation is that the team doesn't appear to have any defined concept on offense, which leaves a bunch of good and improving players to score on their own. Hopefully, Acie Law and Tyronne Lue will get healthy and the offense will get better. Something good will have to happen as the schedule gets tougher, starting tomorrow night at 16-5 Orlando.
The game against the Magic is going to be very exciting because it will be the first match-up between Al Horford and Dwight Howard. Horford has been everything that Shelden Williams was supposed to be, but isn't. He's a monster on the glass, he's fluid on the offensive end (although he's uncertain of his moves, which is holding his scoring down), and he always plays hard. His basketball IQ is excellent; Billy Donovan wasn't lying when he said that Horford was a really smart player. Al is a significant reason why the Hawks have become a solid defensive team (9th in the NBA in points per possession allowed). Horford is the best Hawks post player since Dikembe; there's no debate on this point.
The interesting problem is that Horford is a monster on the defensive glass, but the Hawks are still not a good defensive rebounding team (28th in the league in defensive rebounding rate). My theory on that is that Josh Smith leaves his man all the time to block shots. Smith should get credit for leading the NBA in blocked shots and affecting opposing offenses, but the negative of his defensive style is that it can lead to Minnesota pulling down 20 offensive rebounds. The rest of the Hawks need to do a better job of rotating and helping Smith out when he goes on his shot blocking raids, but then they can bleed out to run, which is a stated goal for the team this year. After the last eight years, it's nice to have a player who has a "this is good, but here's the tradeoff" dynamic.