It's pretty obvious that HS8T has been absent among the giants of Hawks blogging. Year 3 has been a pretty tough one to provide timely and thorough analysis on a game by game basis. We're going to get back to game recaps, but you don't come here for quick analysis. You come here to find out - ARE THE HAWKS GETTING BETTER PREPARED TO BECOME AN ELITE, CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDING TEAM? So, let's talk about some things we discussed in our pre-season preview:
- Leadership - I've been on a fairly consistent stream of consciousness regarding the lack of leadership for the Atlanta Hawks. Front Office, Management, Coaching, & Players. None of them (not even Al Horford) give me a shred of confidence that the things they say and do come from a place of all falling in line with a sound strategy for growing into an elite team. The game vs. the Magic to the Bucks is a prime example. Again, the words uttered prior to the game reflected wanting to COMPETE with the Magic, not we are going to beat the Magic are concerning. The actions displayed vs. the Bucks are just as concerning. No one should come on your floor and put a 79-36 run on you. Granted, there are injuries, but pride has to come into play. This coming off of 2 straight poor postseasons (and no, I will continue to repeat that winning two series against vastly inferior teams (talent-wise) is as much of an indictment of that as getting swept by vastly superior teams (talent-wise)). The thrust from all parties should be to prove that we will ALWAYS play our hardest under every circumstance. That goes to leadership and the lack thereof. So far, my hope that signing Josh Powell and/or Etan Thomas would help in this area has not been satisfied.
- Strategy - So far, my belief that the offense is and never was the problem has been pretty spot on. Give Larry Drew credit - the offense looks like it could be better, more balanced, and a strength of this team, but that gets balanced with the thought that there still is a lack of discipline in shot making by players (Osh Smith, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Powell come to mind as guys who will take any shot and not always shots that they should). So, let me be clear - Drew's Motion Offense is simply Woodson's Share The Ball Offense + a few wrinkles. That being said - it's still the defense that will continue to be a problem and honestly, it's simply talent. We don't have talented defensive players. Hoopinion has started a campaign of sorts to prove how great Al Horford is at defense. And I won't argue his value to this team defensively, but I think it's dangerous to take this too far. Al Horford is a great defender vs. power forwards and as a help defender. Josh Smith is a great help defender. Other than that, the Hawks have very few players who are good at defense. Jeff Teague is probably the 3rd best defender (sorry, Marvin). I bring these things up because the flaw I've seen so far in Drew's defensive strategy is his lack of desire to actually play defensive lineups when stops are necessary. I've seen a lot of time outs to stop momentum (which is a great departure from the Woodson era), but not many times when we've valued defense over potential offensive firepower.At some point, that has to change.
- Toughness - See Leadership section...again, not seeing elite level toughness. Forget the physical part, but mentally this team is not tough.
- Defense - We said it above, so we won't rehash, but it would be nice if this team decided that the path to a title (and by team, I mean GM Sund sign players who play defense and coach Drew playing guys who play defense)
- Front Office - Won't belabor this, but since the last 3-4 games our bench has stunk up the joint and no one determined that maybe we'd want to get some wing/perimeter help when we knew that Mo Evans had knee problems is a reason be disappointed. This coupled with the fact that again, the 1st round draft pick has more talent than the guys we signed in the offseason yet he's at a position that we don't really need help at...yes, this is quite depressing.
- Familiarity Breeds Success - We noted in the season preview that we'd start the season hot. Why? Well, we always do. The team that has the same core is pretty much going to defeat teams who are trying to get their feel and rotations together. The Hawks didn't harbor that issue. Now, this losing streak is connected to the fact that we had injuries and, of course, that lack of toughness and leadership. So, we'll just say - nothing has changed. We'll still win 60% of our games this season. That's a 48 win season. What's interesting is that I'm already convinced that this success is a red herring...meaning we'll be the 4-6th seed and yet, we'll be the 6th best team in the playoffs at best and a prime candidate to lose in the 1st round.
- (New) Injuries - Let's hope that this is NOT a sign of things to come. The Hawks have been incredibly lucky with the injuries over the last 2 years and now, could the chickens come to roost. Maybe the silver lining is that this could highlight the point that many have noted and that's that you just can't put anyone in Roster spots 9-13. You actually MAY need to use those guys to win 10-15 games in a season.
- (New) Player Development - Here's my biggest concern for our long term health and it's going to be pretty controversial I'm sure, but I've been on this train before and I'm never afraid to get on board again. The key to this season is ..... STARTING JEFF TEAGUE. Now, I say that for reasons that I'm sure people will disagree with, so let me start by saying - Jeff Teague has not demonstrated that he's a better point guard than Mike Bibby. He could very well be a bust. He's actually on a career trajectory that mirrors one Mr. Acie Law IV. Now, that said - Mike Conley, Rajon Rondo, and Chauncey Billups have all been on the same path. The difference is - someone gave them the ball and said...you will learn on the job and prove to us that you are a bust or not. These are the good examples of that. If there's anything that's painfully obvious when watching Teague, he's not comfortable leading the Hawks. He's a point guard who isn't leading the team's offense, which is the POINT OF HAVING A POINT GUARD. His first inclination is to either - give the ball to Jamal OR to break down his man to dish or shoot a mostly unsuccessful floater. That's it. It's not to run an offense. Until he is given the reins to actually be the person to run the offense, we won't get better as a team. Period. Having him as the guy who runs the offense and provide defense that Jamal and Bibby are unable or unwilling to do is the only way to improve this team. I'll go down with the ship believing that. This is something that requires stones. It guarantees that you will lose games you probably could win otherwise, but it hopefully pays off in a Brandon Jennings type playoff run. If it doesn't, it highlights why you have to get a point guard in the offseason (or better yet, midseason trade deadline). So, I say again - Jeff Teague is the key to the season. I'll keep saying that as much as I can until someone listens. And that's said with full knowledge that he looks awful right now, but it's the kind of awful that anyone who has played pick up basketball with people who have no confidence in your game. It can intimidate you into not being able to help you grow. Teague will never get better as the second string point guard ESPECIALLY when that means - dribbling up court to do a hand off to Jamal Crawford. There's no growth or learning associated with that. Oh, and if we are trading Jamal, then let's get Jordan on the court more when it actually matters.