Rotation Changes the Atlanta Hawks Should Make

Amber NorthContributor IIJanuary 8, 2013

Rotation Changes the Atlanta Hawks Should Make

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    The Atlanta Hawks are playing like confused ducklings right now.

    What could have been a refreshing 3-0 start to the new year has been a sloppy 1-2 display.

    Their recent disappointing loss to the Boston Celtics Saturday night was a bad reminder of a familiar Hawks pattern: Blowing double-digit leads after running out of gas in the second half.

    It also showed that this offense is not where it ought to be. The Hawks have a nice 20-12 record, but considering their two-game skid, they are really getting in the way of soaring even higher.

    It is becoming obvious that there need to be some changes in the rotation.

    Head coach Larry Drew recently was crowned the Eastern Conference's Coach of the Month, and it was rightly deserved. However, things will only get worse for Atlanta if he does not figure out which players work best during crunch time. 

    The Hawks' version of the Big Three—Jeff Teague, Josh Smith and Al Horford—are playing a high volume of minutes. Each of them played over 40 minutes in the Boston game.

    Atlanta's bench is not deep by any means, but there are still some capable players that can handle their own while the stars rest.

    Drew has to have faith in his reserves, or the Hawks will continue to have these drastic momentum shifts that will cost them wins.

Keep Lou Williams as a Starter

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    Acquiring Lou Williams over the summer was a brilliant move by the Hawks and general manager Danny Ferry. They brought in a fearless player who finds any way to stay open and score.

    Basically, he is like former Hawks Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford with a better shot selection.

    Williams showed in the Celtics game that he is comfortable with the ball in his hands, scoring 21 of 28 points in the first half.

    It has really worked with him as the starting shooting guard and Kyle Korver at small forward.

    Coach Larry Drew has been impressed enough by Williams to want to keep him as a starter, despite the major height disadvantage a smaller lineup brings.

    Drew recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had to "roll the dice" and that Williams has earned his starting spot.

    But there isn't much gambling with this decision.

    Williams only has started in eight of the Hawks' 32 games, yet he is third in points per game with 15.3 and is second behind Al Horford with a 18.2 Player Efficiency Rating.

    We can only imagine what else Williams will show us in the remaining 50 games of the season.

More Minutes for Zaza Pachulia

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    Atlanta's starting roster in the last two games has been Jeff Teague at point guard, Lou Williams at shooting guard, Kyle Korver at small forward, Josh Smith at power forward and Al Horford at center.

    I don't know about you, but that looks like a very small lineup to start off a game, with Horford being the tallest at 6'10.

    Center Zaza Pachulia is not a scoring machine, but his defensive toughness and presence on the boards is much needed for the Hawks.

    He bumps bodies and gets into a player's face and under his skin, which can be an even bigger factor once he gets a little more playing time. He is only averaging 22.7 minutes per game, as of January 7, but I can see him playing at least five more minutes per game.

    Smith played nearly 44 minutes against the Celtics while nursing a strained right hip flexor. And he was not much help with his four-of-18 overall shooting, including the five straight shots he missed in the third quarter.

    Meanwhile, Pachulia sat on the bench most of the game, playing a little over 13 minutes with two points and two rebounds.

    It would have helped if Pachulia was in while Smith sat out, pushing Horford to the 4 with Korver, Williams and Teague as 3, 2 and 1, respectively.

    That way, Larry Drew would have a reliable three-point shooter in Korver, along with two versatile scorers in Teague and Williams, with Horford and Pachulia powering down in the post.

    Pachulia has not matched the numbers he put up in his first two seasons with the Hawks between 2005-07, but he can still provide significant figures. His 6.9 rebounds certainly makes an impact. 

More Minutes from Key Reserves

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    Coach Larry Drew expressed in November that he wanted to use forward Ivan Johnson and guard Anthony Morrow more, but reserve guard Anthony Tolliver has seen the most minutes in January.

    Morrow missed Saturday's game with a hip strain while Johnson scored four points in six minutes. Tolliver had a nice three-point play as his only contribution in eight minutes.

    Rookie guard John Jenkins has been playing more with both Morrow and point guard Devin Harris out.

    Jenkins scored 10 and 15 points on Dec. 29 and Dec. 31, respectively, but he has only scored seven points in the last three games combined.

    His offense is not in question, though, as he has recorded a .531 field-goal percentage and .435 three-point percentage, as of January 7.

    Veteran forward DeShawn Stevenson has also been used frequently in the rotation, but I understand Drew's focus on Johnson and Morrow because they are the least experienced with the most potential. 

    Johnson is putting up 5.6 points per game and Morrow with 5.5 points. Not that their points average matters: Drew told the AJC that he wants his oft-outscored bench to come into the game with a defensive mindset first.

    It is likely Johnson will see more minutes in the upcoming games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers. Morrow, on the other hand, traveled with the team but is not sure to play.

Readjusting Lineup with a Healthy Devin Harris

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    Has anybody seen Devin Harris lately? He's been gone since Dec. 18 due to a foot injury he suffered against the Washington Wizards.

    He has already missed 12 games, and there is still no timetable for his return.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore tweeted that both Harris and Morrow are traveling with the Hawks for their upcoming back-to-back games against the Timberwolves on Tuesday and Cavaliers Wednesday night.

    That does not mean too much—just that there is a slight chance that both will suit up and play those games.

    It would be a big help with a healthy Harris back in the lineup. Teague could rest more and avoid playing over 40 minutes two nights in a row.

    Harris would be an even bigger help if he could finally play like he's being paid $8.5 million. The Hawks have been waiting patiently for his game to fit into their offense, but his paltry 7.7 points per game show otherwise. 

    Once Harris is close to 100 percent, those numbers need to rise in order for him to be a major contributor to the team.