Immediate Hurdles the Atlanta Hawks Will Face This Season

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Immediate Hurdles the Atlanta Hawks Will Face This Season
USA TODAY Sports
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has a lot of work ahead of him.

The Atlanta Hawks head into the 2013-14 NBA season with a revamped roster and coaching staff that have high hopes for the season.

On paper, they have the look of a competitive team that could land somewhere between the sixth and the eighth seed in the playoffs. That isn't saying much, as the previous roster made the playoffs six consecutive years, never making it beyond than the second round.

However, their hopes of extending that streak to seven consecutive playoff appearances will first have to overcome a plethora of obstacles.

 

Defining Roles

Among the many players awaiting clearly defined roles is forward Mike Scott, who turned heads in summer league this year.

Who is going to start at shooting guard? Who will be the starting small forward?

Which bench players will get significant minutes in the regular rotation?

How many minutes will the starters play? How will minutes be distributed amongst the rotation players?

These are but a sampling of the questions that face the coaching staff heading into training camp and, ultimately, into the season.

As the team heads into camp and preseason soon thereafter, the coaching staff will need to assess the talent on the roster and establish clearly defined roles for each player.

Much of this should be figured out as the team comes out of camp, but as the Hawks get game time against live opponents in the preseason, things may change. And once Lou Williams is healthy enough to be reintroduced to the lineup, roles and (consequently) minutes will need to be reassessed and reconfigured.

With a roster that has so many new pieces playing together, this may be constantly changing.

 

Developing Team Chemistry

Atlanta's new cast of players (from left): Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Cunningham, Elton Brand, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroeder.

Only seven players remain from last year's roster. Of the incoming talent, only three—Elton Brand, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll—have considerable experience in the league. Of the remaining four, they share a total of 117 games played in the NBA, most of which is courtesy Gustavo Ayon (109).

It will take time for the entire roster to coalesce. Not only do they need to learn Coach Budenholzer's offensive system; they need to learn each other. Where does each man like to catch and shoot the ball? Where is each man's comfort zone? What are each player's strengths and weaknesses?

They need to develop timing, understanding the motion of the offense and the speed that it is run by each player, so that they can anticipate when their teammates will be open to know when to pass.

What should help with this process is the fact that general manager Danny Ferry did a solid job of bringing in players whose talent and abilities fit the system they plan to put in place.

Even so, building good chemistry takes time.

 

Effective Defense

This James Harden highlight reel serves as a great example of the Hawks' inability to rotate defensively.

Last year's Hawks had some bright spots on defense—they ranked sixth in opponents' field-goal percentage (.567) within five feet and 12th (.381) from five to nine feet from the basket.

That is in large part a testament to Al Horford's ability to stay in front of his opponents and Josh Smith's amazing talent for protecting the rim with weak-side help. Even with his help, Atlanta finished 22nd in blocked shots.

Smith, however, is gone now, and none of the players that Ferry brought in this summer project to be effective shot-blockers. Elton Brand, at one time, was respectable. However, his ability to turn shots away at the rim has diminished with age.

Beyond that, Atlanta has glaring deficiencies in their perimeter defense.

They ranked among the worst (28th) in three-point percentage allowed, yielding 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. The Hawks were 14th (middle of the pack) in steals.

Last year their perimeter players struggled to rotate well around the perimeter. This problem is perpetuated by the fact that Jeff Teague has struggled to get through screens. Compounding the problem, Kyle Korver has never been a great perimeter defender.

This problem gets worse when considering the lack of size among Atlanta's perimeter players. Even the ones with adequate height are all lacking in muscular girth. They don't fare well against teams that are physical, like the Indiana Pacers, who often set hard screens with Roy Hibbert and David West.

 

Team Rebounding

Without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, Chicago out-rebounded Atlanta 53-45.

The Hawks struggled mightily on the glass last season, ranking 21st in offensive rebounds allowed (11.3), 25th in opponents' total rebounds per game (43.7), 26th in rebound differential per game (-2.8) and 27th in offensive rebounds per game (9.2).

The highlight video above comes from a game that proved the Hawks ineptitude on the glass. Without three starters (Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose), the Bulls were forced to feature two 6'9" small forwards in their frontcourt. Their undersized starting lineup out-rebounded Atlanta's starting five 49-32.

This may have been contributing factor in Ferry signing so many big men this summer.

Unfortunately, the players they brought in are average rebounders at best. It is going to take a complete team effort to truly overcome the their rebounding woes.

This may require asking the wing players to attack the glass whenever possible to limit giving up second chance opportunities to opponents.

 

Offensive Efficiency

If anything like the Spurs, Coach Bud's offense should result in a lot of open corner threes.

Last season, Atlanta proved to be among the best in both scoring around the rim and from distance. That is largely due to the effectiveness of both Horford and Korver. They are each extremely efficient at what they do, whether scoring in the post or shooting threes.

Unfortunately, they don't shoot all of the shots.

Over the course of the 2012-13 season, Atlanta was among the bottom third in the league when shooting from five feet to 19 feet in range. Specifically, the Hawks ranked 21st when shooting from five to nine feet (37 percent) and 15-19 feet (38.8 percent). They ranked 26th when shooting from 10-14 feet (36 percent).

Some of this can be attributed to Josh Smith's erratic shooting, but it takes a team effort to get bad numbers like these.

Atlanta has to improve their mid-range shooting. Adding Millsap should help, at least with the 10-14 feet variety, where he shoots an efficient 41.4 percent.

Additionally, the Hawks have to cut down on their turnovers. Last year they ranked 21st in the league, giving up an average of 14.9 turnovers each game. Playing in a system that will be heavily reliant upon each man's ability to pass, ensuring that the ball doesn't end up in the opposition's hands will be crucial.

Knowing that the team's strengths lie in shooting near the rim and around the three-point line, expect a heavy dose of the motion employed in Atlanta's offensive sets. Utilizing misdirection and multiple screens, Coach Bud will find ways to enable his playmakers (Teague, Schroeder and Williams) to get the ball into the post or to an open shooter in the corner—typically the most makeable three-point shot.

Last year, the Hawks shot 321 attempts at over 40 percent from the corners. Those numbers could go up in Coach Bud's offense.

History tells us that this should be effective as Atlanta shooters, most of whom are back this year, were rather effective shooting corner threes.

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