If at first the picture was a bit fuzzy in reference to the kind of team that new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry wanted to build, then it’s becoming much clearer just a few weeks into his tenure.
On Monday, Ferry’s latest acquisition became official, with the Hawks’ receiving 6-foot-7 forward Kyle Korver from Chicago in exchange for cash considerations, providing another glimpse into the plan.
With the addition of Korver, the Hawks now possess two of the NBA’s top nine active leaders in three-point shooting percentage. Korver is tied for eighth at 41.3 percent while Anthony Morrow, acquired from New Jersey as part of the Joe Johnson trade, ranks fifth at 42.6 percent.
Also, with the team’s first-round pick in June, Ferry took Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins, who brings with him a 43.8 percentage on three-pointers during his three-year NCAA career — an ability he will attempt to carry over to the NBA.
Here’s what Ferry said about Korver in a statement announcing the move: “I appreciate the toughness and the competitive energy Kyle brings to the game every night and we’re very excited to add him to our team. Adding him makes shooting an even greater strength for our club.”
That last sentence is the key one that brings the insight into the direction in which Ferry is going. Here is what he told FOXSportsSouth.com last week after the Johnson trade became official when asked about trying to get Jenkins to develop while having a very similar player in Morrow:
“I think shooting’s a great thing to have on a team. It’ll space and open the court for our playmakers, those being Al (Horford), Josh (Smith) and our guards.”
In the NBA, there are several ways to build a championship-caliber team, which is Ferry’s stated goal. One is by having one of the two or three best players in the league on your team (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant). Another is having three All-Star-level players, which Boston did with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
Finally, there is the “team approach,” which is rarely pulled, off but the most oft-cited example ranks as the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, whose best player, arguably, was Chauncey Billups. Billups was the finals MVP in that title-winning season, yet he did not even make the all-league team that season, though he did earn second-team honors the following year when the Pistons finished as runners-up.
Even without Johnson, the Hawks still have two All-Star-level players in Horford and Smith. With the four expiring contracts that Ferry acquired from New Jersey in exchange for Johnson (plus Jordan Farmar, on whom the team requested waivers on Monday), the Hawks have positioned themselves for a major free-agent play in 2013 — a Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, if the Hawks can convince one to sign here.
If not, Ferry’s Plan B appears to be to go with the so-called team model. (Incisively, he said on draft night that he thinks teams are rarely “one player” away from being an elite team.) So far, he’s given himself plenty of flexibility to sign or trade for quality players to make a run at the team model by moving Marvin Williams for Devin Harris and via the Johnson trade. Last season the NBA average for three-point percentage was 34.9 percent — and the Hawks now have two players who shoot at least six or seven percentage points higher than that rate over the course of their careers. By always having one or two of the league’s best three-point shooters in the league on the floor — at a fairly low cost in terms of both salary dollars and the assets surrendered — the Hawks will make it difficult if not impossible for opposing teams to double-team Smith and Horford.
This will be a somewhat radical shift in terms of what the Hawks’ offense has looked like for the last seven seasons with Johnson in the fold. Fans began to lament the “Iso-Joe” offense, in which Johnson effectively dribbled the air out of the ball until the final seconds of the shot clock before making his move.
Two years ago when Larry Drew took over as head coach, he promised an end to that kind of offensive scenario and more ball movement. However, as long as Johnson was on the team, he seemed to resist those changes. Now, Drew, in the final year of his contract, will have to implement Ferry’s vision or he might not be around for the long haul. During rookie camp, Drew was asked about how the Hawks formerly beat teams with size mismatches, using the 6-8 Johnson at guard and 6-9 Williams at small forward.
Next season, their lineup might look a little like this from the point to the small forward: Jeff Teague (6-2), Harris (6-3) and Korver (6-7). Drew talked about beating teams with quickness or other facets of the game instead of size and now it seems that shooting will be one of those elements.
In some ways, the coaching staff and the players might need introductions when training camp starts, along with a new offensive emphasis. Of the 13 players currently on the roster, only four — Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Smith and Teague — played for the Hawks last season.
So Hawks fans will have to get used to not only a different style of play that emphasizes shooting on offense, but also a new cast of characters performing it.