Are the Hawks turning things around on defense? Plus, Josh Smith's suspension and more.
By JEROME JURENOVICH FS South
The defense was the backbone of the Hawks’ surprising start. They’ve been erratic on that end of the floor of late, but have you seen signs of them starting to turn things around?
I think the defense started [to improve] with the return to the lineup of Devin Harris. He’s their best perimeter defender.
I love Lou Williams’ offense, but Devin is a much better defense player and having him in the lineup seemed to turn everything around because they were getting beat on the perimeter, especially.
The Hawks are in the midst of a tough stretch with two against the Nets and then they face the Spurs. Is this a time when we really start to learn something about this team?
There’s no question that they fed on the bottom feeders the first two months of the year. Now, they did have that big win over Oklahoma State on the road and they played a couple of good teams, but the meat of the schedule is ahead of us and it just started when the calendar turned to 2013.
We’re going to learn a lot about this team by Valentine’s Day.
How did you think the team reacted to the one-game suspension of Josh Smith for conduct detrimental to the team and do you think this is a concern going forward?
I don’t think this is a concern going forward.
I think this is a case of when a star player is missing for whatever reason – injury, suspension, day off, death in the family, whatever – other guys have to step up.
They were also looking in the mirror more and realizing you couldn’t rely on Josh. Josh wasn’t going to be there. Statistically, he’s their best player. You look at the box score every night and its absolutely crazy. All of a sudden you take that away and its ‘How are we going to win without him?’
The best thing for this team is to just refocus and get going and that’s what they had to do with Josh. Now, I think you have to look at coach Larry Drew’s comments. They’re a better team with Josh Smith and I agree with that.
Now, maybe this was the best thing for Josh as well.
The Hawks used eight players on Wednesday against the Nets. What do you think that says about the depth of the team going forward?
They only used eight players on Wednesday against the Nets, which kind of surprised me, but obviously with Josh out of there, that would have been 1-9.
What puzzled me the most about that isn’t the depth and what you have going forward, because when Devin Harris was out, we saw much more of John Jenkins. So we had a taste of the two rookies in the first month and a half of the season and they proved that they’re a little bit better than your average rookie, which will benefit the team.
But I think what really, really sparked this club the most was that they had to regroup. It wasn’t so much the Josh Smith incident; it was how badly they played since that second half in the Jan. 5 loss to Boston.
They had to really look in the mirror and say ‘What are we going to do? We’re not playing Minnesota without Kevin Love. We’re not playing Cleveland without Anderson Varejao. We’re playing some really good teams and we need to start playing some really good basketball.
I think that’s what they did.
The rookies – Jenkins and Mike Scott – did their time in the D-League. They’re back, but the Hawks don’t seem to use their rookies like a lot of other teams do. Is that something you think will change?
I unfortunately don’t think it will, because I think that’s the coaching philosophy.
I love Larry Drew, but he and his predecessor Mike Woodson, they have a tendency not to play the rookies very much. You have to bide your time. Certain coaches in the NBA, you have to bide your time and Larry Drew is one of them.
I don’t necessarily agree with it, because I think Jenkins has show he can actually play some ball and he deserves some more minutes.
Where would you say this team is at right now? Did they peak too early or have they just gone through a rut and they’re trying to find their way back?
Everybody goes through a rough patch, but I will say that most rough patches won’t be as rough as the one that the Hawks just went through.
But I don’t think they peaked too early. I thought they were the seventh seed in the East going into the season and I’m going to stand by that. I think they are going to make the playoffs and they are going to be through that bottom Nos. 4-8 seeds, probably six, seven or eight.
I think they’ll be fine, injuries not withstanding.