Rathbun: Hawks' defensive troubles recent hiccup in long season

BY foxsports • November 20, 2014

FOXSportsSouth.com checks in with play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun to discuss the Atlanta Hawks heading into the 2014-15 season.

I think one of the big things is, as frustrating as a loss like that is, you still have to take the long view. It's still early in the season and there's a lot to work on, but not having forward DeMarre Carroll really affected this team defensively against the Lakers. But it's part and parcel with an early season and getting to know your own club, mixing in new people and raising the level of intensity -- all of those things rolled into one.

Had they started that game against the Lakers in better fashion, they wouldn't have had to make such a dramatic comeback in the second half. They showed that once they buckled down they were fine. They played hard, they just dug themselves too deep of a hole. I think going forward there are some issues that have to be addressed. One is on the defensive end of the floor they've got to reclaim some intensity in contesting shots and grabbing rebounds. The offense will take care of itself.

I think they've bought in at both ends of the floor, it's just a matter of bringing that same sense of urgency every night in the NBA, because if you don't there's another team that's more than willing to take advantage. We saw that from the Lakers the other night. They received a huge lift from guard Nick Young as he made his season debut, and once he hit a couple shots you could see it just raised the level of play for Los Angeles. The Hawks did not match that.

I don't think the defensive issues will become an ongoing problem by any stretch of the imagination, but it's just one of those times in the season where you hit a little rut and you want to correct things before you go any further.

When they step on the gas pedal they're pretty difficult to guard. Take Jeff Teague against the Lakers, for example. If he doesn't take the first quarter off it might have been a different ballgame. Once he got engaged and started blowing by Jeremy Lin whenever he wanted to, the game changed completely.

For any guard to find success in the NBA, he's got to touch that paint. You've got to get inside. Teague has the natural ability -- with his speed and quickness -- to do that almost at will. And once he gets that mindset of "I can't be stopped," that mindset to attack whether you're jumping a screen or defending one-on-one, it just changes everything for this offense. Along with Dennis Schroder and Shelvin Mack, they have to have that attack mentality for this whole thing to click.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect out of Schroder this season, particularly after the team re-signed Mack as a kind of insurance policy. It was hard to see where hit fit in terms of the pecking order. I thought the team forced him into some minutes there in the first couple of weeks of the season, but then he had that really good week where he really did look like a legitimate NBA point guard. The turnovers concern me, but I think if he can carve out 15-18 minutes chunk every night where he has more good things happen than bad, then he's going to be a good addition to this team. He just cannot turn the ball over, whether it's with fouls, legitimate turnovers, bad passes or careless mistakes. This team cannot afford to have that out of its backup point guard.

There's definitely a gap between the West and East, but just how big it is remains to be seen. It's a little too early to make too many judgments about the worth of some teams, especially given the injury situations at Oklahoma City and Indiana. When you take those significant injuries into account, it's a little premature to declare just how deep either conference is.

There's no question, though, that the West features quality at the top. I think the Eastern Conference does as well, but I think the West boasts more quality teams. There are a couple of bottom-feeders in this conference that are pretty bad. Obviously with the Philadelphia 76ers, there's no team in the West that even remotely compares to what they're going through. The Knicks are a mighty struggle right now, and will continue to be until they get Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calerdon back in the fold.

The West is stronger, but I'm not ready to crown them champs quite yet. Cleveland will get its act together, Chicago is a proven commodity and Toronto is an excellent team that can hold its own with any team.

It's a good thing that Payne is getting quality minutes in the D-League this weekend. It's imperative for his development that he starts to get some playing time, and I think this is a good move. Similar moves helped guys like Mike Scott, John Jenkins, you name it -- guys that were not receiving big-time minutes as rookies over the past few years. That'll be good for Payne to see some major-league competition even down in the D-League. That will help the Hawks down the road, too.