When Larry Drew took over for Mike Woodson as coach of the Hawks at the beginning of the season, it was hard to predict how the change would affect the team’s style of play. Drew had served as Woodson’s lead assistant coach for six years prior to taking his first head coaching job, so the transition has been relatively smooth. However, one point LD’s wanted to emphasize was the use of a motion offense to “to utilize the skills of many multi-talented players on his roster.”
Basically, a motion offense entails constant movement as opposed to set plays. The idea is to develop a more flexible offense through players’ movement, screens, cutting and passing. When executed well, the motion offense creates a lot more options for scoring and is more difficult for other teams to defend given the unpredictability of plays.
“When executed well,” being the operative phrase. For a motion offense to be effective, all five players have to be able to handle the ball and be 100% in the game mentally; it takes a lot of coordination, spacial awareness and sharp instincts. When it works, it looks great and a lot of spectacular plays can go down; when players get lazy or mishandle the ball, things get sloppy pretty fast and play on the court becomes a disorganized mess.
This has essentially been the story for the Hawks all season long. There are moments of really great ball movement, and the team often outscores opponents in fast-break points, even in losses. But a lot of times, the flexibility of a motion offense allows players to default to lazy jump shots or commit turnovers.
Part of the problem for the Hawks is the “all five players have to be able to handle the ball and be 100% in the game mentally” part. It is often the case that only one or two guys are really on their game at a time. It’s not always the same ones, although Hinrich and Horford are usually pretty reliable. But when only one or two guys are actively moving, thinking on their toes and pushing the pace at a time, the outcome of a game becomes more the product of happenstance, luck and momentum than anything else.
Momentum is huge for the Hawks. Everyone rides off of their teammates’ energy. How demoralizing was that 30-point deficit at halftime to the Bulls? You could kind of just see the air letting out of the balloon in the team’s play once it seemed like it was a lost cause.
Hinrich has always been a strong leader, both on and off the court, and LD commented that he noticed how the new point guard’s presence had upped the Hawks’ defensive game already. I’m still hoping that as he continues to adjust to his new team, he’ll be able to make a more consistent contribution and bring things together. And maybe the Hawks can get out of this funk of mediocrity and become a legitimate contender in the playoffs.