We've heard it from Mike Woodson before---the Hawks are better when they run.
And though we believe the coach believes it when he says that, as he did again with THHB before the Orlando game, we had to challenge Woodson that the Hawks play slower than most teams in the NBA, an accusation supported by the 8th slowest possession pace in the league (93.6 possessions).
Says the coach, "Ideally, we’d like to be able to score before the other team gets set up, especially the stronger defenses like Boston, Orlando, Cleveland, LA. But it isn’t always that way---you gotta be able to execute in the halfcourt sometime."
According to 82games.com, the Hawks take a shot within the first (10) seconds of their possession about (39) percent of the time, tied for 9th in the league, but just one percentage point ahead of six other teams, putting them pretty close to the median.
When pressed further, Woodson clarifies that to get that score before the other team sets up, the Hawks must play......defense.
"I want us to milk possessions and get the best shot possible—but when we win big, it’s when our defenses generate a lot of easier opportunities for us offensively."
"That’s when we’re at our best—when we’re capitalizing defensively on the turnovers and not turning it over ourselves. When we’re making stops, then rebounding the ball, getting deflections and things of that nature, that’s when we’re really at our best. Any team in the league is at their best when they are doing that."
The Hawks were much better at this earlier in the season, when they were ruling the roost in the advanced statistical categories, but recently Atlanta has seen their defensive rebounding (a bugaboo in past seasons) slip again, now down to 9th worst defensive rebounding rate. Should the Hawks continue their slide, it will be hard for them to maintain their high offensive efficiency, and to execute on their coach's idea of their most effective offensive possessions.
Woodson differentiates that the when he says he wants the Hawks to run, he doesn't mean pace for pace's sake, like say the Golden State Warriors, who routinely have a faster pace, but less efficient over 100 possessions.
"There’s nothing sloppy about how we play. If it was, we wouldn’t be where we are today, leading the division. When we are taking care of the basketball—when you don’t turn it over, you get more shots. We don’t get a lot of possessions, but we don’t turn it over, either."
We wonder about Woodson's theory, while it makes sense, does it make as much of an impact as he might think? His team does enjoy a fantastic (11.36) percent turnover rate and a quick tap at the official THHB abacus tells us that, the Hawks net (83) possessions per 100 when removing turned over possessions. How does that match up with, say, the 3rd fastest rate team, the Minnesota Timberwolves? Minnesota drops from (98.9) to (84.61), lending some weight to Woody's "effective possessions".
Regardless of what words he chooses to use about pace, it's not the speed of possession that truly matters, but the manner of care to which it is treated. Woodson's style is still more Larry Brown than Doug Moe and the results are there---the Hawks are still in the top 5 in many of the advanced offensive team statistics .
THHB thanks Coach Mike Woodson and the Atlanta Hawks for their time for this interview. Opinions and theories (as well as challenging our University of Florida math) can be done safely in the Comments Area.