Playing the Hand You’re Dealt In ATL: The Hawks’ Unique Brand of Defense

Bo Churney —  December 23, 2013

When HawksHoop’s Cole Patty wrote about Elton Brand before the start of the season, he was mainly going through how Elton would work within the Hawks’ offense. Why was this? It was already assumed that Elton would make an impact defensively, we just need to know if he could work on offense.

However, now we need to write about Elton’s defensive impact, because it is having an even bigger effect on the Hawks than previously anticipated.

This reason for this revelation is Elton’s recent increase in minutes. In the month of December, Elton is playing 14 minutes per game, which is up from the nine minutes per game he played in November. While that may not seem like a large increase on its face, consider this: the Hawks are 10-3 when Elton Brand plays more than 10 minutes. Those three losses? At Dallas, at San Antonio, and home against Oklahoma City, which are not exactly matchups to be ashamed of a losing result.

“They make sure we stay ready,” Elton said, talking about his playing time. “Guys may not play minutes, but when they come up, you’re ready.”

Is it possible that even more and more minutes need to be coming up for Elton Brand?

According to, the Hawks’ defense gets eight points better per 100 possessions (and one point better on offense) when Brand is on the floor. Basketball-Reference has E.B. with the lowest DRtg of all Hawks at 98 points per 100 possessions.

So what is making Elton so successful? One of the first things I see with him is that he has a block percentage of 5.9%. Block percentage is the estimated number of two-point field goal attempts that a player blocks when he is on the floor. For comparison, Elton’s block percentage is similar to Roy Hibbert’s and Serge Ibaka’s, although Elton is obviously playing few minutes.

What this seems to signify is that Elton is doing a great job of playing help defense. He’s able to come over and help with extreme effectiveness, allowing the Hawks to maintain a steady flow when Horford and/or Millsap is off of the floor.

“When you get blocks,’ Elton said, “it’s kind of a mistake; you’re kind of erasing a mistake. Like, you don’t want to have to get blocks, you want to stay in front of your man.”

While getting blocks is not the greatest defensive option, that is exactly what the Hawks need from their reserve big man. Atlanta’s defensive effort at guard is not great. While Horford and Millsap are capable of erasing these mistakes, you do not want to put your starting big men in a situation where they could get in foul trouble.

This is where Brand comes in. If you have looked at the Hawks’ rotations recently, you might have noticed Horford coming out of the game at around the six minute mark in the first quarter for Elton Brand. While I was initially against this idea because of Horford leaving the floor so early, it seems to be working quite well. Brand is able to come in and play defensive anchor — and can foul with impunity if he wants — with the starters, and it gives you a chance to increase the amount of time that the Hawks have at least Horford or Millsap on the floor. Brand is also able to transition his time from the starters to the second unit guys, meaning that the Hawks’ defense can have a steady presence as players come on and off the floor.

Now, some of the trade craze lately has been that the Hawks need to trade for Houston’s Omer Asik in order to up the team’s rim protection abilities. The premise of this is really sound: rim protection is an extremely valuable asset for a team to have in the NBA. However, according to SportVU, the Hawks don’t need Omer Asik; they already have Elton Brand. What SportVU says is this: in field goal attempts at the rim, opponents shoot 43.2% against Omer Asik. That is a really good percentage. Against Elton Brand? It’s 43.6%, which is pretty much the same as Asik’s effort. And as Cole’s article said above, Elton Brand is capable of seamlessly fitting into an offense.

So before giving up some valuable pieces to acquire Omer Asik, the Hawks should look at Elton Brand and evaluate if he is the guy that they really need for this team to solidify itself as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Bo Churney

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One response to Playing the Hand You’re Dealt In ATL: The Hawks’ Unique Brand of Defense

  1. I see what your doing. Your’e talking to Buddy through this article.