Do you remember, before the season started, when I said that the Hawks defense would take a bit of a step back and they would be mainly reliant on the offense to get wins? Yeah, forget that.
Thirteen games into the season, the Hawks are first in the NBA in defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) at 98.5, first in forcing turnovers (by percentage), and second in opponent’s field goal percentage. Considering that the offense has been a bit below average so far, the team’s 9-4 record is largely a reflection of the team’s defensive efforts.
Last season, Atlanta was 6th in defensive rating mostly without Al Horford, so it’s not like they were supposed to fall off of a cliff with Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams (both plus defenders) leaving town. It just seemed like they would tumble a little closer to the league average.
Well, Horford, with the help of Josh Smith, said no to that theory.
Looking at the numbers, Horford and Smith have been absolutely dominate defensively when they are on the floor together. According to NBA.com, when the two are on the court, the Hawks have a D-Rtg of 93.7, which is five points better than the team’s overall, league-leading D-Rtg. Individually, Josh has been a terror upon opponents, holding opposing power forwards to a PER of 11.7, and opposing small forwards to a PER of 3.1. (!!!)
However, the two’s biggest contribution to the Hawks’ defense is their abilities to switch.
Started under Mike Woodson, and perhaps perfected by Larry Drew, the Hawks have always been a team that will constantly switch on screens. Josh and Al are probably two of the best bigs in the NBA when it comes to this, and they essentially offset the pick-and-roll threat of most teams. Continue Reading…