Atlanta Hawks: Is This an Offensive or Defensive Team?


The Atlanta Hawks sit at 16th in both Offensive and Defensive Team Ratings through their first three games. Obviously this is a small sample size, but the club finished 6th in both team categories last year. Assuming there is some regression with the 2015-16 Atlanta Hawks from last year’s team, is it more advantageous to become a more offensive team or a more defensive-oriented team in 2015?

Ideally, HC Mike Budenholzer’s club would prefer to stay in the Top 10 defensively if they had to choose one, since the offensive part of the game comes more naturally to the team. The team is in a period of adjustment, just like every club in the Association is in the first few weeks, trying to figure out what it will take to get the most out of their team in 2015-16.

-= Related: Lamar Patterson Becoming an Impact Player for Hawks =-

Offensively the team does well when Lamar Patterson or Kyle Korver are on the court (137 ORTG and 112 ORTG, respectively). I attribute this to team’s not having a great scouting report on Patterson since he played overseas last season. For Korver, even if he’s not at 100% coming back from two offseason surgeries, his presence on the court alters the opponent’s defensive strategies: forcing more man-to-man on Korver which allows his teammates more space to work with. We know this all to well from last year’s historical season.

The rest of the Hawks’ rotation has an Offensive Rating between 100 and 108, not including Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott (91 ORTG and 78 ORTG, respectively). Perhaps Bazemore need a few games to get in the groove with his new role as starting small forward. Mike Scott is streaky to say the least and never really has thrived in Bud’s offensive system. His change-of-pace offensive style might actually be what is keeping him in the rotation.

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Defensively, the Atlanta Hawks are leaning on Thabo Sefolosha and Paul Millsap, as both boast stellar Defensive Ratings (84 DRTG and 95 DRTG, respectively). Millsap is a Top 10 defensive player in basketball. Let that sink in. Expect him to have a sub 100 DRTG again in 2015-16. He had a 99 Defensive Rating in 2014-15 and somehow didn’t make either All-Defensive Team.

Sefolosha has come back with a vengeance defensively. Not that his 84 DRTG is sustainable, but his tenacity out on the wing could put him in great company (i.e. with San Antonio Spurs SF Kawhi Leonard) as one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball. He has 6 steals in 2 games, as he didn’t play against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Thursday Night.

On the other end of the spectrum defensively, Jeff Teague (109 DRTG) and Tiago Splitter (106 DRTG) seem too high for my liking. For some reason I feel that 104 defensively is the acceptable benchmark for stronger defenders. Given that Teague is a great pick pocket and Splitter is the closest thing the Atlanta Hawks have to a rim protector, I’d like to see these two play a little better defensively.

I get it. It’s only been three games and there are five new faces on the Atlanta Hawks’ roster. They’ll get in their groove. I would have thought Atlanta would have started the year 3-0, but I might have under sold the Detroit Pistons, who are always a tough matchup for our Hawks. André Drummond tends to have his way with the club on the glass when ever the Hawks and Pistons play each other.

Visually, Atlanta is still able to get good looks at the basket, despite not having the ideal heavy ball movement we’ve grown to love. Sometimes the shots fall, sometimes they don’t. Patterson has been a pleasant surprise on offense. Kent Bazemore will shoot well from the outside this year. I have faith the system will allow Sefolosha to find his outside stroke. Health will help him get into a rhythm from the perimeter. The expanded outside shot of Al Horford is an added bonus.

On the other end, Atlanta is not doing a good job covering the perimeter defensively. I’d love to see both Sefolosha and Korver playing in unison, trying to alter outside shots with their impressive wingspans. However, Tiago Splitter and Walter Tavares could give the team some bite defensively down in the low post. I’m not saying that the Hawks have the pieces down low to play like the Memphis Grizzlies do on defense, but there is a higher ceiling for this club in that area in 2015-16.

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Overall, this team will say it is a defense-first basketball team. We’ll try to buy what they are saying, but at the end of the day, this is still a team that naturally gravitates towards their offensive skill sets. While I do think that the Atlanta Hawks will finish in the Top 10 both on offense and defense in 2015-16, look for the offense to stay around 6th, but finish around 9th defensively.

Coach Budenholzer has the right idea in getting the team to continuously improve on defense. I’m sure they will, but a team like the Charlotte Hornets shouldn’t sink 40% of their attempts from three-point range on you at home. What happens when Atlanta plays Golden State, San Antonio or any other team filled with sharpshooters? Should those games go badly, maybe we’ll hear about another fiery Bud grill session that gets the team inspired in the manner they were last year.

Next: Atlanta Hawks Hold On vs. Charlotte, Win 97-94

I like the pieces more on this year’s Atlanta Hawks team top to bottom, but we’ll have to wait and see if they can play with a similar cohesiveness that the club did last year. They won’t win 60 games again, but could have their say in who wins the Eastern Conference in 2016. I’d be shocked if this team doesn’t win at least 50 games this year. Let’s Go Hawks