Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Atlanta Hawks Need to Ponder Their Future Without Panic or Shame

The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA have finished their 2009-2010 season and should spend a great deal of time reflecting upon and celebrating their accomplishments as well as focus on their current limitations, recent lessons learned, and developmental opportunities. They need not do anything rash.

They have concluded a season in which they improved their total wins by 6 over the 2008-2009 season. The Hawks have gone from a record of 37-45 in 2007 to 47-35 in 2008 and 53-29 in 2009, without changing a starter.

They had the sixth best season record in the league this year and were the 3rd seed this year in the NBA's Eastern Conference. They have made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs in the past two years, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and the Orlando Magic this year.

Individually, the Hawks can claim the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, given to guard Jamal Crawford. They have two solid NBA All-Stars in Joe Johnson and Al Horford. They were an exciting team that other teams did not want to play during the season or meet in the playoffs.

Developmental Opportunities

So, what does this mean for the future? First of all, this is no time to panic. The basic philosophy that has brought the Hawks to this point is sound. They must continue to build the team slowly and patiently. Though it may appear that the Hawks have reached a playoff performance plateau, they did show an overall improvement based on season wins. What this means is that they must continue to do things that serve to improve the team incrementally. This is no time to dismantle the team because of frustration in the way the season ended.

It is clear from the Orlando playoff series and the previous series with the undermanned but hungry Milwaukee Bucks that upgrades to the point guard position and the center position are required for further improvement. This move also serves the purpose of deepening the bench strength of the team and leaving Jamal Crawford as the first catalyst off the bench. This would allow Al Horford to grow as a strong forward, his best position. He is effective now, but too small to consistently handle the bigger centers in the league.

Review: Improvements and Leasons Learned

What is also certain is that the Hawks must learn from deficiencies this season and develop a stronger half-court game and a stronger defensive game. Both issues could be addresed through focusing on coaching and devising more effective schemes. The ability of the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, two of the five teams left in the playoffs, to get to the Conference finals is directly related to their ability to run plays in a half-court game and rotate the ball for open shots, both short and long-range. Both teams are also able to run and convert fast-break points with their excellent defensive pressure. The Hawks, on the other hand, had few scoring streaks and were inconsistent in their ability to fast break. Their defense was unable to effectively create fast break opportunties.

Often, the Hawks, who typically led their opponents into the fourth quarter, turned to a one-on-one game and would lose the lead at the end of the game. Either through the fatigue of working hard for shots or due to their inability to stop the other team, this team would be left behind by a more disciplined opponent.

The Hawks have improved year by year by having taken advantage of their organization's patience and the team's ability to develop a chemistry through consistency and continuity in its coaching staff and players. The Hawks must continue to improve in this way, otherwise, through implosion, the organization will have to start over with more unknowns than they have now. It could be another 10-year wait for another winning team.

The other of the five teams left in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers, are also strong half-court teams with stifling defenses that create opportunties to score that the Hawks are unable to do consistently.

Please, let's keep building the Hawks, don't implode the team and break down a very solid infrastructure. Let's follow the lead of the elite teams in the league rather the continual also-rans.

For more on performance psychology, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.
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