Ten years ago, Flip Saunders and the Detroit Pistons captured the exclusive Larry O'Brien trophy over the Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles Lakers. The formula was simple, a defensive mentality from the top to bottom of the roster. The Pistons had inspiring guard play with "Mr. Big Shot" at the helm, and smothering pressure funneling everything to the Wallace Bros. Though their bench was not particularly deep--the starters were so dominant and executed precisely on both sides of the ball that their lack of bench was not a problem in chasing a championship. Fast forward 10 years and the Atlanta Hawks draw similar comparisons in team make up.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has instilled a defensive mindset into this Atlanta Hawks ball club similar to that of Flip Saunder's Detroit Pistons'. The starting 5 of both the Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons were built around complimentary defense. The Detroit Pistons funneled opposing attacking guards to the middle of the floor where Ben Wallace was lurking. The key to the Pistons success defensively was controlling the boards and imposing their will on weaker opponents. In contrast, this Hawks basketball team is built defensively from outside-in. The guards put tantalizing pressure on the ball which disrupts opposing offenses and prohibits easy entry low post scoring. Many times throughout the season, Atlanta Hawk opposing offensive attacks break down, and are forced to settle for make-shift one on one off balance jump shots. The Atlanta Hawks are built with defensive guards, starting with Teague. He may not be as polished as Chauncey was in his 8th NBA season, but he is 2 times as athletic. He matches up well against Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and most other guards in the league. At the defensive shooting guard position, Atlanta throws at you DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha; all who have made a name in the NBA for their defensive abilities and not offensive prowl. And although the front court does not compare to the likes of the “Wallace Brother’s” manning the paint, the Atlanta front court does a great job of rebounding and holding teams to one shot each position with a committee of no name big men; Mike Scott, Pero Antic, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap.
Offensively Detroit succeeded off of sharing the basketball, perimeter ball movement and outside shooting, and clutch play from "Mr. Big Shot". Statistically speaking the numbers are neck and neck; The Pistons as a team had a 43% field goal percentage, and shot 34% from behind the arc. The Hawks however are on pace to out perform their past prototype with averages of 47% from the field, and 38% from 3 point range. Detroit used Rip Hamilton the same way that Atlanta uses Kyle Korver. They both are masters of curling off screens, and shielding their bodies from the chasing defender. Both teams managed to do a wonderful job of sharing the basketball. The 05’ Pistons scoring average was such; Billups with 17pts, Rip 17.6, Tayshaun 10.3, Sheed 13.7, and Ben 9.5. Ten years later, the Hawks have averages of Millsap 17, Jeff Teague 16.8, Al Horford 15.5, Korver 12.5, DeMarre Carroll 12, and Dennis Schroder pitching in with 9ppg. Budenholzer has instituted a pass first offense remarkably similar to the Spurs, and if the Hawks can continue to play as a team, and remain focused on team objectives rather than individual goals and accolades, they will coast through the Eastern conference as they have been all year long.
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