The Atlanta Hawks are navigating uncharted waters this season as they adjust to something that they haven’t had to do since the 2004-05 campaign: score without having to rely on a certain new Brooklyn Net named Joe Johnson.
Just like in any relationship, both sides are having a hard time moving on.
Johnson had struggled in his first five games as part of Brookyln’s backcourt, not scoring 20 points or shooting better than 45 percent from the field.
That was the case until Tuesday night when he broke out against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring 25 points, dishing out six dimes and sinking 56 percent of his shots
The Hawks are also transitioning and are now Josh Smith’s/Al Horford’s team. The results of Larry Drew’s new up-tempo offense aren’t quite in the seven-seconds-or-less realm so far.
That lack of offensive efficiency is reflected in the 1-2 record the Hawks have posted their four-game West Coast swing.
At its best, Atlanta’s offense with Joe Johnson relied a lot on isolation and jumpers, lots of jumpers, which allowed the Hawks to flow, if Johnson was on his game.
Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls in 2011 was a perfect example of that. Johnson went off for 34 points and the Hawks won 103-95.
However, here is the dirty secret for those who think that maybe the old days were better: Atlanta was 12th, 26th and 17th in points per game during its last three seasons with Johnson on the team.
Granted, this season’s numbers are hardly better than the ones mentioned above.
The Hawks haven’t scored more than 95 points in their past five games and didn’t even reach 90 in four of them.
However, this season’s recipe is a more productive one than the one utilized when Johnson was on the team.
Drew’s scheme is ideal for a team full of shooters, at least on paper.
Less isolation, more ball movement and more fast-break opportunities.
The main problem is that rebounding is the key ingredient for an up-tempo offense, and the Hawks are 29th in that category with 38.9 rebounds per game.
The Boston Celtics are the only team worse at rebounding, but they are 5-3. Winning puts some lipstick on the fact that their feet are nailed to the ground.
Wednesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors was a good example of what ails the Hawks.
They were outrebounded 44-29, resulting in just eight fastbreak points (shocker). The lack of conviction on the glass hurt them on the defensive end as well.
That highlight has two instances (at the 0:50 and 2:15 mark) where two missed opportunities to get the rebound gave the Warriors a second life.
In fact, the last offensive rebound made the Hawks have to foul instead of giving them a chance to make a game-tying three.
Granted, Atlanta didn’t have one of its pillars in Al Horford (sick) against the Warriors. But the bottom line is that it is going to be a little hard to run if Josh Smith has 10 rebounds and the rest of the starters have 11 combined.
The Hawks work best when Jeff Teague gets to orchestrate Atlanta’s most electric, sudden and effective moments on offense.
Moments like this one against the Heat.
Or what is the best, oh-my-god, did-he-just-do-that dunk of the season so far.
It is still early in the season, but Teague is averaging career highs in assists (6.7), points (13.6) and field goal percentage (50 percent). Good things seem to happen for the Hawks when he has the ball in his hands.
Another point of emphasis in the Hawks’ revamped, Johnson-less offense is that they rely mainly on Horford and Smith to score in the paint.
Horford’s absence was notable against the Warriors, as the Hawks got outscored 46-20 in the paint, but that lopsided margin is the exception, not the rule, for Larry Drew’s team.
The Hawks have outscored their opponents in the paint in four of their last six games.
There is still a long way to go this season, and there is no sense in reaching a verdict on whether the Hawks are better off without Joe Johnson.
Not yet, at least.
What can be said is that the team’s offensive philosophy is clearly different without Johnson on the team.
Only time will tell if that will help them and their fans start to get over the past seven years of frustration.