The Hawks started the preseason with a win over the defending NBA champion Miami Heat but have since dropped three straight games on the road to the Spurs, Grizzlies and Pacers. The losses came by a combined 14 points, but Atlanta gave up over 100 points in each. The defense was the concern coming into camp, and Larry Drew has been focused on improving the defense throughout camp. The Hawks struggled through the first half of their fifth preseason game against the Hornets but made some adjustments on the defensive end that carried over from the second half of that game into their next game against the Mavericks. Atlanta became more aggressive against the ball handler on pick-and-rolls and used their speed to their advantage by not switching, but pressuring then recovering back to their man. The chemistry has improved which has helped as they learn each other’s tendencies and are getting better at working as a defensive unit and playing total team defense, something they will have to do being a smaller team without a shutdown defender on the perimeter.
While the defense has struggled, the offense has been as advertised. The Hawks continuously pressure opposing defenses by pushing the pace and attacking the basket while spacing the floor with multiple shooters. Lou Williams has proven himself to be more than capable of filling the scoring void left behind by Joe Johnson (who averaged 18.8 points per game last year). While Williams may not score as many points due to more scoring options on the team, he ought to have more PRFs (points responsible for) because he will operate as both a facilitator and scorer.
Damion James has also been surprisingly effective at the small forward spot and looks to have earned himself not just a roster spot, but also some quality playing time. James has played nearly 20 minutes a game in the preseason and leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game. James, at 6-foot-7, would be the only true small forward on the roster. He plays a brand of basketball that endears him to the coaches, who reward players that crash the boards, make hustle plays and play physical defense. James will not start most games, as Drew will likely rotate DeShawn Stevenson, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and Josh Smith at the starting spot depending on matchups, but he, along with veteran Anthony Tolliver, will see the floor with the second unit to provide a defensive presence with so many shooters and smaller guards.