Published October 06, 2010
ATLANTA – Larry Drew wants the Atlanta Hawks to pick up the pace this season and run even in their half-court attack.
Drew, the first-year head coach, drove the point home on the first day of training camp last week. He took the team to the Georgia Tech track for timed mile runs.
It was clear from the start this would be a different training camp for the Hawks.
"We had never done that before," said center Zaza Pachulia, who is entering his sixth season in Atlanta, after Wednesday's practice. "It was something different that set the tone from the beginning."
The conditioning test was no surprise. Drew warned the players about a month before training camp, and they were ready for the challenge.
Every player met Drew's standard of under 7 minutes.
Joe Johnson had the team's fastest time at 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Another guard, Jeff Teague, was second at 6 minutes. The surprise was the 6-foot-11, 275-pound Pachulia finishing third at 6:07.
The run provided statistical evidence the Hawks can run, including such big men as Pachulia, Al Horford and Josh Smith.
Drew is installing a motion offense to take advantage of the athleticism.
"I see a lot of positives coming out thus far of the work we've put in, and I'm starting to see the guys catch on," Drew said this week.
Drew, 52, has been an NBA assistant coach for 18 years, including the last six as former coach Mike Woodson's top assistant. He played 11 seasons with the Pistons, Kings, Clippers and Lakers.
This is Drew's long-awaited chance to direct a team, and it's clear his vision for the Hawks includes much running.
It's not as if the Hawks never ran under Woodson.
Atlanta ranked fourth in the league with 16.2 fast-break points per game last season, according to STATS, Inc. The problem was the Hawks sometimes slowed to a crawl in their half-court offense. That trend was painfully evident when they were swept by Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There was widespread criticism that too many Atlanta players stood around, waiting for Johnson to create a scoring opportunity for himself.
Drew wants his team to be on the move in its half-court attack as well as on the break. He says the motion attack will create scoring opportunities for more players while also helping Johnson.
"I'm starting to see Joe start to find his way to where his scoring opportunities are," Drew said. "And out of this offense, it allows him to be himself but at the same time it puts other people to where they can be successful.
"I'm starting to see a trust factor take place among the group where they know where everyone is and everybody is in a position where it all best suits them."
Practice ends each day with a conditioning drill Drew said he learned with the Lakers. Three players run with one ball up and down the floor, using three passes one way and five passes on the way back, with layups on each end.
Up and back. Over and over. There can be no turnovers, no drops, no missed layups.
"Do it right and we do it once!" Smith reminded his teammates at the end of Monday's practice, repeating the mantra from Drew.
Drew liked what he heard Smith and what he saw in the drill.
"There you go," Drew said, referring to Smith's challenge. "They already know what type of pace that I'm looking for when they do it.
"We do a good bit of running within our practice, and that's just a nice way to cap it off, just to finish off on a positive note. That positive note is showing freshness at the end just as they had freshness at the beginning. It forces them to focus moving up and down the floor with the basketball."
The Hawks play Memphis in their preseason opener on Thursday night. Pachulia said he is eager to for a chance to see the offense in a game.
"The ball will be swinging from side to side, bodies will be moving around instead of the isolation offense that we were running most of the time last year," Pachulia said. "It makes it fun.
"Offensively, we know we have very athletic guys. We know we have players who can run the floor. That's why most of the guys are fit and it's easier for most of the guys to fit into this kind of motion offense."
Added Pachulia: "We need to get used to playing this way, because this is our bread and butter."
Note: The Hawks have exercised their option on guard Jeff Teague for the 2011-12 season for about $1.58 million. Teague averaged 3.2 points and 1.7 assists as a rookie last season and is expected to play a larger role and possibly start at point guard this season.