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John Schuhmann

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Josh Smith and the Hawks can get some offensive rebounds. It's getting back on D that's troublesome.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Hawks hit the boards, but suffer getting back in time


Posted Mar 19 2010 4:04PM

I wrote last week about the Hawks' defense and how it's keeping them from being an elite team.

Through Wednesday, the Hawks rank fourth offensively and 13th defensively, and they've regressed on defense as the season has worn on. One specific concern I noted is their transition defense. Atlanta is the best in the league in taking care of the ball, turning it over just 12.7 times per 100 possessions. But they allow the fifth-most fast-break points: 17.3 per 100 possessions.

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If you subtract their opponents' steals per 100 possessions (to eliminate dead-ball turnovers) from their opponents' fast-break points, you get 10.8, the highest differential in the league. The league average is 7.2. The only teams close to the Hawks are the teams that are bad defensively overall. The best defenses in the league are on the other end of the chart.

To get back quicker on defense, the Hawks would probably have to sacrifice some offensive rebounds. They're the seventh-best offensive rebounding team in the league, grabbing 27.8 percent of available offensive boards. But does that make up for the poor transition D?

Turning it around
BEST TRANSITION DEFENSES, 2009-10
Team OFBP-OST Rk. Def. Rat. Rk.
Orlando 4.3 1 99.6 1
Boston 4.4 2 99.7 2
Oklahoma City 4.5 3 100.5 5
L.A. Clippers 5.3 4 106.5 18
Charlotte 5.8 5 100.3 4
Not turning it around
WORST TRANSITION DEFENSES, 2009-10
Team OFBP-OST Rk. Def. Rat. Rk.
Minnesota 9.9 26 108.8 28
Memphis 10.1 27 107.1 22
New Jersey 10.2 28 108.3 27
Toronto 10.5 29 110.1 30
Atlanta 10.8 30 104.0 13
OFBP-OST = Opponents fast break points - opponents steals,
per 100 possessions
Def. Rat = Points allowed per 100 possessions
Rk. = Defensive league rank

Not even close, because the Hawks are the second-worst team in the league in converting offensive boards into second-chance points. For each offensive rebound, the Hawks score 1.12 second-chance points. The league average is 1.21 and only New Jersey's conversion rate (1.08) is worse than Atlanta's.

It's a strange phenomenon, because Atlanta is a very good offensive team overall. Also, the Hawks rank 12th in the league in field-goal percentage from less than five feet from the basket. So it's not like they're poor at finishing close to the rim.

But when you take their poor conversion rate into account, the Hawks' 13.9 second-chance points per 100 possessions is the same as the league average, despite the fact that they're one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league. So crashing the boards definitely does not make up for the poor transition defense.

The Hawks do push the ball the other way, ranking fourth in the league by scoring 17.7 fast-break points per 100 possessions. So perhaps because they expend energy in running the floor toward their own basket, they don't have the energy to run the floor the other way.

Even if you take that into account, as well as the offensive rebounding, there's no denying that the Hawks' transition defense is poor.

Watching them closely, you will see that the numbers don't lie. They get back slowly, allowing even the opponents' big men to beat them down the floor. They don't collapse into the paint when they do get back, so layups can be had when teams cut to the basket early in a possession. And they don't identify shooters on the perimeter quickly enough, so teams can hurt them from the outside.

Putting it back
HIGHEST OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING CONVERSION RATE, 2009-10
Team 2CP/OReb. Rk. Off. Rat. Rk. OReb Rt. RK
Cleveland 1.34 1 109.3 3 0.253 21
Denver 1.30 2 109.6 2 0.263 17
Golden State 1.28 3 104.9 13 0.215 30
Boston 1.27 4 104.9 14 0.226 28
L.A. Lakers 1.27 5 106.3 11 0.274 10
Not putting it back
LOWEST OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING CONVERSION RATE, 2009-10
Team 2CP/OReb. Rk. Off. Rat. Rk. OReb Rt. RK
Charlotte 1.15 26 101.1 25 0.261 18
Indiana 1.14 27 99.6 28 0.217 29
Dallas 1.14 28 106.9 9 0.246 25
Atlanta 1.12 29 109.0 4 0.278 7
New Jersey 1.08 30 96.8 30 0.250 22
2CP/OReb. = Second chance points / Offensive rebounds
OReb. Rt. = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained

Chris Bosh's jumper was the game-winner Wednesday in Toronto, but the Hawks put themselves in a position to be beat by allowing the Raptors to rack up 31 fast-break points, their second-highest total of the season.

In all, the Hawks' poor transition defense is a recipe for disaster. Smart teams have and will continue to take advantage of it.

A few additional notes

There's a pretty strong correlation (0.66 for you math majors) between the transition defense metric used above and overall defensive efficiency.

There's also a pretty strong correlation (0.57) between offensive rebound conversion rate and overall offensive efficiency, but not (-0.15) between the conversion rate and offensive rebounding percentage. So the best teams at grabbing offensive rebounds aren't the most efficient at converting them into points.

Here are the best and worst teams at converting offensive rebounds...

There's a lower standard deviation (meaning there's less variation) for opponents' conversion rate than there is for teams' own rate. The best team at defending second-chance opportunities is the Lakers, whose opponents score just 1.12 points per offensive rebound. The worst is Portland, whose opponents score 1.35 points per offensive board.

All stats are through Wednesday, March 17 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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