From the Other Side: Larry Drew Goes From the Hawks to the Bucks

November 14, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) talks to head coach Larry Drew (right) during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few years, I suspect I’ll be getting to know the coaching style of Larry Drew. For right now, though, I can’t say that I’m terribly familiar with him.

So to help fill the void, I have enlisted the help of Raj Prashad (@RajPrashad), who writes for the Atlanta Hawks blog, HawksHoop. Raj made some very interesting points.

He first pointed out that Drew did something that the Bucks could have made use of last season:  he commanded the respect of a locker room full of players on short-term deals.  As Prashad put it,

In his last season, Drew did something most coaches in the league couldn’t imagine doing — he got a group of guys on one-year deals to buy in and play together en route to a near-upset of the Indiana Pacers. If Drew can bring the same energy and enthusiasm to Milwaukee, the future could be bright.

When the hiring process started, there were reports that the Bucks wanted a coach with a strong locker-room personality.  It sounds like Drew can bring that trait north with him.

The other characteristic that the Bucks sought was an affinity for defense.  Drew’s Atlanta teams played solid defense, — they ranked above league average in points per possession in each of his three seasons — and those defenses started with Al Horford in the paint.  According to Prashad, he can make similar use of Larry Sanders:

Sanders, in just his third season, played the most games of his career, becoming the nightly double-double machine Drew is used to coaching in Atlanta. Like Al Horford, Sanders is big, long and has a knack for playing stout defense on the block. 

The Bucks had their defensive stud near the rim last season, but could never quite parlay that into overall team defensive prowess.  It will be Drew’s task to take whatever reshaped backcourt GM John Hammond hands over to him and parlay that into a competent defensive squad.

One defensive asset he won’t have in Milwaukee is Josh Smith.  Ersan Ilyasova is nowhere near the on-ball defender that Smith is.  But the two power forwards do have strikingly similar shot selections on the other end:  both players take a lot of jump shots and from the same spots on the floor. Again, from Prashad:

As for Ilyasova, while he’s not quite as athletic as the southpaw, Josh Smith, he is a better shooter. Many of Drew’s plays were developed to get Smith into space behind the arc, which Ilyasova thrives in. Ilyasova shot better than 40 percent on 3’s not taken from the corners. 

And the numbers bear this idea out.  For power forwards, both players take an unusual percentage of jump shots and most of those come from behind the foul line extended.

Here are the shot distributions for each spot on the floor for each player, according to Vorped.com.

Josh Smith                                                                        Ersan Ilyasova

Whatever plays that Drew used to get Smith open, he can now use with Ilyasova — and probably with better results.  (Well, except for the ones where Josh Smith worked as a ball-handler in the high pick-and-roll.  That would be disastrous with Ersan.)

As for the backcourt, if the Bucks keep one of the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis duo and jettison the other, then the survivor will probably function in the Bucks’ new offense a lot like Jeff Teague did in Atlanta.

Whichever shoot-first point guard Milwaukee retains, will be fit right into Drew’s system, playing a similar game to Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. 

Ellis is more of a volume shooter, essentially notching the same statistics across the board as Teague. Jennings also uses a similar score-first mentality, attempting 15 shots per game last season. Regardless of numbers, Drew loves to have his point guard push the ball in transition, handle in the half court and have a scoring mentality, something which both players excel at. 

So from a personnel standpoint, Milwaukee should be familiar to Drew.  He will have a lot of players similar to the ones he worked with in Atlanta.

But in the end, though, he’s only the head coach.

Head coaches don’t turn average basketball teams into championship contenders.  The Bucks don’t have a roster anywhere near that of a title hopeful.

So for now, Drew’s job is to teach and for that position, he is overqualified.  He’s been in the NBA as a player or coach for most of the last 30 years, and a good percentage of those teams have done well.  The Bucks need to bring in more raw, young talent — in volume, and absent of any weighty contract mistakes — and let Drew develop it.

Do it, and two years from now the Bucks will be much better off than the hot mess they are right now.

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