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Kris Willis writes  for the Atlanta Hawks blog, Peachtree Hoops.  You can follow Peachtree Hoops on Twitter @peachtreehoops.

Atlanta Hawks Mid-Season Review

Overview/Offseason

Fresh off of a disappointing end to the 2009-10 season many expected sweeping changes from the Atlanta Hawks. Despite improving its record in each of Mike Woodson’s six seasons on the bench for the Hawks it was now being viewed by many that this team had reached its ceiling. Yet Hawks management disagreed and set out at bringing back the Hawks core by signing Joe Johnson to a max six year 120+ million dollar contract. The biggest change the Hawks made was replacing Mike Woodson with long time assistant Larry Drew. Many thought that coach Drew would simply be a rehash of the Woodson era at a cheaper salary but coach Drew brought some fresh ideas to the table and as the season has gone along, they have turned the Hawks into a much more dynamic club.

Offense

The biggest complaint in the latter stages of the Mike Woodson regime was the stagnant isolation heavy offense that was employed almost exclusively by the Hawks. There was little imagination involved in it and while it was successful in the regular season (53 wins, 3rd seed), it was much easier to defend over a seven game playoff series. Larry Drew has brought a new approach to offense with a motion based style that has the ball moving lots more. There are still some iso situations mixed in but they are more match-up based now in specific situations. The results have been favorable after going through some growing pains. Six Hawks players are averaging double figure points but the biggest contribution this season is the added touches for Josh Smith and Al Horford on the offensive end. Both players have further emerged from Joe Johnson’s shadow and now are capable of being the focal point offensively for Atlanta. Early in the season the Hawks struggled with turnovers as was to be expected with a completely new concept on offense. However, as the season has progressed, the team has done a much better job at taking care of the basketball.

Defense

Another major change was made on the defensive end. One of the flaws of the way the Hawks are constructed is its lack of perimeter defenders. To combat that, former coach Mike Woodson employed switching basically every screen which at times showed off the talents of bigger players like Al Horford as being capable of guarding much smaller players. However, too many times this put Atlanta at a severe mismatch disadvantage. Like the iso offense, the Hawks became predictable with their switching which enabled opposing coaches to dictate whatever match-up they wanted late in games. Coach Drew has mixed things up somewhat putting more of a playing straight up mentality back in the game plan. While the results have been mixed at times due to the lack of strong perimeter defenders, the results have gotten better as the season has went along.

Injuries

Last season Atlanta was one of the healthiest clubs in the NBA. The biggest injury story was Joe Johnson needing elbow surgery at the beginning of December. It was thought that Johnson would miss 4-6 weeks with the injury but he returned a mere three weeks after the procedure. It has taken some time for him to find his rhythm but he is playing his best basketball of the season lately. Marvin Williams is currently out with a back injury and missed earlier time with a knee injury. Maurice Evans was slow to start this season due to knee surgery in the offseason. At one point early on, Atlanta was without a healthy small forward on the roster. Even reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford has not been immune to the injury bug missing six games himself while suffering a lower back pain. While injuries are a major part of any season, they were really a factor for the Hawks who were trying to learn new systems at both ends of the floor.

Slow Start

Atlanta went 34-7 last season at Philips Arena. This season the Hawks started 3-5 at home with some close losses to some good teams early. As the season has progressed and they have gotten back somewhat healthy, they have been playing their best basketball of late posting a 28-15 overall record while recently having a ten game home winning streak snapped. They now have a 14-6 record at home. A big improvement this season has also come in terms of road record. Last season the Hawks finished the year 19-22 on the road. This season they have already won 14 games away from Philips Arena.

Outlook

With last year’s playoff dismissal at the hands of the Orlando Magic fresh in everyone’s mind, the Atlanta Hawks are seldom mentioned as contenders. They currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference just a half game behind the Chicago Bulls whom they have yet to play this season. With big road wins at Utah and Miami in recent weeks, they have shown that perhaps they are a team on the rise.