NBL: Defense keeping the Hawks grounded
Coming into this NBL season, the Illawarra Hawks were expected to be contenders.
With players like Kirk Penney, Kevin Lisch, AJ Ogilvy and Oscar Forman playing under championship coach Rob Beveridge, it's easy to understand why. We see the great outside shooting of Penney, Lisch, Forman and Tim Coenraad mixed with the inside presence of Ogilvy, and we assume this team will put up points: lots of them.
So far this season, that's exactly what they've done. Even after the mauling by the Perth Wildcats, where the Hawks only managed to score 61 points, they still have the second-best offensive rating in the league, as per RealGM.
At any given time, the Hawks have four players out on the floor, all capable of knocking down the long ball at an efficient rate. Add in the brilliant post play of AJ Ogilvy and you have the most balanced offense in the NBL.
However, the offense isn't the problem for Illawarra. Their issues are at the other end of the floor, where they're ranked second last in defensive rating.
The same things that make this team a super offensive team holds them back on the defensive end. With Forman playing power forward, the Hawks stretch opposing defenses with the threat of his 3-point shooting. Melbourne United play a similar style with Daniel Kickert as their stretch-four; it's no surprise United and the Hawks are the two best offenses in the league.
While Forman and Kickert are super offensive threats, they're horrible rebounders; both average less than three defensive rebounds per game. Teams with big frontcourts - like the Wildcats - will exploit them by grabbing offensive boards and scoring second-chance points.
According to RealGM, the Illawarra Hawks are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league, grabbing a paltry 61 percent of defensive rebounding opportunities. Compare that to the Perth Wildcats, who have a defensive rebound percentage of 74 percent.
Still, having a guy like Oscar Forman on the roster is a major advantage. But it would be nice to have someone else on the team, other than Ogilvy, capable of scoring in the post and grabbing rebounds.
The Hawks still have the second import spot they could use to upgrade the roster. An in-shape Al Harrington would be perfect; he shoots three's; can score in the paint; grabs rebounds; is big enough to defend the post and when fully fit can guard the wings. Harrington isn't close to being in shape and probably won't be at any stage this season, but he'd still be an upgrade over what they have now.
Even if Illawarra don't bring in another import, there's still hope for them defensively. A fully fit Kevin Lisch will undoubtedly help and more time learning Beveridge's new scheme should see improvement.
The Hawks can also help themselves by taking care of the ball, and by boxing out and crashing the defensive glass. They currently have the second highest turnover rate, which leads to easy transition points for the opposition.
Some things they can't help, like Kirk Penney's lost athleticism at age 34, and Oscar Forman's lack of size in the post, but with some minor adjustments and a little improvement, the Hawks could be off the ground and soaring in no time.
All statistics used in this article via RealGM.