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Who are the Hawks?
Rob Beveridge still remembers the barbs.
The Hawks mentor would see crude comments targeting his team on social media. But it wasn’t just limited to the online domain.
Progressively, the taunts grew worse and ventured into abuse and harassment. Beveridge remembers being accosted on the street and subjected to verbal tirades from complete strangers.
“It’s just disgusting the way people feel that they have the right to really abuse people,” he lamented.
These were during the not-so-distant days when the Hawks were still finding themselves.
After heaping offensive destruction upon the league last season, they found the early going tougher this year. The team were seen as under-achievers during the first quarter of the season, especially after establishing themselves as one of the teams to beat at the Australian Basketball Challenge.
“We played some magical basketball last year,” said Beveridge. “I think coming into the season there was probably the same expectation that we were going to come back and continue from where we were.”
The free-wheeling offensive juggernaut who eviscerated the league last year had transformed into a tentative unit.
The Hawks struggled in the early stages of the season to integrate 5 new players into their system. The offence, predicated on having the confidence to take early shots, contingent upon trust and familiarity with your teammates, had dissolved into an uncertain mess.
There was a disconnect between philosophy and actualisation; it’s hard to trust teammates implicitly when you hardly know them.
Players often seemingly took shots early in the shot-clock just for the sake of it.
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It all came down to chemistry and having the time to marinate – players had to re-learn what to expect from one another. Early-season possessions would often look like five ring-ins had stepped onto the court.
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“Who are our leaders? Who’s the alpha dog?” Beveridge asked rhetorically. “Who’s going to step up to take the game on when we need them to?”
The Hawks also lost their two best offensive players during the offseason in Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney, the centrepieces of their run-and-gun offensive approach last year.
Lisch and Penney were effectively replaced by Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris, two completely different players. Harris, in particular, is a slasher who needs the ball, and doesn’t summon the same fear from deep as his predecessors.
“We are a completely different team from last year,” conceded Beveridge.
The new-look Hawks needed to discover who they were.
After a breakthrough victory at Perth Arena on Sunday, they may well have officially found themselves once more.
The Hawks buried the vaunted Wildcats defence (albeit one that has been wildly inconsistent this season due to injuries) on Sunday under a deluge of three pointers, triggering memories of their carefree “Bevo-ball” from last year.
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They’ve quietly risen to second in offensive efficiency, a mark that is closer to internal and external expectations.
“We’re re-establishing who we are,” said Beveridge.
Since the month of November, the Hawks have become more efficient – they’ve shot better from all parts of the field, including the restricted area, the midrange and from beyond the arc. (courtesy of Crunchtime Shots).
*courtesy of Crunchtime Shots
Keying the resurgence has been a more confident Rotnei Clarke. The former MVP of the league struggled to find his footing in the first half dozen games and seemed bereft of confidence. There were even murmurs from outside the club that the Hawks should look to offload their star import if his form continued to nosedive, something that was never considered internally.
Beveridge has strived to create a culture of togetherness at the Hawks – he was never going to throw all of that away.
“I’m not in the business of firing people midseason,” insisted the Hawks mentor.
Instead, Beveridge moved Clarke to the bench, not as a demotion, but rather as a means of taking the pressure off the beleaguered guard. Kevin White, having a career-year from deep by the way, stepped in to provide more defensive energy to start games.
Since moving to the bench, Clarke has become a chucker with no conscience, and oddly enough, that’s exactly how the Hawks want him to play.
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“I found in the first half-a-dozen games he was just way, way too conservative and turning down shots,” said Beveridge.
He has a theory: That after playing as more of a role player in Europe, when any mistake would land him on the bench, Clarke had become too conservative. He needed to rediscover how to be a star. He needed to play without constraints, real or imagined.
“It’s really a case of me trying to build his confidence back up, get him to understand that he does have a license to shoot the ball,” explained Beveridge. “Once you break down those barriers again, give him the confidence to be able to unleash and play with freedom, and play with no fear of making mistakes, I think he’s going to get a whole lot better.”
Clarke’s early-season struggles were a microcosm of the team at large. It’s been a team-wide process of finding their identity.
The defence, solid all season without being spectacular, has survived a torrid start to the season.
The Hawks aren’t known for their grit, but during the early portion of the season, basic resistance to opposition forays was missing. Hawks players were either too easily beaten off-the-dribble or whiffed on rotations completely.
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“The biggest thing that I’ve looked at is we’ve just done a horrible job of containing the penetration,” said Beveridge. “We showed that when we do a great job with that, we win games.”
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Their best individual perimeter defender, Mitch Norton, missed a bunch of games through injury that coincided with a stretch of four straight losses. He’s back now and the Hawks have stabilised their defence.
Sometimes it’s also simply a matter of effort, and the Hawks seem to be trying harder now, sliding their feet and staying in front of their man. They’ve risen to third in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 107.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark that easily betters their record from last season. Yay, for progress!
They haven’t completely turned the corner yet. Questions will persist over their ability to rebound consistently, an area of concern since the previous campaign.
“Teams have been scoring way too much off penetration,” said Beveridge. “There’s probably less rebounds to be taken defensively.”
The club are currently bottom of the league in defensive rebounding rate, a disappointing mark considering it was an issue they specifically tried to address in the offseason. The Hawks recruited exclusively for tough-minded, physical dudes who would square the ledger in the effort areas. In came the likes of Nick Kay, Michael Holyfield and Norton.
“We’re up and down. We’re inconsistent. We’re all over the place,” said Beveridge. “I think the effort’s there, but we’re still not a good enough rebounding team.”
Kay, someone the club is very high on, struggled as a starter alongside A.J. Ogilvy.
The Hawks can see Kay expanding his game to the perimeter, but for now, he’s a banger at heart -- he and Ogilvy occupy the same real estate. With Kay in the starting lineup, the Hawks offence cratered.
He’s not yet a perimeter threat -- shooting 23.5 percent from deep -- meaning teams simply clogged up space for Ogilvy, or zoned off to help on more dangerous stuff.
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Playing two traditional bigs also limited the switch-ability of the Hawks on defence. When they couldn’t switch and stall out an enemy pick-and-roll, the Hawks were simply burnt on dribble penetration.
All of that added to diminishing returns for having Kay start in the power forward position. His subsequent move to the bench meant a promotion to the starting lineup for Cody Ellis.
Theoretically, interchanging Ellis for Kay leads to a drop-off in rebounding, but Ellis seems a better fit with the starting group. He provides the Hawks with more versatility on both ends, is more of a natural playmaker than Kay, and is capable of engineering those fast-paced, 5-out possessions when the Hawks spread an enemy defence to its breaking point.
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Those are the Hawks that fans fell in love with last season.
Now, after negotiating a rough start, they’ve won five of their past seven games, and climbed into the top four. Their schedule, home-heavy to date, gets tricky with a tough stretch that sees five of their next six games on the road. We’ll probably get a better sense of where they truly sit over the next month.
They’ve jumped to second in point differential, a key indicator of postseason success. Over the past five seasons, no grand-finalist has resided outside of a top three mark.
So, is it too early to label the Hawks as title contenders?
A week ago, the Kings and the Wildcats were probably title favourites, having owned the top two spots in point differential. But equally, it might not matter, especially with the craziness of this year's competition. After a topsy-turvy weekend, the Kings still held onto the top mark, but the Wildcats have been on a free fall.
“If you make the playoffs, anything can happen,” insisted Beveridge. “A lot of it has to do with luck – being there, at the right place, at the right time.
“We’ve struggled to start the season. But right now, I feel a lot more confident in the group with how we’re playing – the mateship that we’re starting to develop because of the adversity that we’ve had to go through. I like what I see with our group.”
Fans of the Hawks will no doubt like what they are seeing too. Perhaps they’ll even share that on social media and on the streets.
It’s taken some time, but it finally looks as though the Hawks have rediscovered who they are.
*All statistics courtesy of RealGM unless stated otherwise.