Coaching Resource: Player Development, Atlanta Hawks

Scott Cacciola, NY Times (

ATLANTA — The Hawks’ practice gym has bare walls, some cardio equipment crammed behind a baseline and patchwork flooring, a result of a recent leak. Most N.B.A. teams have gleaming, multimillion-dollar facilities. The Hawks spend their time in something that looks straight out of the Cold War.

“You know, I kind of like it,” said Kenny Atkinson, an assistant coach. “It almost feels like we’re in a ‘Rocky’ movie.”

The gym, which sits beside the team’s locker room at Philips Arena, safely hidden from public view, fits its style. It could be argued that no other team in the league has more effectively maximized its resources. Get them a couple of functional hoops, and the Hawks, with their lunch-pail roster, will take care of the rest.

“It’s as important as anything we do,” Coach Mike Budenholzer said of the team’s emphasis on player development.

Spend some time around the Hawks, and one word continues to surface: vitamins. It is a metaphor for their philosophy, and it helps explain their record, 51-14 through Friday. They take their vitamins when they hit the cold tub for treatment. They take their vitamins when they lift weights. They take their vitamins when they study film and watch their diets. Above all, they take their vitamins when they head to the gym for individual skill sessions with Budenholzer’s assistants.

“It’s that daily nourishment that your body needs,” said Budenholzer, 45, who was hired before the start of last season after spending 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, the last 17 as an assistant under Coach Gregg Popovich.

Budenholzer, who acknowledged appropriating the vitamin concept from a fellow assistant with the Spurs, seeks consistent improvement. In Atlanta, he has his players spend as much time working one-on-one with members of his staff as they do in traditional team practice settings. He wants opportunities for Paul Millsap to hone his outside shooting touch and for Jeff Teague to identify passing angles and for Kyle Korver to add a floater to his repertoire.

“I think the league is really trending toward shorter practices and more quality individual time,” Atkinson said. “It’s the difference between being in a class with 30 other kids and getting one-on-one tutoring for 20 or 30 minutes.”

The win was only minutes old when Budenholzer began thinking about the work that still needed to be done. His staff soon joined him in a theater room at the arena. Budenholzer really likes meetings. He meets with his coaches before practices and after games, when they remove their ties and make plans for the next day.

In addition, each assistant receives a sheet that details his day: his allotment of vitamin sessions, along with the material that the coaches have agreed to cover. The message is uniform, and the coaches try not to overload the players with information.

“It’s not like we say, ‘Here’s 10 things for you to work on,’ ” Atkinson said. “No, here’s one or two.”

For Kent Bazemore, most of his vitamin sessions have centered on his reconfigured shooting stroke. Not long after Bazemore signed with the Hawks last year, he began working with the assistant coach Ben Sullivan, who picked apart Bazemore’s mechanics. Bazemore had an elongated motion, and the ball tended to come off his ring finger and pinkie.

“Ben’s a very forward guy,” Bazemore said. “He pretty much said, ‘I’ve been looking at your jumper, and I honestly don’t know how you make shots.’ ”

Sullivan and Bazemore worked on tightening his form. Once Bazemore improved his consistency, he began to shoot against defenders. In February, Bazemore graduated to pull-up jumpers. He felt confident enough to attempt one against the Miami Heat on Feb. 28.

“Every day, it’s film,” said Bazemore, who was shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range this season through Friday. “If you miss one, you go back and look at your form. Maybe your feet narrowed. Or maybe you drifted. Once you understand all those little things, the rim gets wider.”

At the same time, there are shades of the Spurs — an organization that has set the standard for player development — in nearly everything the Hawks do.

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