None of this was exactly anticipated. Upon the return of Hudson from elbow surgery and the acquisition of Hawkins from the Los Angeles branch of Rent-A-Relic, Fitzsimmons took a calculated gamble and decided to start the veteran pair, bringing the spectacular Drew off the bench in a sixth-man role. While Hawkins has exploited the passing talents he first displayed about two centuries ago, and Hudson has worked his shooting arm back into shape, Drew has been acquiring some impressive offensive statistics. In his 28-minutes-a-game playing time the 6'6" second-year man has averaged 21.5 points and nine rebounds. Among NBA forwards he is second only to George McGinnis in scoring, and third in steals and shooting percentage.
Hawkins calls Drew "the best offensive player in the game." At the defensive end of the floor, however, Drew is out to lunch. "The cat can't guard my house," says Atlanta's backcourt leader, Tom Henderson.
In a woeful exhibition against Kansas City early last week, Drew's explosive game was running on all its chaotic cylinders. After scoring 16 points in the first half, Drew opened the second in catatonia as Scott Wedman scored three quick baskets off him. In the midst of this, he also threw away the ball, and KC went ahead by 10 points, so he sat down fast.
When he reentered the contest, Drew immediately scored twice to give Atlanta the lead, but down the stretch he committed a traveling violation and a charging foul at important points, and the Hawks lost 100-94.
In the next two games at home, against Buffalo and Kansas City again, Drew rehabilitated himself simply by jumping all over the place. In 53 minutes of playing time he made 23 of 35 shots, scored 60 points and contributed 17 rebounds as well as a pair of surprisingly fine defensive jobs (shared with Hudson) on Jim McMillian and Wedman in Atlanta's 122-99 and 115-101 victories. Hudson's 29 points in the two games meant the Hawks got 89 out of the quick forward position, an indication that Fitzsimmons' platooning strategy was functioning the way he expected it to.
Moreover, the Buffalo game marked the 11th time the improved Hawk defense had allowed an opponent fewer than 100 points; Atlanta's yield is a fat six points a game below last year's team, which finished with the third-worst defensive record in the league.
In addition to getting mileage out of the ancient cornermen, Fitzsimmons has a third war-horse, Guard Tom Van Arsdale, in the starting lineup, after which Dean (the former Dream) Meminger comes in to get the break moving. Henderson, a second-year man out of New York City and the University of Hawaii, stays in because of his stability and intelligence.
Atlanta's frontcourt substitutions are plain and simple. Hawkins, Hudson and starting Center Dwight Jones are three finesse operators. When, as Assistant Coach Gene Tormohlen says, "We need some gorilla work," in come third-year Forward John Brown, Sojourner and the deceptively powerful Drew.
"There's no mysteries in this league," says Henderson, who has already become all-star material. "We're better simply because we've all been together for a while. On defense we help each other—except Drew. Offensively, it's all more comfortable. For one thing, the Hawk hits the open man. Last year I was always cutting around picks—for nothing. I never saw the ball again."
At the time the Hawklets were trying to learn the NBA ropes, Atlanta management resembled a game of executive musical chairs. As Fitzsimmons says, "Presidents and GMs were flying out of here like paper clips." The coach acknowledges that it is a miracle he is still around.