Their schedule may have been a little on the easy side so far to start the season, but the Atlanta Hawks are one of the Eastern Conference’s biggest surprises. Atlanta, under second-year head coach Mike Budenholzer, is 11-6 are are third in the East, and are 8-2 at home.
The Hawks were a bit of a disappointment last season, winning just 38 games and sneaking into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed before getting knocked out by the Indiana Pacers in the first round. A main reason for the disappointing showing was the almost season-long injury to Al Horford (torn right pectoral muscle) that limited him to 29 regular season games.
Horford is back healthy now but he has yet to fully acclimate himself with his frontcourt partner, Paul Millsap (who signed with Atlanta last offseason), which explains Horford’s slightly down scoring numbers. It is pretty remarkable that the Hawks are five games over .500 and their arguably two most important players have played less than 50 games together.
According to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Horford thinks he and Millsap’s chemistry is still a work in progress, but that once they can get on the same page, the Hawks will be even better. That is a scary notion for other teams in the East to contend with.
If Horford and Millsap can work their on-court issues out in the next few weeks/months, which is very likely, then an already-balanced Atlanta offense will be very hard to stop. Outside of those two players, the Hawks have had a lot of their guys play incredibly well early on and there is no reason they can’t continue to produce that well.
Take Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague for example. Korver is having a ridiculous shooting year with an insane .533/.567(!!!)/.950(!!!) slashline. You read that right, he is shooting better than 56 percent from three-point range so far. In 33.6 minutes, Korver is averaging 13.8 points and 4.4 rebounds which is exactly what they need from the sharpshooter.
Teague, who has assumed more of a scoring role with Lou Williams’ offseason departure to the Raptors, is scoring a career-high 18 points per game with 7.2 assists to boot. Even he is making more than 48 percent of his field goals and 41 percent of threes, both of which are career-high marks for the point guard as well.
Reserve Dennis Schroder is posting a 20-plus PER off the bench, DeMarre Carroll is scoring 11.3 points per and even Mike Scott has improved his offensive efficiency drastically. Considering that John Jenkins (back) has played in just one game and key reserves Elton Brand and Mike Muscala are just returning from their own injuries, Atlanta is not even near full strength yet.
On paper, the Hawks may not be too intimidating of a team. They have a bunch of really good players, some solid veteran pieces and unknown young guys who have yet to find their place in the NBA. They do not have any bona fide superstars so the success they are having is a bit of a surprise in today’s star-driven league. Still, that does not mean it is unsustainable and in fact, may not even be as pronounced as it will be in a few months.
Budenholzer brought a tough defensive mentality from his Spurs tenure to Hawks while the team’s diverse scoring options have offense covered. All signs point to the Hawks being pretty good and they may not be even close to realizing their full potential right now.
Time will tell.