Surprising Hawks flying into playoffs

The Atlanta Hawks snuck up on the basketball world this season with an Eastern Conference leading record of 54-17. No one would have predicted this considering their record last season was an abysmal 38-44. It’s even more incredible considering they play a similar starting line-up.

There are no big stars plying their trade in Atlanta, with center Al Horford being arguably the team’s best player with three All-Star appearances. It certainly begs the question of why this team is special and how it had such a turnaround within a year. They’ve gone from a bottom dweller to a potential title contender.

Continuity is key for the Atlanta Hawks. When the Hawks could have signed an expensive player this past off-season, they went for forward Thabo Sefolosha and guard Kent Bazemore. Team chemistry is often underrated, yet highly effective. The San Antonio Spurs would probably nod their head in agreement with that statement as their big three of guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and center Tim Duncan have won four championships during their time together.

Continuity and team chemistry is probably what head coach Mike Budenholzer preaches, who—would you look at that—was part of the Spurs staff for 19 seasons, mostly serving as an assistant coach. It’s no wonder the Atlanta Hawks are being pegged as the Spurs of the east. They are certainly playing like it.

Team chemistry is not the only thing playing in the Hawks’ favor—they are simply playing great as well. They run the motion offense—which emphasizes ball movement—efficiently, with over 55 percent of Atlanta’s shot attempts coming after zero dribbles, leading the National Basketball Association. The Hawks are averaging an Eastern Conference leading 25.4 assists per game, which is only two less than the first place Golden State Warriors.

While the Hawks’ bench needs some work, they do have quality players as alternates. For each position on the court, they have a formidable replacement that can do the same work.

Point guard Jeff Teague’s replacement is German phenom Dennis Schroeder, who currently averages about four assists in less than 20 minutes of play per game. Guard Kent Bazemore has shown flashes of brilliance and can replace Kyle Korver. Workhorse forward DeMarre Carroll, arguably the Hawks’ best defensive stopper, can be replaced by Sefolosha. Forward Mike Scott––who averaged almost 10 points a game as a substitute last season––is a capable replacement for forward Paul Millsap. And last but not least, Macedonian giant forward Pero Antic––a two-way player that can stuff stats in rebounds and points––is a capable player to fill in for Horford.

The Hawks have recently been in a slump, losing three of their last four games. The losses, however, were against quality Western Conference teams while some of their starters sat out injured. This would not be the time for the Hawks to panic, considering that they are leading their conference in about every statistic.

While they do not have a standout star on the team, the Atlanta Hawks have slowly and surely demonstrated their strong potential. A finals appearance would not be out of question, which is probably what the Hawks are looking toward this season.