What is going on in the ATL?
While the success of the Golden State Warriors might have been somewhat predictable, the 35-8 Atlanta Hawks, sitting atop the Eastern Conference by a full five games from divisional rival the Washington Wizards, have surprised many. The Hawks have only lost two games since Thanksgiving and are on a 12 game winning streak on the road.
That streak has seen them beat Chicago (twice), Houston, Cleveland (twice), Dallas, the LA Clippers (twice), Portland, and even the streaking Pistons (twice).
How is this possible?
The Hawks are very much a sum of their parts, as one would expect from a team coached by Popovich-protege Mike Budenholzer. Nobody averages more than Jeff Teague’s 17.2 PPG but five average in double figures for points. This means that on any given night, Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Al Horford or DeMarre Carroll can be expected to pick up the slack, scoring-wise.
Of those on the rosters, only Shelvin Mack is shooting less than 40% for the season (if we ignore three-game rookie forward Adreian Payne). Inside, Al Horford, returned from injury last season, is shooting 54%.
The team is being led by sharp shooter Kyle Korver, who is on track to finish the season with 50% from the field, 50% from the arc and 92.2% from the free throw line. He current has 51.8% FGs, 53.5% from 3 and 91% free throw percentages. Korver even threw down a nasty dunk in a recent win over Indiana.
The Hawks have a relatively small payroll – their $60m is 26th in the league. They are built of journeymen, players with chips on their shoulders and skill sets only accessible to the finest of coaches and game plans. At the point, Teague is playing at an elite level of efficiency, ranking 14th in the league in PER.
Basketball fans understand that the Eastern Conference is considerably weaker than the West, but there will be few who are not enjoying the Hawks renaissance. Whether or not they can continue it into the latter weeks of the season remains to be seen.