In case you’ve been living under a rock for the first half of the NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks are good. Not “Oh what a pleasant little surprise good,” or good for the eastern conference good, more like holy shit good. On pace for over 60 wins (36-8) and currently riding a franchise record 15-game win streak, the Hawks may have what it takes to get out of the East, a feat they haven’t accomplished since they were the St. Louis Hawks in the 1960s. Though it begs the question, can a team without a superstar — not to be confused with simply an All-Star — win it all?
Numbers never lie, and the Hawks’ numbers tell a scary truth. Not only are the Hawks taking care of business at Phillips Arena (19-3), but they own the best road record in the league at 17-5, a big reason why Coach Budenholzer will be coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars this year. Some of those wins away from home include trips to Washington, Toronto, Cleveland and Portland. Teams don’t feel much more comfortable at home against the Hawks than they do traveling to Atlanta, and while the rigorous and unforgiving schedule can seem daunting to some, the Hawks don’t seem to lose a step going 9-3 in the second of back-to-back games. This includes 6-2 record when those contests are played away from home. Good teams win at home. Great teams win on the road.
Besting the Best:
I’ve never shied away from the fact the West is far and away a better conference than the East. If the season ended today, the eight seed in the West, Phoenix, would be the fifth seed in the East. Having said that, Atlanta has done a superb job against the West this year going 11-2 after beating Kevin Durant’s Thunder 103-93 last night. One has to wonder if the Hawks could keep this pace if the tables were turned. But there’s no doubt that right now — Atlanta belongs at the top.
We’ve all seen teams that had the potential to win it all but simply couldn’t get it done because they only played on one end of the floor. The first example that comes to mind was Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams during Nash’s prime. This was a team that lit up the opposition every night, but true to D’Antoni’s trademark, there wasn’t much defense, if any, and it never got out of the West. Not only is Atlanta sixth in the league in scoring with 103.2 points per game, it’s first in the league giving up just 96.1 per game and fourth in field goal percentage defense. After last night’s win, point guard Jeff Teague said the team was playing with a lot of confidence, but attributed much of the success to defense. And if the Hawks can continue to do that — they’ll be alright.
On the Atlanta Hawks, everybody chips in. Five different players, including three potential All-Stars in Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford, are averaging in double digits. Kyle Korver is nailing 3-pointers at an unthinkably high clip shooting 53 percent from behind the arc while putting up nearly six attempts every night.
The bench is doing its part as well. The emergence of second-year man Dennis Schroder, who had 13 points and five assists off the bench last night, has been key, as has the strong play of Pero Antic and Mike Scott, who’s coming off of a 20-point performance three games back against the Pistons. Not to mention Atlanta’s assist game, as the team is averaging about 27 assists per game during this current tear it’s on. Everyone seems to be getting a shared taste of the success.
For the last decade, every team that has won the Finals has had a superstar, if not multiple. Parker and Duncan, Miami’s Big Three, Boston’s Big Three, Pau and Kobe, Dirk: all of them were flat out superstars — not guys on the cusp of greatness or possible All-Star snubs. It’s difficult to win in this league without a legitimate stud. Taking a look at champions past, the last team that you could argue won the title by “committee” was the 2004 Pistons. Yes the Pistons had Chauncey Billups aka Mr. Big Shot alongside Richard Hamilton, but they were a team that didn’t have a 20 point per night scorer or anyone with over six assists per game. Champions like that are few and far in between.
I’m not sure I see anyone on Atlanta’s current roster who will blossom into that superstar. And doing it by committee, well it doesn’t have a great track record. Come playoff time, although I still see a deep run in Atlanta’s bright future, having no proven superstar could be its downfall. This team is fun and exciting to watch, and I hope they prove me wrong. After all, proving people wrong is what they’ve done all year long.
Follow David on Twitter @Dshug24