Many of the NBA’s biggest experts didn’t seem to think the Atlanta Hawks would amount to much this season. They’d be a playoff team in the still-mediocre Eastern Conference, but a No. 1 seed wasn’t something they’d ever sniff.
Six games into the 2015-16 season, the Hawks are looking really good. Again.
At 5-1, the Hawks have yet to be tested by any of the NBA’s elite teams. They’ve beaten the likes of Miami, the Knicks, Brooklyn and Charlotte (twice). Their only loss is to Detroit. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row of teams.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why the Hawks are still a very, very good basketball team.
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Their style of play hasn’t changed a bit from last season. They still run the floor well and play an excellent style of keep-away as they shuffle the ball around to the tune of a half-dozen passes or more before anyone shoots. It’s still as much fun to watch as it was a year ago.
Thus, their assist-to-turnover ratio (1.73) is still one of the best in the league – seventh-best, to be exact. This is just another sign of how well they share the ball, and how well they share without turning it over.
Analysts projected fewer Hawks wins this season due to the departure of DeMarre Carroll, who was undoubtedly a big chunk of last season’s offensive output, especially in the playoffs. But they’ve gotten more production from other players.
A year ago, Paul Millsap led the team in scoring and ranked No. 41 in the league overall. This year, Al Horford and Jeff Teague are both averaging more points than Millsap averaged last season, and Teague, in particular, has been deadly to defenses.
The addition of Tiago Splitter, a true center, has given Horford the opportunity to play power forward for the first time in his pro career – the position where he should be playing, instead of center. That may explain the increase in scoring, and with the additions of several taller centers to the roster, the Hawks are pulling in six more rebounds per game than they did in the 2014-15 season. Increased rebounds will be huge in the postseason.
None of this guarantees an NBA Finals in Atlanta next June, and perhaps this Hawks team isn’t as good as their first week suggests. But they’re showing us how good they can be, and it’s possible that they won’t be the weaker team the experts said they’d be this year.
Photo: AP/Alan Diaz