Now 12 games into the 2013-14 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks stand at a solid 7-5 record for a brand new team from top to bottom. Fans and media alike could only assume what we’d see from a Hawks squad with only six returning players and a new head coach as the season drew closer, but now we have a small – but actual – sampling to grasp this team’s developing identity. Here’s ten things we’ve learned so far.
BUDMOVEMENT is real:
The Hawks are second in the league in assist-to-FG ratio, with 308 assists to 460 field goals made. Ball movement was something this team severely lacked for years, dating back to the isolation-heavy Mike Woodson era. The amount of passing that went into every offensive possession was a quick pick-up by those watching the Hawks preseason contests, and it’s carried over to the regular season flawlessly. Surprisingly, Atlanta has also managed to rank 11th in the league in lowest turnover rate, an impressive feat with how much the ball moves.
Games are won in the second half:
A common trend in the Hawks first twelve games has been the team treading closely with their opponent or even trailing behind early in games, only to blow them away in the latter portion of the contest. The statistics back this up, with the team’s NetRTG being far lower in the first and second quarter compared to the third and fourth quarters. This explains how Atlanta has played in four games finishing with a score margin of five or less. There is no cause for alarm though, with very strong teams such as the Indiana Pacers sharing this trait.
Little is set in stone:
Although this team is talented and off to a modest start, changes are still being made daily in hopes of finding the perfect rotation. The starting five has remained mostly the same, but coach Budenholzer has done plenty of experimentation along the way. So much so that Atlanta has played more lineups than Miami, Indiana, Chicago and an equal amount to that of the discombobulated New York Knicks. Again, concern is of no need. With the state of the Eastern Conference resembling that of a burnt microwave dinner, Atlanta should be focusing on trying all available options if it means finding the one that works best in the postseason.
Jeff Teague and Mike Budenholzer pairing rules:
Our own Bo Churney detailed this point in full, but allow me to reiterate. Coach Bud and Jeff Teague are a helluva tandem, with Teague being the biggest beneficiary and potentially an All-Star this season because of it. The fifth year point guard is averaging career highs in PPG and APG, just nearly hitting the fabled 20-10 line, as well as PER and free throw rate. This high-paced, pass-heavy offense has put Teague in the position to truly spread his wings and make the leap Bo talked about. Speaking of pace…
And the Hawks keep runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’:
The Hawks run, a lot. The Hawks are tenth in pace this season, their highest ranking since the 2002 season. At every chance, Atlanta will take off on the break or try and get an easy score in semi-transition. What you may not know – and what shocked me – is that the Hawks aren’t actually a good transition scoring team. Per MySynergySports, the Hawks are 29th in the league in transition PPP. An astonishing figure when you consider Teague’s excellence this season and Al Horford being one of the best bigs in the game on the break. One thing worth noting is that the Hawks are shooting 27.5% from three in transition, a clip very likely to improve.
Al Horford’s defense shuts my stupid mouth up:
Before the season began, I was questionable that Al Horford could man the interior defense virtually on his own – with Paul Millsap not being close to the defender of the departed Josh Smith. Obviously schemes are a big factor, of which Cole Patty and myself discussed in great detail, but I still had significant doubts. Those doubts no longer exist. The Hawks rank tenth in DRTG, with opponents scoring 99.2 points per 100 possessions with Horford on the court (which would be good for sixth best in the NBA) versus 105.8 with Al on the pine. Horford’s been everywhere, helping out without fouling – a career-low 1.9 fouls per-36 minutes.
Let’s be patient with Schröder:
I probably wasn’t alone when I applauded the Hawks for selecting Schröder, the sneaky one guard out of Germany, in this year’s NBA draft. His wingspan got me extremely giddy over the prospect of a long-term development that would end in a pesky defensive point guard who could potentially start down the road. This handful of games has reminded me that this is a process, and Schröder won’t speed down that road like an Audi. Dennis has been a DNP-CD for three games already, and for good reason. His defense hasn’t made a palpable impact yet and his offense has been gruesome – 37.5% 2PT% and 14.3% 3PT% – but again, Schröder is a project not an immediate producer. These are only his first tastes of what’s going to be a huge and delicious NBA cake for him.
Paul Millsap was the steal of the offseason:
At least it looks that way so far. The approximate $9 million per year contract Millsap signed with the Hawks for was highway robbery with Millsap’s talent alone being enough to certainly draw in inflated offers from lower-tier teams. But Millsap’s here, and he has dominated alongside Horford. Millsap has the second-highest PER of his career this season, and is averaging an efficient 18 and 8 in just 31 minutes of action a night. But this isn’t the same Millsap, as he’s extended his range behind the arc, shooting the most threes per game in his career. (As I predicted, remarkably.) Millsap’s shooting an unglamorous 31% from range but this can always improve, and even as it is should be enough of a threat to spread the floor for the offense.
Mike Scott has improved:
Sophomore Mike Scott has performed his way into the rotation for coach Bud, with improved play across the board. His jump in eFG% from last year’s 47.6 to 50 has bumped his per-36 minutes scoring average from 17.5 to 20 this season. He is manning the stretch four spot quite well, already having put up more threes this year compared to his rookie campaign. HawksHoop’s Buddy Grizzard has also commended Scott’s work ethic and defensive effort, which come a long way for a young player in this league.
Per Synergy, 16.8% of Carroll’s offense comes on cuts. He scores 1.26 PPP on them. #CARROLCUTS.
DeMarre Carroll cuts >>>
— Bo Churney (@bochurney) October 17, 2013