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The 2007 NBA Draft ranks among the most hyped ever. Greg Oden was projected to be the most dominant big man since Shaquille O’Neal. There was this skinny kid from Texas who was supposed to be good, Kevin Durant. And Florida had just won back-to-back NCAA championships with the son of former Milwaukee Buck Tito Horford. Somehow, against all odds, the Atlanta Hawks landed the draft pick that would propel the franchise to the cusp of championship contention.

The Hawks suffered through a 30-52 season in 2006-07 and finished with the league’s fourth-worst record. On March 22, 2007, the NBA Draft Lottery was held in Secaucus, New Jersey. Things were not looking good for the Hawks as the Trail Blazers, owners of the seventh-worst record, won the right to move into the top three. The Seattle SuperSonics (fifth-worst) likewise moved up. The Hawks owed a protected first round pick to the Phoenix Suns from the trade for Joe Johnson, so if the Hawks were pushed out of the top three, the team would surrender the pick.

But then, for once, the ping pong balls landed exactly right for the Hawks. After Portland won the right to pick first and Seattle second, the Hawks moved up to the third pick. It was a crushing blow for the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics and Bucks, owners of the league’s three worst records. With those teams moving past them, they dropped out of the top three of a draft with potential All-Stars available with the first three picks. Continue Reading…

The Korver Conundrum

Jeff Siegel —  January 20, 2015 — 3 Comments

Kyle Korver turns 34 in March, but is having his best season and perhaps one of the greatest shooting seasons in NBA history. Korver has always been a lethal shooter; he shot 53% on threes in 2009-10 in Utah and is a career 43% 3-point shooter, but this is his first season shooting better than 50% overall from the field and he is averaging 2.9 assists per game, matching his career high from a year ago. Coach Budenholzer and the Atlanta coaching staff are relying more and more on Korver to make decisions within the offense and it’s paying off.

Nobody has a chance at the first 50-50-90 season in NBA history without a lot of help from the rest of the team. Running Korver off multiple screens is one of Atlanta’s favorite ways to find him open shots. The Hawks will run a designed play on one side of the court and have Korver come from the weak side off of two or even three screens for a catch and shoot jumper.

 

 

Korver leads the league on catch-and-shoot 3P% at 54% and shoots the fourth-most catch-and-shoot 3s per game, per NBA.com, so this sort of action is a large part of the Atlanta offense.

Korver has mentioned in interviews that he loves to set screens as a way to confuse his defender before running around another screen to get the ball, and he does this to great effect in many of Atlanta’s sets. Continue Reading…

Have you ever tried to prove something to your friends? Maybe you had an attractive boyfriend or girlfriend and your friends didn’t believe you, or you had a nice car that you were ready to show off. When you finally get in front of those people, you are usually eager to show off your success in that category.

The Atlanta Hawks are going through that right now.

To say that the Hawks have exceeded expectations would be putting it lightly. Currently, Atlanta sits atop the Eastern Conference at 33-8, and have a comfortable five game lead over second place Washington. Their play has been stellar on both ends of the court, and to say they are the best team in the NBA would not be a stretch.

Though it isn’t a huge gap, the Hawks have played more games on the road than at home. Through 41 games, Atlanta has played 22 on the road as opposed to 19 at home. Also, they hadn’t gained their national exposure until the majority of their games were played on the road.

Through those 22 road games, the Hawks are an astounding 17-5. Last season, they were only able to accumulate 14 wins on the road through 41 games away from Philps Arena. Continue Reading…

This just in: The Atlanta Hawks’ position atop the Eastern Conference, clear of second-place Washington by five full games, is not a fluke. It’s not the result of a scheduling quirk or a run of good luck. It’s not distorted reality resulting from limited sample size. With astonishingly-few exceptions, the Hawks have annihilated everything in front of them for 41 games, half of a full 82-game schedule.

This was my exact thought process after the Hawks beat Chicago Dec. 15 and faced 12 of the next 17 on the road, including 13 games against teams in playoff position:

“If the Hawks can go .500 over this stretch,” I thought, “the team will still be 10 games over .500 and on pace for 50+ wins.”

Instead, the Hawks went 16-1 against the most brutal stretch this season has to offer. I can’t even … Seriously, it’s all downhill from now until the playoffs. Not to say that the second half will be easy and hot teams won’t emerge. But the Hawks will not face a more stern regular-season challenge than what the team faced from Dec. 17 to Jan. 17. Continue Reading…

We’ve all heard about the award-winning offensive genius of Coach Bud and how Kyle Korver is lighting the world on fire with his shooting, but what about the other side of the court? The offense has been there all season for the Hawks, but the defense has taken a big leap forward in the past six weeks.

In their first 13 games, Atlanta had a defensive rating of 107.2, good for fifth-worst in the league. Since November 28, they’ve won 20 of their last 22 behind an NBA-best 96.1 defensive rating. The offense hasn’t changed; it’s actually scoring one fewer point per 100 possessions than it was in the beginning of the season. The improved defense has vaulted the Hawks from the dregs of mediocrity (a place all too familiar to Atlanta sports fans since, well, forever) to the top of the Eastern Conference and into the conversation as Finals contenders.

So how have things changed? What are the Hawks doing differently on defense?

In short, they’re doing a better job of protecting the rim and forcing opponents further away from the basket. Al Horford has taken his lumps in the media for not being able to protect the rim, but he’s allowing just 51.4% shooting inside of six feet during this 22-game run, over seven percentage points better than league average and ten percentage points better than what he was allowing in the first 13 games. Paul Millsap is still a below-average inside defender, but his opponents are shooting six percentage points worse during this run than they were during the early part of the season. Pero Antic has been a consistent rim defender all season, giving up 45.6% shooting at the rim, ranking him 21st amongst 135 players who see at least three shots at the rim per game. On the season, the Hawks are still giving up the third-worst field goal percentage at the rim in the league, but they’re slowly but surely getting better inside as Horford regains his health and the perimeter defenders work better together to force opponents into long jump shots.

To aid their below-average percentage at rim protection, the Hawks are moving teams further away from the rim, choosing to give up contested mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers over shots in the restricted area. Atlanta’s opponents have the longest average shot distance in the league (per Basketball-Reference), which allows their long perimeter defenders to force contested jumpers.

The main benefit of moving teams further away from the basket is that Hawks’ opponents aren’t getting to the free throw line for easy points. Atlanta commits the second-fewest fouls and gives up the third-fewest free throw attempts per game, which forces opponents to earn their points from the field and has the additional benefit of helping the Hawks turn great defense into easy offense on the other end.

These numbers get even better in crunch time, when the Hawks defense turns from above-average to downright scary. During this 22-game run, the Hawks have put up a ridiculously low 88.9 defensive rating in clutch situations (defined as a game in the last five minutes with one team leading by five points or less), a mark that would easily lead the league over the course of a full season. Opponents are shooting just 18.8% from three in these situations and 38.1% overall, both top-ten marks in clutch situations. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, the Hawks are posting a 129.7 offensive rating in crunch time, bested only by Dallas, Golden State, and Portland. Whether or not the crunch time offense is an aid to their defense is debatable, but the numbers don’t lie; the Hawks are one of the two or three best teams in the league in the last five minutes.

The defense isn’t nearly as sexy as the offense, but it’s getting the job done in a big way over the last 22 games as Horford has regained his health and the players are buying into the coaching staff’s defensive system. If Atlanta truly wants to make a run to the Finals, they’ll need every bit of this top-ten defense to hang with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

All stats are courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted

With Wednesday’s 96-86 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Hawks are now 6-0 against the top six teams in the Western Conference. Atlanta has registered wins against all of them except Golden State, a team the Hawks will host Feb. 6 in the first of two meetings. Some time around Jan. 19, Eastern Conference coaches will receive their All-Star voting instructions.

Between now and then, the Hawks face a stretch of five of six games on the road. Three of those games will be against top four teams in the East (Washington, Toronto and Chicago). The stretch starts with a visit to the Detroit Pistons, owners of the longest current winning streak in the NBA (seven games). The Pistons have not lost since waiving former Hawk Josh Smith.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, currently fifth in the East, are 4.5 games behind the fourth-seeded Wizards. Thus, the Cavaliers are closer in the standings to the 8th-place Miami Heat than they are to being a top four team in the East. By the time Eastern Conference coaches sit down to fill out their All-Star ballots, they will have seen the Hawks play every Eastern contender plus the streaking Pistons.

I’m operating under the assumption that Paul Millsap is an All-Star lock. Among Eastern Conference power forwards he’s third in scoring (17.2, second on the team), tied for fourth in rebounds (team-leading 8.1) and first in steals (1.88, tied for 6th in the league) and assists (3.1). Prior to being selected as an All-Star last season, Millsap led all Eastern Conference power forwards in scoring (17.7), was third in rebounds (8.2) and second in assists (2.9), steals (1.7) and blocks (1.2). Continue Reading…

Coming into last season, there was an immense amount of mystery surrounding what the Atlanta Hawks were going to become. Gone were the likes of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Mike Woodson, and all remnants of the last seven years. They were bringing in a rookie head coach, a few mid-level free agents, and overall this was the beginning of something new.

Most pundits and fans projected that longtime Spurs’ assistant Mike Budenholzer would simply pour this roster into the mold of Gregg Popovich’s system, and we would all see the second coming of San Antonio’s culture. At first, one would assume that Budenholzer’s time in San Antonio would lead to a mimicking of their system, but a closer look at the Popovich coaching tree reveals that it was far from a lock. Coaches like Mike Brown, Jacque Vaughn, Monty Williams, Brett Brown and others have come from the same place, but had a differing style of play. At the very least there were no copies of the system out there.

Of course, we’ve all seen how Budenholzer has built his style around his old stomping ground, and that led to countless comparisons to San Antonio. At first, seeing the ball zip all over the court was a new and welcoming sight for Philips Arena. Through the month of November and some of December last season, the Hawks were sitting third in the Eastern Conference. Having 30 assists in one game no longer brought shock when it came to this team, and it was clear that the culture had changed — and it had changed fast.

As we all know, Al Horford missed the rest of the season, the Hawks were decimated by injuries and ended up finishing under .500. They did make their seventh straight trip to the playoffs though, and pushed the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to the brink of elimination. Continue Reading…

In the modern NBA, 3-point shooting has taken a prominent role in most team’s (looking at you, Byron Scott) offensive systems. The Atlanta Hawks are one of the best teams in the league in 3-point percentage (seventh) at 37.2 percent, thanks in large part to Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll.

Kyle Korver is widely considered one of the best shooters in the game — maybe only second to Stephen Curry. Up to this point in the season, Korver is shooting an insane 52 percent from 3-point range. For reference, Korver set the 3-point percentage record in the 2009-2010 season with a clip of 53.6 percent. One of the reasons Korver is having such a tremendous year from three is that he is getting a ton of open shots off of catch and shoot opportunities. 61.3 percent of Korver’s three point attempts come off of catch and shoot chances. On these opportunities, Korver is shooting 52.9 percent; however, on his pull up attempts, he is only shooting 45 percent, and he shoots those just eight percent of the time.

Now, not to discredit Korver on his amazing shooting, but part of his incredible shooting percentages come from the offense that Coach Mike Budenholzer runs. This play was Korver’s very first three of the season. All he does is run from one corner to the other. Millsap sets a screen on the left block, and then Horford sets a flare screen that frees up Kyle for the open 3. Continue Reading…

The Hawks are in the midst of one of the most amazing seasons in franchise history. Picked by some pundits to miss the playoffs, the Hawks entered Friday’s game with the Milwaukee Bucks with an opportunity to equal the record of first-place Toronto. The Hawks had won 14 of 15, including five straight against contending teams.

Then Jason Kidd’s sub-.500 Bucks blew their doors off.

This was a classic trap game. After Tuesday’s win over the visiting Clippers, the Hawks were able to enjoy a couple days without a practice. The Hawks prevailed on the road over Cleveland, Houston and Dallas, despite the absence of starting point guard Jeff Teague due to a hamstring injury. Suddenly everybody was talking about the Hawks, even ESPN. Continue Reading…

With consecutive wins over Eastern Conference contenders Chicago and Cleveland and Western Conference powerhouse Houston, the Atlanta Hawks are starting to make an argument that the team’s hot start is not fool’s gold. As recently as Nov. 29, the Hawks were giving up 106.6 points per 100 possessions and ranked 25th in defensive efficiency. Since then, the Hawks have won 12 of 13 games (including five wins over teams currently in playoff position) and moved to 7th in defensive efficiency, giving up only 100.6 points per 100 possessions, an improvement of better than six points.

Although the Hawks’ strength of schedule remains the weakest in the NBA, the defensive improvement definitely represents a trend, rather than a blip. On Nov. 20 I wrote that the Hawks “look nothing like a contender.” But what about now? We typically associate contender status with teams that are top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (the Hawks are ranked seventh in both) and have a substantial, positive point differential (the Hawks are outscoring opponents by 6.1 PPG, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference).

So can the Hawks be considered contenders in the East? I maintain that we won’t know the answer until the Hawks complete the current stretch that includes 12 of 18 games on the road. NBA TV’s Rick Fox, who predicted that the Hawks would miss the playoffs, said after Saturday’s win over Houston, “I’ve seen enough. The Hawks are as real as it gets in the Eastern Conference.” I’m going to take a page out of Mike Budenholzer’s playbook: never get too high, never get too low, take it one day at a time. Continue Reading…