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Josh Smith was an Atlanta guy.

Smith was born and raised in Atlanta. He played nine seasons within the city limits and was very active within the community during that time. On Smith’s arms, he possesses two very visible tattoos: one of the state of Georgia and another of the Hawks’ Pac-man logo.

However, on Tuesday night, Smith finally turned on the city he loved for so long.

The night started rather uneventfully for Smith. He entered the game in the first quarter to a smattering of boos mixed with some light cheers, but the reception was hardly made an impact on the decibel meter. The Atlanta faithful — who had already seen Smith in an opponent’s uniform before — seemed apathetic to Smith… for a while.

With James Harden and Dwight Howard sitting out for the Rockets, there were plenty of shots to go around for Houston’s role players. As a man used to running an offense and being a volume shooter, Smith felt perfectly in place, taking control of the ball often in his time on the court. The more Smith shot, the more involved became the crowd, as the Atlanta fans had seen Smith hijack an offense before and were hopeful that Smith could wreck the lead the Rockets possessed.

In Smith’s final years with the Hawks, the crowd had grown restless waiting for his development. As a result, Hawks’ fans often started crying out when Smith took jumpers that he continually missed on, either by loudly groaning or even by shouting “nooooo!” While it was clear Smith’s emotions were being toyed with, he often remained calm and showed little expression about the outbursts in his time with the Hawks.

But that did not happen on Tuesday night, as finally Smith took physical exception to the crowd mocking his play on the court. After sinking a 3-pointer with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Smith raised one finger to his mouth and sent his other hand in the air, intimating his wish for the crowd to finally hush. Continue Reading…

When the NBA season began, national analysts were divided on the question of whether the Hawks would make the playoffs. projected the Hawks to be contenders for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Nobody predicted the Hawks would be nine games up on second place and possessors of the NBA’s best winning percentage almost three quarters of the way through the season. However, since HawksHoop predicted the Hawks’ trajectory more accurately than most, I thought I’d explain why setting the bar high seemed like a good idea.

We all know the monkey on the Hawks’ back is the failure to advance past the second round of the playoffs since moving to Atlanta. There have been chances. In 1988, the Dominique Wilkins-led Hawks beat the Celtics in Boston to go up 3-2 in the second round. The Hawks lost Games 6 & 7 by two points apiece. In 2011, the Hawks tied their second round series with the Bulls 2-2 behind 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists from Josh Smith. Smith shot 5-for-19 outside the paint over the final three games and Jamal Crawford shot 3-for-19 from the field (0-for-7 from 3-point range) in Games 5 & 6 as Chicago eliminated Atlanta.

Perhaps the team’s best chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1988 happened in 2012. The Hawks faced an aging Celtics team in the first round as it had in the second round 24 years earlier. Atlanta lost Game 2 and surrendered home court advantage, but had a chance to win it back in Game 3. Rajon Rondo failed to record a single basket or assist in Game 3 while guarded by Kirk Hinrich. Larry Drew made the brilliant decision to sit Hinrich in favor of Jannero Pargo and Willie Green in the fourth quarter and overtime. Continue Reading…

I’m gonna say it right off the bat: he doesn’t have the chance yet, but before his career is over, Mike Muscala will be known as a valuable bench weapon.

Casual NBA fans – heck, even casual Hawks fans – might not be familiar with Muscala, a big man who flirts with the chance to take the floor every now and again. The 2013 2nd round draft pick has gotten minor minutes this season; Muscala hasn’t shown anything to prove that he’s a dominant force. However, Moose is growing into player that fits this Hawks system perfectly – a big with range, athleticism, and sound fundamentals.

Coming out of Roseville, Minnesota, Mike Muscala was the 128th ranked power forward in the Class of 2009 high school recruiting class. While his scouting report praised his athleticism and solid post play, he chose to attend Bucknell University, among interest from other smaller schools such as North Dakota, Santa Clara, and South Dakota. Looking at the rest of the big men in that class, the only ones that stand out as productive NBA players are DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, and John Henson.

So what does that say about Muscala? Again and again he’s looked past the doubters and continued to improve. That started at a small D1 school in college. That continued as a 2nd round draft pick. When I spoke with Mike just before the start of the new calendar year, he told me how the chip on his shoulder doesn’t come from any of those past experiences, but instead the drive to be a contributor for his team, saying, “Now that I’m in the NBA, I’m just trying to prove that within the team, within the year, within the Hawks, I can help. At the end of the day I just want to win.” Continue Reading…

The Atlanta Hawks have a big man problem. Nobody wants to admit it or discuss it, but they do. In fact, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told AJC columnist Jeff Shultz that the problem is he doesn’t have enough minutes to go around for the big men currently on the roster:

“I can’t find a way to play all of our bigs now,” he said. “I know some perceive we don’t have rim protection or a 7-footer. I’m either naive or stubborn or both, but I’ll go to war with these guys.”

We have no doubt that Bud is willing to go to war with his guys. Last year at this time the Hawks’ front office sat on its hands at the trade deadline. Cleveland was able to obtain Spencer Hawes from the 76ers for a pair of second-round draft picks. He went on to average 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in 27 games for the Cavs. Continue Reading…

Throughout the season, there has been a lot of talk of what team Ray Allen will decide to go to, or whether he will come back at all. The future Hall of Famer has been taking his sweet time in making up his mind. Thus far, he has been rumored to be connected to the Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Clippers. So, basically, any team in contention that could use a shooter.

Everyone knows who Ray Allen is. He’s one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, he won championships with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, and now half of the teams in the league are vying for the thirty-nine-year old’s service for half of a season.

For his career, Allen is shooting an absurd 40 percent from downtown, which is the main reason teams want him. Allen will help any team’s spacing, without a doubt, and it is fun to think about him in Mike Budenholzer’s offense. For the first time in his career, Ray shot more 3s than 2s last season and that should be expected to be the same for the second half of the season. He should be expected to run around the perimeter, looking for opportunities to knock down a triple.

One reason Allen is going to be used as a sniper is because he’s no longer athletic enough to consistently drive to the rim, especially against the über-athletic guards in the NBA these days. It seems a little outlandish to expect a guy Allen’s age to drive and blow by someone like Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan. Continue Reading…

The Atlanta Hawks are on pace for the best regular season in franchise history. However, the team will ultimately be judged on its performance in the postseason. In 1988, the Hawks lost an epic Game 7 in the second round to Larry Bird and the Celtics, the closest the team has come to advancing to the conference finals since moving to Atlanta. To surpass the Dominique Wilkins-era Hawks as the greatest Atlanta team ever, the current version must win a second round playoff series.

In May of 2012, in my first in-depth analysis of the Hawks for TrueHoop Network, I wrote a piece titled “Comparing the Twilight of Two Hawks Eras.” After pushing the Bulls to six games in the second round in 2011, the Hawks flamed out in 2012 in the first round against the Celtics. It seemed the Hawks had gone as far as they could with the core of Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Al Horford.

After falling short in ’88, the Hawks lost to Milwaukee in the first round the following year, then missed the playoffs in 1990. The relationship soured between Wilkins and Mike Fratello, the coach with the most playoff wins in Atlanta Hawks history. Fratello resigned and the Hawks hired Bob Weiss, known as a “player’s coach,” who was less demanding of defensive effort. Continue Reading…

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, 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…