After 30 games, the Hawks stand at 20-10, just a half-game behind the Knicks for 2nd in the East, and one-and-a-half games behind Miami for the top spot.
I will go ahead and say this: while I thought the Hawks would continue to be a playoff team this season, I’m not sure that I expected these results. In our little season predictions, I said that it was possible for the Hawks to finish 2nd in the East, but I made a very clear qualifier for that: Josh Smith and Al Horford both had to play like all-stars. Have they?
While the two might be named all-stars when the time comes, I think both players have played a little less than their best so far.
Let’s start with Josh, whose raw per-game statline looks great: 17 points, eight boards, almost four assists, over two blocks, and more than a steal. However, you start to see drawbacks when you look at his shot-selection and shooting percentages. Largely because of his true-shooting being .500, Josh still has negative offensive win shares. While that has been steadily improving, it is still somewhat alarming to think that your “best player” is hurting your team on offense. (I don’t think Josh is, but it certainly opens up that thought) While Josh isn’t going to have games like he did last night against New Orleans every game, it is proof of what he can do when he’s more comfortable in the low-post. His jumper is also starting to fall at it’s usual clip, which, while it still isn’t that great, is still better than the 25% he was shooting on it to start the season.
Horford’s case is a little more complicated. Like Josh, everything looks great on the per-game numbers: 16 points and 10 rebounds on almost 54% shooting. However, his free-throw shooting is still holding him back a little bit. While it is improving, the .586 mark from the line is still the worst in Al’s career by a large margin, and is probably the reason his PER and WS/48 are below 20.0 and .170. (which are numbers similar to Al previous all-star seasons)
Regardless of whether these two guys are all-stars, they have played very well, and have been complemented well by the usual suspects, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia, and the new guys, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams.
Now, can they keep it up through the next 15 games and have the same winning percentage? Eight of the 15 are on the road, but the only trip-ups should be at Minnesota, New York, and maybe Chicago. At home, there are games against Utah, San Antonio, and, again, Minnesota that could turn into losses. Boston and Brooklyn are also on the schedule twice during this span, but I don’t think the Hawks should have problem with these two struggling and panicking teams. A 10-5 record over this span should be good enough for the Hawks to maintain 3rd in the East, along with a nice three game cushion or so over fourth.
30 wins through 45 games? Not only is it possible, but the Hawks could be even better than that. It seems to me that we might have something nice going on here in the ATL.