Monday afternoon’s game against the New York Knicks marked the Atlanta Hawks’ 41st game of the regular season, the halfway point of the Hawks’ regular season. It has certainly been a topsy-turvy 41 games to say the least and with the Hawks not in action until tomorrow, now seems like a good time to breakdown the Hawks’ season so far using a number of different headings and awards.
Let’s go through the splits — and where in the league the Hawks rank — first and then we’ll have a lovely little chat about it.
(Stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference and are correct as of January 16th)
Record: 24-17 (4th in the East, 11 overall)
PPG: 103 (19th)
FG%: 45.6% (14th)
3PM: 9 (19th)
3P%: 34.6% (23rd)
FT%: 71.8% (28th)
RPG: 44 (13th)
ORPG (offensive rebounds per game): 10.6 (12th)
APG: 24.1 (6th)
SPG: 8.7 (3rd)
BPG: 5.1 (10th)
TOV: 15.5 (25th)
Offensive rating: 103 points scored per 100 possessions (21st)
Defensive rating: 102.4 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th)
Net rating: +0.6 (12th)
Points scored off of turnovers: 17.2 (6th)
2nd chance points: 14.3 (6th)
Fastbreak points: 11.2 (24th)
Points in the paint: 43.2 (14th)
Bench points per game: 36.2 (16th)
Home games played: 19
Road games played: 22
Alright, I think that’s enough numbers. Most of those numbers are pretty self explanatory but there’s a few worth going over.
Let’s start with the record. Who would’ve thought after that horrible stretch of 1 win in 11 games, a seven game losing streak and a record of 15-16 after defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 26th that the Hawks would reach this stage of the season with the exact same record as they did at this point last season and on pace to win 48 games? It’s been quite the turnaround, helped obviously by a pretty easy schedule but also the return of defense. The Hawks are tied with the Pelicans for the best defensive rating over the last 10 games at 99.7. What’s also encouraging is that the Hawks have their two longest road trips out of the way and there’s still a six game homestand to come in March.
Last season the Hawks were one of the better teams in the league when it came to making their free throws, converting 78% of their freebies ranking 8th in the league. This season, however, has seen the Hawks slide all the way to 28th in free throw percentage. Obviously the addition of Dwight Howard has a little bit to do with that but others’ free throw percentages have also dipped. Tim Hardaway Jr., for example, led the Hawks in free throw percentage last season at 89%. This season, THJ is shooting 64.5% from the free throw line. Kent Bazemore is another example. Last season he averaged 81% from the line. This season, 71%. So, this decline in free throw percentage is not entirely because Dwight Howard is now in the team.
The rebounding, offensive rebounding and second chance points numbers are drastically up from last season and that is mostly thanks to Dwight Howard, who is averaging 13.3 rebounds and a league leading 4.9 offensive rebounds per game. Dwight has added a calming presence on the rebounding front which has been a nice change of pace compared to Atlanta teams of yester-year, who scrambled on a consistent basis to secure defensive rebounds.
Turnovers were a serious problem earlier in the season but the Hawks have improved of late, averaging 13.4 turnovers per game in their last 10 games, tied for 11th best in the league.
Here are the player stats through 41 games, better presented in an image.
To the surprise of no one, Paul Millsap leads the team in scoring (at 17.8 PPG) and should be an All-Star for a fourth consecutive season. Dennis Schröder has been on a great run of late: a 19.4 PPG on 50% shooting from the field and 37% from behind the arc and six assists per game stretch over his last 25 games has bumped his scoring numbers to a career high. Schröder began the season quite poorly but his decision making has improved greatly as this season has gone on. Kent Bazemore has struggled often this season and that’s reflected in his shooting stats: 37% from the field and 30% from behind the arc. At times Baze has tried to do too much and that has taken away from his game at times.
The rookies have struggled to see game time, largely because the Hawks already have four established wing players in Bazemore, THJ, Sefolosha and Korver/Dunleavy. Taurean Prince has at least played 24 games but DeAndre Bembry has featured only 15 times and, with Coach Bud riding with Mike Dunleavy for the time being, it doesn’t seem as though the rooks are poised for any sort of minutes breakthrough any time soon.
With Mike Muscala missing the Knicks game due to an ankle injury, only two Hawks have featured in all 41 games so far this season. Thankfully for the Hawks it has been their two point guards, Schröder and Malcolm Delaney. And it’s just as well, the Hawks decided to waive Jarrett Jack during the preseason, opting to ride with just point guards.
It really comes down to two games: the victory on the road against the Cavaliers on November 8th, breaking an 11 game losing streak against the Cavs (including two playoff series sweeps), and the overtime victory against the San Antonio Spurs on New Years Day, also snapping an 11 game losing streak to the Spurs. The win also marked Mike Budenholzer’s first win over his mentor Gregg Popovich in six attempts.
It’s really hard to choose, both were fantastic wins. I’ll just leave the highlights down below and you can decide, because I sure can’t.
You can go two different routes here: a loss to a really crappy team that you should’ve beaten/didn’t turn up for, or losing a heartbreaker/game you really wanted to win. Let’s cover both.
December 13th against the Orlando Magic… The Hawks wasted a great offensive game — scoring 120 points — by conceding a season high 131 points against a poor team at Philips Arena. Elfrid Payton scored a career high 26 points and dished out a career high 14 assists while Serge Ibaka scored 29 points.
This was just a horrible loss in the sense that the Hawks should’ve taken care of business, or at least should not have conceded 131 points… There’s no excuse for that.
In terms of a gut wrenching loss, the recent Celtics game has to take the cake. The return of Al Horford to Atlanta, Dennis Schröder vs. Isaiah Thomas, a long time rival in the Boston Celtics… How badly did the Hawks want to win this game? They mounted a 16 point fourth quarter comeback — having trailed by 20 points in the third quarter — and, against all the odds, had a chance to win this game.They were denied, however, as Isaiah Thomas hit the game winner with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Heartbreaking loss. Everyone associated with the Hawks wanted this one so bad and for the most hated player on the Celtics to snatch it away from them right at the end…
You could make a case for Dennis Schröder’s dunk on Serge Ibaka, but I’m going with Mike Muscala’s putback against the Cavaliers.
Why this dunk takes the cake over Dennis’ dunk is because it has the better audio elements. You can hear this dunk very clearly, there’s a clear explosion (Moose really gets up there), clear connection. Dennis’ dunk just doesn’t have that. Plus, Muscala dunks this with LeBron is close proximity. Bonus points right there.
Best individual game
Paul Millsap @ OKC, December 19th.
I’m not just looking at the stat line when it comes to this. I’m looking at a the whole performance, importance of performance, efficiency etc.
In a 110-108 victory against OKC on the road, Paul Millsap — starting at center in the absence of Dwight — scored 30 points (a then season high) on 12-of-18 shooting, 3-of-5 from behind the arc and secured 11 rebounds in 39 minutes of play.
Millsap also scored the game winning basket with 12 seconds remaining.
Millsap came through in the clutch when his team needed him to step up on a night where Dwight Howard could not suit up and he won them this game, not only with this shot but with the other 28 points he scored plus the defense he plays on a nightly basis.
Most pleasant surprise
Mike Muscala’s emergence as the primary backup big in the rotation.
Last season Muscala was behind both Mike Scott and Tiago Splitter in the big-man rotation and averaged just nine minutes per game. Now, he’s the primary backup big regardless of Scott’s and Splitter’s health. Muscala began the season by leading the league in field goal percentage at over 70%. That included mid-range and three-point shots. He has shown improvements in all facets of his game and is averaging 7.6 points on 51% shooting and — ignoring the three games Mike Dunleavy has played — leads the team in three-point shooting, shooting 44% from behind the arc in 20 minutes per game.
Mike has worked hard and his hard work has paid off. It has been fantastic to watch him step into this important role that this team needs from him. Moose is a restricted free agent next season and I cannot wait for him to get paid.
The Hawks trading Kyle Korver.
I still find it hard to believe that the Hawks actually pulled the trigger on this trade. This current Hawks regime are usually reluctant to pull the trigger on trades like this mid-season so that, along with the fact that Korver is an Atlanta folk legend, made this move so shocking. And to trade him to the team that have swept the Hawks in the last two seasons, no less… What the Hawks netted in return for Korver was worth it, but it was still a shock to the systems of so many that the Hawks traded the beloved Korver away.
I would say “Rest in peace, Korver Kounter”, but the Cavs’ Twitter management have had no issues stealing that…
Most unsurprising trend
Tiago Splitter playing zero games.
After undergoing season ending hip surgery in February last year, Tiago Splitter was due to return to action at the beginning of this season but suffered a setback in early October when he suffered a hamstring injury that would keep him sidelined for four weeks. Splitter was due to return from that injury in mid-November, but instead of his return being announced it was another injury update. Splitter would miss another six weeks with an injury that, per Chris Vivlamore of the AJC, was related to both his recent hip and hamstring injuries. Six weeks have come and gone and Splitter has still not returned to action, with no update imminent.
Coach Bud says no new updates on the status of Tiago Splitter during pregame
— Peachtree Hoops (@peachtreehoops) January 15, 2017
We’ve reached a point where we’ve just come to accept that if Splitter ever back and is able to contribute anything it will be a bonus.
No surprises here, Millsap is the man that makes this team tick. He’s the leader on both ends of floor, ranks 11th in the league in defensive win shares, he facilitates the offense, he’s versatile… he’s everything for this team. With Millsap in the lineup, the Hawks are 24-14 and 0-3 when he was sidelined with injury, including a 36 point home loss against the Pistons and a 44 point loss agains the Raptors. His impact is undeniable and there is no doubt that he is not only the best player on this team but the most important player on this team.