The Atlanta Hawks have officially clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. This is a remarkable turnaround for a team that finished with 38-44 record as an 8-seed in the 2013-2014 season.
In Mike Budenholzer’s second season as head coach of the Hawks he has accomplished what so many have struggled to do. He has the complete buy in of his entire team. The Hawks are running an offense predicated on ball movement and the results have paid off. The Hawks are averaging 102.3 points per game while averaging 25.6 assists per game, the second most in the league.
Atlanta is not a one-dimensional team however. They are holding opponents to 97.3 points per game, which is fifth in the NBA. Anchored by center Al Horford and forward Paul Milsap, the Hawks have an interior defensive presence to go along with great wing defenders.
What makes the Hawks so special is that they do not have one player that is known as “the guy” that they turn to in big situations. The Hawks have multiple players capable of hitting big shots.
Horford, Milsap and Jeff Teague are all averaging at least 15 points per game. They are far from a “big three” as the rest of Atlanta’s starting five is made up of scoring threats as well. Shooting guard Kyle Korver is arguably one of the best spot-up shooters in the NBA and is shooting 49 percent from 3-point range this season.
The fifth member of the starting five is DeMarre Carroll who has relished the opportunity to start for Atlanta the past to seasons at small forward. In his six year NBA career Atlanta is the fifth team that Carroll has played for but it is also the spot he has excelled in the most. Carroll is averaging a career high 12.4 points per game this season and has developed into Atlanta’s premiere wing defender. Carroll will often be called on this postseason to defend their opponent’s best player
However, Atlanta’s lack of a superstar may pose as a challenge in the postseason as they are likely to meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many teams in the past have had success against James in the regular season before realizing the post season is an entirely different animal. Sometimes the best way to slow down a player like James is to have a player of your own that can respond with big shots. It will be interesting to see who Atlanta’s “big-shot taker” will be if this series happens.
Atlanta will have the advantage of home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, which is key. The Hawk’s have a 32-5 record at home this season and their fan base provides one of the best home-court advantages in the league.