The biggest surprise of the NBA season is no doubt the Atlanta Hawks, who happen to be the number one team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-8. Atlanta is currently on a 5-game winning streak and a 7-game road winning streak. The seven straight road wins is first for the Hawks in the last 21 years. During the 7-game road winning streak, the Hawks have taken down the likes of the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, and most recently the Los Angeles Clippers. The win against the Clippers marked the eighth straight against the Western Conference.
Atlanta currently sits atop the NBA Power Rankings, making this the latest in season the team has been ranked as high. The Hawks are on pace to set a franchise-record for wins in a season with 62. Since November 28, the Hawks are an NBA-best 19-2. So what has the Hawks playing so well? The players have bought into Head Coach Mike Budenholzer’s system, which stems from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree. Budenholzer spent 18 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, 16 of which he was an assistant under Popovich. The Hawks play a Spurs-style of basketball, meaning they are a very unselfish bunch. The team gets after it on both ends of the floor night in and night out.
On the defensive end of the floor, Atlanta gets it done collectively and ranks fifth in the NBA in opponent points per game, limiting opponents to 97.6 points per contest. On offense, Atlanta averages 102.6 points per game, which ranks ninth in the NBA. The Hawks are third in the league in assists per game averaging 25.3, which assist on the 35 field goals the team makes per game. There is no go-to guy on this team as no player takes more than 14 shots per game. Jeff Teague leads the team at 17.4 points per game and 7.1 assists per game, but right behind him is Paul Millsap averaging 17.2 points per game and a team-best 8.1 rebounds per game. Teague and Millsap are two of five players who average double-digit scoring. Al Horford, who is having one of his more productive seasons as a seasoned veteran, is averaging 14.6 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Kyle Korver averages 12.8 points per game and shoots 49.6% from the field and 51.3% from beyond the arc. Atlanta also gets 11.6 points and 6 rebounds per game from fifth-year journeyman, DeMarre Carroll.
The Hawks have benefitted from a fairly easy schedule in the early goings, but that’s not to take away from the teams they have been able to beat along the way. If the Hawks can continue to play team basketball each night, there is no reason this team can’t be a contender in the Eastern Conference all season long.
Up next for Atlanta is a matchup with the 25-9 Memphis Grizzlies which will be a big early season test. Atlanta will play five of the next six games on the road before playing nine of the next 10 at home.