The Hawks have turned more than a few heads with their play during the first quarter of the season.
Through 21 games, the Hawks (14-7) are second in the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference. They sit just a game behind the defending NBA champion Heat. Not many expected the Hawks, with a revamped a roster that included the loss of a six-time All-Star, to be such a part of the league conversation.
“Nobody outside-wise gave us an opportunity to be as successful as we are,” forward Josh Smith said. “We have been a successful ball club and have played with a lot of confidence.”
Here is a look at where the Hawks have been and what lies ahead after reaching the quarter pole of a long basketball season.
Almost to a man, coach and players point to the new-look team’s ability to come together quickly as the main reason for the early successes. After five consecutive postseason appearances, the Hawks brought in a new general manager. Danny Ferry set about trying to get the team past the second round of the playoffs. His first roster contained just five returning players. One of them was not Joe Johnson, the team’s perennial All-Star. Surely, it would take some time for some many new faces, with a new playing style, to learn to play together.
“We made a lot of changes and I wasn’t sure if we could get on the same page as fast as we did,” coach Larry Drew said. “I’m starting to see guys really starting to play well together.”
The Hawks have taken advantage of an early-season schedule that included a long home stand and a number of games against lesser teams. They have already played the Bobcats three times (all wins) and the Magic and Wizards two times each (all wins).
“I’m surprised with our record,” center Al Horford said. “I think that we’ve been finding ways to win games. Usually one of the early struggles when you have a new team is you let some games slip out of your hands. But we’ve come out on top on most of them.”
The Hawks have had some inconsistent efforts both offensively and defensively this season. However, the biggest issue facing the team going forward is their inability to make free throws. The Hawks are ranked 28th in the NBA in the category, shooting just 70 percent (299 for 427) from the free-throw line. The situation is puzzling for Drew considering the number of proven shooters the team acquired.
“We have had our struggles at the free-throw line and we need to get better at it or it’s going to end up costing us some games,” Drew said.
The Hawks have several impressive wins on their early-season resume. They erased an 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Pacers. They defeated the Clippers at home, avenging a road loss. They won at the Grizzlies.
The best win so far may just have come in the second game of the season. After opening the season with a home loss to the Rockets, the Hawks won at the Thunder, the defending Western Conference champions. They did so without Smith, who was out with a sprained ankle. They out-rebounded the Thunder and forced 21 turnovers. The win was an early lesson that if they Hawks play with energy and continue an unselfish brand of basketball they can play with the best in the league.
The Hawks are coming off the toughest loss of the season, a home drubbing by the Warriors. The Warriors, playing the finale of a seven-game East coast trip, outplayed the Hawks on both ends of the court. Drew called it the worst loss of the season and there is little dispute that it was the team’s poorest effort.
“Sometimes we tend to go our separate ways and try to do too much and force different things,” Horford said.
The Hawks have proven to be one of the league’s top defensive teams. Here’s a look at where they stand in those statistical categories.
* Second in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game (17).
* Third in steals per game (9.10).
* Seventh in opponent points per game (94.14).
* 11th in opponent field-goal percentage (.440).
* The Hawks are 8-2 when they score 100 or more points and 2-4 when they allow the opposition to hit the century mark.
“One thing I think we’ve done is we made the commitment defensively,” Drew said. “Understandably, our defense isn’t going to be good every single night but we have the blueprint as far as what we want to do and our guys are going out trying to execute it. That is something that we spend every day talking about. I always feel that if we are solid defensively, we’ll give ourselves a chance because we do have guys who can make shots, who can score the basketball, get up and down the floor.”
– I will pose a question to you: How is the Hawks’ MVP after the first 20 games? I bet you can make a case for Horford, Smith or maybe even Lou Williams.
- Chris Vivlamore
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