The soaring Hawks: From worst to first in 4-1/2 years

Josh Smith with another Smoove move. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here's another Smoove move. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Hawks won their 10th game of the nascent season Wednesday night. In 2004-05, this franchise managed 13 victories over 82 games. A team once so far down it had to improve to get lousy is now, with the same coach and same power forward, tied with Phoenix for the NBA’s best record.

Said Mike Woodson, the coach in question: “I’ll never forget those 13 wins. I’ll never forget walking into the locker room and seeing those faces, knowing we couldn’t win many games.”

We knew the Hawks would improve. When you’re 13-69, you can get no worse. But did anyone expect the Hawks to get better in quite this way?

Jamal Crawford didn’t. A pro since 2000, he saw those Hawks firsthand. Did he foresee that woebegone bunch becoming the team that has become the league-wide talking point of the 2009-10 season? “I’d be lying if I said I did. You knew they’d get better. You just didn’t know it would be that fast.”

Five years sounds like a long time, and when you were losing at an epic rate it felt longer still. But think about this: It was only two seasons ago that these Hawks were still losing, but they’ve gone from 37-45 to 47-35 to 10-2 without changing a starter. They haven’t traded for Shaq or signed LeBron. They’ve done it the hard way. They’ve done it the way no NBA team ever does it.

Crawford again: “They’ve grown. They’ve gotten better [as individuals] these last couple of years, and they’ve put some pretty good pieces around them.”

Jamal Crawford is one such piece. He’s a proven NBA scorer who has never played in a playoff game, and he came here because he believed this team could win big. (Think about that. A seasoned pro suddenly sees Atlanta as a stairway to heaven.) He’s both sixth man and third-leading scorer, and if you’ve got that kind of guy playing in reserve you’ve got yourself a ballclub.

The Hawks have themselves a ballclub. With the national media descending on Philips Arena for Wednesday’s game, the Hawks  gave a demonstration of what they’ve become. Tied at 35 with 6-1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, they led 60-43 at the half. They scored outside, scored underneath, stole the ball and ran the floor and left a team graced by Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley looking comparatively untalented.

Twelve times they’ve played, and 10 times they’ve won. And it isn’t as if they’ve been playing dogs. Six victories have come against teams with winning record. Over the past six days they’ve beaten Boston (9-3), Portland (8-4) and now Miami (7-4). This 10-2 has been achieved on merit.

And it has been achieved via a commodity not valued highly in modern sports: persistence. The Hawks didn’t always pick the right guy in the lottery, and they made their biggest acquisitions by landing the Phoenix Suns’ fourth-best player (Joe Johnson, in case you’ve forgotten) and a point guard who seemed to have lost two steps (Mike Bibby). And somehow this starting lineup has become a thing of balanced beauty, and now there’s a second unit to backstop it.

And the coach who was 116 games under .500 after four seasons has managed to turn into a mixmaster of the first rank. After so much shared losing, you’d figure Woodson and his men would have tuned each other out by now, but they’re playing harder for him in 2009 than they did in 2006. Which almost never happens.

Much of what the Hawks are doing indeed beggars belief, but only in theory. When you see this team on the floor, you don’t think, “I don’t get how this team is 10-2.” You think, “I understand compeletely.” Because the team that was once so bad is just this good. Yes it is.

143 comments Add your comment

BONE

November 18th, 2009
10:44 pm

jeremy 'stacks' collins

November 18th, 2009
10:46 pm

with so many professional teams bought and sold, it is a testament to the qualities you evoke in your post.

jeremy 'stacks' collins

November 18th, 2009
10:47 pm

Enter your comments here

Eric P.

November 18th, 2009
10:49 pm

Gilley

November 18th, 2009
10:49 pm

Its still early but if we can beat Orlando on Thanksgiving..I am convinced we can win the east. Not saying we will but I predicted we would make it to the conference finals along with Mark Bradley!!

Eric P.

November 18th, 2009
10:51 pm

Deep “Stacks”.

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
10:51 pm

What a story! What a team!

Eric P.

November 18th, 2009
10:54 pm

They got every rebound that mattered tonight. Plus the run & gun. Great show.

BPJ

November 18th, 2009
10:54 pm

Last year’s team had some nights when they looked pretty awesome, even against good teams. The main weakness last year was that the 5 starters played too many minutes, leading to fatigue and injuries. By the playoffs, three of the starters were not at their best, to understate the case.

With this season’s bench, the starters shouldn’t have to play as much each night (so far they haven’t). This should (we hope) lead to fewer injuries, and less late-game fatigue….which in turn should mean more sustained, intense defense.

This is no guarantee of playoff results, but at least it will be an exciting team to watch. If they listen to Woodson and play as a team, they could be great.

Dominique Wilkins had a nice compact swing

November 18th, 2009
10:55 pm

10-2 = HEAT CHECK!!!

Ree Roe

November 18th, 2009
11:02 pm

This team is remarkable…What impresses me most is that this team is learning how to play with expectations. People expect the Hawks to be not just good, but elite. That is a stunning reevaluation for this team only a few weeks into the season. Houston up next!

-REEcently Roe!

junebaby

November 18th, 2009
11:02 pm

great story mb…, very well put. it seems like only yesterday, when the hawks seemed to lose every game they played. whether it was at home, or on the road, absolute futility. those were some tough times to be a hawk or a fan of the hawks. what a difference a few yrs can make, when you know what you’re doing. accolades to the entire hawk organization, for having a plan and sticking to it. bk caught a lot of flak for being arrogant, but the man knew what he was doing and he didn’t waver when everyone was questioning his gm skills. he stuck to it, and now you see the results. rick sund has came along and added greatly to what had been done before. this team looks as though it can be good for the forseeable future!! WELL DONE HAWKS!

Extremus

November 18th, 2009
11:03 pm

Wouldn’t it be something if, after all of the hope (and at least initial disappointment) placed on the Braves and Falcons organizations the past couple of years, the Hawks could end up coming out of nowhere and giving Atlanta its next world championship? The season is young, but from what I’ve seen and heard so far, the Hawks could just have the depth and consistency to outlast their bigger-name rivals and pull it off. And that would be a thing of beauty in a league where you’re not supposed to win without a “genuine superstar”.

Herschel Talker

November 18th, 2009
11:03 pm

FIRE MARK RICHT!

FIRE WILLIE MARTINEZ!

FIRE MIKE BOBO!

FIRE BOOBY COX!

IT’S TIME FOR THESE IMBECILES TO LOOK AT THE HAWKS AND FALCONS AS MODELS OF SUCCESS! IT’S TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE ON THE LOSERS!

Retired on the lake

November 18th, 2009
11:09 pm

Woodson’s teams improve every year , end of statement.

Wait&See

November 18th, 2009
11:18 pm

Typical Mark Bradley! A mere 12 games into the season, and he’s talking about going from worst to first with the Hawks! This Hawks’ team is capable with a ton of talent, but they need to continue to improve as a team and develop consistency in their play night after night, especially on defense. Their coach, Mike Woodson, needs to prove that he’s a championship-level coach. Let’s wait and see where the Hawks are after 80 games or so, rather than just 12 games into the season, and then you can make such bold proclamations. Anything less is just premature window dressing for a professional sports team known for its inconsistency!!

JSS

November 18th, 2009
11:22 pm

Send this to your co-hort Jeff Schultz. He ha gone out of his way to continue bashing this portion of the ASG when it was evident that the ship had changed course. The sails are full, the sea is calm and the captain has a crew ready for the rail… Guess what is next?

BA Smyrna

November 18th, 2009
11:27 pm

The thing about this team is there is still so much upside. Tonight was the first game I saw and I have watch 10 of the 12; where they moved the ball for the majority of the game on offense and still maintained a high level of defensive intensity.

When they played Portland Monday, Joe Johnson and Crawford played way too much one on one basketball, but they still got a win which says a lot. That is a game the old Hawks normally let get away. If they can continue to play unselfish ball and move the ball around like they did tonight the Hawks can surprise a lot of people when the weather gets back warm.

VaDawg

November 18th, 2009
11:27 pm

Well done. It would be nice to see them keep this up and go deep in the playoffs. They are playing as weell as any team in the league right now, and with the depth they have it could be a special season. Alt. needs to support this team.

bigstack19

November 18th, 2009
11:37 pm

I never thought I would live long enough to see the Hawks become the best pro sports team in Atlanta. Still, lets not raise the championship banner yet. I watched the Lakers beat down Atlanta three weeks ago or so.

hawkfan

November 18th, 2009
11:37 pm

Coming into the season I think we all had our doubts about where the Hawks would stand, especially following all the blockbuster acquisitions for the east “elite” teams… but for us long time fans this team is definitely worth cheering for simply for the reasons stated above … patience, persistence, maturity, teamwork …

NBA championship or not there is no question that hawks mngt had a plan, and they are nailing it at this point.

icecold

November 18th, 2009
11:38 pm

the hawks are now the team to beat.. every team lookin at the hawks and have to plan extra for them now.. i cant wait to play orlando on thanksgiving.. but really i cant wait to play the cavs…… when we beat them.. then i will be convinced.. we already beat two of the best teams in the west.. portland and denver.. lost against the lakers.. so what.. and bob cats.. things happen… but as long as we stay focus.. shouldnt be no more losing against teams we should beat!!!

Tech sucks

November 18th, 2009
11:38 pm

Hell yes. Been a Hawks fan my whole life and this is just fun to see. Been to two games already this year, was there opening night. Fill that arena Atlanta.

icecold

November 18th, 2009
11:39 pm

also.. i was convinced that it should jo johnson and josh smith making the all star team… but now im thinking it should be jo josh and big al… he is coming along good.. he can be a all star.. mr double double

icecold

November 18th, 2009
11:40 pm

by the way.. the hawks next 8 games are against weak opponents… except orlando.. so……… we might stay at number one for awhile!!!!

MattRyanforPrez

November 18th, 2009
11:40 pm

The rebounding on this team is absurd! 6 more offensive rebounds than the Heat tonight, 44-28 points in the paint. The last I heard the Hawks were the #1 scoring team in the paint so far, which is amazing if true.

icecold

November 18th, 2009
11:44 pm

we still can get stackhouse.. he is unemployed !!!! i mean he can be good off the bench if somebody go down!!! jus sayin…………..

Reid Adair

November 18th, 2009
11:45 pm

The first 12 games have been impressive, and I think the Hawks have shown they are improved from a year ago. It’s going to be interesting to watch as the season progresses.

J-MAN

November 18th, 2009
11:47 pm

Well mabye the reason this team has built it self up is because they had a Coach and they allowed him to have a chance to build his team up. He is the longest tenured coach in the eastern conference and he has weathered the storm of early firestorms from questionable coaching moves to a GM who didnt like him and and some players that had also fueded with him. He has showed that he can adjust and improve his team and improve the decisions in game. And now he has grown into an excellent coach.

Volman

November 18th, 2009
11:50 pm

Really Mr. Bradley? Brilliant blog. You always seem to do a great job with the Hawks’ blogs the past couple of years. I’m loving this as a fan and season ticket holder for four years now. All of this exposure is great (NBA.com, ESPN, etc) but I hope it doesn’t get to the guys’ heads. Hopefully they continue to work (I think a leader like Al Horford will step up and keep everyone on the same page).

Go Hawks!

MattRyanforPrez

November 18th, 2009
11:54 pm

The rebounding on this team is absurd! 6 more offensive rebounds than the Heat tonight, 44-28 points in the paint. The last I heard the Hawks were the #1 scoring team in the paint so far, which is amazing if its true.

MattRyanforPrez

November 18th, 2009
11:55 pm

The rebounding on this team is absurd! 6 more offensive rebounds than the Heat tonight, 44-28 points in the paint. The last I heard the Hawks were the #1 scoring team in the paint so far, which is amazing if this is true.

J-MAN

November 18th, 2009
11:55 pm

How about trading Marvin and a draft pic for Chris Bosh. It might be more likely because he will leave toronto and they want to have somehting.

Mark Bradley

November 18th, 2009
11:55 pm

Thanks, Volman. But I don’t see the Hawks pulling apart. I there are a lot of guys on this team who’ve just gotten a taste of winning. They’re willing to sacrifice to keep winning.

KevinA

November 18th, 2009
11:56 pm

.Mark – winning breeds good posts. This was my favorite.

Mychelfromatl

November 18th, 2009
11:57 pm

The official attendance tonight was listed as a sellout: 18,729. This is from ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=291118001

I was at the game tonight and it was a pretty good crowd, but I don’t know about sellout. The Hawks keep playing tough and the crowd will continue to come. GO HAWKS!

Sir Nose

November 18th, 2009
11:58 pm

Nice win for Hawks against a division opponent. It was great to see JJ stare down DWade and win the 1-one-1 marque match-up of All-Stars. Their growth will really be challenged win over this next stretch of games against weaker opponents. Hopefully, they will continue to remain focused and continue to show the killer instinct to put team away.

HawksHeroZero

November 18th, 2009
11:59 pm

The Hawks are in a small market, and have no “stars…”

One of these star-studded teams in The East will beat-up the Hawks in the paint, but they will recieve all of the fouls.. Horford and Smith will be in foul trouble for half of these games..

The Heat were mugging Hawks again tonight like The Cavs and Heat in The NBA Play-offs of 2009… Expect more fo the same…lol.

Lakers and Celtics (again), Lakers and Magic (again), or Lakers and Caveliers

dmortone

November 19th, 2009
12:01 am

How long before Woody gets an extension? I’ve been down on Woody like most Hawks fans in the past, but you can’t discount that Hawks teams have gotten better every year under him. He may not be the best coach in the league, but he clearly deserves to be the head coach of this team for awhile.

At least, until Josh and/or Horford roll an ankle and the losing gets blamed on him.

Mychelfromatl

November 19th, 2009
12:03 am

Official attendance tonight was listed as an sellout: 18,729. Those numbers are from ESPN. I was at the game tonight and it was a pretty good crowd, but I don’t know about a sellout. What I do know is that if the Hawks continue to play tough, the crowds WILL continue to grow. Go Hawks!

Also nice to see Marvin join the party.

dmortone

November 19th, 2009
12:04 am

Probably have to be worse than a rolled ankle, maybe blown acl or something.

Ree Roe

November 19th, 2009
12:07 am

Joe is showing he really wants a big contract this offseason…he’s dominated with back to back 30 pt games against the 2 SGs (DWade & Roy) considered better than him.

-REEcently Roe!

Gem Dawg

November 19th, 2009
12:48 am

Didn’t see tonight’s game, was at the Lyle Lovett concert at Tabernacle. The show was strong, just like the Hawks so far. Most teams have an incubation period before they hatch out. Looks like our Hawks have hatched and flown the nest. I haven’t been crazy about Woody but if they add to their win total this year and advance another round in the playoffs, he is doing what he needs to be doing with this team.

BugKiller

November 19th, 2009
12:51 am

Seriously, all praise must go to Mike Woodson here.

He’s been able to reach Josh Smith. He’s turned Zaza into a super-sub who now channels his volatile emotions into becoming a rebounding and passing force off the bench and a guy who can raise the energy level of his teammates. He’s maximized Marvin William’s potential, which was never as high as his athletic gifts would suggest (the ultimate “upside?” guy out of college). He uses Horford well in the paint. He’s refusing this year to overuse JJ. And he trusts Mike Bibby unlike he’s trusted any one he’s had so far.

He mixes his bench better than Jam Master J.

He really was the right guy. He had the patience to get through to thick-heads like Smoove and Zaza.

And now we see a team with so much CHEMISTRY. They move so organically on the floor, flowing from offense to defense so effortlessly.

I said it before on the live blog, and I really mean it. This is a FUN team to watch play. They really play basketball the way it should be played: as a TEAM.

Remember those great old Hawks teams of the 80’s? Or even better, the Celtics and Lakers of the 80’s, the ultimate teams.

No one guy dominating everything like in LA or Cleveland. A team. Teams can take you much further than one guy. Michael Jordan learned that the hard way. Detroit beat it into his head. LeBron is learning it now.

And now, in a division where Orlando lost its second best player to Toronto and Miami is a mess, the Hawks can be two seed in the playoffs.

Amazing.

MyView

November 19th, 2009
1:08 am

Spot on MB! Go Hawks!!!

David Smith

November 19th, 2009
1:56 am

I have always been a critic of Woody and his staff but, must admit that he has these guys playing hard as a unit and it’s translating into wins. The season is still early but, if these guys keep up this level of play all year don’t be surprised to see them playing for the championship this year (cross fingers).

Kid me not

November 19th, 2009
2:11 am

Talker…it wasn’t that long ago every one was crying “FIRE WOODSON!” Now look at him and listen to yourself and all the others on the “FIRE” Truck. Go Hawks! Keep winning or else…somebody will want to fire the entire team….Oh and by the way, what about all ya’ll bad mouthing the Hawks’s ownership. God help us!

Whopper Dawg

November 19th, 2009
3:11 am

U have to admit I was wrong, I wanted Woodson gone big time, but what a great job and the front office too. I don’t want to be Disney, but these guys have something a little special going and I think they are going to improve throughout the year, especially the second unit. And you are right, Mark, it is not the superstar model, it is the team model – there is another one in recent years that did it this way and that is Detroit. And they won two rings I think.

BosnianBaller

November 19th, 2009
3:46 am

Feels good baby.I remember all the losing and hurt.

The Grinch

November 19th, 2009
3:52 am

Nobody was wrong about Woodson; he was terrible. He’s just finally starting to improve like the players. The way he’s using them this year is completely different. Nobody was wrong about Knight either; he was an arrogant moron. Smith and Horford (who was a gimme at that spot) were the only two picks he made that didn’t throw away about 10 slots or more in the draft.

But this team is coming around, and I love it. I hope the ASG is able to keep them funded.