Atlanta Hawks Quarterly Report

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
By Robby Kalland

Atlanta Hawks Practice

As we pass by the quarter-pole of the season, it’s time to look back at the Hawks’ performance over the first 25 games. The Hawks sit at 13-12 but are still third in the Eastern Conference, which is partially an indictment of the East’s poor play early in the season.

The Hawks are nearly dead even in point differential 25 games into the season, allowing 99.2 points per game and scoring 99.7 points per game, and their offensive rating (102.8) and defensive rating (102.0) are nearly identical, which places the Hawks near the middle of the pack in both, 13th in offensive rating and 14th in defensive rating.

PODCAST: USA Today’s Sean Highkin joins 
Robby Kalland to talk Hawks

The Hawks’ offense has been sporadic at times, and they have struggled to get consistent contributions from their bench, but their starting unit, particularly Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver have been extremely efficient. The Hawks as a team are seventh in the NBA in eFG% at 51.4%, and are 10th in TS% at 54.9%, which shows the drop in the Hawks’ free-throw shooting efficiency.

Horford, Millsap and Korver are the three team leaders in shooting efficiency among players with more than 10 games played (Gustavo Ayon is 2nd among all players at 58.1% eFG%). Korver’s eFG% a blistering 66.9%, while Horford has a bit more modest 55.3% eFG% and Millsap is at 53.1%. The success, or lack thereof, of those three when on the floor together, they’ve played 452 minutes in 20 games this season (12-8 record), has been indicative of the Hawks’ team success. In the 12 wins, those three have a net rating of +12.8 when on the court together. In the eight losses, that lineup combination has a net rating of -6.8.

The Hawks offense has revolved around the success of Horford and Millsap in the frontcourt. Atlanta is the third best team in the NBA with 0.94 PPP on post-ups, sixth with 1.09 PPP in pick-and-roll plays to the roll-man, and first with 1.2 PPP on offensive rebounds.Outside of Korver and Shelvin Mack, the Hawks’ backcourt is yet to find its rhythm shooting from the perimeter. Starting point guard Jeff Teague has struggled shooting the ball this season with a 42.8% eFG%, and it has not mattered where his shots are coming from. Teague is getting 49.5% of his shot attempts inside eight feet from the rim, but is only converting on 44.5% of those attempts and his three-point shooting has been a career-worst at 27.4%.

Despite these poor shooting numbers, Teague is attacking the paint and is distributing the ball to his teammates well. He is getting 74.6% of his points either in the paint or at the free-throw line this season.  His usage rate is at a career-high 25.8% and he is assisting on 37.7% of the made baskets when he is on the court. The Hawks will need Teague to improve his woeful shooting if they are going to get better as a team as the season progresses, but his comfort in the offense is encouraging so far this season.

The bench unit has been sporadic at best this season, and it is clear that Coach Bud is still figuring out which lineup combinations work best. Lou Williams‘ return to regular action has been a big addition to the Hawks’ bench unit, and he seems to be getting back in a rhythm after a 27 point outing in New York on Saturday.

Mack has been the Hawks most consistent  bench player, and their best offensive point guard so far this season. Mack is shooting 39.4% from three-point range this season and has an eFG% of 51.9%. Mack leads the Hawks in net rating with a +9.6 differential between his offensive (110.9) and defensive rating (101.2). Mack’s early season success has been one of the bright spots for the Hawks, and he has provided the team with a lift off the bench on many occasions.

Elton Brand has been very good when coming in to spell Horford or Millsap, and he put forth a terrific first half performance against the Lakers on Monday night that kept the Hawks in the game. Brand is second on the team to Mack with a net rating of +8.7 and leads the team in REB% (percentage of total rebounds a player gets when he is on the court) at 17.1%. Brand’s presence in the paint and on the boards has been much needed, particularly against bigger centers where Brand’s size is a major asset.

Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and Pero Antic have been the other Hawks to see major minutes off of the bench, and their play as a unit has been up and down. Scott has been very solid offensively, with an eFG% of 49.6% and he is averaging 6.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. However, where his offensive out-put has been solid, he and the Hawks have struggled defensively when Scott is on the court. The Hawks’ defensive rating with Scott on the court is 113.4 and his net rating is -13.2. The defensive liability of having Scott on the court has limited his minutes, and forced Bud to play him for shorter stretches of time.

Martin’s productivity has been very sporadic, as he has proven to be a streaky shooter off the bench. When he is making three-pointers and playing in the flow of the offense, Martin has been productive and a positive player for the Hawks. His eFG% is a solid 52.3%, but too often Martin is out of rhythm and becomes an inefficient shooter that forces shots. The Hawks’ offensive rating with Martin on the floor is 98.0, second worst to Dennis Schröder on the team. Martin has had some good games and his defensive effort has been a nice surprise, but the Hawks will need him to be more consistent on the offensive end if he is going to play a bigger role on the team.

Antic has been a solid addition to the Hawks’ frontcourt rotation and he has found a role as a passing big man that spaces the floor on offense and provides solid one-on-one defense. Antic is not a terrific help defender, but his length and strength make him a tough player to post. On offense, he has the ability to knock down the perimeter jumper, although he is shooting just 30.8% from three-point range and has an eFG% of just 44.9%. Antic is a very good passer of the ball, and has become the Hawks’ go-to inbounder in late-game situations.

The bench unit’s play has been a bit of a concern, but Bud has stated on multiple occasions recently that he feels the addition of a healthy Lou Williams will make that situation better, particularly on the offensive end. If the Hawks’ bench can produce on a consistent basis, rather than being erratic, the Hawks will become a much bigger threat later in the season.Overall, the Hawks seem to be in a pretty good position 25 games into the season. With a new coach, new system, and a number of new players, the Hawks appear to have developed chemistry quickly in Coach Bud’s offensive system, and are finding success. They are second in the NBA in assists per game at 24.8 and are third in assist ratio [percentage of possessions ending in an assist] at 18.9. The ball movement has been tremendous early this season as they have 10 games with 25+ assists already including a season-high Monday night against the Lakers with 34.

On defense, the Hawks are still figuring things out at times, but are starting to perform the basic principles that Coach Bud preaches. The Hawks are fifth in the NBA defending in transition, which is the constant focal point for Coach Bud, allowing just 1.10 PPP. They are committed to packing the paint and want to force pick-and-roll ball-handlers to shoot the ball rather than get to the rim or pass to the roll-man, which shows in their defensive statistics. The Hawks are 2nd in the NBA defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, allowing just 0.7 PPP, and they only allow the roll-man to get the ball on 30.5% off all pick-and-roll possessions.

Defending the three-point line has steadily improved over the course of the season as the team has become more comfortable with each other and are quicker making their rotations. The process of becoming comfortable in the new system on defense is about trust and understanding when to collapse into the paint and when to chase out to contest shooters.Offensively, the Hawks have areas to improve upon as well. The play of their bigs has been outstanding, but there is plenty left to be desired from the perimeter. Korver continues to be consistent from the outside and has shot 48.7% from three-point range this season as he has extended his NBA-record streak of consecutive games with a made three-pointer to 94.  The other Hawks’ perimeter players have not been as effective or efficient, however.

Teague and Carroll have struggled shooting the ball, and the Hawks rank 21st in the NBA in pick-and-roll ball-handler scoring at 0.74 PPP. The Hawks are ranked last in the NBA with 0.96 PPP in transition. For a team that emphasizes playing with pace, getting out in transition, and whose half-court offense is predominantly pick-and-rolls, these numbers are not ideal. The good news is that the Hawks have been relatively successful despite these struggles, and the hope is that as the season progresses these numbers will progress to the mean. If they do, which they theoretically should, then the Hawks offense will be in terrific shape.

Just past the quarter-pole of the season, the new-look Hawks are in a great position to continue improving and grab a high seed in the Eastern Conference. Improvements are needed, but if they can continue building on the principles and concepts that have gotten them to 13-12 and start getting more consistent, efficient production from their backcourt and bench, then the Hawks will be seeing homecourt in the playoffs.

[Stats Courtesy of NBA.com/Stats and Synergy Sports]

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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