The Hawks are slowly turning doubters into believers. More and more analysts are labelling Atlanta as “contenders” these days and the evidence supporting the label continues to grow.
Last night’s win over Golden State Warriors showcased the Hawks scoring depth and versatility. Atlanta scored 127 points and Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford only had 24 between them. Thinking back to last season’s playoffs, especially in the East, the elite teams had their supporting cast step up and make big plays in big games. Orlando has “Superman” Dwight Howard, but it was Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee and the rest of their supporting cast that made the biggest difference last year when they upended the Cavs last year in the conference finals.
GROWTH SINCE LAST SEASON
Last year the Cavs swept the Hawks out of the second round. This year A) the Hawks are healthy, and B) the supporting cast has made big improvements.
Josh Smith’s improvement has been well documented all season long (see Lang’s latest feature: A ‘Smoove’ Upgrade), but his recent play has been even better. His scoring and assists have increased substantially since the All-Star break.
Al Horford is an All-Star and has shown the ability to have big offensive outbursts to go along with his dominating play on defense. Mike Bibby continues to spread the defense effectively and recently has caught fire from long range. Finally, someone (maybe Kirk Hinrich in Chicago) lit a fire under Marvin recently, and if he can maintain his aggressiveness he gives the Hawks a dominant rebounding trio and another scoring threat.
This doesn’t even mention the main scoring options. Joe was forced to settle for jump shots last year in the playoffs due to health issues with his ankle. Joe can still be effective shooting jump shots (see Game 7 in 2009 vs. Miami) but he can be dominant when he busts out his full arsenal (see Game 4 in 2008 vs. Boston). Plus, simply put, Jamal Crawford is “The Difference“.