Hawks Midseason Report
The Hawks are 22-19 at the midway point of the season, good for third place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has found a way to stay on course despite losing Al Horford for the season, as Coach Budenholzer has been able to get the team to buy into the system on both ends. The Hawks task will get tougher to start the second half of the season after learning that Pero Antic — who has started at center for the majority of the games Horford has missed — will miss 2-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his right ankle. Before the Hawks take on this new challenge in the second half of the season, let’s look back at the key players and moments in the first half of the season.
MVP: Paul Millsap. Millsap has been tremendous for the Hawks all season, and has stepped up into a bigger role on both ends of the court in Horford’s absence averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks on the year. Millsap is a popular pick among national pundits to make the All-Star team, which would give the Hawks their first All-Star participant since Horford and Joe Johnson made the team during the 2010-11 season.
DPOY: DeMarre Carroll. Carroll had been a terrific defensive presence on the wing for the Hawks, and has taken the challenge night in and night out of marking the opposing team’s best wing scorer. Carroll’s presence as a man-defender and also as a help-defender and rebounder has been key in the Hawks success all season, and he is vitally important to the Hawks defensive efforts.
Biggest Win(s): The wins in the past two weeks over the Heat and the Pacers at home were huge. Getting wins over the two top teams in the Eastern Conference at home, and doing it without Horford, was a huge confidence booster and helped to prove — to themselves, the rest of the league, and the fans — that they are still capable of competing with and beating the best teams.
Worst Loss: The 17-point home loss on November 26 to the Orlando Magic. The Magic have given the Hawks fits all season — Hawks 1-2 v. Orlando — and in the first matchup between the two teams, a healthy Hawks team struggled mightily at both ends of the floor. Losses to teams at the bottom of the conference are always bad, but losing the way they did to the Magic was especially deflating.
Biggest Comeback: New Year’s Eve in Boston. The Hawks came back from 18 down in the second quarter and as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter to get a win right before they entered a brutal stretch of the schedule. A loss there to a very beatable opponent prior to their toughest 10-game stretch of the season could have been demoralizing, so to show that resilience to comeback and get a win was huge.
Best Moment: Kyle Korver breaking the all-time three-point record. The Hawks have had some other incredible moments — Horford’s buzzer-beater, Antic’s 1-footed three, etc. — but Korver’s record-breaking three-pointer to reach 90 consecutive games (now 110 and counting) with a made three was just incredible to witness.
3 Biggest Storylines:
1. Playing without Horford. The players and coaches won’t use it as an excuse, but to lose their best player and remain in the third seed through 12+ games without him required some serious adjustments from Coach Budenholzer and shows the depth of this team.
2. Bench Play. Early in the season, the bench unit was the Hawks’ biggest weakness, but as the season has worn on Elton Brand, Mike Scott, Shelvin Mack, and Lou Williams have become more effective as individuals and as a unit to become a strength for the Hawks. As they continue to battle injuries with Antic out and Carroll nursing a hamstring injury, the bench unit — which some may become starters at times — will need to continue to step up as their roles expand.
3. Guard scoring. The Hawks will need to get more consistent and efficient scoring out-put from their guards, particularly Jeff Teague and Williams if they are to hang onto the three or four seed in the East. Neither player has shot well from the perimeter, and both are struggling to score even when they drive to the rim. The Hawks three-point shooting has been solid, but their most efficient shooters — non-Korver division — have been Antic and Millsap, not their guards. The Hawks need Teague and Williams to find their rhythm in the second half if they are to continue racking up wins.