The Hawks’ Season Was Really Quite Remarkable
When you actually think about it, what the Atlanta Hawks did in 2013-14 was pretty spectacular.
With a rookie head coach, a roster full of players who, for the most part, had never played together, and a slew of injuries, they were still able to make the playoffs. They pushed the East’s best team to a seventh game without their best player and made believers out of fans across the city and country in the process.
In the Hawks’ case, the standings don’t tell the whole story. Let’s start with the roster they had: a bunch of makeshift pieces put into expanded roles for the first time in their respective careers.
Paul Millsap had been a regular starter for a few years in Utah but had never been asked to carry a team the way he did these Hawks. He responded by averaging career highs in points, assists and three-pointers, and although the shooting percentage was down a bit, he flourished in Coach Bud’s system because if the work he put in to increase his range.
Jeff Teague built upon his breakout season last year with another stellar year. He once again notched a career-high in points, something he’s done every season since he’s been in the league, and he also grabbed a career-high 2.6 rebounds. It’s clear that he’s molding into an elite young point guard, and though he knows he has work to do, this season was another step in that evolution. Let’s also not forget that he lost pick & pop specialist Al Horford after 29 games, which reduced his productivity as a passing point guard.
Bud’s offense is predicated on pace and space, and perhaps no one in the NBA helps provide the latter better than Kyle Korver. Eleven season into his NBA career, Korver started more games and played more minutes than he ever has before. His 12 PPG were the second most of his career, and he had a career-high 2.9 assists. More important than any stats however was Korver’s presence on the floor. He helped create space for guards to drive, wings to cut and bigs to play pick & roll. Even when he didn’t touch the ball, he was still impacting the game because of his ability to draw defenders away. The Hawks were better as a team in every statistical category with him out there, and they missed his presence during a stretch where they lost five straight games in March when he was dealing with a back injury.
General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ferry went out and got pieces to fit Coach Bud’s system, and pretty much every move he made was gold. In addition to the obvious hit with Millsap, he brought DeMarre Carroll in as a defensive anchor. Carroll’s addition gave Coach Bud a reliable wing defender to put on the opposing team’s best guard or wing player. Carroll delivered in helping contain some of Atlanta’s toughest individual opponents, but what he did on the offensive side was also a pleasant surprise. He started all 73 games he played, netting career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and shooting percentage.
Off the bench, Mike Scott careered in his second year, Shelvin Mack played well in his first significant NBA role, Elton Brand showed that he’s still plenty valuable and Pero Antic made the adjustment from overseas to give the Hawks a unique tool.
Horford’s injury was heartbreaking and deflating, but it wasn’t a dagger as most thought it would be. When John Jenkins and Gustavo Ayon went down for the year as well, it seemed to be a downward spiral. When Antic, Teague, Millsap, Korver and Carroll followed with subsequent missed time of their own, things looked extremely bleak. Yet somehow, the Hawks rallied around the players they had, but enough wins together to stay competitive in the East and snuck into the playoffs while getting healthy bodies back just in time.
The series against Indiana, came as a surprise to anyone who simply looked at the Hawks’ record but wasn’t a shock at all to the ones who had been following the team closely all year. Few teams are able to survive what the Hawks survived this season, and the result is a fan base as excited as its been in a long time and a foundation for the future under Coach Bud. More on that last part coming Thursday from Robby Kalland.