To start off, by no means do I want to make this sound like the Atlanta Hawks are having a terrible season. They are currently 26-19 and in 4th in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by five and a half games, they do lead the Southeast Division by two and a half games over the Miami Heat. But last season, the Hawks had a six and a half game lead over the Washington Wizards for 1st place through as many games.
Comparing to Last Season
First of all, comparing last season to this one is probably not the smartest idea. Yes the Hawks had a terrific season last year (won 60 games for the first time in franchise history), but it was also a major improvement from the years before. The Hawks have certainly been consistent in that they have made the playoffs each of the past eight years (which isn’t too difficult playing in the East), but they never really did a whole lot until last season when they advanced past the opening round for the first time since the 2010-11 season and the only time that they have made it to the conference finals since the 1968-69 season. Only the San Antonio Spurs have a longer active playoff streak at 18.
For comparison, in last year’s historic season for the Hawks, they were 37-8 through 45 games. Now, as I mentioned, comparing this season to last is not fair, and most experts expected that there would be a drop-off. That being said, they were still expected to be in the 50-win conversation, even potentially at least competing for the #2 seed (because, as usual, Lebron James would win the East according to every NBA pundit and so far they look to be right).
The points-per-game numbers are similar to last season, only down .4 ppg on offense, but they are giving up 3.1 more ppg in comparison to last season. The Hawks are, however, shooting 3.8% worse from three, but only .6% worse in overall shooting. It is also interesting to note that the Hawks have already lost more home games this season than they did all of last season (seven this season to just six all of last year).
So overall just a little under last seasons numbers, but the team still seems to be missing something?
Is it the
lack-of DeMarre Carroll Effect?
The big off-season move for the Hawks this past summer was what the route would be with free agents Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. The Hawks went the route of keeping Millsap at three years and $59 million while Carroll went to the Toronto Raptors (who are currently #2 in East at 29-15) for four years and $60 million. After the draft, where Atlanta traded away their 1st round selection to the Wizards (Kelly Oubre), it was certainly confusing as to what the Hawks were going to do, but less than a week later we found out, hence the contract with Millsap and Carroll going to the Raptors.
Last season Carroll was the lone starter for the Hawks that was not selected to the All-Star Game, and the Hawks felt that they could replace Carroll with Kent Bazemore as the starter at the small forward position. The Hawks also knew they would have Thabo Sefolosha back from his broken leg injury suffered late last season in early April.
Bazemore has really done a fine job at replacing Carroll. Bazemore is averaging about three minutes less per game, but he is scoring about half a point more per game than Carroll did during the regular season, as well shooting a bit better from three at about a three percent better clip on just about the same amount of attempts per game. Carroll was a little better at over all shooting (about two percent better), rebounds per game (a full rebound more per game) and not turning the ball over as Carroll averaged turning the ball over just slightly more than one time per game (1.1) compared to Bazemore turning it over close to twice per game (1.7).
So yes there are some differences, but really nothing that jumps off the page and would scream why the Hawks are not as dominant this season.
Comparing to the Rest of the East
The Cavaliers certainly look like the team to beat in the East (despite them firing their head coach David Blatt which I am still baffled by; the team was 30-11 after-all when he got fired). The Cavs have a two game lead over the aforementioned Raptors, who are now ironically going to be without Carroll for a while (reportedly no time-table for return) as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Then are the Chicago Bulls who are also five and a half games back but have a better win percentage than the Hawks as they have played two less games.
So what is wrong with the Hawks?
Looking at the team overall, the only major difference from last season would be shooting guard Kyle Korver. Korver is averaging 2.7 ppg less than last season, his plus/minus point differential is down over five ppg, his three-point shooting percentage is down from an incredible 49.2% (led the NBA for players who attempted at least two 3’s per game) from last season to just 36.5 % this year and his overall shooting percentage is down from 48.7% to 42.3%.
Now the dip in his number could be for any number of different reasons including he is another year older (he is 34 and turns 35 in Mid-March).
Jeff Teague has also seen his field goal percentage dip some this season from 46% to a little over 41% and scoring about 1.5 ppg less as well.
So what happens from here?
The NBA trade deadline is still a few weeks away, February 18th to be precise, and the Hawks could always make a move. They also still have nearly half of the season left (37 games) and there is really no reason to think that they can’t turn things around even potentially make a run for the #1 seed. The Hawks just need to keep at it and believe that they, and probably most importantly Korver, will re-find their swag from last season…or they can potentially make a trade.
*All stats are from NBA.com