This January, the Atlanta Hawks became the first team in NBA history to go 17-0 in a single month. The beautiful thing about this record, was that it was accomplished through a total team effort. As a result, it was only fitting that the core of the Hawks be rewarded as a whole.
Yesterday evening, in an act that had never been done before, the NBA named the entire Atlanta Hawks starting five — Jeff Teague, Paul Milsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll — January’s Eastern Conference Player(s) of the Month. While this may seem like a crazy idea, in actuality, it makes a lot of sense.
This stretch run proved just how balanced a team the Hawks really are. During the month of January, all five starters had double-digit averages in points, and yet none averaged more than 20 a contest. And yet, even without one player taking on the bulk of the scoring, this contribution from the entire team allowed Atlanta to beat their opponents by an average margin of 11.9 points per game. That’s one way to start the new year off on the right foot.
After their historical month of January, it’s clear that the Hawks are playing some of the best team basketball in the league. But does this now mean they are actually the best team in the NBA?
With a record of 41-9, and a winning percentage of 0.820, the Atlanta Hawks are sitting pretty at the top of the Southeast Division. They have a comfortable 10-game lead over the Washington Wizards, and it doesn’t appear like they’ll be relinquishing their lead in the division anytime soon. However, what’s even more impressive is how they’ve managed to take control of the Eastern Conference. With the All-Star Break just around the corner, the Hawks have a commanding eight-game lead over the second-place Toronto Raptors, as well as a 28-6 record against their conference foes. And their offense is a thing of beauty.
The Hawks are putting up 103.4 points per game, which is good for sixth in the NBA. Coach Mike Budenholzer, in his second season at the helm, has done a masterful job instilling the values that he picked up while working under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. The Hawks look like the Spurs 2.0, with their crisp passes and constant movement, and have the sixth best offensive rating because of it. But, they are not just good on the offensive end, their defense is formidable as well.
Atlanta is only allowing 96.5 points per game (third in the NBA) and have a sixth-best defensive rating of 102.5. They are holding their opponents to 43.7% from the field, and limiting them to 20.5 free-throws a game. It’s safe to say that the Hawks play solid on both ends of the floor. And this is what you’re going to need if you want to compete against the high-powered Western Conference.
Are the Atlanta Hawks the best team in the NBA? It’s tough to say. Right now, the Golden State Warriors have a better record by half-a-game, one less loss one their home floor, and are putting up eight more points a game. The Dubs are also 8-2 in their last 10 games, and know how to play quality defense. There is no doubt that they are the measuring stick right now in the NBA. But the thing is the Hawks can hang against teams from the West. So really, at this moment in time, it’s all about getting out of the Eastern Conference. And that is a definite possibility.
One thing is for certain: The Hawks are legit. They play a great team game, have an impressive system, and are made up by a group of selfless players. The chemistry on the Atlanta Hawks is undeniable, and they look to be getting stronger as a unit. Atlanta might not be the best team in the NBA right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be by the season’s end.