Hawks G Dennis Schroder pulls up from deep during the Feb 22 Warriors Hawks game.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
The last two months have been one of the most frustrating stretches in recent memory for Hawks fans. Coming off last year’s 60 win campaign, expectations were for Atlanta was for the Hawks to be around the same level or even better than last year. The Hawks returned with nearly the same roster with the only significant change being the departure of Small Forward Demarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors last Summer. Expectations were even higher after the Hawks blazed out to a 7-1 start to open this season. Unfortunately, since the promising start, the Hawks have played mediocre at best, sporting a 26-26 record since that 7-1 start. Atlanta have struggled to close or find a way to win in late game situations, losing on several buzzer beaters and all three of their overtime games. Currently, the Hawks have a two game winning streak after being in the midst of their worst stretch of the season after losing five of the last six with four of those losses at home.
Despite this awful stretch, I still believe the Hawks can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. Throughout the season, we’ve seen the Hawks have a tendency of playing up or down to their competition. Other than against the Spurs and Cavs, the Hawks have fared well against winning teams with some big wins over the Chicago Bulls (twice), Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks on the road and earning big victories against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Indiana Pacers at Philips Arena. Here are some reasons I believe the Hawks can still advance to the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
The Hawks have teetered around 29th place in rebounding this year, which is the second worst in the NBA; however, during the month of February, we’ve seen a resurgence in regards to this factor of the team. This month, the Hawks are averaging 46.5 rebounds per game (9.2 offensive, 3.7 defensive) which is a huge improvement compared to the previous four months where Atlanta averaged around 41 rebounds per game. The Hawks have shown a more concerted effort as of late to attack the boards. The new addition of Kris Humphries should also help out in the rebounding department.
In order for the Hawks to do anything in the playoffs, the play of the bench will be instrumental. The most integral part of the bench is the play of backup point guard Dennis Schroder whose numbers have improved from his points per game to shooting percentag despite averaging around 20 minutes per night throughout the season. After averaging 9.5 PPG and 4.8 APG in November, Schroeder saw both dramatically improve throughout the season and this month is averaging around 12.6 Points Per Game. In the five games since the All-Star break, Schroeder is averaging nearly 15 points per game in just 22 minutes!
The improved bench play is coming from yet another key player to the bench whom started off the season not receiving many minutes, Tim Hardaway Jr. Recently, Hardaway has burst on to the scene showing flashes of his impact during his days in New York and has made a solid impact defensively
Other notable contributors are Mike Scott and Thabo Sefolosha who are settling in as two of our most consistent role players on both sides of the ball. We will need al strong effort from the second unit and our offense to completely click on all cylinders to make a run in the Eastern Conference.
Al Horford and Paul Millsap
Despite a relatively quiet year from Al Horford for his standards, he’s starting to show some of that “bossness” that we’ve seen him struggle to post on a consistent basis this year. Horford’s scoring, rebounding and blocked shots are all up this month and he’s bringing a huge impact in the paint on both sides of the court and we need Al to be “The BOSS!”
Millsap surprisingly struggled recently since suffering an ankle injury about a month ago; however, I’m not too concerned because he’s having a career year this season, which earned him yet another All-Star selection . The Millsap and Horford combination two will be able to dominate just about any front line in the Eastern Conference.
Most of the East, like the Atlanta Hawks, has struggled at being consistent throughout this season. At this rate, the winners of the first two rounds could come down to which team is hot in April and the ones who continued to fail with being consistent will be eliminated. An advantage for the Hawks is, other than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, Atlanta has more postseason experienced players on their roster.
Throughout the season, the Hawks have proved that they can play with the best. None more evident than during last Monday’s game vs. the Golden State Warriors where the Hawks used a 33-6 run to erase a 23 point deficit.
The Hawks are very capable of beating any team in the Eastern Conference in a playoff series and would take a full effort from the roster to knock the defending Eastern Conference Champions, Cleveland from a fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Hawks fans, let’s watch how the season plays before we count this team out. Although we’ll probably win around 46 wins, this will be a dangerous team in the playoffs that will be more than capable of making another run similar to last season. Let’s see how the Hawks fare during this west coast swing. Hopefully we’ll see that we are much better than our record indicates.
Phil Veasley @ATLHawksPhil