This week, the Atlanta Hawks began life without Al Horford. While they have only played three games so far, the Hawks have shown some encouraging signs in their three victories. Of course, Atlanta’s early schedule has been kind, matching them with three teams who failed to make the playoffs last year. Yet, the Hawks have proven their strength in depth, winning each game by over ten points.
Steady Start to the Atlanta Hawks Season
Atlanta’s bench performance has been spearheaded by Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala. Sefolosha leads the league in steals through the first three games, despite only playing 22 minutes per game. His active hands have boosted the Hawks and they have the highest defensive rating in the league.
Meanwhile, Muscala has thrived with his increased minutes, averaging 11 points per game. His field-goal percentage has been efficient and he has chipped in with rebounds and blocks, further emphasizing the Hawks’ stifling defense. Moreover, his impressive free throw shooting contrasts Dwight Howard’s well-documented struggles from the line.
Korver Finding His Range
After a three-point barrage in 2014/15, Kyle Korver’s shooting touch deserted him the following season. But early into this season, Korver seems to have found consistency again. He has shot regularly and efficiently, connecting on nine of 15 long-range attempts. He has benefitted from Howard’s imposing presence inside, which has sucked defenses in and left Korver open.
The 35 year-old’s ability to nail shots from outside is crucial to improving the Hawks’ offense. They ranked 21st in offensive rating last season; but after the first few games this season, they have upgraded to 7th. Korver’s offensive slump seemed closely correlated with the team’s overall offensive slump in 2015/16, but there are signs of recovery in Atlanta.
Underpinning the Hawks’ solid start had been the unwavering reliability of Paul Millsap. He has more responsibility – particularly on offense – with Horford gone, but has risen to the challenge. In the three games so far, Millsap has averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. It’s numbers like that that could send the 31 year-old to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.
Room For Improvement
The Hawks have brushed aside weaker teams so far, but they will need to improve in order to beat the real contenders in the NBA. One factor will be Dennis Schroder’s finishing. While the speedy German is an excellent driver, he needs more composure to finish at the rim. Among the 58 players to average five drives per game, Schroder’s field-goal percentage ranks 30th having driven. That isn’t terrible, but he needs to boost that ranking to become a go-to scorer for the Hawks.
In addition, the Hawks need Howard to become more efficient from the field. Given that his shots mostly come from inside the paint, his 45.5% shooting from the field is poor. It’s early days for Howard, though, as coach Mike Budenholzer has to accommodate a different type of center. His 18 point performance in the last game against the Kings was encouraging, particularly as he shot 5 of 9 from the field.
The Hawks have been imposing in their three wins the season, but there are 79 games to go in the regular season. If they can continue their defensive prowess and developing offense, the Hawks’ will be a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.