If you hadn’t heard, there’s a whole new assist sheriff east of the Mississippi River, and they wear red, white and navy blue.
The Atlanta Hawks finished the NBA regular-season with the most assists per game among any team in the Eastern Conference, and second in the entire NBA to only coach Mike Budenholzer’s former home, San Antonio. The Hawks logged just a hair below 25 assists per game, and .3 assist per game behind the leading Spurs.
Though the final record of 38-44 isn’t very intimidating, and it might be a short postseason being matched up with the 1 seed Pacers, the Hawks have made very important strides in just 6 months. A new head coach has come in with mostly new players and found success installing a completely new head coach than the one a season ago. Gone are isolation sets and in its place are spread pick-and-rolls and crisp ball movement. It is often accomplished with constant movement and misdirection to keep the defense guessing, as I’ve talked about and broken down plays here, here, and here.
Two thirds of the Hawks made field goals were assisted, tops in the league. It’s arguable that assists per field goal made and assists per game are influenced by the quality of a team’s offense. Since the Spurs have a better and more efficient offense, they are favored in those metrics. In the case of assists per field goal made, the quality of the shot takers is mostly neutralized, so we can see which team opens up the best chances for scores through their passing.
The most revealing aspect because there is no Chris Paul-like ball-dominant guard on the team and so the assist total is evenly spread throughout the roster. Jeff Teague is obviously the ringleader with over 500 assists and 6.7 assists per game, but 6 total Hawks had at least 130 assist on the season and the same for 2.5 assists per game. This means the entire teams gets into sharing the ball to great effect.
Even in a rollercoaster season, the Hawks have many reasons to be happy with the progress of the offense toward a flowing well-oiled unit. Although in the very middle of a weak Eastern Conference, the Hawks are on top in the assist numbers.
*All stats taken from Basketball-Reference and TeamRankings