How the Hawks Are Dominating the NBA


Our Atlanta Hawks have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA this season.

Between the Golden State Warriors playing the best basketball in the West and Detroit Pistons enjoying an elite post-Josh Smith stretch, the Hawks have quietly kept winning.

Atlanta holds a 38-8 record and are in the midst of a 17-game winning stretch, the longest streak in franchise history. Just 46 games into the 2014-15 season, they have already matched the win total from last year (38).

Much like the Warriors, the Hawks feed off great ball movement and player movement to create easy shots. They target the most efficient areas on the court, restricted area and 3-ball, but do not shy away from an open mid-range shot either, something Al Horford has seemed to master.

This has kept the opposing defenses honest and the spacing wide.

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Atlanta’s independence from individual performances is what differentiates them from the Warriors.

The Warriors reap the benefits of having Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, both of whom have helped the Warriors dig out of sticky situations.

The Hawks require their team to work together all the time. They dig holes and get out of them together. Because of that, their execution throughout the season has only gotten better.

The Hawks’ season can be broken down into two segments. October/November and December/January.

During the October/November stretch, the Hawks were a mediocre team (9-6).

During the December/January stretch, they flipped a switch and became unstoppable (29-2).

If we look at the numbers closely, Atlanta has not changed anything between the two segments, they are doing the same things, attacking the same areas and passing the ball the same way.

What they have improved upon is their execution — their passing is more crisp and consequently they are finishing better.

If we delve into Hawks’ advance statistics, we see that they do not rebound at a high rate (41.0; t-26th in league).

For the Hawks, that does not mean they aren’t a good rebounding team. They play a style where they compromise against rebounds for better spacing and ball movement.

Paul Millsap has a more-than-decent outside touch (.360 3PT%) and head coach Mike Budenholzer has maximized that for his offense. He is playing more and more away from the rim, which explains why they score only 41.2 points in the paint (No. 20 in the league).

It also doesn’t help that Atlanta’s centers play away from the rim sometimes as well. They give up points in the paint for outside shots (.387 3PT%, 1st in league), which is a great strategy considering the number of quality shooters they have. Consequently, their eFG% is No. 3 in the league (53.4%) which shows how deadly their outside touch is.

Obviously, you need a good post presence or two to keep the defenses honest. For that purpose, Horford and Millsap can more than post up from time to time.

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This is where the Hawks’ strength and weakness lies.

At any time, they have three players on the court who can shoot from the outside. They constructed a system which maximizes their dearth of capable shooters but leaves the paint open.

A team with capable big men can give the Hawks a great challenge.

Imagine Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson inside. Both of them can post-up and create. Atlanta would be forced to body up inside on the defensive end. Elton Brand would come off the bench more instead of Pero Antic, which would sacrifice their spacing.

So, because of great bigs, the team is forced to cut down their floor spacing on the other end.

The good news for the Hawks is that only a handful number of teams truly have the depth upfront to create a challenge, thanks to the small-ball evolution taking over the league.

On the other end, the Hawks’ ball and player movement makes it harder for the opposing big men to defend the them.

This, in turn, forces the opponent to go small themselves which creates a snowball effect and the Hawks keep on humming in their small lineups. But, all it would take is one good team which has a big who can move his feet well and defend the perimeter too.

The Warriors’s Draymond Green is the best example of that. How the Hawks match up against him and the Warriors is yet to be seen (tune in February 6th).

With more players playing farther from the rim on offense, the Hawks are able to set up their defensive formations quicker which minimizes fast break opportunities for the other team and forces them into half court sets.

Another positive outcome from their offensive spacing comes in the form of opponent fast break points they allow (10.7, 3rd best mark in the league).

With more players playing farther from the rim on offense, the Hawks are able to set up their defensive formations quicker which minimizes fast break opportunities for the other team and forces them into half court sets.

From there, they pack the paint like the Bulls and provide great help defense which shows on the box score. All of these elements combine to force turnovers at a high rate (15.8, 7th best mark in the league).

Atlanta does not have true shot blockers. What they do have are intelligent big men who move well and provide good help defense. Because of that, opponents have a hard time scoring against them close to the rim (opponents 39.3 points in paint, 5th best mark).

You could say that the Hawks’ offense fuels their defense (pretty ironic considering its usually the other way around).

The Hawks have a beautiful point producing system. It is efficient and like most motion offenses, ever changing. While their spacing on the offensive end does take away rebounds, that same spacing allows them to get into defensive formations quicker. From there, they pack the paint and hound the perimeter to force turnovers.

This is the system Coach Bud has created around the current Hawks — it maximizes the shooting prowess of the team.

This is how the Atlanta Hawks earned the best start in franchise history.

The statistics used have been taken from NBA Stats, Basketball-Reference and TeamRankings.