Atlanta Hawks: Living Up to Expectations

The demise of the Atlanta Hawks was greatly exaggerated in the offseason. Summer in the NBA can be a dangerous place. The narrative fires get stoked and folks like me start to map out the entire impending season, knowing FOR SURE exactly what is about to take place. It’s a bloggers job to make predictions and start discussions. But, boy can we be wrong.

The common narrative this offseason was that the Hawks were in for a drastically different season than they had in 2014-2015. DeMarre Carroll left town and after a dismal performance in the Eastern Conference Finals it was trendy to pick the Hawks to regress this season. Hell, even I pegged them to finish third in the Eastern Conference and lose to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

What were the most popular prognostications leading up to the season? The Cleveland Cavaliers were going to run away with the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat were a sexy pick to vault up the standings and even the Washington Wizards got more publicity than Atlanta. But, narratives are just that. They’re narratives. They’re projections and opinions about what we THINK might happen. However, they still have to play the games.

So far, the Hawks have been fantastic. The games count and they just keep racking up wins. Last night they fended off the rival Washington Wizards with a 114-99 win. The win moved them to 7-1 on the young season, good enough to place them atop the Eastern Conference standings. Tied with the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They knocked off the Wizards thanks to 13 three-pointers and the steady play of Paul Millsap, who added 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. The leading scorer was the player making the biggest “leap” this season.

Kent Bazemore scored 25 points against Washington, adding another impressive performance to his 2015-2016 resume. The Hawks needed someone to replace DeMarre Carroll’s tenacious defense and three-point shooting. Bazemore is doing just that. Over the first eight games Bazemore is averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game on 50 percent shooting and 55.6 percent from three-point range.

Add in Thabo Sefolosha’s defensive contributions off the bench and Dennis Schroder’s mini-breakout (12.3 points and 3.8 assists per game on 45.5 percent shooting) and it appears that Atlanta is well on their way to completely replacing Carroll. They haven’t even needed the services of offseason acquisition Tim Hardaway Jr. He hasn’t even come close to sniffing Atlanta’s deep wing rotation. Wing minutes for Mike Budenholzer’s team are in short supply and Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Justin Holiday, and Lamar Patterson have proven to be permanent cogs in the machine thanks to one common trait; they all play defense.

The Hawks are not without flaws, however. They suffered an Opening Night loss to the Detroit Pistons, but since then they have won seven games in a row, looking every bit like the 60-win juggernaut they were last season. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. The small frontline still provides the rebounding issues; Tiago Splitter can’t solve everything. The defense is only rated as the 10th best in the NBA, but they’ve made up for that but having the 5th best offensive rating. The scary part is, all this early success has come with Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver still searching for their shooting stroke. Once they get back on track this team’s ceiling grows by leaps and bounds.

Monday night they’ll look to continue their winning ways as they welcome the feisty Minnesota Timberwolves to Phillips Arena. This game starts a stretch against teams that Atlanta SHOULD beat, but all will be tough game. After the tussle with the Wolves the Hawks battle the Pelicans, Celtics, Jazz, Nets, and Kings, before a November 21st showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s easy to imagine the Hawks rolling into Cleveland with a 13-1 record and revenge on their minds.

Optimism abounds, but it’s a long season. Right now they look great. They’ll endure some bumps in the road, as every team does, but it’s pretty clear that they remain championship contenders. Enjoy the ride, Hawks fans. This team is good, this team is fun, and this season looks like it could be memorable.

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