Atlanta Hawks: Mike Budenholzer Is Still One Of The NBA’s Elite Coaches

Feb 25, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer talks with forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Orlando defeated Atlanta 105-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer talks with forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Orlando defeated Atlanta 105-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been a very sour ending to the Atlanta Hawks season thus far. With 5 games left, the Hawks are on the borderline of being a below .500 ball-club for the first time since the 2013-2014 NBA season. Despite an up and down year, the Hawks will most likely make the playoffs. Yes, the Hawks have had a tough year. But Coach Mike Budenholzer has managed to keep Atlanta somewhat competitive since taking over in 2013.

As the season winds down, there have been many Atlanta Hawks fans questioning if Mike Budenholzer is a good coach, and rightfully so. With the way Atlanta’s season has gone, they have every reason to question Budenholzer’s abilities as a coach.

It’s only fair that he takes some of the blame for the Hawks not playing as good as they might have imagined. But we also have to be fair about the talent the Hawks came in with this season. Budenholzer had an average ball club with All-Star/superstar level expectations.

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Were the Hawks really expected to be a 50+ win team with a starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Paul Millsap, and Dwight Howard? There is only one NBA All-Star on the team and that’s Millsap. Don’t get me wrong, these players all have some type of strength that we’ve all seen at some point in the season.

Every player in that lineup outside of Schroder is known for their defense. That may explain why for the majority of the year the Hawks were ranked in the top 10 in that category. But where were the Hawks going to find offense this season?

Paul Millsap is offensively the best player on the team, but he’s no Kevin Durant or Steph Curry. He takes what the defense gives him, but he’s not going to knock down three long-range shots in a row to help the Hawks win a game.

The Hawks traded their best 3-point shooter in Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Schroder has a great mid-range jumper. But with the league shooting so many threes per game, that shot has proven to be less efficient, unless you’re taking them at a high rate and making them at a high rate.

Dwight Howard is a rebounding machine. But he can’t score outside of the paint. His free-throw percentage, as we all know, is among the worst in the league. Thabo and Kent are good defensive players. They both can shoot the long-range shot at times, but not consistently.

Tim Hardaway Jr. provides an offensive spark off the bench, but that’s just an unexpected bonus for the Hawks. I could go on all day about what this team lacks. What matters is what Coach Mike Budenholzer has done despite the lack of talent.

Besides not having a superstar, the Hawks have a different team than last year. The Hawks lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford. While these players aren’t the best, they were important pieces to Hawks basketball. Horford spaced the floor with his midrange shot and developing 3-pointer. Teague knew Bud’s system well after having several years learn it. It was perfect for the type of point guard Teague is.

This year, Budenholzer had to teach Schroder and Dwight the system, help mold a young point guard in his first year as a starter, help the team build chemistry, and even tweak the system because of how Howard plays.

Schroder is exceptional at driving to the basket, but it is essential that he has a center that can shoot. Golden State can get away with having a traditional center because they don’t have to rely on drives to the basket.

For Budenholzer to even have this team in 6th place in the Eastern Conference is amazing. The Hawks are the only team with a playoff spot who doesn’t have a guy that averages 20+ points per game.

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Sure Millsap or Schroder could average 20+ points, but that’s not how Coach Budenholzer’s system works. What’s the point of having a guy score that much if they have to struggle to do it? Atlanta doesn’t have a guy like PG-13, LeBron James, or Russell Westbrook who can score with ease.

Hawks basketball is about ball movement and has been since Budenholzer joined Atlanta. That’s how the Hawks went 60-22 in the 2014-2015 season. There weren’t any superstars on the team, just like there aren’t any now.

Budenholzer’s overall winning percentage is 57.3%. This is incredible for someone who didn’t have a player they could call on to make a clutch basket when the Hawks needed it. But Budenholzer never made an excuse for his team.

Even when the Hawks didn’t have Al Horford in the 2013-2014 season, Atlanta almost upset the top seeded Pacers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The next season he used Horford and Teague and put on a pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll clinic to beat opponents. When the Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors, they still managed to go 48-34. Carroll was the team’s second best defender on the team the year they went 60-22.

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Since Budenholzer has been here, he’s made the best of every situation. No matter how great of a coach you are, the talent has to be there. It would be a scary sight for the Hawks to have a superstar/superstars on their team while Coach Mike Budenholzer is still in charge.