An Appreciation of the 60-Win Hawks Team

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 29: Kyle Korver /
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After two seasons of solid, 40-win basketball in the ’11-12 and ’12-13 seasons only led to first-round playoff exits, the Atlanta Hawks needed to switch things up.

The franchise did this by signing forward Paul Millsap to a two-year deal on July 10, 2013. At the time, it seemed simply like a clever and affordable signing to replace long-time Atlanta mainstay Josh Smith.

Teaming Millsap with Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver saw mixed results to start. Millsap was the lone Hawk to make the All-Star game, while the Hawks sat at a middling 25-26 record at the break. Things got worse in late February as Al Horford suffered a torn pectoral muscle, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

Millsap was thrust into a leadership role, but he wasn’t alone, as Jeff Teague began to make a jump as the season was closing; after being selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, the point guard was seemingly coming into his own — something he would build on next season.

The squad suddenly began to show great promise and chemistry after barely sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. They took the Paul George & Roy Hibbert-led Indiana Pacers (who were actually the top seed in the Eastern Conference) to seven hard-fought games.

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Millsap and Teague both averaged 19 PPG in the series and Korver shot nearly 43% from three. Despite their eventual defeat, Hawks fans were excited to see this team develop and play next season with the pending return of Al Horford. That surprising and eye-opening playoff performance also began to capture the attention of the Atlanta community at large, not just the basketball intelligentsia.

The team started the season the next season, as the team had only gone 5-5 through ten games. Then something magical happened.

On November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving that year, the Hawks beat the Pelicans to improve to 8-6. They started to fully realize their potential after this, winning their next nine games before falling to the Orlando Magic by one point in a home/road back-to-back. They then rattled off five more wins before a loss On December 26th to the Milwaukee Bucks.

On the 27th, they got back on track with a win vs. those same Bucks. Then, things really picked up.

The Hawks went undefeated in the month of January, an astonishing feat in its own right, highlighted by an incredible 19-game winning streak that captured the attention of the NBA at large, as well as the general public — whether they were NBA-savvy or not. Overall, Atlanta went 33-2 from November 28th to February 1st.

This period of time, with this Hawks team, was the probably the most enjoyable time for the Hawks franchise during its time in Atlanta.

Not only were the Hawks beating teams handily, but they were doing it with a beautiful, artistic style of basketball that was founded on ball movement and three-point shooting — the style of smooth, team-first play that  Greg Popovich made famous in San Antonio.

It didn’t hurt that the starting five was an exceedingly likable group of skilled players who complemented each other perfectly. Though they have gone on to successful (and extremely lucrative) careers on other teams, their efforts will never be forgotten in Atlanta.

January was the defining month for this team. Not only did they not lose a game, their entire starting five was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month. That’s right: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford shared the award for the singular best player of the month — something that will likely never happen again.