Can the Hawks Repeat Last Season?
*Photo via NYPost
Last season the Atlanta Hawks overachieved in every sense of the word and won a franchise high 60 games. Against the bloodbath known as the Western Conference, the Hawks went an impressive 21-8, which includes multiple wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets.
Hot’Lanta put on a display of dominance unlike any other during their 2014-15 campaign, as they made a mockery of any and every opponent-from late December towards the end of January – winning 19 straight games. I know Atlanta natives were probably thinking NBA Finals because that’s what it felt like. People actually filled Phillips Arena, which hadn’t been the case in recent years.
The Hawks have been a solid team for quite some time, qualifying for the playoffs eight consecutive seasons. However, last year was different. They not only qualified for the playoffs, but did so as the number-one seed in the Eastern Conference. And when talking about the Hawks as a team and a franchise, all of the accolades and the wins originate from the top of the organization. Mike Budenholzer, the head coach and newly minted president of basketball operations for the Hawks spent 17 years as an assistant to Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, winning four NBA championships.
We’ve witnessed the Spurs organization control the Western Conference for the better part of a decade as far as postseason success and championship are concerned. Their make-up and style of play represents the model NBA team. They share the ball and play lock-down defense, and that is something that most NBA teams still have not been able to master. But this past year we saw those same qualities in the Hawks.
They were nicknamed the “Spurs East” and rightfully so. In offensive and defensive efficiency according to ESPN stats, the Hawks ranked 6th in the league, sharing near identical stats with the Spurs. Both teams produced a 106.2 offensive rating while the Spurs bested the Hawks on the defensive end, 99.6 to 100.7.
And if the stats weren’t similar enough, the roster comparison is even scarier. You have the quick and speedy ball handler who is always a threat to knife his way to the basket and explode on offense in Tony Parker. Allow me to introduce Jeff Teague.
There’s the old pro who plays textbook basketball from the post, rebounding and scoring inside and out with consistency in Tim Duncan. Al Horford did the same. Two more names: Danny Green, Kyle Korver. We can honestly go all day, but you get the point.
New Season. New Uniforms. New Hawks?
Via Getty Images
Even though the 2015-16 NBA season still three-ish months away, it’s never too early to think about what’s to come. The Hawks balled out last year and the big question is; can they repeat their success?
I think the Hawks will be in the mix, but not to the point where a regular season matchup against the Golden State Warriors was must-see TV, like last year. However, Atlanta’s offseason wasn’t particularly hot, and a couple of teams are coming for the Southeast Division champs.
The Miami Heat will be healthy this year and that means Chris Bosh is coming back. Bosh missed the majority of the 2014-15 season due to blood clots in his lung. Bosh will be available to play this season and already has put the league on notice.
Dwyane Wade will be 34 years-old, but the three-time NBA champ is still one of the best hoopers currently playing. With two legitimate stars, the Heat have a supporting cast featuring a capable floor general in Goran Dragic, who re-upped with the Heat for five-years and a hefty $86-million. Luol Deng is one of the better two-way players in the league and Hassan Whiteside is enormous.
Amare Stoudemire joined Gerald Green, in heading to South Beach and the Heat probably pulled off the steal of the 2015 NBA draft in selecting Justise Winslow at 10th overall. Book it; this Heat team will be among the top five teams in the East.
Another reason why the Hawks might not match last year’s success is because of the Washington Wizards. If John Wall stays healthy in the Eastern Conference semis vs. the Hawks, the Wizards would’ve been the team representing the East in the NBA Finals. Yes the Wizards. In Wall, I trust to have a bounce back year, continuing to steal the spotlight of the top lead guard in the east away from Derrick Rose. Along with Wall, the same core remains with Bradley Beal and Nene in addition to solid free-agent signings in Alan Anderson, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and their 2015 first rounder, Kelly Oubre Jr.
When you think about what the Hawks are up against in their own division, it’s difficult to envision a repeat of last season, especially when they lost DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors this offseason. Carroll decided to part ways with the south and head north of the border. Four years and $60-million, can’t knock him for that decision. Carroll was the Hawks Swiss-army knife who produced on offense and still Junkyard Dogged the best perimeter player on the opposing team.
Possible replacements to play the lead role of Carroll, other than the newly-acquired Tim Hardaway Jr. are rookies Lamar Patterson, Terran Petteway and NYPD victim Thabo Sefolosha. The Hawks can still win. I predict ATL can win between 43 and 46 games, but 60 is unrealistic. Last season was a surprise; nobody is getting caught off guard this season.