The pleasantly surprising Atlanta Hawks

When preseason predictions were made in early October, no one could have foreseen the utter dominance by the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks. With a Charlotte Bobcats coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign looking to make some noise in the playoff picture, a revitalized Cavaliers squad with their prodigy LeBron James returning home to end Cleveland’s title drought, and a Knicks team that had playoff aspirations coming into this season after last year’s disappointment, everyone seemed to overlook the Hawks. No one can honestly say that they saw this year’s Atlanta Hawks taking that next step into the serious contender conversation…yet they’ve surprised us all, and here’s why:

Although this Hawks team lacks a true superstar player, they still are able to perform well as a collective unit. Under the tutelage of head coach Mike Budenholzer (who was previously an assistant coach with the wildly successful San Antonio Spurs), this team has utilized the value of the pass exceptionally. A direct result of their superb passing is a league-best 67.9% assist percentage. What that means is that of all the Hawk’s field goals this season, a ridiculous 67.9% of those buckets have come off an assist from a teammate, which helps illustrate how well this team shares the ball. The Hawks’ utilization of the pass has helped them carve out a top-10 offense in the league this season.

Another factor that’s contributed to the Hawks’ success this season has been their ability to play great team defense. Atlanta holds their opposition to 43.7% shooting on a nightly basis, which makes for 4th lowest in the association. Given how the team doesn’t have a true rim-protecting big to stop teams from driving, Atlanta has countered by mastering their defensive rotations. This allows Hawk players to create easy steal opportunities for themselves (Hawks are 6th in steals this season) and a bundle of fast-break chances.

Sitting at an impressive 32-8 at the near halfway point of the 2014-15 season, the Hawks have transformed into a perennial contender. With a bunch of good role players that fit into a well-designed offensive system, an unbelievable sharpshooter in Kyle Korver, borderline all-stars in Al Horford and Jeff Teague, and the believe that they can continue their success for the rest of the season, these Hawks are no joke. They are riding an 11-game winning streak after easily defeating the Toronto Raptors 110-89 in the Air Canada Centre last night. We’ll see if they can keep up their impressive play tonight when they travel to the United Center in Chicago to face the Bulls.

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