It is safe to say this year has not turned out exactly how the Atlanta Hawks envisioned. After taking the NBA by storm last year on their way to a franchise-best 60 wins, the Hawks have looked nothing more than average on a nightly basis. The team that only lost 22 games a year ago, has now already lost 28 games with still 21 games left to play. Atlanta was a very solid defensive team in the 2014-2015. They ranked 7th in defensive efficiency, giving up 100.7 points per 100 possessions. This combined with fluid offense made for a deadly threat that ran through the rest of the Eastern Conference. Atlanta does not feature a true rime-protector, so they rely on terrific team defense and their rotations to keep opposing teams on lock. The Hawks were looking for answers on both sides of the ball heading into the All-Star break. They even contemplated blowing up their core at the trade deadline. While they have still yet to find the answers for their offensive woes, Atlanta has become a defensive juggernaut over the last month.
The Hawks led the league in defensive efficiency by a large margin in the month of February.
Top team defensive ratings in FEB
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 1, 2016
The team’s recent terrific defensive effort moved Atlanta into second place in defensive efficiency for the year, and it does not look like things are going to change in the month of March. The Hawks kicked off their March calendar with a showdown in Golden State. The Warriors were without Steph Curry, however, even without the sharpshooter Golden State showed why they have been so dominant this season, especially at home. The Warriors got off to a hot start by scoring 59 points in the first half, but the Hawks were making them earn it and in the second half it showed. The best offensive unit in the league managed a mere 38 second half points and finished with a shooting percentage below 40%. With Steph Curry or not, that is almost unheard of for a Warriors offense that has torn through the NBA over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, the Hawks could not put it together on the offensive end and fell in overtime.
There is no doubt the effort has been there for the Hawks, but things just have not come as easily for this team like they did last year. The offense seems to be moving at slow motion at times, and the signature fluid ball movement we saw from Atlanta last season has been obsolete. Jeff Teague has struggled for the majority of the year, and it is now a significant question whether he will even be the team’s starting point guard come playoff time. Schroder has excelled off the bench this season averaging over 11 points and close to 5 assist per game. It was Schroder’s presence that got the Hawks going offensively against the Warriors, as he finished with 17 points and 9 assists, and Coach Budenholzer opted to ride with the Golden Patch down the stretch. With Atlanta’s defense playing at a championship level, it will be interesting to see how Budenholzer allocates the minutes between the two star point-guards, because there is no doubt this team needs a boost offensively.
One thing is for sure, Atlanta’s defense is not going anywhere. From the moment Coach Bud stepped in the Hawks locker room, he has constantly preached the importance of team defense. Atlanta was a good defensive team a year ago, but have become a great defensive team this year. That kind of effort will pay off come playoff time, however, Atlanta is going to need to find some of their offensive groove from last year if they want to find themselves back in the Eastern Conference Finals.