Your Atlanta Hawks have just completed a tough three game road trip, that was crucial to them making a statement to the rest of the Association. What type of statement they made would be dependent on not only the outcome of the games, but also their performance against superior competition. Following their win at home against the Chicago Bulls, the Hawks hit the road for three games against the Cavs, Rockets and the Mavericks. Three teams with a combined record of 50-22 heading into this past Wednesday night. So what kind of statement did they make? They put the league on notice: This team is real. Like…for real, for real. Here are the seven major things we learned from the trip…
- Dennis Schröder is the real deal. – His starting abilities were on display from his first start. From catching Bron Bron sleeping in the paint for an easy bucket to throwing lob passes to Horford against Dallas, this kid has come out to prove that he is ready to take the next step in the absence of Jeff Teague. After scoring a career high 22 points in their latest game against the Mavs, the PG has officially made it known that he is ready and willing to lead this team when they are ready to have him. This is not an open endorsement for him to start over Teague, and down the road he will no doubt show his youth and inexperience one way or the other. Regardless when/if Teague is no longer an option for the Hawks as their starting PG, Schröder has proven that he is the real deal for the future of the Hawks squad.
- Coach Bud needs an extension. – I mean, I know there is still basically a “For Sale” sign in front of Phillips arena for the franchise, but can someone get in touch with the front office and get this deal done already? Even before the game Monday night, Mavs Coach Rick Carlislie was quoted as calling Coach Bud “the most underrated coach in the game”, not to mention referring to the Hawks as similarly underrated as a whole. This man is already being discussed for COY honors, and has brought this team into a place it has not been in a very long time; including now being respected by the rest of the Association and the National Media. Team chemistry is at an all-time high. This offense is showing ball movement like we’ve never seen and the defense is playing with an intensity that most teams in the league envy. We regularly see coaches pursued that come from prestigious coaching family trees, and Coach Bud’s background is no different, but it is rare that they work out this well. Whatever it takes, get it done, and get it done immediately, before he feels the need to go elsewhere.
- Speaking of defense, this one is swarming… – A Public Service Announcement for the rest of the league: DO NOT try to come in the paint against this Hawks team. While they may not be the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons type of paint defenders, there is still little success to be found for most teams against the Hawks. Even superstars like Bron Bron and Dwight Howard had mediocre nights in the paint, where both of them tend to earn most of their paychecks. It is true that they are lacking in size and depth compared to most other teams in the league at the 5 position, but Al Horford is undoubtedly the star of this team currently, and he has the physical ability to compete with any other center in the league. Coming off the bench, Pero Antic has more than held his own thus far this season. Nonetheless, it is still hard to be certain that their size in the post can win them a seven game series in the postseason. But the help defense and the way this team swarms to the ball, especially in the paint, has been crucial to their success in this most recent streak, and in these last three games on the road.
- The Hawks bench is one of the best in the East. – While Pero has been a pleasant surprise at Center, there are many other players outside the starting five that have made significant contributions so far this season. Shelvin Mack and the aforementioned Dennis the Menace are prime examples of the depth of this current roster. Both have put up career high numbers in just three games of Jeff Teague’s absence, 24 points for Mack against the Cavs and 22 points for Dennis against the Mavs, respectively. Offseason pick-up Thabo Sefolosha has been equally impressive backing up DeMarre Carrol, and Mike Scott and Elton Brand have performed similarly well behind Paul “Trillsap”. Lest we forget about Adrien Payne also in the PF pipeline for the Hawks, who recently had an 18point, 9 rebound performance in an Austin D-League game, and is looking more and more each day like he is ready to grow at the next level when the Hawks come cawling.
- This team can compete with the West contenders. – Even before the end of the most recent 9 game win streak, the Hawks have been hearing from the National Media that they had a weak schedule, and that this current 5-game span would serve as the barometer for the true ability of this team. Well how do we look now? Following their win against a mostly healthy Chicago team at home, the Hawks have gone on the road to smash the ESPN-darling Cavaliers (127-98), and soundly (for the most part) beaten two of the league’s leading scoring offenses in the Rockets and Mavs. Are we real enough for you now? The Hawks are now 5-2 against the Western conference and are 15-5 against their own Eastern conference foes, putting them firmly in second place, only a game behind the Toronto Raptors.
- Kyle “Threezus” Korver should be on the All-Star roster. – Beyond the fact that one of my favorite NBA writers has already acknowledged the same thing, his stats on the season are simply insane. If his current 52%/54%/96% slash line wasn’t enough for you, or the fact that he just set a new Hawks franchise record for most consecutive FT’s made (50), then perhaps one of his new nicknames will get you on board (Threezy, Threezus, Kawl Sauz, etc). If that still doesn’t work, then just GTFO. He’s been playing out of his mind since coming to Atlanta, and this season is just even better. He’s an integral part of this offense, and the Hawks would not be this far without him. Their offense almost shuts down without him on the floor. I’m not trying to make a case for MVP, but let’s get real here, the man deserves to be an All-Star.
- Al Horford is getting healthy and back to full strength. – Many of us wondered what type of player Big Al would be this season, especially early on. While he definitely showed some “growing pains” at the start of the season, he is getting better and better with each game. We are finally getting to the point where his full length on the floor is being recognized, and it couldn’t come at a better time. After being named an Eastern Conference Player of the Week this week, along with Dame Lillard following a stunningly good performance against the Spurs, I’d say its official that Mr. Scoreford is finally back to full form.
The Hawks play the LA Clippers this Tuesday, December 23rd in their first game back from this impressive trip. Every Hawks fan in the city of ATL should do everything they can to get down to Philips Arena to support this squad. Besides being able to watch this fantastic squad, we’ve also got the best in-game entertainment from Sir Foster on the Organ, Harry the Hawk for the kids, and who wouldn’t want to see Bob Rathbun’s immaculate (possibly fake) teeth in person? Get your tickets to the game here, and we’ll see you at Philips! LET’S GO HAWKS!