NBA basketball is faster and more explosive than ever – that is, except in Atlanta, where the Hawks have been the Eastern Conference’s best team throughout the first few months of the season with a style that heavily contrasts with the new brand of basketball.
Second year head coach Mike Budenholzer is as calm as they come. No Hawks were voted as All-Star starters and the team boasts no true superstars. Despite all of that, it could be a historic year for the team formerly known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks from Moline, IL.
The Hawks have found their success while relying heavily on ball movement and solid team play, but an individual achievement may end up overshadowing that at season’s end.
Former Chicago Bull Kyle Korver is on pace for the greatest shooting season in the league’s history. He is looking to join fellow former Bull Steve Kerr in the 50-50-90 club, shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from behind the three-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line. This is a feat that Kerr achieved in the 1995-96 season playing alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Kerr, however, was simply an off-the-bench three-point specialist, a role Korver played for nine years until he arrived in Atlanta in 2012. Since then, Korver has started 175 of 189 games he’s played in. What’s more, Kerr played just 23.4 minutes per game while Korver is playing 32.9.
It is not often that players have career years in their 12th season, but Korver is doing just that. He has become a much more complete player, showing improvements in his ball handling, playmaking and defense all while increasing his scoring average. The 33-year-old has averaged 13.0 points per game this season, up a point from last season and the second-best average of his career. He has scored in double figures in 21 of 31 games, with five 20-plus point outings as one of Atlanta’s premier offensive threats alongside point guard Jeff Teague and frontcourt duo Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
The Hawks have become one of the league’s most efficient teams this season. Budenholzer spent 17 years under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and has brought that under-the-rim style of play to the Hawks. The NBA is a superstar-driven league, but teams like the Spurs and Hawks prove that good ball movement and fluid teamwork can thrive as well. All five of their starters average double figures, but no one is averaging more than 17.2 points a game (Millsap).
While Millsap has probably been the Hawks best player, Korver has been their most impressive. The efficiency he has played with is never before seen from a pure shooter. Among all players in NBA history, Korver’s current 72.6 true shooting percentage, a measure of overall shooting efficiency, would be atop the list.
Korver’s strategy is no secret either. If he has a clean look at the basket, he takes the shot. If he doesn’t, he passes and looks to run off another screen or spot up in the corner. The Hawks may not have a true superstar, but they have capable scorers at every position, and they all play to their strengths just like Korver.
You may think that their lack of star power will hinder their championship aspirations, but don’t be fooled – the Hawks are real contenders. Korver and his teammates certainly have higher hopes than individual accolades when the 2014-15 season concludes, but this accomplishment would be one for the ages.