The Atlanta Hawks have won 16 games in a row with an under talented team. They have found lightning in a bottle, winning 37 games and only losing 8 en route to the most wins in the NBA up until this point. But what has been the secret to their success. They are not the Golden State Warriors who are stacked with talented and are flourishing in a system that gives their sharpshooters opportunities to let it fly from the three point line. Nor are they the Cleveland Cavaliers, another team on a win streak, who not only boast the best player in the league, but also have two superstars lined up next to him. The Hawks have a balanced attack of offense with the NBA’s best defense. Their success stems from playing as a team rather than playing “Hero” ball. And their success may be a sign of the things to come in the NBA’s near future.
The Hawks were not suppose to be this good. They didn’t land any big name free agents, instead getting sharp shooter Kyle Korver in a quiet deal. They didn’t have an unbelievable draft, nor did they got a top player in the draft. But, despite all this, the Hawks are thriving, leading the Eastern Conference by 6 and half games. How has this happened? They are playing as a team.
The Hawks’s starting five are all averaging 10+ points per game, with Jeff Teague leading at 17.1 and Paul Millsap not too far behind at 17. And three of the Hawks’s starters have a PER of 20+, with Teague, Millsap, and Horford at 22.6, 20.0, 21.4 respectively. Kyle Korver, the not so sought after free agent signing, is hitting 53.1% of his three point attempts and is shooting 51% overall. Everyone in the team is a threat to play well.
Mike Budenholzer is definitely a big part of this success. He was an assistant under Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, who has used a team-first approach to win 5-NBA titles. Now he has gotten a team to buy into the same approach, and it is returning dividends. Budenholzer uses every player on his team where he sees fit, and encourages ball movement and finding the best shot, not the first open one. He demands his players to give it their all, and his lineup has delivered for him.
I believe this is where the NBA is heading. Teams who play hero ball are floundering, as the superstars on their roster do not have much talent surrounding them. And smaller markets can find great success in this approach since they struggle to lure in big name free agents. The Hawks and the Spurs should be templates for undermanned teams looking for success. In the next few seasons, I believe we will see a few more surprise teams finding success the same way the Hawks are now.