What a difference a year makes for the Atlanta Hawks.
This time last year, the Hawks were 20-7 and on their way towards the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, where they’d eventually be swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Since starting off this season 7-1, the Hawks haven’t lived up to lofty expectations and have been inconsistent while their weaknesses continually get exposed. After adding Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday this offseason, Atlanta is just 15-12 and fighting for playoff position as they currently sit tied with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We got a lot of new guys – we got to figure out a lot of stuff and gel together, but ultimately we think we will be alright,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “I think last year we won a lot of games. This year, it’s about the bigger picture and trying to win a championship. [We are] still trying to win games, but we are still looking past that and hopefully we can get a little further than we did last year.”
Luckily for the Hawks, their All-Star power forward continues to play at an elite level this season, averaging 18.1 points and 9.0 rebounds a game while posting 11 double-doubles thus far. Millsap also leads the team in steals, which is an odd quirk considering most steals leaders in the league are perimeter defenders.
A couple of things Millsap and Co. definitely must improve upon if they plan on making another deep run in the playoffs is rebounding. Besides Millsap, only center Al Horford averages seven or more rebounds a game. As a result, the Hawks rank dead last in the league in rebound percentage, per NBA.com:
“We got to do a better job of getting rebounds. Myself and the rest of the guards got to do a better job of getting the long rebounds,” Hawks point guard Jeff Teague said. “It’s been a tough month for us; a lot of games in a short amount of time – everybody got to go through it, hopefully we can get on a roll and keep playing well.”
After posting winning streaks of six and nine games along with a franchise-record 19-game winning streak last season, the Hawks have failed to post a winning streak of more than two games since winning seven straight after the first game of the season.
In that span they’ve compiled an (8-11) record, which includes a disappointing stretch of 11 games of alternating wins and losses: not what you’d expect from a well-coached team that won 60 games just a season ago:
“[We] are trying to be consistent as a team; trying to make sure we are defending and rebounding; I think that’s the key,” Horford said. “We have to stay together as a team, and make sure that we hang on.”