Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> They’re the top team in the East right now, but they’ve also steamrolled their Western Conference opponents during this recent 23-2 run. This team is legit, isn’t it? Why are there still so many Hawks doubters out there?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Any team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this deep into a season is legit in my mind. The Hawks defend without fouling, or at least without giving away a lot of cheap points at the line. They shoot lights-out. They have worker bees to run down those vaunted 50-50 balls. I think any reluctance to give them their full due as a contender stems from three things: Limited history as a power since the ‘Nique years, the absence of an easily accessible marquee name/personality and, most of all, their style. Atlanta went “3-crazy” in the playoffs last spring out of necessity — no Al Horford — and doesn’t hoist ‘em from way deep quite like that now (five of their eight most prolific shooters in the postseason took 45 percent of their FGA from the arc vs. just two now). But the Hawks still score fewer points off 2-pointers than all but four teams and more off 3-pointers than all but six, and that heavy reliance on range doesn’t fit the imagery of grinding, assertive playoff offense.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, they’re legit. Their smackdown of the so-called power teams from the West proves that. The only reason that people doubt the Hawks is the long franchise history of mediocre basketball, early playoff exits, empty arenas and no excitement outside of Dominique Wilkins. They’ll fight their own past until they get a chance to do something about in the 2015 playoffs.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, this team is legit. The doubt comes because of the Hawks’ history, not the Hawks’ present. People are getting caught up in reputations. And the instability in the front office and ownership doesn’t help. But this isn’t this isn’t a sudden flash that needs to stand the test of time. People could see Atlanta coming at least a season ago and maybe longer. Besides, half a season with some of the wins the Hawks have had is a pretty good test of time. That’s a roster with talent and a smart coach who will have a lot of success.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The doubters exists because (a) the Hawks are guilty by association with regard to the crummy East, and (b) they have no stars, and (c) the Hawks have never won two playoff rounds in their Atlanta history, so folks are waiting to see what happens in April/May. Also, there’s the sense that when the Bulls get it together, it’s their conference to lose.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I can’t say why other people don’t believe in the Hawks, but I’m pretty convinced. They have the best record (9-3), the best offense (107.4 points per 100 possessions) and the second best defense (101.4) in games played between the league’s 12 best teams (the top 4 in the East, the top 8 in the West). Overall, they’re one of two teams that ranks in the top six on both ends of the floor, and they’ve played a tougher schedule than the other one (Golden State). Though Al Horford has come a long way since the beginning of the season, interior defense is still a bit of a question, so I’ll be curious to see them against Chicago on Saturday if both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are (relatively) healthy. Noah missed the first meeting in December.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Hawks are indeed “legit,” and then some. Yet, as a veteran of some of the most diabolically bad basketball ever unleashed on fans in Atlanta (13-69 in 2004-05 was uglier than the numbers indicate), I get the reluctance to buy-in locally. It’s hard to believe in a team with the history the Hawks have acquired over the years is as putrid as we all know it to be. Every glimmer of hope has been met with a door slamming in the face of Hawks fans eager to jump on a bandwagon with no wheels. That said, I don’t believe in the ghosts of basketball past muddying up things for the ghosts of basketball present and the future. And these current Hawks are giving you everything you need to believe that they are destined for something special this season. The Eastern Conference crown is there for the taking … so why not the Hawks?
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They don’t have anyone known for raising his level of play. That’s what the great players do, and that’s why they win championships. Will the Hawks be able to raise their level in the postseason? But then again, if the Bulls aren’t healthy three or four months from now, there may be no rival in the East capable of forcing the Hawks to achieve that higher level of play. What they’re doing right now may be good enough to earn them a place in the NBA Finals.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Atlanta sports fans have something I call the hammer of history constantly dangling over their heads. Over the last three decades, there have been so many Atlanta teams with championship aspirations who showed promise and got the city and the fans fired up, and then fell short. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles and managed one World Series title. The Falcons made it to the Super Bowl in 1998 and got whacked. Georgia Tech made it to the NCAA Basketball championship game in 2004 and getting bumped off by UConn. It’s been all tease and minimal payoff, and Atlanta fans are understandably tired and suspicious of handing over their hearts too soon. So I get it, I do. The thing is? Right now, this Hawks team is for real. There’s still a lot of season to go, and I know it’s hard to embrace anything with that hammer above, but enjoy it Hawks fans. Stuff like this doesn’t come along very often.