By Craig Fields
Somebody call Rod Serling because the Eastern Conference of the NBA is clearly in the Twilight Zone. I mean if you look at the standings you will clearly see that the Atlanta Hawks are at the top, and not only at the top but seemingly running away with the conference; with their closest competition 3.5 games back.
And speaking of their closest competition, the surprising Toronto Raptors are in second place right now. They have managed to do very well for themselves considering that they have been without their all-star shooting guard, Demar Derozen since November 28.
But I’m getting off track a bit. The Atlanta Hawks are for real and there are a few reasons why that is the case. In my opinion their potential and growth started last year when they took a legitimate championship contender in the Indiana Pacers to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.
Jeff Teague, the point guard of this scrappy outfit, has really come into his own and has become a very capable distributor and scorer. He is the undeniable floor general of this team and accepts the role quietly but rather effectively. He does not talk much but performs exceptionally well. He has elevated his game and is averaging career numbers in points, field goal percentage, rebounds steals, free throws made and attempted.
If anybody thought that the inclusion of Al Horford would be an issue then they were sadly mistaken. The Hawks big man only played 29 games last year after suffering a serious injury that took him out for the season. He hasn’t missed a beat however, and is averaging decent numbers this season. He is still pretty far from the consistent double-double guy that he once was, but he will patrol the paint and give you everything he has every minute he is out there on the floor.
Kyle Korver, the sharpshooter, has become that all-around player that the Hawks need at the 2-guard position. He is shooting his best field goal percentage in his career, and is averaging close to career numbers in every significant statistical category. Oh and he is also shooting over 52% from the three-point line. Yea, big news flash, the guy can shoot.
Demarre Carroll, who is also having a career year in the scoring department is probably the Hawks best defensive player. He is averaging 2.4 steals a game and can take the opponent’s best player from the point guard to the power forward position on most nights. He is 6’8 212-pounds and knows how to move that big frame and defend. He is light on his feet and is unarguably one of the best defenders that the NBA has to offer today.
Last but certainly not least you have Mr. Do-It-All himself, Paul Millsap. He is just a baller. He is a guy who has been undersized his entire career. He is 6’8, plays the power forward position and has always been the scrappy guy. When he came to Atlanta last season, we really got the chance to see his game grow and change. He will score, rebound, get assists, steals and block shots pretty much every game. There won’t be many games this season where he doesn’t have at least one stat in every one of those categories. He is simply one of the best all-around big men in the game, and the Hawks would be hurt badly if they were to lose him.
The Atlanta Hawks have one of the best defenses in the game. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has his guys playing hard every night, and believing that they can win and win now. He is a shoe-in for coach of the year if this play continues. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and Washington Wizards may be the favorites to represent the eastern conference in the NBA Finals, but the Atlanta Hawks have definitely put the league on notice. Do not sleep on them, because they have the tools to beat ANYBODY in a seven-game series. Believe that.