In case you haven’t looked at the NBA standings in a while, there’s an unusual site at the top of the Eastern conference standings—the 37–8 Atlanta Hawks.
The red-hot Hawks, winners of 16 straight games, are in unfamiliar territory for sure. The franchise hasn’t even advanced to the NBA Finals since they moved to Atlanta prior to the 1968-69 season. Before coming to Atlanta, the then-St. Louis Hawks won their conference four times in five seasons from 1956-61, culminating in an NBA title in ’58—the franchise’s first and only.
Atlanta’s coach is former San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer, in his second season with Atlanta after posting a 38–44 record last year is obviously doing something right this season—so are his players.
The Hawks feature a balanced scoring offense with five players averaging double-digits in points, yet no one higher than point guard Jeff Teague’s 17.2 per game. Teague, who the Hawks took in the first round (19th overall) of the 2009 NBA Draft, also paces the team in assists at 7.5 per game.
Of course, the Wake Forest alum nearly bolted for Milwaukee in the summer of 2013, but Atlanta matched the Bucks’ offer of four years, $32 million and they are surely glad they did now.
Though the starting five of Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, and Al Horford is the same as last season, Horford was injured on December 26, 2013 and missed 53 of 82 games with a completely torn pectoral muscle.
At the time, the Hawks were 16–13, but were just starting to gel under their rookie coach Budneholzer, having won six of nine games. Without Horford Altanta went just 22–31 the rest of the way, though they gave the top-seeded Indiana Pacers a first-round scare, taking them to a full seven games before folding.
Now with a healthy starting five and a head coach who’s had a year to figure the things out, the Hawks are in the driver’s seat in the East. Advanced metrics show their run is now fluke either.
According to NBA.com Atlanta averages 107.3 points per 100 possessions—fifth-best in the 30-team league, while their defense comes in allowing the fourth-fewest (99.6) points per 100 possessions.
“We have beaten elite teams, but we can’t get caught up in every game that we [play] and say it’s a statement game. We’re just coming out here playing,” said Horford, according to an interview on rollingout.com after a January 5 victory over the Clippers. “We’re having fun as a team. And that’s what it’s all about.”