Are the Atlanta Hawks Actually Good?

The Hawks aren't the same team they were last year, but does that mean they're a bad NBA squad?

10:02 p.m. Eastern on November 9, 2015. That's when this Tweet went out courtesy the Atlanta Hawks' Twitter account.

Just one hour later...

The Hawks would go on to lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 117-107. Many were surprised not only by the first half butt-whooping but by the outcome last night.

Should that be the case? 

After looking at the numbers, not so much.

The Good

Sure, the Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll, their starting small forward from a year ago, to the Toronto Raptors in free agency -- but that hasn't actually been such a big deal.

Surprisingly enough, Kent Bazemore -- the primary replacement at small forward -- has outplayed Carroll. Through nine games, Bazemore has a nERD of 4.9 compared to Carroll's -4.9. Essentially that means that, to this point, Bazemore's contributions have netted his team nearly five games over .500 taken over an 82-game season while Carroll's have taken away roughly five.

For Carroll, it may be too early to tell if he will be as big of a loss as some thought as he still works his way into the flow of his new team while also dealing with injury. One thing we have certainly seen though is Bazemore's ability to step in and contribute in various areas. 

He's scoring (11.8 points per game) with efficiency (58.2% Effective Field Percentage), crashing the boards (4.7 rebounds per game) and even doing a little playmaking (2.7 assists per game). He's really stepped up in the absence of an ailing Kyle Korver, giving his Atlanta team the contribution they need across their balanced lineup in order to be successful as a unit.

As a result, the Hawks rank fifth in the league in points per game (104.2) and fourth in Offensive Rating (106.7 points per 100 possessions), and more importantly they're clicking on all cylinders offensively.

Don't believe me? Look at their shooting ranks.

Percentage Rank
eFG% 52.20% 5th
FG% 46.80% 5th
3P% 35.90% 8th
FT% 81.70% 4th

Shooting lights out from everywhere and anywhere is great, but it may not be the most vital key to the Hawks' top five offense; their passing is the most crucial.

Their league-leading 26.9 assists per game proves their elite distribution skills. Where they set themselves apart, however, is on their percentages of field goals and threes assisted. At 60%, they rate third in the NBA in terms of percentage of 2-point field goals assisted, and at 97.1% -- I repeat, 97.1% -- they lead the league in percentage of 3-point field goals assisted.

Therein lies the continued offensive success of the Hawks, based on a full team effort and unselfishness. They're clearly willing to pass up good shots for great shots in order to excel as an elite NBA offense.

The Bad

Obviously the Hawks do not have any offensive issues. Where their struggles have come into play is on the defensive end -- as evidenced by their first half performance just a night ago.

At the same time their offense is elite, their defense is just average. They play at the league's 16th-fastest pace but still manage to surrender 100.3 points per game on a Defensive Rating of 102.7. Those two figures place them 13th and 16th among all NBA teams in their respective categories.

Why are they so much worse than they were a year ago, when they ranked fifth and sixth in points allowed and Defensive Rating? Using Carroll as the reason would be an excuse. Rather, it has been their inability to contest opponents' shots and, when they do force misses, secure defensive rebounds.

Atlanta ranks 19th in Effective Field Goal Percentage allowed, but that number seems much worse when you consider how many field goal attempts their opponents take per game -- which is 86. Of those 86 attempts their opponents make 38.1; both of those numbers are dead last in the league. Why?

The Hawks flat out cannot rebound! They're last in the league across the board -- total rebounds, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds...breakup rebounds. If it deals with rebounds, you name it, and they're last in it. That has caused more shots to be taken, shots made and, ultimately, points scored.

In order to fix their defense problem, they must first recognize and fix their rebounding problem. It might their only true weakness. Until then, they're going to continue to lose games by giving up big points to teams like Detroit and Minnesota, who outrebounded the Hawks 99 to 67 in their two losses.

The Answer

So, with that being said, are the Hawks really good?


But they could be down the line. There's a lot of hope with their offensive philosophy and firepower. Like I said, if they improve their rebounding problem, that might fix a lot of other issues caused by that same problem. 

Eliminate the giant crack in the ceiling, and the leaks should stop. Until that's taken care of, the Hawks will be treading unnecessary water -- and I don't know about you, but I can't endorse a team doing that.