The Atlanta Hawks didn't lose a game in January; they produced the NBA's first ever 17-0 calender month. For their efforts, the Hawks entire starting five was awarded the Kia Player of the Month. Yes, you read that right.
Instead of picking any single player, the NBA decided to reward Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford. And why wouldn’t they?
The Hawks are one of a kind in today’s NBA. It’s becoming a bit cliché, but these Hawks are built in a different way from other other team in the association. They have all-stars like Horford and Teague, sure. But they don’t have superstars. Not a one. They have a vintage forward in Paul Millsap. Millsap, who developed in the Utah Jazz organization, is a poor mans Karl Malone. He boasts the ability to play back to the basket while also excelling in the pick-and-roll. The combo is as dangerous as it is rare. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver is putting together one of the greatest shooting seasons of all time. At age 34, Korver has the chance to record the first 50-50-90 season in league history: 50% from the field, 50% from behind the arc, and 90% from the free throw line.
So what is the secret behind all this success in Atlanta? The easiest, and perhaps most popular answer to that question, is second year coach Mike Budenholzer. “Bud,” as the kids call him, has brought stability, balance, and identity to the new-look Hawks. A longtime Spurs assistant, Budenholzer has also caused some talking heads to refer to his team as the “Spurs East,” but that comparison doesn’t quite fit. Why? Because the Hawks balance in the scoring department makes San Antonio’s roster look selfish.
During a seven game stretch earlier this season, the Hawks had seven different leading scorers. While the Spurs have long prided themselves on being ego-free and team oriented, they have an undeniable big three, and at least three sure fire hall-of-fame in Duncan, Parker, and Popovich. Atlanta, in contrast has a cast of relatively average players, playing at an anything but average rate this season.
All five starters are averaging over 11 points a game. Ten players have played in more than 40 games already, and no player averages more than 33 minutes a game. The Hawks are content in breaking the NBA’s so called superstar model, and if they do so by winning a championship, they will be in rare company.
Not since the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons has a team won a title without putting a single player on the All-NBA first or second team. The Hawks will likely have no player selected to either. It is a year in the NBA in which the team may finally trump the individual. Just below Atlanta in the standings is a team that represents everything the Hawks do not. They are Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It only seems right that James and company are compared to the Hawks. They are two ideoligeies fighting it out for supremacy. It is a fight in which, for the first time in a long time, the little guy may actually be the favorite. Of course, the answer to the superstar vs. team question won’t be had until the playoffs arrive, but for my money, these Hawks are ready for the tussle.