The Hawks reached the NBA All-Star break with a 31-24 record and a standing of first in the Southeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
And yet this break seems so different from last year.
Last February, the Hawks entered the break with a 43-11 record and led the division by 10 games and the conference by six. They had a 19-game win streak in the season’s first half. They sent four players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver — and coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff to New York for the All-Star game. They were accompanied by Dennis Schroder and Dominique Wilkins in other weekend events. The Hawks organization was well-represented. This year, just Millsap will be in Toronto after being named an All-Star reserve.
Inconsistent has been the word most used by players, coaches and fans. There have been impressive wins and awful losses.
Here is a report card of the Hawks’ first half:
At the point, Teague has not been the All-Star he was a season ago, but he continues to be a solid starter in the league. His assist numbers are down, and he hasn't finished at the rim with regularity. Schroder has shown flashes of being really good. His outside shot has improved, but he is too quick to let it go at times. The Hawks offense relies on its pace of play and the point guards are responsible for much of it. At shooting guard, Korver has had a frustrating season. He flirted with shooting 50 percent from 3-point range last season. He has struggled to shoot 39 percent this season. The other tenet of the Hawks offense is space, and Korver's ability to knock down shots goes a long way in opening up the floor. Grade: C-plus
At small forward, Kent Bazemore has surprised everybody with the way he has taken over for DeMarre Carroll. His offensive numbers are better than Carroll's in fewer minutes per game. He is playing out of position as he gives up considerable size at the position. It has been tough at times guarding bigger small forwards, and the Hawks have had to offer help defense. His versatility to go up against smaller guards with his length has been an advantage. At power forward, Millsap has been the Hawks' best player. He leads the team in scoring (17.7) and rebounding (8.6) and is second in steals (2.4). He will take his all-around game to a third consecutive All-Star game. Grade: B-plus
Horford is having another solid season in the middle. He continues to have one of the better mid-range games for a big man in the league. His 3-point shot has become an effective offensive weapon — more from the top of the arc than the corners. The league is trending toward stretch-5s, and Horford is growing into that role. He has been effective driving or rolling to the basket, something he should do more. His rebounding (6.9) is down only slightly from a year ago. Grade: B
The bench usually is an advantage against the opposition. At times it has been very good. At times, not so much. Schroder has speed and is a bother on defense to opposing guards. The Hawks traded for Tiago Splitter to help with a rebounding and rim protection. However, he has been nagged by injuries much of the season and has averaged just 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16 minutes. Thabo Sefolosha is a quality reserve and a very good defender. His ability to slash to the basket has been effective. Mike Scott got off to a slow start, but can still be effective when his outside shot is falling. Tim Hardaway Jr. has just become a regular part of the rotation after being very limited playing time to start his first season with the team. Mike Muscala has found himself in and out of the lineup. His outside shot is an advantage, but must continue to get stronger to keep from getting pushed around down low. Shelvin Mack is a quality third guard who has gotten little opportunity. Justin Holiday, Lamar Patterson and Edy Tavares are young works in progress. Grade: B
The offense has been the biggest reason for the Hawks' inconsistent play. When they place with pace, they are the same capable team from a year ago. When they bog down, the team struggles. They still lack a killer instinct to put teams away as evident by some big leads that have slipped away. The Hawks are 12th in the league in points scored (102.4) and 15th in offensive efficiency (103.1). They rank second in the league in assists (29.2), but 30th in offensive rebounds (8.5). While they rank eighth in the league in field-goal percentage (.460), they are 19th in 3-point field-goal percentage (.348). The Hawks rely on the 3-pointer and have not shot it well enough. Grade: C
The defense got off to a slow start, but has become a strength again. The Hawks rank seventh in points allowed (99.7) and fifth in defensive efficiency (99.8). They are tied for second in the league in both steals (9.5) and turnovers (16.0). Defensive rebounding is an issue as they are 28th in both average (32.7) and efficiency (.474). The Hawks won last season as a poor rebounding team, but it's an area that needs improvement. Grade: B
The Hawks have been inconsistent, yes. It's easy to lose sight of where the team currently stands because of the historic success of last season. This is still a playoff team. If they get the offense going they are capable of making a run. If not, it could be a very busy offseason and much different roster next year. The Hawks are good. They are capable of being better. Overall grade: B-minus
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