The NBA has long been considered one of the more predictable sports to forecast. Few sports can guess the final four teams that will be standing before a single game is played with the kind of accuracy even a casual NBA fan possesses. Sure there are weird, worst case, over thought, borderline dumb to begin with optimism Washington Wizards example every once in a while, but choosing the teams to reach the conference championship this year, it was really between about six teams in October, and it still is today.
Don't get me wrong, the predictability does not destroy the excitement and hope of a new season. For us Hawks fans, we wanted improvement on 47 wins. We wanted individual progression. We wanted to see our new rookie in action. And we hoped to close the gap on fourth the three teams above us. Coming out fast at the start of the season, talk surfaced about exceeding expectations, about contending for the conference championship. Basically, we started wondering if the Hawks were elite.
Yet, right now, the Hawks are only three games better than they were last year at this time. They are fourth in the east, and while I truly believe the 09-10 version of the team is better and will have an improved record at the end of the season to show for it, I wonder what exactly new we now know about these Hawks.
After the Utah win, my friend sent me a text message that said, "I don't get these guys at all." That is not to say he does not get the team's strengths and weaknesses. He knows his Hawks better than anyone. Anyone watches Atlanta for three games and he or she is going to have a pretty clear understanding of Atlanta's strengths and weaknesses (Tim Legler being the exception to that rule). And overall, the Hawks have shown improvement with a few more impressive wins and a better road record this season, but overall, this team is who we thought they were. A team we don't get.
At certain points in this season, the Hawks are a team that has played its way into legitimate conversation about being an "elite" teams in the league and is yet wildly inconsistent. One does not know what to expect quarter to quarter let alone game to game. In simple terms, this is a team with no identity. That is not to say they are not consistent. No, they consistently win and lose the same way. Shoot, the Hawks do the same thing every single night. Results just vary. But before you say it, Joe Johnson isolation is not an identity. I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich the same way every day, yet there is no marked characteristic about it just because it is repetitive.
So often other teams and their fans say, "I don't like playing the Hawks because of their athleticism and talent." What does that even mean? There is never "I don't like playing the Hawks because their athleticism and talent employed on defense" or "because they pound the ball inside relentlessly" or "because they run" or "shoot the three well" or anything. It is the "you have a neat personality" description of the NBA world.
And maybe the trouble with articulating any kind of specifics about the Hawks is because simply saying "being moderately to above moderately skilled at all five positions and not turning the ball over is good enough to beat anyone on a given night" is boring, but I still think there is something more to it than that. The Hawks all have roles and yet they are not all the right roles and so really they are not roles at all. It is why a team that has basically played together for three years still, more often than not, feels like a motley crew. It feels like a team that takes turns. Too get far too abstract about the whole thing, there is no interconnectedness and because of that or creating that, there is no sacrifice.
I don't know what team to expect tonight against Minnesota. I expect a win. Because the Hawks are good. They are really good, better than they have been in years, but there is still something deeply missing in this team. And it is not a seven footer or a better small forward or anything personnel wise. It is identity. This team's record can continue to go up and up with Mike Woodson, but until he finds a way to brand this team and, by doing so, bind them together, this is just going to be a much better looking version of his first squad.