Atlanta Hawks early season surprises

Kevin C. Cox

When asked to look deep to find surprises about this season's Atlanta Hawks, we struggled to find anything we didn't truly know already -- except for some things we thought we knew but didn't...so far.

We can say that Josh Smith's early season efficiency, a miserable 11.7 PER for the career 18.4 PER guy, is a surprise but we've seen stretches like this before out of Josh, where he forgets what makes him so good on the offensive end. It's your length Josh, not the length of your shot, you dig?

But this has happened before and Josh will spring back into good Josh mode and by the end of the season, we'll have the same spread of 10 uberly awesome games, 10 stinkers and the rest a mix of in between. It happens, it's normal, no surprises here.

Meanwhile, the rest of the roster keeps on chugging. Al Horford is his usual excellent self, settling in a little over 19 PER with good all around play. Jeff Teague has indeed stepped forward, with a 21+ PER and rate stats asploding across the board, especially assist rate, where if he maintained this all season, would be only the third Atlanta Hawk to produce a 40+% Assist rate (Doc Rivers - twice, Mookie Blaylock once).

Louis Williams has continued his efficient ways since arriving from Philadelphia, with over a 22 PER with a 27+% Usage rate while Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver are proving their worth/reputation as shooters, both browsing the 60% True Shooting Percentage aisle early on this season.

Inside, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson have chiseled their names into fan lore like truly only a couple of intense, physical, hate em if they're not on your team guys can do. No surprises there.

The continuing changes in the lineup and rotation from night to night are no surprise either, as we said before the season that Larry Drew was going to use his flexible lineup as his own personal rotational Rubik's Cube. Nor is the team's 5-4 record any surprise, especially with an early season West coast swing built in there -- these Hawks were going to be frisky, for sure.

You have to look real deep to find any real meaningful surprises with this team so look deep we did, and we did find a couple.

First is the pace at which the team is playing. Every season with Joe Johnson we were told how much these young Hawks wanted to run, but the fact was that the team annually finished in the bottom 10 in pace every season, grinding the game into a Iso-friendly possession hole.

This season, with Johnson in Brooklyn and Lou Williams and the cast of shooters on the team, we hypothesized that Larry Drew would finally be able to turn the team loose. And (surprise!) the Hawks are indeed #12 in pace for the season, at a higher rate than any Hawks season since 1993-94. If they finish at such a number, we will indeed be very surprised. Happy, but surprised.

Also coming into the season, we felt the offensive efficiency of the team was more than adequately replaced, maybe even improved, by the players brought in to replace Johnson, Marvin Williams and the rest of the bench. What we felt would be worse, however, was the defense.

To our surprise so far, this has played out almost completely opposite. The team is 25th in offensive rating and 2nd in defensive rating. Second look at Larry Drew, defensive expert?

Surely Josh Smith slow start has something to do with the drag on the offense, and the feeling is that, over time, our preseason hypothesis will be made whole.

But, for now, the team actually playing faster and the flip/flop on offensive/defensive expectations are the two biggest surprises of the early season.

Exit Question: What is your early season surprise for the Hawks?

All stats in this article is from the awesomeness that is Basketball-Reference.com.

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