Let's go ahead and get this out of the way, losing Al Horford for the remainder of the season really sucks. It does. But the fanbase shouldn't enter a deep state of depression over it. The Hawks went 9-5 in the month of December, 2-1 without Horford, and still figure to make the playoffs. The month of December may be headlined by the loss of Horford, but it was still a pretty successful month for the Hawks overall.
What went right in December
- The Hawks found their stride offensively in the month of December. The Hawks were taking only 21.5 3-pointers per game in November at an average 35 percent rate. However, in December the team took 29.2 3-pointers per game and hitting them at a 39.7 percent rate.
- The Hawks have distributed the basketball well all season, but in December their assist rate rose from 23.8 percent to 27.9.
- Paul Millsap is going to be the guy the Hawks rely on with Horford out to shoulder the load offensively and defensively as well. Millsap's USG% was 26.1 percent in December. Also, in the three games without Horford Millsap's USG% was in the 30 percent range, which is LeBron James-esque. He's shown he can handle thus far averaging 20-10-3 this past month overall.
- Kyle Korver kept his 3-point streak going and had his best month of the season overall. Korver had an ORtg of 125 and shot 49 percent from 3-point land in December. Safe to say Korver has thrived in Budenholzer's system and its been fun to watch.
- The Hawks also went 7-1 at home in December. They averaged 110 ppg and 30.5 apg during this stretch -- and it led to victories. It's also somewhat interesting to note the Hawks were 7-1 on one day's rest.
- This is going to sting, but Horford was playing his best basketball of the season before going down.
What went wrong in December
- Not a lot went wrong for the Hawks this past month on the court, but there are a couple things. The Hawks turned the ball over roughly 17 times per game in their losses in December -- just 13 times in their victories.
- The Hawks beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but had a couple opportunities to really establish themselves against the better teams in the league and didn't come through. The Hawks lost to the Thunder at home by nine, the Spurs by two on the road, and the Heat on the road in double-overtime by two. Obviously, you can't expect them to win all of those but they were all very winnable games.
- Mike Scott figures to get a larger role in the offense. Why is that an issue? Well, Scott is averaging roughly two 3-pointers in 14.5 mpg at a 29 percent rate. On Dec.31 against the Celtics, Scott started the game for the team, went 4-of-12 from the floor and 0-for-3 from 3-point land. Sure, he's young and still learning but he's just not a guy the Hawks can play 30 minutes a night and expect to be fine offensively.
What to expect in January
With Horford gone, one shouldn't expect the same kind of success the Hawks had in December. Although, the Hawks schedule really doesn't get rough until February that includes a huge Western Conference road trip. I don't expect Millsap's USG% to go down, but I do expect Teague to experience a lot of growing pains without Horford. The Hawks toughest games in January are all at home except for a Thunder matchup in Oklahoma City. The Hawks get Golden State, Indiana, Houston, Miami and San Antonio at home in January.
Things may not be perfect in Atlanta, but this team made major strides in December and I don't expect a serious regression on the horizon with this roster and coaching staff.