The Atlanta Hawks are in a unique position at the moment. Normally, the NBA world greatly rewards the best teams in the league with "extra" All-Star nods, or at the very least, ties are broken in All-Star selections by simply giving extra emphasis to team success. This year, however, the Hawks could very well be the beneficiary of such a boost, as Atlanta currently sits with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and that is the backdrop for an All-Star update.
In general, the Hawks have four All-Star candidates, and they are Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Obviously, Atlanta isn't likely to garner four selections (or even three for that matter), and that means we probably need to be careful with raising the hopes of the fan base. Still, each is extremely deserving in their own right (at least if the season ended today), and we examine each player and their candidacy here.
There are two "locks" in the East at the point guard position, and they are John Wall and Kyle Lowry. Wall is currently leading all Eastern Conference guards in fan voting, giving him a starting nod, and Lowry is leading the East's best team as the best player by a significant margin. After that, however, the field is wide open.
It is fair to point out that there is no "quota" on selecting point guards, but in my mind, Jeff Teague is in a battle with Kyrie Irving. On the surface, that seems like a crazy thought to some, with Irving serving as a high-profile player who happens to be averaging 20.2 points per game, but Teague is actually the better defender of the two (which is a funny thought, to be honest) and again, the Hawks are having more team success than Cleveland is at the moment. If you are asking me who is getting this spot, I would tell you that it is Irving, but the gap isn't as big as it may seem, and Teague does boast a higher number (21.18) in PER at the moment.
Korver is the most divisive player on this list, simply because some fans and pundits don't fully appreciate his game. The sharpshooter is averaging only 12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, and those raw totals don't exactly scream at being an All-Star selection. Still, Korver's impact is undeniable.
Kyle Korver is the best shooter on Earth (or, at the very least, the 1-B to Stephen Curry's 1-A) and he is shooting 49% from the field, 51.5% from three and 93.8% from the free throw line. Hilariously, those are his shooting splits after a two-game stretch where he made just 3 of his 13 three-point attempts, and that illustrates just how ridiculous Korver has been this season. His impact on this offense can't be overstated in that opposing defenses have to account for him on every trip, and in a league based on spacing, there is no one who provides it more effectively than Korver.
Also, there is this:
Competition is tough, but Kyle Korver deserves All-Star consideration. Shooting an insane 52%/54%/96%, Hawks' offense dies when he sits.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 21, 2014
Obviously, the shooting numbers have changed since this tweet was fired, but when Zach Lowe speaks, you should listen.
Millsap was Atlanta's lone All-Star last season, and he has the best "traditional" argument for All-Star inclusion. The power forward is narrowly behind Teague in scoring on the team (16.5 points per game to 16.6 for his point guard), but Millsap leads the club in rebounding (8.1 per game) and minutes (33.5 per game) without the knock of missing any time for injury reasons.
Paul Millsap will never be a "sexy" choice for All-Star honors or any other acknowledgement, but he is incredibly steady. His chief competition here would seemingly be his teammate (we'll get there), but from a production standpoint, he would garner the nod.
We've seen the real Al Horford in recent days. The two-time All-Star center has seen his playing time and scoring production increase in December (31.0 minutes, 15.7 points per game), and his efficiency has not dipped. More specifically, though, Horford is beginning to resemble his old self on the defensive end with big-time activity, and while he will never be a traditional rim protector from a shot blocking perspective, his all-court awareness is huge and his range against the pick-and-roll is valuable.
The big knock on his candidacy will be his raw statistics. For the season, Horford is averaging only 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and without the added emphasis of being labeled as a "center" for voting purposes, that probably won't get it done. It is hard to envision the coaches taking Horford or Millsap given their profiles this season, even if I would argue that Horford is the better overall player.
Right now, no member of the Hawks should be considered a "lock". That designation is reserved for only six players in my mind, with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Lowry and John Wall as no-doubt choices. Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol are on the verge of that honor, with small variables for each, and Jimmy Butler has a better case than any member of Atlanta's roster. That would leave four available spots, and in addition to the four Hawks, players like Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and the aforementioned Kyrie Irving are in play.
Paul Millsap inspires the most confidence, but on the bright side of not having a "lock", there is almost no chance that a second-place Atlanta team would be shut out entirely. Stay tuned.