The Atlanta Hawks, YOUR Atlanta Hawks are 23-8, second in the Eastern Conference.
These are the same Atlanta Hawks that have most of the NBA Watchers Elite swooning over the obvious Spursian transition that has occurred on the court. Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons of Grantland and many other national notable writers, including SB Nation's own Tom Ziller and Mike Prada, have taken turns pointing, highlighting and shouting from the mountaintop how much fun this team is to watch and imploring people to take them seriously.
This is the Atlanta Hawks we're talking about, remember? The same franchise that is always exiled to NBATV playoff coverage and never is allowed to participate in the usual relevant NBA reindeer games. Sure, there are still folks who don't believe, like Chris Webber, and others who want to casually dismiss the Hawks as small sample marvels, but that's ok, they'll come around.
Why? Well, because the things that have caused this change are more than just a couple of lucky bounces and hot shooting. What's brought about this run is a transition from isolation heavy, dribble-ball to a healthy offensive system and good fundamental defensive habits at work behind it.
It's been a long time coming for Bird Watchers everywhere. Even in the Lenny WIlkens era, the last time the Hawks looked like this in the standings for an extended period of time, it was mirage. Lenny's teams would often have a very difficult time getting the ball to go through the hoop, remembering a particular NBC telecast where Bill Walton implored the Mookie/Smitty/Mutombo team to "make a shot......please."
This Hawks team is a basketball revelation and that's what has the media dripping with enthusiasm about the team. Here is a snapshot of where they rank in some key basketball-y categories this season (per NBA Stats):
This is outstanding, btw. The Hawks are 11th in Offensive rating, SEVENTH in defensive rating and numero uno in Assist ratio. What's assist ratio? Glad you asked:
Assist Ratio is the number of assists a player averages per 100 possessions used. Tends to favor players who rarely shoot the ball. Highlights players with passing disposition. (AST * 100) / (FGA + (FTA * 0.44) + AST + TO)
Highlights players with passing disposition...to be #1 in this category means that everybody, everybody has this. Everybody is sharing the basketball, making the extra pass, committed to the best possible offense. This is what has led to their top five status in the eFG and True Shooting percentages.
In short, the Hawks are balling! On NBATV Tuesday night, Ernie Johnson, Greg Anthony and Webber agreed that someone on this team should get All-Star recognition, be it Paul Millsap, Al Horford or Jeff Teague. That the Hawks are a top team on both ends and yet you can't pick out an obvious standout lets you know how balanced and repeatable this success has been and is moving forward.
It's a great time to be an Atlanta Hawks fan! So why do I worry that it may change?
In case we missed it, the team is for sale and the architect of this success, Danny Ferry, is in Napoleon's exile right now. These are the open chords that have yet to resolve and threaten to short circuit the majesty this season is producing.
It stands to reason that the team, if sold, could undergo another change in philosophy. It's no secret that when Danny Ferry arrived, he set out to build the Spurs model in Atlanta, or his own variation on that theme at the least. Bringing in a coaching mind-meld in Budenholzer brought that vision to the basketball floor and the results have been fan-freaking-tastic, as we laid out above.
A new owner may mean doing away with Ferry and the social baggage from last summer, bringing in somebody that has their own ideas about what they want to do philosophically, which would mean a breaking of connection between GM and coach, likely leading to another change.
Maybe it would be better. I can't speak to a total unknown. But just the risk of tossing away this growth and momentum as a franchise is enough to brace for the worst.
My suggestion would be for anybody who buys the team is to not fix what isn't broken. Though I am on the record wanting Danny Ferry to stay, a new owner may not want the hassle of public opinion on the matter and gain a fresh start at the top.
If that were to be the case, I would implore this fictional new ownership to maintain the status quo in terms of direction and on court culture by keeping this vision in place even if the optics of Danny Ferry as Hawks GM has to be removed.
How can this be done? Keep Mike Budenholzer as the GM.
I would expect you'd bring someone in that would do the managerial items that would need to be handled to free the coach to do his job, but keep the synergy of vision that has been established by Ferry/Bud by keeping at least half of that equation, the part that has to implement this on the court, in place.
It would be Travesty Armageddon if this season were so positive and for the franchise to truly appear to be on the verge of smashing through many long standing memes about the team only to pull the curtain on it, call it quite a show and then begin the teardown that would accompany a new vision.
It doesn't have to be that way and here's hoping that future events move to continue and grow this invigorating success. Please.