How did this team tear up the first half of the season? It's pretty simple, and during this slow week before starting back tonight, the Stat Geek Five will give you the overview of just how. In Atlanta, first and foremost, there is one philosophy:
"Defense wins champsionships." In the NBA and with the Hawks, it all starts with great D. Sadly, I hear a lot of detracting around the frontcourt, but that is one of Atlanta's strengths. Don't bother with your "Al Horford isn't a center" comments. He is, and he's one of the best in the league. Don't bother with your "The Hawks could never have a defensive wall like Memphis does inside." Not true! In defensive win shares, the Hawks have the player at #2 (Millsap) and #19 (Horford), one above the Grizzlies' pair at #3 (Gasol) and #20 (Randolph). Which brings me to another criticism of the Hawks, which is actually a strength:
2. A lack of rebounding
That's right: a lack of rebounding is Atlanta's strength. That stat is by design in Bud's system. The Hawks are more concerned with getting back to prevent easy transition buckets than grabbing offensive rebounds, and it has worked. Only Milwaukee allows fewer transition points per game. Don't worry about the rebounding stat. It is overrated in today's NBA game. In the past three seasons, the team with the worst rebounding per game won their conference, won the championship, and went to the conference finals, respectively (thanks to my buddy Nate for pointing that one out). Even if the Hawks were to finish last, they'd be in some pretty good company. They aren't last, though - Atlanta occasionally grabs a rebound, and when they do, it starts up the offense, which for the Hawks means:
3. Crazy good passing
It is well documented by the Stat Geek Five as well as plenty of others: the Hawks can move the ball. Only the Warriors have better assist per 48 minutes numbers and Jeff Teague is fifth in points created by an assist per 48 minutes (minimum 20 games). All that passing leads to great opportunities for the Atlanta shooters ...
4. And holy crap are they good at shooting off of those passes!
The Hawks dominate the league in catch-and-shoot scoring. Pick a category off of catch-and-shoot instances: points per game, field goal percentage, three point percentage, effective field goal percentage, etc - the Hawks lead them all, and by a reasonably wide margin. Horford and Korver are in the top 20 in field goal percentage. Korver and Carroll are in the top 20 true shooting percentage. Korver, Carroll, and Horford are in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage. How do they get such great looks?
5. Running! Lots of running!
Per the NBA's SportVU cameras, the Hawks are seventh in total miles run throughout the season. Korver is seventh in that category for one player at 126.9 miles, and every player above him averages more minutes than he does. The whole team averages between 3.1 and 3.6 miles per 48 minutes.
Perhaps most importantly to all of this, I'd like to point out that while I mentioned all five starters in the top 20 players of some category, none of the Hawks are in the top 20 in scoring. Not one. The constant ball movement rewards all players in the system and it was great to see four of the five starters selected to the All-star game as well as all five starters recognized as co-players of the month. Both of those awards really acknowledged the team play behind the Hawks' fantastic season.