A year ago, the Hawks were entering a season with high expectations coming off of a 60-win season in 2014-15 and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The roster had largely remained static entering the season, however the wing depth was far from optimal. Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha, the returning wings that lead the team in minutes played the previous season (DeMarre Carroll had moved on in free agency to Toronto) were recovering from significant surgeries during the prior off-season. The Hawks would go a pedestrian 12-8 during the month of November with noteworthy losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves (twice) and the Brooklyn Nets.
Korver was inactive during two of the Hawks first six games while Sefolosha sat three of the first seven and played on a minutes restriction through roughly the first nine games. Additional challenges resulted from Tim Hardaway Jr. not being ready to contribute in the rotation due to a mixture of being limited by an injury in the offseason and just not being ready to be trusted with defensive responsibilities in the Hawks system.
Korver was coming off a historically great shooting season in 2015 threatening the rare 50/50/90 club (FG%, 3P%, FT%) for most of the season while Sefolosha was the Hawks primary wing defender during crunch time. The situation was so dire that Lamar Patterson, a player not even in the league at this time, logged more than 16 minutes at the shooting guard position in nine of the first 19 games last season. Even when Korver returned to his normal workload in terms of minutes, he was clearly not the same player; after a solid start he shot less than 30% from 3-point range in the month of December and less than 40% in January. While Sefolosha was not looked to for significant offensive production, the impact of his limitations were clear. During a loss to the Timberwolves in early November, Andrew Wiggins, Zach Levine and Kevin Martin combined to put up 59 points in what would be a season high 117 point performance (happened 4 times) for a Hawks opponent.
Atlanta is obviously very early in the new season, but have won their first three games with noticeable contributions from Korver and Sefolosha. Korver has made 9 of his 15 3-point attempts (60%) and is even creating his own shot at times with dribble techniques to shake a defender just enough to find the space to get his shot off. His volume from 3-point range has increased in each subsequent game including eight attempts in Monday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings, a target he hit just seven times last season. He leads the Hawks by quite a distance in both with an eFG% and TS% of 80.4%, which is the best mark in the league for any player logging more than 11 minutes per game.
Per NBA.com, Sefolosha has the in the league at +44.1 points for any player logging more than seven minutes per game. While the Hawks forward has rarely been relied upon in his career for a significant amount of offensive production, Thabo has hit 12 of his 17 field goal attempts. 43.5% of Sefolosha’s offense has come in transition, often started by his own defensive play. He is tied with Kawhi Leonard, the two time reigning Defensive Player of the Year with a league best nine steals. In Monday’s win over the Kings, Coach Mike Budenholzer opted to play Sefolosha during the final seven minutes with his primary assignment being to defend the Kings leading scorer Rudy Gay. In the closing stretch Sefolosha was able to limit Gay to one field goal on two attempts. The Kings scored only five points during his seven minute stretch which proved to be very instrumental in the game’s outcome.
There is a long way to go on this season and better competition on the not too distant horizon for this team. But Hawks fans should be more encouraged than one year ago at this time. Their wing play has been stellar with Korver and Sefolosha playing at a very high level thus far. Let’s hope their significantly improved health status can help them maintain this high level of play as the season continues.