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Atlanta Hawks trending upward at halfway point of regular season

The Atlanta Hawks are trending upward at the midpoint of the NBA season.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have reached the halfway mark of the season and, at 24-17, sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. It has been an up and down affair but the Hawks have been trending in the right direction of late. Here is how they have stacked up.

What went right through the first 41 games?

The Atlanta Hawks have showed that they are capable of beating some of the best teams in the league during the regular season. They have victories over Cleveland, San Antonio, Toronto and Oklahoma City. They also have losses to Minnesota, the Lakers, Suns and Orlando. They began the season with a 9-2 start and followed that up by going 5-13 over their next 18 games including a 1-10 stretch. However, they recovered nicely, and are 10-2 over their last 12 games which includes a seven-game winning streak.

Dennis Schröder has taken another step forward as Atlanta’s lead guard, while Paul Millsap has maintained an All-Star level despite having his name out there in various trade scenarios. The Hawks have also done a good job of incorporating Dwight Howard into the team and he has singlehandedly vaulted them into the upper half of the league in rebounding.

What went wrong?

During that 5-13 stretch, not only did Atlanta have trouble scoring, they were having difficulty stopping anyone either. This team is built on a defensive identity but it completely lost its way early on. They seem to have recovered at this point but finding some level of consistency could likely be the difference in capturing home court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs versus opening the postseason on the road.

Atlanta came into the season with a number of question marks surrounding the future outlook of the team. Paul Millsap’s name was thrown around and it appeared that hitting the reset was not just possible but inevitable after they agreed to deal Kyle Korver to Cleveland. However, the Hawks zigged when they could have zagged and later informed teams that they had pulled Millsap back off the trade market.

While that could be described as posturing, the team went a step further and told Millsap that he would not be dealt at the deadline. Atlanta certainly has the ability to revisit a Millsap trade, but it seems highly unlikely that they would do so after informing him that he wouldn’t be dealt.

So that begs the question, why trade Korver at all? While Korver’s defensive numbers have slipped this season he was still the best shooter on a team that struggles at best to make shots from the perimeter. If Atlanta was prepared to hit the reset button then what changed and who made the call? The uncertainty of who is calling the shots isn’t a good look as the team heads into the second half of the season and into another pivotal offseason.

Team statistical trends

At the halfway mark of the season, Atlanta is fifth in defensive rating at 102.4 and 21st in offensive rating at 103.0. That offensive number has been on the climb over the last 12 games. The Hawks rank 13th in rebounds per game (44.0) and rebounding percentage (50.4).

They were struggling with turnovers a quarter into the season but have dialed those back a bit but still rank 25th in the league at 15.5 per game.

Player by Player grades

Dwight Howard - B (Last B)

Howard posted good counting stats over the first 41 games averaging 13.9 points and 13.3 rebounds. He is shooting over 64 percent from the field but is averaging just 8.6 shot attempts per game.

He has done a great job of fitting in with Atlanta but is essentially the same player that he was last year in Houston. There are certain nights where he is still a major factor and there are other nights where the matchup dictates that he not be on the floor.

Overall I think the Hawks would have to be pleased with Howard’s season so far. He has been largely responsible for their rebounding improvement and has given them a presence inside. He has shown major improvement at the free throw line. After shooting less than 50 percent in October and November, Howard has been above 60 percent through December and so far in January.

Howard seems to fit in well but there has been at least one report surface that chemistry issues exist between he and one of his teammates. I don’t think it is something that should be focused on but it is something to keep an eye on should Atlanta face another tough stretch this season.

Paul Millsap - A (Last A)

Millsap is turning in another All-Star season averaging 17.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is averaging 34 minutes a game and is the one player that Atlanta simply has no replacement for on the roster. Millsap’s versatility continues to be his biggest strength. He’s the anchor of the team defensively and has guarded everyone from small forwards to opposing centers.

He’s also had to perform while having his name bantered about in trade rumors. To his credit he has been able to avoid the distraction and handled himself with class despite the questions about his future.

There aren’t many “A” grades up and down this roster but Millsap is clearly one.

Kent Bazemore - D (Last D)

It has been a rocky season so far for Kent Bazemore who just hasn’t been able to find a rhythm offensively. He hit rock bottom in December when he shot 33 percent from the field for the month and 15 percent from three-point range. His shot was such a mess that he shot just 53 percent from the free throw line over those 12 games.

January has looked a lot better but there is still work to be done. He scored 24 points and knocked down four three-pointers in Sunday’s win over Milwaukee. After that game, Mike Budenholzer talked about how Bazemore needed to focus on the defensive end of the court and allow the offense to come to him.

He has been better so far this month, but the Hawks need even more improvement from him.

Dennis Schroder - B+ (Last B-)

Schröder struggled a bit early on but took his game to another level in December averaging 20.4 points and 6.9 assists over 14 games. He shot the ball remarkably well during that stretch posting a 51 percent mark from the field to go along with 41 percent shooting from three-point range.

His overall numbers look good as well. 17.4 points and 6.1 assists on 47 percent shooting. He’s knocking down threes at a respectable rate of 36 percent.

There is still some room for improvement defensively but overall Atlanta has to be pleased with the job he has done in his first season as the starter.

Tim Hardaway Jr. - A (Last B+)

There are exactly two “A” grades on this list but I feel very comfortable assigning this mark to Hardaway given that no one expected this kind of level of production from him.

Hardaway started the preseason going 3 for 30 from the field which led many to question his place on the team’s opening night roster. However, he has emerged as a key piece of this team whether that is off the bench or as a member of the starting lineup.

Everyone knew Hardaway could score but he has been able to do it efficiently within Atlanta’s offense. In 39 games he is averaging 12.0 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. That three-point percentage regressed a bit in December but he has been red hot so far in January connecting on half of his attempts.

Hardaway is a great story. Atlanta paid a high price for him and then sent him to the D-League. He had every opportunity to pack it in but through hard work he has set himself up for a nice pay day this summer.

Thabo Sefolosha - B- (Last B)

Sefolosha got off to such a good start as part of Atlanta’s bench unit there was bound to be some regression to the mean. He quickly moved into the starting lineup and has established himself as the ultimate glue guy for this team. His shooting will always come and go but he will always make an impact on the defensive end whether that is guarding small forwards or chasing around scoring point guards.

Malcolm Delaney - C (Last B)

Delaney was a +/- darling early on despite some shooting troubles. Atlanta’s bench performed so well early on that it was able to cover up a lot of Delaney’s struggles. Some of those were exposed during that 5-13 stretch and he also spent some time battling his way through an ankle injury.

After shooting just 36 percent from the field and going 1 of 18 from three-point range in December, Delaney is shooting 54 percent so far in January and has knocked down 7 of 12 three-point attempts.

Delaney has done a great job running the team and is once again looking comfortable.

Mike Muscala - B (Last B+)

As I mentioned with Delaney, Muscala has had a wonderful season so far but got off to such a good start that some regression was to be expected. Still he has been remarkably consistent shooting above 43 percent from three-point range in November, December and January.

Muscala has emerged as Atlanta’s first big off the bench and has done a good job playing alongside both Howard and Millsap. Not bad for a guy that for a brief moment looked like he might be the odd man out in training camp.

Kris Humphries - D (Last C-)

Humphries completely disappeared from the rotation for a stretch but has found his way back to consistent playing time of late. As a fourth big, he is a nice player to have. He’s has a big body and he isn’t afraid to throw it around under the basket and on the boards. However, the Hawks have been particularly good defensively with him on the floor and that is the biggest reason for his falling grade.

Taurean Prince - C (Last B)

Prince’s grade drops largely because he has not been able to seize a spot in Atlanta’s rotation. After earning a lot of playing time early, Prince has seen sporadic time of late. He was yanked from the lineup after a minute on the court at Denver on December 23 and then was subsequently sent to the D-League for a week.

He played just two first half minutes before being replaced by DeAndre Bembry in Friday’s loss to Boston. He made a seven-minute first half appearance in Monday’s win at New York but didn’t see the floor again in the second half despite Atlanta being severely shorthanded.

It feels like the coaching staff may be trying to send Prince a message. He has shown a lot of promise, lets just hope that he can put it all together.

DeAndre Bembry - B (Last - inc)

Bembry hasn’t received a lot of opportunities but he has made the most of them when they have come. He was impressive in a couple of D-League stints and performed well in a win over Denver when he was thrust into the team’s rotation. Bembry has held his own defensively when he’s been on the court and looks like a playmaker on the offensive end. Unfortunately, there is still no clear path to playing time for neither he nor Prince.

Mike Scott - Inc (Last - Inc)

Scott has appeared in just nine of 41 games for Atlanta this season. He appears to be healthy now after being slowed by a knee issue early on however, he hasn’t been given many opportunities and hasn’t performed well when he has been on the court.

Tiago Splitter - Inc (Last - Inc)

Splitter last played an NBA game on January 31 of last season in Miami and there have been no new updates on his status recently.

Mike Dunleavy - Inc

Dunleavy appeared to be just spare parts in the Korver trade with Cleveland but he wasted little time in having an impact on his new team. Dunleavy helped spark a fourth quarter rally in his first appearance in a Hawks uniform and netted 20 points off the bench in his second. He’s a veteran who looks like he will fit in well with what the Hawks like to do.