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Explaining the Hawks’ 3-Point Shooting Surge

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Atlanta’s 3-point percentage jumped drastically in January — is this sustainable, or just a blip?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014-15, the Atlanta Hawks were one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the NBA, finishing with a team rating of 38% that trailed only the Golden State Warriors. Last season, Atlanta’s 35% mark landed the team right in the middle of the league, and so far this season they have hit 34.7% of these shots (24th place in the NBA). This shouldn’t be terribly surprising for a team that traded its best shooter, especially since the Hawks didn’t profile as an elite scoring unit even with Kyle Korver on the roster.

However, in January of 2017 the Hawks are shooting 39.4% on 3-pointers, ranking seventh in the league. This is encouraging for the team, and undoubtedly a large part of why Atlanta has played so well as a whole this month. While it is unlikely that the Hawks will maintain this blistering pace, this trend could still point to real improvements for the rest of the season.

The Hawks’ top 3-point shooters (measured by attempts) are Tim Hardaway Jr., Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder, and Paul Millsap. Schroder is the only above-average shooter by 3-point percentage among these four, as he has hit 36.5% of these shots. The other three players are between 33% and 34%, helping to explain why the team as a whole has been below-average in this category.

However, the last month displays a dramatic change for each player. In January, Hardaway is shooting 41.0%, Bazemore 44.4%, Millsap 37.7%, and Schroder 37.5%. Other players have shot much better too, although largely on much smaller sample sizes. Malcolm Delaney, Mike Muscala, and Mike Dunleavy (already known as a solid shooter) are all over 40% for the month as well. In short, a group of players that has been below-average for most of the season in this category has performed near the top of the league over January.

From NBA Stats

In terms of what this means for the rest of the season, the first and most important lesson is caution. It’s extremely rare for a team to go from below-average to solidly above-average in roughly a month’s time, and it is unlikely that the Hawks will be able to keep this torrid pace up. The team has also played an extremely easy (on the whole) January schedule, allowing players to boost their statistical output against below-average defenses.

However, it’s still undeniably encouraging that the Hawks have been so good from 3-point range in the same month when they traded away their best shooter. It is also completely possible that players like Schroder and Hardaway actually have become better shooters, even if it will take several more months before this can be confirmed or disproven. Hardaway has taken more 3-pointers than any other player on the team, so the Hawks stand to gain much more from his potential improvement.

An uptick in shooting number is also important for more experienced players like Millsap and Bazemore as well. Both have struggled with shooting at times this season, and any regression back to their career averages is a welcome sign for the Hawks. Even though Bazemore probably hasn’t suddenly turned into a 44% 3-point shooter, this improvement means that he has probably gotten past his abysmal shooting in December, for example.

Whenever a team hits an abnormally high rate of any shot over a month’s time, the chances are good that such improvements aren’t set in stone. It is entirely possible that the team will soon regress to its season-long mark of just under 35%. However, seeing nearly everyone on the team shoot better from behind the arc is still encouraging. It may point to real, sustained improvement from players like Hardaway and Schroder, and less-glamorous (but still important) regression to the mean for Millsap and Bazemore.

Will the Hawks shoot 39% on 3-pointers for the rest of the season? Probably not, but even hitting somewhere in the 35% or 36% range would be both a welcome improvement over earlier in the season, and a mark that seems attainable. In any case, the Hawks have had a successful January, and this hot shooting is one reason why.

All statistics current as of Tuesday (1/30) afternoon and are via NBA.com/stats.