The Atlanta Hawks, while perhaps not the most storied NBA franchise, have had their moments. They had one of the greatest scorers in NBA History in Dominique Wilkins for the bulk and prime of his career, and they were one of the most consistent teams in the NBA over a ten year stretch from 2007 to 2017, marking 10 straight playoff appearances. Let’s dive in and take a look at which teams could be in consideration for the greatest group in Atlanta history.
The franchise won a title in St. Louis in 1958, ten years before moving to Atlanta, but we will only be examining the history once the team moved to Atlanta for the purposes of this post.
2014-15: 60-22, Eastern Conference Finals appearance
The 60-win Hawks of 2014-2015 sit as the winningest regular season group in team history, but a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals leaves something to be desired with that team as a whole. Still, the team battled injures to Thabo Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll that postseason, their best two options to guard LeBron James, and some think that series may have played out differently if they were healthy.
Still, the team went on a ridiculous 17-game winning streak in the heart of the season and played some of the best team basketball the league has seen. With no true superstar, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver & Co. led a deep attack that game out victorious most nights.
1993-94: 57-25, Lost in East Semis
Led by a 34-year old Dominique Wilkins for the first half of the season and Danny Manning in the second half, the Hawks secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the absence of the then retired Michael Jordan. They would beat the Miami Heat three games to two in the first-round before losing to Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in six games in the semis. This Hawks team was very balanced, with Kevin Willis and Mookie Blaylock helping Wilkins/Manning carry the load.
1987-88: 50-32, Lost in East Semis to Boston Celtics in seven games
There are a couple better regular season performances to choose from for Atlanta, but we would be remised if we did not include the 1988 team that pushed Larry Bird and the Celtics to seven games in the second round. Wilkins was obviously the star of this show, averaging over 30 points in what was one of the best seasons of his career.
The series vs. Boston was a classic, with Bird and Wilkins exchanging blows and buckets for the duration of the series. Neither team could stop one another, and ultimately the Celtics were too much and prevailed victorious. Still, this may be the Hawks team that actually had the best chance at making and/or winning an NBA Finals, as they pushed the dynastic Boston group to seven games, and probably matched up with the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons, better than the Celtics.
The Hawks had a quick and physical group that include Doc Rivers and Willis, and had every bit enough to beat Boston, but just didn’t get the breaks. Atlanta was actually up 3-2 in the series, but the legend of Bird took care of the final two games for the Celtics.
So which team is the GOAT?
By the numbers, the 2014-15 team probably takes the cake. The team with the highest ceiling, in my opinion, was the 1987-88 team. Taking the team of the 1980s, as far as the Eastern Conference is concerned anyways, to seven games and giving them everything they want, is something that 2015 group can’t say. They also had perhaps the greatest scorer in the league outside of Michael Jordan in Wilkins, and who knows what would have happened if they were able to close out that series.
The 2015 team should go down as the greatest in Hawks history, however, as they advanced further than any other group while also having the best regular season in team history. Doing so without a true superstar makes an even more impressive team accomplishment. Despite not putting up much of a fight vs. Cleveland in the East Final, the achievements of this team should not be diminished. They had four all-stars (Teague, Horford, Millsap, Korver), who all shared the floor at once in the 2015 All-Star game.
No one on that Hawks team even averaged 17 points per game, something that seems impossible to do looking back given the success the team had. They also didn’t have any player average double-digit assists or rebounds. It was truly a group effort in all facets of the game. They were second in the NBA in three-point percentage and assists behind only the Golden State Warriors.
If someone wanted to go with one of the teams Wilkins pushed into the postseason, there’s certainly an argument for that, as he is unequivocally the greatest player in Atlanta history and the team likely had their best chance at a title while he was on the roster. But top to bottom, the 2014-15 team was the most complete in my eyes.
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