Celtics – Hawks Preview: Is Atlanta a Legit Contender?

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Dec 2, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard

Kent Bazemore

(24) and guard

Dennis Schroder

(17) celebrate after a made basket against the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Celtics 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics host the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Atlanta Hawks, in TD Garden tonight.  For my Celtics – Hawks preview, I take a look at whether Atlanta is a legitimate contender for the Eastern Conference crowd, plus a look at the current Celtics’ roster.  Yes, there are STILL enough players to make a team!

I swear Danny Ainge is trying to set a league record . . .

 Hawks: Contenders, or Pretenders?

The Atlanta Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and are tied with two other teams for the most wins in the NBA today, so . . . .

Wait – that cannot be right.  The Atlanta Hawks are the number one seed in the East right now?  And are tied with Golden State and Portland for the most wins in the NBA?!?

What kind of alternate reality have I woken up in?

Let’s give the Hawks credit: they’re playing like a team that is going to be dangerous come playoff time.  Atlanta comes into tonight’s game riding a nine-game winning streak, with its last win (last night’s 105-87 thrashing of Philadelphia) coming on a night when three starters sat out.

When your team can sit your starting point guard (Jeff Teague), small forward (DeMarre Carroll) and power forward (Paul Millsap) and still win by double-digits in the NBA, you know it’s pretty good.  That’s 46 PPG the Hawks were without in Philly – and they still managed to put up 105?


One of the reasons the Hawks are relevant this season is their guard play.  I will discuss the value of guards in a bit more depth later today when I discuss a potential trade for the Boston Celtics, but suffice it to say, the NBA is experiencing a golden age of guards, especially at the point guard position.  Much like success in the NFL is dictated by how good your quarterback is, success in today’s NBA is strongly tied to who well your starting backcourt plays.

The Hawks start Teague and Kyle Korver, to the tune of about 30 points and 10 assists per night.  Teague may get more votes for who is Atlanta’s All-Star, but Korver is a huge reason why the Hawks have the league’s second-best success rate behind the arc this season – his 52.5% three-point shooting percentage is once again tops in the league, and is more than half a percentage point better than his 2-point shooting percentage.  No one is going to confuse teague and Korver for the Splash Brothers – but any discussion of the NBA’s best starting backcourt has to at least list these guys as an honorable mention.

Al Horford‘s health is another reason why the Hawks have sprinted up the Eastern Conference standings this year.  Horford recorded his first career triple double last night, overwhelming the 76ers with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists last night.   Check out last night’s highlights for a sneak peak of what he can and probably will do against Boston tonight:

The Hawks don’t have much in the way of rim-protection, so that might hurt them down the road . . . but right now, the only team in the East’s top-eight with a big man who could pose problems against the Hawks is Brooklyn and Brook Lopez. Otherwise, the Hawks play solid team defense, limiting opponents to 96.9 PPG (third-best in the NBA) and 43.8% shooting (fifth-best in the NBA).

So yeah – I’d say the Hawks are a legit threat in the East, wouldn’t you?

Next: Roster Updates and My Pick!