NBA Betting: Hawks Look Like Real Deal
by Trevor Whenham - 11/14/2008
The Atlanta Hawks have been the doormats of the NBA for about as long as there has been an NBA. They didn't finish anywhere close to .500 last year, but they still squeaked into the playoffs in the top-heavy East. Once there, they were the only team that was able to give Boston a scare, eventually losing in Game 7. That was certainly a step forward for the franchise, but it gave us no hint of what was to come at the start of this year. They were the second last undefeated team in the league after winning six in a row. They would have added a seventh when they played Boston, too, if it weren't for a buzzer beater from Paul Pierce. They have been very kind to bettors as well, failing to cover just once in their seven games.
This team is obviously running ahead of expectation - no team can sustain this kind of start. If you aren't familiar with this team, though, there is one thing you need to remember - this is not the same old Hawks. Here's a look at what they have done to get what they are, and what they could keep doing:
Defense - Coach Mike Woodson is in his fifth year with this team (that alone is a sign that this team is on the right track - five years is two eternities in the NBA). He came to the team as a defensive specialist, so it's no surprise that this team is thriving defensively. It has to be a relief for Woodson, too, because this is the first time that one of his teams has been this defensively strong. The Hawks were among the worst defensively last year, but now they are Top 5 in the league in defensive points per game, and opponent's field goal and three-point percentage. They are Top 10 in steals and blocks as well. The team can't necessarily compete offensively with the big guns, but they can help to level the playing field by focusing on defense. The approach also seems to be working well for them on the road - they are 3-1 away from home, and their defense was particularly good in two of those games.
The most telling game from a defensive perspective was their win in Oklahoma City. Josh Smith, Atlanta's best defender, was unable to play. Previous Atlanta teams may have used that as an excuse, but this team just focused harder on their defense, and held the Thunder to just 85 points. Smith is going to be out for as much as a month with an ankle injury, so this is a good sign.
Teamwork - If you watched this team play last year you could see the young talent they had thanks to multiple high draft picks and a few trades for prospects. What you didn't see, though, is that collection of talented players playing with a unified vision unless they felt like it. The best thing that could have happened, then, is the series against Boston. From that they learned two things - that they had the talent to make things interesting, and that they needed to elevate their play to take advantage of that talent. The team on the court this year is as different as one can be from last year. When they beat the Bulls, Smith was out and Joe Johnson, their best player, was in a bad shooting slump. The team took it all in stride, and came out ahead in a high-scoring battle. The cooperation, the support, and the defensive focus is a sign of a team that now finally knows it's a team. That should be enough to move them up from the No. 8 seed this year.
Stars - This is not a superstar-centered team. Don't assume, though, that that means that they don't have good, or very good, players. Joe Johnson is a beast, and he's playing his best ball of his career - not insignificant given that he has twice been an all-star. The Hawks took a big risk by trading a lot to Phoenix for him, but it has paid off handsomely. Al Horford is in his second year in the league out of Florida. He's taking strides forward, though he needs to become a bit more disciplined to avoid foul trouble. He is a virtual lock to be an all-star in the coming years. When he's good he is very, very good, like when he had 27 points and 17 boards against Chicago. Marvin Williams continues to develop. The newest wrinkle to his game is a previously unseen ability to shoot threes.
Perhaps the biggest impact on this team, though, has been Mike Bibby. The team's improved play last year corresponded with the addition of Bibby, and he continues to set the tone and the serve the ball up effectively. He was very instrumental in Horford's huge performance against Chicago. Bibby's veteran command of the floor calms this team down, keeps them focused, and should keep them winning.