There have been a lot of intriguing storylines in the NBA this season. We’ve got LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, we’ve got the outstanding play of the Golden State Warriors (42-9, best record in the West), and we’ve got the abysmal play of the New York Knicks (10-43, worst record in the league).
But what’s been the best story heading into All-Star Break?
“It’s got to be the Atlanta Hawks,” Pro Basketball Talk managing editor Kurt Helin said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Nobody saw them being this good. I think a lot of us – and I was one of those people who said, ‘Look, you’re sleeping on them a little bit.’ They were really good when (Al) Horford was healthy last year. They’e capable of being a middle-of-the-road team. Not middle-of-the-road, but winning a bunch of games and making the second round of the playoffs and being better than people kind of thought they would be.
“But nobody saw this,” Helin continued. “Nobody saw best-record-in-the NBA good. Nobody saw a team that was going to just not only win, but they’ve been destroying the best teams in the West. They beat Golden State and they beat Memphis. They’ve been phenomenal. I think that’s the surprise – that the Spurs’ kind of basketball that they’ve been trying to play, everybody bought in. And it’s been an impressive season.”
If the Hawks seem like a carbon copy of the Spurs, well, that’s because they are. Head coach Mike Budenholzer was an assistant in San Antonio from 1996 to 2013, helping the franchise win four NBA championships.
He’s hoping to bring at least one to Atlanta – and it might happen this year. The Hawks (43-11) rank sixth in the league in scoring offense (103.4 points per game), fourth in scoring defense (96.8 points) and second in assists (25.7 per game). Atlanta has also played with tremendous balance, as five players – DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague – are all averaging between 12.0 and 17.0 points per game.
Teague leads the team in scoring (17.0 points) and assists (7.5), Millsap leads in rebounding (7.9) and steals (1.8), Horford leads in blocks (1.3) and Korver is arguably the most lethal spot-up shooter in basketball.
So, who’s the team MVP?
“That’s a hard question because they are genuinely (balanced),” Helin said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Well, what are they going to do in the playoffs when you expect one guy to take a shot?’ I said, ‘Well, they’re going to run a play.’ You better cover Teague when he drives, you better cover Horford in the post and you better cover Korver. That’s how they operate. So it’s really hard to pick one guy with this team.
“If I had to, I’d probably take Horford just because he is the glue for all of them. His all-around game, the ability to play inside and outside and do so many things sets everything else up. But Teague is right there with him. He has really matured as a playmaker for them.”