The Atlanta Hawks: Best in the east
By Taylor Gantt
The city of Atlanta is a town infatuated with basketball. Every year, Atlanta has some of the highest TV viewership ratings for the NBA Finals, and the sport is played recreationally all across the state. But when it comes to supporting their own team, Atlanta has been more than reluctant to do so.
After the golden years of the 1980s, which featured Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, and some notable teams of the ‘90s, the Hawks spent the majority of the early 2000s far removed from relevancy and playoff contention. Things changed slightly in the ‘08-‘09 season when the team made the playoffs for the first time in nine years, starting a new era of athletically gifted Hawks squads. Although the teams were fun to watch, lack of discipline and less than stellar coaching severely hindered their overall upside.
Mike Woodson, the coach who brought a measure of success to the team, did play an important role in turning the franchise around, but his inability to connect and refine young players such as Josh Smith severely hurt the team’s ability to improve significantly over time. To make matters worse, Woodson relied much too heavily on simple basketball strategy, preferring just to isolate his best players and make them create opportunities. This tactic can beat less talented teams, but it requires a bit more strategic ingenuity to compete with the NBA’s upper-echelon organizations. Therefore, the Hawks became regular playoff participants but were rarely considered a championship threat.
The Hawks teams from 2007 to 2013 failed to capture the attention of the average Atlanta fan. Year after year of the same unexciting playoff appearances had convinced the basketball community that it was not worth paying to see the Hawks. This perception kept the stands at Philips Arena unoccupied and the team far from relevant.
After six seasons with strikingly similar results, in 2013 the Hawks decided to go in a new direction and hired Mike Budenholzer, a disciple of legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Budenholzer brought along with him the San Antonio style of play, which is predicated on precision passing and creating opportunities for every player on the court. The team also signed Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver to the roster, adding versatility and depth to the squad.
After a rebuilding effort last season, the Hawks have seized this year by the horns and become a juggernaut in the Eastern Conference. At 39-8 and riding an 18-game winning streak at the time of this writing, the Hawks have established themselves as one of the preeminent teams in the NBA. All-Stars Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford have taken over as leaders of this talented team. On a nightly basis, Atlanta is home to some of the most cohesive offensive basketball in the league.
And slowly but surely, Atlanta is starting to take notice. After many years of apathy, basketball fans in the city finally have something to be excited about. With the team off to such a hot start, attendance has been climbing steadily, and the Hawks have been receiving a fair amount of national praise. The team, and the city, find themselves in an unfamiliar position of success.
In short, this is the time for Atlanta to rally around this Hawks team and throw as much support their way as possible. With only half the season complete and the playoffs looming on the horizon, there is plenty of room available on the Hawks bandwagon. The games are becoming more meaningful, the in-stadium atmosphere is electric, and the drama will only build as the team makes a push for playoff success.
Atlanta basketball hasn’t been this relevant in decades, and before the chance is gone, make sure to carve out a little time and enjoy an evening down at Philips Arena, courtesy of your Atlanta Hawks.