Two weeks ago, the New York Knicks took control of the eighth seed in the Eastern conference sending many Hawks fans into panic mode. This was short lived because by the time the Hawks won its next game, they took back the eighth seed and never looked back, finishing the season strong winning six of its last eight games.
Many Hawks fans were advocates of the Hawks missing the playoffs in hopes of a better lottery pick(including me), and even their General Manager Danny Ferry was quoted saying he basically didn’t care if they won the eighth seed. This has been taking out of context as he was just simply saying they are in rebuilding mode and that if they miss the playoffs it won’t be the end of the world.
Let’s give some props to the Hawks though. They cut it close but are playoff bound for a seventh straight season (longest active streak in *EasternConference). Battling injuries coach Mike Budenholzer deserves all the credit in the world as he held this group together.
Coach Budenholzer implemented a very complex “Spurs-like” system in which every player had to learn. Half of the team was composed of newly acquired players who had never played together and had to learn fast. He welcomed back the “Manu Ginobili” of the group in Lou Williams and wasn’t afraid to bench him when his struggles continued. Coach Budenholzer is the Hawks most valuable asset.
Lou Williams struggled after returning from an ACL tear that he suffered last season. Coach Budenholzer had enough, he wasn’t playing favorites. He wasn’t going to allow inefficiencies to slow down this offense which finished second in assists per game behind the San Antonio Spurs (Who else right? They run basically the same system).
He gave the next “Rajon Rondo” in Dennis Schroeder a chance to be the second string point guard coming into the season. When Schroeder struggled and turned the ball over at a high rate, he was demoted to Bakersfield, the Hawks D-League affiliate. Once Schroeder got the call back up, coach Budenholzer was quick to pull Schroeder out of a game after getting literally only seconds of playing time if he wasn’t being smart with the ball.
Coach Budenholzer is the real deal and every Hawks fan should get excited about the future.
But what about the past? What happened to this Atlanta team that was the big surprise coming out the East to start the season?
Let’s go back to late January, the Hawks were the three seed in an abysmal Eastern Conference and somehow finished eighth. Who’s to blame?
The obvious scapegoat here is injuries, but the truth is that is the reason. The way the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat teams finish their seasons, the Atlanta Hawks of December could have potentially won the East. I wish I weren’t taking the easy way out by blaming injuries, but the fact of the matter is every team battles with injuries, but it was just too much for Atlanta to handle.
The longest tenured player with the Hawks, Al Horford is the leader of this team, and losing him a day after Christmas was just too much to overcome.
Season ending injuries to second year guard John Jenkins and center Gustavo Ayon handicapped the Hawks to the point that Shelvin Mack had an elongated stretch of 20 plus minute games .Pero Antic also missed long stretches due to injuries.
Williams wasn’t injured, but his injury from last year obviously lingered as he struggled until this recent eight game stretch where he has reemerged as the “Lou of old.”
I know… excuses, excuses, excuses. Don’t agree? Tell me your reasons in the comments below!
*Previous version had NBA, but this is incorrect.