This past Friday the Atlanta Hawks beat the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James to move to 49-12 on the season. That’s good for the best record in the Eastern Conference and second best in the NBA.
When most people think about the NBA, they think LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry. All individuals. That’s the NBA brand. The league began to be taken over by “Big 3’s”. From KG, Pierce, and Allen came a trend of players teaming up with each other to form these crazy combos in an effort to get themselves a ring. With the latest being LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, we see that change is not in the air. Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks seem to think otherwise.
Mike Budenholzer. If you’re thinking, “Who the hell is that?”, you are not alone. Before coming to the Hawks last season, Budenholzer was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs for 18 seasons. It’s clear that in his time there, he absorbed the classic Spurs’ team philosophy. You never see anyone going one on one in San Antonio. No one is bigger than the team. If you think you are, you’re in the wrong locker room. But the Spurs are old now and they’re getting to the end of their run; so that would mean the team motto is too. In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
As of today, Sunday, March 8th, the Atlanta Hawks have five players averaging double figures per game and every player on the roster averaging at least 3 points a game. They have 13 players that average over 10 minutes per game, with the only other averaging 8.8. Everyone contributes at Philips Arena. There’s no one star. Not one player averages over 20 points and not one player averages over 35 minutes a game. Yet they succeed. They sit atop the standings at 49-13 without a player being top ten in jersey sales and without big three running the show. They are a team.
Ask ten analysts who the Hawks most important player is; you’ll probably get 5 or so different answers. There’s no LeBron, no Carmelo, no Durant, no Kobe. There’s Millsap, Teague, Korver, Horford, and Carroll. Chances are you don’t know every one of those names. That’s just the way coach Budenholzer likes it.
Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague are the team’s two top scorers. Neither has ever averaged over 20 points per game in their career. Neither were top ten picks, and neither will be on the cover of NBA 2K16. But in Mike Budenholzer’s ATL, they both average 17 and enjoy showing up star-studded teams like Cleveland and Golden State.
Al Horford is the Hawks’ ever consistent center. This time last year, Horford was scoring over 20 per game and leading the Hawks. Now he’s changed his role and averages 15.4 per game and is doing his job just like the other 13 men on the roster. He’s bought into Budenholzer and it shows.
Kyle Korver plays the lovable white boy on the roster. Sinking threes from everywhere, he averages 12.4 points a game which mostly come from behind the arch. What Korver does is what people wanted Jimmer Fredette to do in the NBA, only Korver’s been doing it for 10 years on mediocre “teams”. Now the 33 year-old Ashton Kutcher lookalike gets to play the role on a great team. And hey, he dunked for the first time in two years on January 21st. So you could say he’s in a pretty good place. White men can jump. And Kyle Korver can shoot.
I’m rooting for the Hawks and you should be to. They are everything the NBA is not. No one star and no TMZ cameras outside the locker room. They are a team. The Hawks are going to keep soaring whether you like it or not; but don’t worry they won’t get too high off the ground. The Cavs’ bandwagon may look more like a fancy, appealing escalade, but trust me the bandwagon you want to be on is Mike Budenholzer’s Toyota Camry. So jump on while you can because if you don’t, come playoff time, you’ll be wishing you did.