The good news is that Atlanta Hawks lead the Southeast Division. The less-good news is that it’s the only NBA division they’d lead. They’re on pace to win 48.45 games — let’s round it up to 49 — which wouldn’t be terrible, either. But they, as we know, won 60 last season.
This time a year ago, the Hawks were 36-8, about to complete their unbeaten January. They were never going to go 17-0 in a month again, but this January has been tepid. They’re 5-5 having played one game against a team currently above .500. (They won the one, thumping the Bulls.) They lost last night in Sacramento, which can happen: It was the second game of a Western back-to-back. Still, the way in which it happened made you wonder, not for the first time, about these Hawks.
Paul Millsap and Al Horford: Still really good. DeMarre Carroll: Still gone to Toronto. Kyle Korver: Not as good and, at 34, won’t be again. As for Jeff Teague …
His points are down by 1.4 per game. Assists are down by 1.5. Shooting percentage has slipped from 46.0 to 41.5. If you’re into advanced analytics, his PER is 16.62, down from 20.64 last season and his lowest rating since 2011-2012, his first season as a starter.
Teague was an All-Star last year. Against Sacramento, he didn’t play over the final 18:48 as Mike Budenholzer chose to deploy a lineup without a point guard. (Indeed, the formerly forgotten Tim Hardaway Jr. acted as distributor.) For a deeper statistical look, here’s a post from Michael Dunlap of Hoops Habit entitled — spoiler alert — “Jeff Teague Has Regressed To Ordinary.”
The Hawks miss Carroll. (At the moment, so do the Raptors; he’s recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.) Tiago Splitter has been of marginal use. (The Hawks rank last among NBA teams in rebound percentage and differential.) Hardaway has worked only 185 minutes, with 141 of those coming this month. They aren’t the team they were this time a year ago, but that should come as no surprise.
Here’s the thing, though: They weren’t the team of January 2015 in April or May of last year, either. They were pressed by sub-.500 Brooklyn in Round 1, were lucky to beat gimpy Washington in Round 2 and were swept by Cleveland without Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference finals. But it was those Cavaliers who showed that, if you’re resourceful enough, you can remake your team in midseason.
The post-Ferry personnel decisions of Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox have been uninspiring. A deft move now could change everything. The trade deadline is Feb. 18.