Three years ago, the Atlanta Hawks did something that had never been done in franchise history. They won 60 games. They accomplished this rare feat without one player scoring more than 16 points. It was the most wins in franchise history and the Hawks sent three players to the All-Star game (Al Horford, Jeff, Teague, Paul Millsap). By the time the 2015 playoffs rolled around, they had the best record in the East.
In 2014-15, the Hawks were 5th in defense, 6th in offensive and defensive rating. They won 19 games in a row. They were epic from three. Kyle Korver shot 49%. DeMarre Carroll 39%. They defended like they weren’t going to get paid if they didn’t stop somebody. Paul Millsap had a defensive rating of 99. Al Horford and Kent Bazemore’s defensive rating was 102. Three players, Millsap, Teague, Horford, had a PER over 20.0. It was a perfect regular season.
No one believed in the Hawks come playoff time. That they lost to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals is no crime. Other than the brilliance of James, there were Hawks issues in the series. DeMarre Carroll suffered a knee injury. Matthew Dellavedova laid out Kyle Korver in a questionable basketball play but even if that had not happened, the end was coming. J.R. Smith dropped 50% of his shots and was 47% from three and LeBron added 30 and 11. The Little Engine that Could was no match for LeBron back home in Cleveland, year one, second act.
Abruptly dismissed, the Hawks had the regular season to bask in despite their quick exit in the Eastern Conference Finals. And then everything got complicated.
Three years later, they are penciled in for the easiest path to the lottery and Duke’s Zion Williamson. The team was blown into shreds for a rebuild.
Point Guard. Jeff Teague. He played 72 games. His 16 points and 7 assists stabilized the Hawks move the ball quickly philosophy. He remained in Atlanta one more year with similar numbers then went to Indiana and them Minnesota. His only PER over 20.0 was that epic Hawks season. Since he left Atlanta, he hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs.
Shooting Guard. Kyle Korver. 75 games played was the Korver consistency. He was naturally brilliant shooting the ball, nearly a member of the 40-50-90 club (40% fg, 50% from three, 90% free throws). His 12 points per game seem underwhelming but Korver spaced the floor and made opponents guard him, fearing his deep ball. Korver doesn’t get credit for his toughness and defense, that year particularly. He had the highest offensive rating on the Hawks and the third best defensive rating. Two years later, he was traded to Cleveland and appeared in two NBA Finals.
Small Forward. DeMarre Carroll. It was simply the best season of Carroll’s career. He was a 39% three point shooter. He played 70 games, had an offensive rating of 117 and a defensive rating of 104. His identity has always been playing hard and never quitting but in 2014-15 he added spacing the floor and draining open jumpers. He was a free agent the summer of 2015 and took the money from the Raptors. That’s when everything went south. Injuries kept him out the lineup for nearly all the season. Two years later, he was traded to Brooklyn and put up his best ppg of his career. 13.5.
Power Forward. Paul Millsap. The quiet leader, Millsap’s toughness shaped the identity of the Hawks. He played 73 games. His 17 points and 8 rebounds set the tone, as did his grit and hustle. He played the most minutes of any Hawk, was their best defender and a consistent offensive threat, in the post or on the perimeter. He appeared in two more All-Star games following the Hawks dream season. As a free agent, he signed a max contract with the Denver Nuggets and barely missed out on the 2018 playoffs.
Center. Al Horford. As usual, Horford’s all around effortless game made an impact: 15 points and 7 assists. His versatility created problems for defenders as Horford spaced the floor but could also hit mid post jumpers. He played 76 games, had the second best defensive rating on the team, the third best offensive rating and his second straight 20.0+ PER season. Horford is special wherever he plays and was an All-Star after Atlanta. Two years after winning 60 games, he was a free agent and signed a max deal to play for the Celtics.