Initial Report Card Grades for Every Key Atlanta Hawks Player
The Atlanta Hawks have emerged as one of the better offensive teams in the Eastern Conference, and that's helped them get off to a quick start under first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Led by Jeff Teague and Al Horford, along with new frontcourt addition Paul Millsap, the Hawks have stormed out to a 7-5 record that gives them the No. 4 record in the East. They're starting to look like a playoff lock once more, though there are obviously a lot of games left to be played.
That "playoff lock" status shouldn't be much of a surprise, but the manner in which Atlanta has begun the season is a little shocking.
In this article, I'll be handing out grades to the 10 players averaging the most minutes per game through the first dozen games of the season.
Somehow, that means Dennis Schroder (the much-ballyhooed German rookie), Elton Brand, John Jenkins and Pero Antic don't get discussed anywhere other than this opening slide. The same can be said about Jared Cunningham, although that's not as surprising.
Perhaps it will change going forward, but Coach Bud has found a set of players he likes and trusts, and it's working for Atlanta. It just isn't the group we expected, as Gustavo Ayon, Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and Shelvin Mack have carved out surprisingly large roles.
So, let's get out those red pens and start grading.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Nov. 21.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 18.2 PER
At the time of these report cards, Lou Williams had played in only two games for the Atlanta Hawks, so it's tough to pass much judgment.
Quite frankly, it's impressive enough that he's even on the court, as his return from the torn ACL came pretty much out of nowhere. The news that he was practicing might as well have emerged out of a wormhole, and then he was almost immediately on the active roster.
Then he was on the court.
Williams has been his typical turnover-averse, shot-creating self during his brief spurts of action, but the sample size is way too small to even think about giving him a grade yet. Check back later during the season and hope he's getting good marks, because his knack for generating offense is exactly what Atlanta needs.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 12.1 PER
Cartier Martin was never really supposed to earn a huge role with the Hawks, but he's done that. The fact that he's averaging more than 20 minutes per game might be the most surprising thing about this team thus far.
Due partially to the increased run, Martin's three-point stroke hasn't been as effective. He's hitting 36 percent of his looks, still a respectable number, but also the lowest percentage he's posted since the 18 games he played in 2009-10.
Beyond that, his offense has been too ugly to talk about.
It's defense that is earning Martin playing time, after all. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the small forward is allowing only 0.8 points per possession, the No. 90 mark in all of basketball. He's thrived covering ball-dominant forwards and closing out on spot-up shooters.
As shown by NBA.com, it's helped him drop Atlanta's defensive rating from 103.7 to 98.8 when he's on the court. Too bad that's more than offset by the corresponding dip in offensive rating.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 15.7 PER
Gustavo Ayon might not be the source of much offense for the Hawks, but he's still quite efficient whenever he touches the ball.
He's an incredibly self-aware player who rarely attempts shots he isn't confident in. That's why he's been able to shoot 68.4 percent from the field. All of this is great news for the Hawks, who have enough offensive talent that they don't need a less-than-stellar scorer firing away with reckless abandon.
But it's not all positive.
Ayon needs to improve his rebounding, as he's being counted on to provide quality minutes in an undersized frontcourt. He's averaging only 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, and his percentages just don't look too sharp.
NBA.com's SportVU data shows that the Mexican center must do a better job converting his rebounding chances. He's averaging too many per game to only have 4.5 boards each outing. In fact, among the 106 players with at least eight chances per game, only 10 players have a lower conversion rate than his 48.6 percent.
Until that changes, the deficiencies are negating too many of the positives.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 16.1 PER
This is exactly the version of Mike Scott that the Hawks were looking for when they drafted him out of Virginia.
The second-year forward has become a potent scoring threat who can stretch out a defense and then still finish around the basket, and he makes a nice impact on the glass. During the 2013-14 season, he's been shooting 48 percent from the field at a rate that leaves him putting up 20 points per 36 minutes.
No complaints in that area. There can't be.
But then we turn to defense, an area that Atlanta also presumably knew would cause him some difficulty.
Scott isn't very physical, and he doesn't have elite foot speed in any direction, which leaves him as a major liability on the less glamorous end of the court. Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that he's allowed 1.06 points per possession thus far, leaving him in the No. 271 spot throughout the league.
Ouch. And perhaps "reveals" is the wrong word, as it's pretty common knowledge to anyone who has watched the former Cavalier that he's struggled mightily.
Scary as it is, Scott hasn't looked even remotely competent in any one area of the defensive game, and that's problematic. It's enough to severely damper the grade his offense alone would have received.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 12.8 PER
DeMarre Caroll has boundless reserves of energy.
It's helped him thrive as a transition threat and a pest on defense—what Hawks fan didn't enjoy seeing him man up against LeBron James without so much as a hint of fear?—but he's still a little bit lacking on the whole basketball skill thing.
Carroll has been a solid three-point shooter, but he's struggled elsewhere. There aren't many plays he can make with his passing, and he doesn't create looks for himself with any sort of frequency.
It's just all about that energy.
Every quality team needs a glue guy, and that's the role Carroll has filled after joining forces with the rest of the Hawks.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, Atlanta is scoring an additional 6.3 points per 100 possessions when the 27-year-old small forward is on the court, and the team is also holding opponents to 2.9 fewer. That's a monumental impact, and much of it can be credited to the constant hustle Carroll shows in every facet of the game.
And the lineups he plays in.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 21.4 PER
On the surface level, Paul Millsap has been fantastic for the Hawks during his first season with the team after leaving the Utah Jazz behind over the summer. After all, it's hard to argue with a guy who's topping 16 and seven night in and night out while shooting 53.5 percent from the field.
But things aren't quite so rosy as they first appear. Millsap hasn't been without his flaws.
First, there's the 60.7 percent shooting from the charity stripe, a strangely low mark for a guy who has shot 71.7 percent during his career and spent three years in a row on the right side of 70. That's limiting some of his aggressiveness around the basket, and he isn't able to convert those key shots down the stretch.
Secondly, Millsap hasn't completely adapted to Atlanta's defensive schemes. Though he's been a solid help defender for the most part, he's been the perpetrator on some of the breakdowns. Plus, "atrocious" is an applicable adjective when describing his individual numbers.
Synergy Sports (subscription required) paints an ugly picture, as he's allowed 0.95 points per possession, the No. 227 mark in the league. Although he's been a solid post defender thanks to his lanky arms, spot-up shooters and athletic roll men are just brutalizing him thus far.
Maybe that will change when he isn't plagued by a constant stream of nagging injuries.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.1 PER
This Kyle Korver guy sure can shoot the ball.
He's still tracking toward Dana Barros' record for consecutive games making a three-pointer, and he'll break past the coveted 89 against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 29, assuming he neither misses a game nor goes scoreless from downtown between now and then.
Korver has looked quite comfortable in the starting lineup for the Hawks even though he's playing at the 2. There hasn't been much of an adjustment period needed, and he's been perfectly content making opposing shooting guards chase him around the court.
That said, Korver's defense has been a little bit lacking. While he can make players chase him, he has trouble when the roles are reversed, and that's tempered his value a bit. Spot-up shooters have torched him, racking up 1.03 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
But still, 51.6 percent shooting from downtown while taking more than five attempts per game? Yes, please.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.0 points, 1.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 17.8 PER
Not only has Shelvin Mack beaten out Dennis Schroder for the backup point guard job, but he's also been damn good doing it.
Without looking like a defensive liability, Mack has sparked the Atlanta offense whenever he's come into the game. He's shot the ball well, knocking down 44.8 percent of his shots from the field and 46.2 percent of the downtown looks, and he's refusing to turn the ball over.
In 98 minutes, he's coughed it up only three times. As in, so few that you can still count them on one hand even though he's averaging 14 minutes per game over his seven appearances while playing point guard.
Although Mack is operating for only limited stretches, he's looked absolutely fantastic and could continue to carve out more and more of a role for himself. It's hard to remember because the Hawks are already his third team, but this point guard is only 23 years old, and he was quite good back at Butler.
Some of that confidence and swagger is starting to resurface, and that's good news for Mike Budenholzer's second unit.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 19.7 PER
Let's go ahead and start calling Jeff Teague an elite point guard.
All he needed was a change on the sidelines, as replacing Larry Drew's bland offensive system with Mike Budenholzer's screen-and-attack mentality has allowed him to break out. The Wake Forest product is playing with heretofore unseen confidence, and he's making the right decision on almost every play.
Although turnover numbers are still a little problematic, as are the shooting woes from the outside, Teague is more than making up for it with his knack for crashing to the hoop. His hesitation dribble—something he's now using with both hands—is simply phenomenal.
In the past, the floor general has been content to serve as Plan B in the offense. Al Horford was the No. 1 player, and there was no doubt about that. But this year, it's changed.
Teague has left little doubt that he's "the man" in the Atlanta offense, and he's now averaging career-high marks in both points and assists per game. It's the Tony Parker effect.
Don't forget that Coach Bud was a major reason for the French floor general's explosion into the ranks of superstars. Teague is still only 25 years old, and it's not too late for him to carve out that type of career path.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.1 blocks, 22.2 PER
It's just pure unadulterated craziness that Al Horford still doesn't get enough league-wide recognition. His game might not be glamorous, but he's incredibly effective on both ends of the court. In fact, he's playing better than ever before and shattering the lofty expectations set forth at the beginning of the year.
Is Horford playing like an All-Star? Undoubtedly, and he's also submitting his name right in the midst of any conversation about the best center in basketball.
Not only is he flashing good passing skills while averaging 17.4 points per game, but he's also doing so while shooting 56.2 percent from the field. And while his rebounding numbers are down, he's making up for that by playing the best defense of his career.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Horford is facing 7.3 shots per game at the rim and turning away all but 42.5 percent of them. Among the 61 players who are subjected to at least five attempts per game, only 12 are holding opponents to a lower percentage, and they're all—with the exception of Brook Lopez, who is leading the league—names that wouldn't really surprise you.
Horford has continued his development into a two-way stud, and he remains the true centerpiece of the Hawks, both figuratively and literally.