7 Players Who Must Step Up for Atlanta Hawks' Remaining Games

Dan Schultz@DSchultz89Contributor IFebruary 24, 2014

7 Players Who Must Step Up for Atlanta Hawks' Remaining Games

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    After a long stretch of holding down the third seed in the win-challenged Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks have encountered slippage consistent with losing their best player.

    In fact, many were surprised that the Hawks played so well after losing Al Horford for the year. They appeared confident and controlled going forward thanks mostly to the strong play of Paul Millsap.

    However, recently Atlanta has been awful. Before their Feb. 22 victory over the New York Knicks, the Hawks went on an eight-game losing streak. The first three losses were close ones to the Indiana Pacers, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Memphis Grizzlies, but the last five losses of their streak were the most alarming.

    During that span, they gave up at least 100 points per game. All of these losses were to Eastern Conference teams with playoff aspirations. To put it simply, these were games the Hawks needed to show they could at least be competitive in, and they were not. They were blown out in all of them.

    Now, as the season begins to wind down and playoff spots become more difficult to grasp, the currently seventh-seeded Hawks must ask even more out of their players. With the trade deadline madness now over, here are seven of the Hawks players who must step up for their remaining games.

1. Paul Millsap

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    It is hard to ask more out of this guy.

    In his first season with the Hawks, Millsap his averaging 17.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on good percentages, which helped earn him his first All-Star selection this year.

    For a player that has been wildly underappreciated during his career, Millsap now has expectations on his shoulders, and they are certainly demanding.

    Instead of being a second or third fiddle like he was with the Jazz, Millsap is now the clear-cut No. 1 option on offense.

    Recently, he has struggled shooting only 40 percent from the field during the month of February after shooting 46 percent during January and an even more impressive 52 percent during the month of December.

    Basically, after starting the season off with a bang, Millsap has sometimes struggled with the massive weight of carrying a team for the first time without a post partner like Horford.

    He must shoot a better percentage from the field from here on out and continue to score at least 20 points per contest if the Hawks want to regain the momentum they had to start the year.

2. Pero Antic

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Nobody is asking this guy to become what Horford was for this team, but for a team currently ranked 26th in rebounding (out of 30), the Hawks desperately need Pero Antic’s 6’11", 260-pound frame to get in the paint and bang for boards.

    Antic is on the fringe of returning to the team after a right ankle injury that has sidelined him for a month.

    In his 15.6 minutes per contest so far, he is averaging 3.4 rebounds—roughly one rebound every five minutes. He must increase his rebounding numbers given his size and strength.

    Millsap is already considered to be undersized for his position, and although Antic is still only a rookie despite being 31 years of age, it is clear that the Hawks will be throwing plenty of minutes his way.

    He must seize this opportunity and really make an effort to crash the boards hard on both sides of the floor in order to help the team improve.

    It might appear to be a tall order, but Antic is a big, powerful presence, and he should be more than up to the challenge.

3. Jeff Teague

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    john bazemore/Associated Press

    It is no secret by now of the struggles of the Hawks' 25-year-old point guard, Jeff Teague this year.

    While he is averaging a career high in points per game (15.7), he is shooting a less than impressive 41 percent from the field and an even worse 26 percent from the three-point arc. For a player who prides himself on his shooting, these are dreadful marks.

    There are some bright spots, namely that he is young and sometimes players struggle in the first year after they are rewarded with a gigantic contract extension.

    Teague must not concentrate on scoring more for his team, but simply scoring at an efficient rate from all areas of the court. After he does this, his offense will come more naturally.

    He must also cut down on his turnovers (3.1 a game), and focus on making the simple pass over the home run SportsCenter Top 10 highlight.

    He is a good player with plenty of potential. There is no better time than now for him to start to shine and show why the Hawks invested in him in the first place.

4. Mike Scott

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    As Antic continues to heal from injury, power forward Mike Scott has emerged from obscurity to a big time gamer for the Hawks.

    Scott posted a career-high 30 points (11-of-14 from the field) in a win against the New York Knicks during a February 22nd game, which opened a lot of eyes to how much promise this young man has.

    At 6’8” and weighing in at 237 pounds, Scott is very much like Millsap—undersized but determined. If he improves his rebounding (3.7 per game in 17.7 minutes per contest), he might soon find himself in the starting lineup next to Millsap if the Hawks choose to play small ball.

    Most importantly, for a team like Atlanta, which has appeared offensively challenged at times, he must continue to shoot at a high percentage and take smart shots within the offense. As long as he continues to play his game, more minutes and opportunities will open up during this run for a respectable playoff seed.

5. Louis Williams

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    It is pretty clear the Hawks brought Louis Williams in to be a go-to sixth man with the chance to be a player to close out games for them with the starters.

    So far, it has been a rocky road for him, marred mainly by a season-ending injury last year after he was playing fantastic ball for this club.

    Since his injury occurred, it appears as though he is still trying to find his legs. He has yet to shoot 40 percent for a month thus far, and his shot selection is still questionable at best.

    Williams signed a hefty contract, and he has yet to live up to expectations.

    He must rediscover his confidence in these remaining games with the ability to take over games when called upon as he did when he was a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

    It has been a long road to recovery, but Lou-Will can attest to his stumbles so far this season if he finds that extra gear down the stretch and helps his squad make a push for the playoffs.

6. Elton Brand

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Elton Brand has been very quietly having an impressive season.

    Once a star in the league and considered to be one of the best at his position, Brand has adjusted smoothly to becoming a role player off the bench that his coach can count on.

    While some of his minutes might go to Scott from here on out due to Scott's strong play as of late, Brand is always ready to come in and provide instant offense off the bench.

    He must be ready to step up as a leader in the locker room.

    As the longest-tenured veteran in the league on a squad that has lost some key figures at stretches in its season, Brand must provide a voice of wisdom for this young team from here on out.

    He has been on some really bad teams as well as some really good teams. He knows how good teams finish a season and how they find success in the playoffs.

    While he may be a little older now, one could make a case he might be one of the most important players that must step up for this team from a pure intangibles outlook alone.

7. DeMarre Carroll

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    I already predicted DeMarre Carroll would place high in the Most Improved Player Award voting. So for that reason alone, he better step up.

    In all seriousness, Carroll has had a remarkable season.

    He is the classic case of a role player given the opportunity by a new coach to start, and he has relished this responsibility and flourished as a result.

    He is currently averaging 10.6 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.4 steals per game on 47 percent shooting from the field, and 37 percent shooting from three-point range.

    Carroll has shown he is an efficient player this year and, with the Hawks scrambling at times to put points on the board, he certainly has the green light from the coaching staff and his team to take more shots.

    Basically, he must work on being more aggressive in seeking his shot. Not to the point of chucking up everything he sees, but getting himself into the lane and trying to get to the line especially, as he is only averaging 1.9 free-throw attempts per game.

    He has had a great year so far, and he is the glue to this team’s push into the postseason.