The Atlanta Hawks are the kind of middling NBA playoff team with few expectations and several deficiencies on both ends of the floor. They'll have a difficult task ahead as they square off against the Indiana Pacers in Round 1.
An upset 101-93 win in Game 1 on Saturday showed what the Hawks are capable of when they put everything together. They can compete with anyone, but in a seven-game affair, they'll need to address some key areas of development.
Here are three aspects Atlanta needs to improve if it wants to have any chance of pulling off a series upset against Indy.
Find a specialty (and do it well)
The Hawks aren't awful at any one area on offense or defense. They're average at nearly everything, ranking 15th in points per game scored and allowed with 101.0 and 101.5, respectively.
For further illustration, here's a snapshot detailing how mediocre the Hawks were in 2013-14, with data via Basketball-Reference.com:
|51.5 (9th)||14.3 (27th)||21.0 (28th)||.208 (16th)|
|51.0 (19th)||14.0 (8th)||74.4 (17th)||.196 (8th)|
The Hawks have shown flashes of brilliance this season. They should be commended for their effort, given the numerous injuries to key players. They've shown they can compete with anyone despite being the epitome of average.
Sustaining that high level of play will be the biggest challenge.
Case in point was the victory at Indiana to begin the postseason. They got a stellar performance from floor general Jeff Teague and managed to force 17 giveaways on Indiana's part. After ranking eighth in the NBA in creating turnovers per 100 plays with a mark of 14, they're finding an identity as a team that can take opponents out of their offensive game plan.
Success in the postseason will involve continuing to rely on these strengths and using them to take pressure off other problem areas.
Identify and utilize Kyle Korver as a tertiary scorer
Teague and Paul Millsap were known commodities as the Hawks' top two scorers during the regular season. The biggest question when it comes to the offense is who will become the third scoring threat when the other two find themselves in the midst of an off night.
That's where Kyle Korver comes in.
The sharpshooter was exceptional at pouring in shots from all over the floor while making good decisions this season. He did much of it while moving off the ball and forcing the defense to account for him.
The evidence lies in his league-best 47.2 three-point shooting percentage and career-high 2.9 assists per game. Atlanta understands how valuable Korver is and proved its trust in him by running plays to get the ball in his hands more often.
The postseason will be an opportunity to continue that trend.
The Hawks need to use him because he's a master shot-creator and capable scorer. He gets wide recognition for his long-range scoring ability, but his shot chart from this season shows he was adept at scoring from all three levels:
Gain extra possessions
The Hawks showed in Game 1 how strong they are when they limit turnovers. After averaging 15.3 during the regular season, they committed 12 against Indy and were plus-five in the all-important category on Saturday.
In addition to winning the giveaway-takeaway battle, Atlanta has to get better on the offensive glass, an area in which it ranked 29th out of 30 teams in 2013-14.
The Hawks were similarly deficient in that area against the Pacers in the first game with just nine against 14 by Indy, although the Hawks managed to win. In order to defeat the East's top seed in a lengthy series, they'll need to figure out a way to come up with more second-chance opportunities on offense.
One of the challenges of accomplishing this goal is the fact that Atlanta has gone small for much of the season due to missing Al Horford in the frontcourt. Pero Antic is 6'11" but isn't a traditional big man at the 4.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer will have to find ways to put his squad in position to pound the offensive glass without suffering lapses in transition defense.