It would be cliche to quote former NFL head coach Dennis Green and say the Atlanta Hawks "are who we thought they were," but it would also be appropriate.
The 38-44 Hawks slipped into the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, thanks to the New York Knicks imploding on a nightly basis and no other team in the back end of the Eastern Conference showing any signs of life.
As the Hawks took a 3-2 series lead against the reeling Indiana Pacers last week, it became apparent that they required further examination. A team that couldn't muster 40 wins in the regular season was taking the Pacers, the squad with the Eastern Conference's best record, to the brink of elimination.
Were we wrong about them all along?
It turns out we weren't. With 34 seconds left in Game 6 and the Pacers up two, Lou Williams drove baseline past center Ian Mahinmi. He ducked under the basket, pumped and attempted to kick it to Jeff Teague in the corner over the outstretched arms of Paul George. The pass was intercepted by George, putting to rest any chance of a knockout blow at home and sealing the victory for Indiana.
The Hawks lost 92-80 on Saturday in Game 7, putting an official end to their unlikely playoff run. Indiana, led by George's career playoff-high 30 points and a resurrected Roy Hibbert, salvaged their season and sent Atlanta home.
Last week's playoff excitement served as a temporary respite from the mediocrity that was the Atlanta Hawks' regular season. They ranked exactly 15th out of 30 NBA teams in both offensive and defensive scoring. It doesn't get more middle of the road than that.
Despite their injuries and inconsistent play, we learned plenty about the Atlanta Hawks this season.
Jeff Teague Is Their Long-Term Point Guard
There are 13 guards in the NBA who average at least 16 points and six assists for the year. Teague is one of them. Out of those 13, he averaged the second-fewest minutes per game (32).
In that exemplary group you have the upper-echelon guards like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. You also have the young studs on the rise like John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.
Teague lacks the explosion of a Wall or Westbrook and the shooting touch of a Curry or Irving, but the point of that stat is to prove he still finishes with similar results. He doesn't do anything particularly spectacular, but he does a lot of things well.
Conley helped lead his team to the Western Conference Finals last season thanks to a lineup that featured dominant frontcourt players. Teague can benefit from the same style of play, one that was abandoned once Al Horford was lost for the season.
He doesn't turn the ball over (2.9 per game) with the same frequency as Curry or Westbrook (3.8 per game each). He can create offense for himself by beating defenders off the dribble (see video evidence) and conducts an offense that is second in the NBA in assists per game (24.9).
He doesn't do anything great, but he does enough things well to lead a team deep into the playoffs.
Even if someone were to disagree, they're stuck with him. He's making $8 million a year through 2017.
Kyle Korver Can Shoot...and Should Shoot More
We all know about Kyle Korver's exploits from beyond the arc.
This season, he shot 47 percent from three-point range, which ranks first in the NBA (minimum 50 games played and at least three attempts per game), per NBA.com.
His shot chart looks like a field of fresh-cut grass. It's a thing of beauty.
This season marked his highest points-per-game average (12.0) since the 2006-07 season when he was still in Philadelphia. He also shot a career-high 92 percent from the free-throw line.
These stats aren't surprising, nor are they particularly enlightening. Korver was born to shoot a basketball, and he's been doing it for years in the NBA with much success. What these stats do is illustrate how effective he's been in his limited opportunities.
The Hawks lack any other consistent scoring threat from the wing, which is saying something. He is their lone floor-spacer and has the ability to knock down shots anywhere on the court.
While Teague can get streaky, he is much better attacking the basket than shooting from the outside, where he's below league average. Williams coming off the bench is very much the same. He's by no means a dominant wing scorer, but the team could benefit from more shots and scoring opportunities going Korver's way.
Plus, who knew he had that in him?
They Need to Add a Wing Scorer
This goes hand in hand with the last point.
The Hawks can use their most recent opponent, the Indiana Pacers, as a template for future success. Teague can play the George Hill point guard role, contributing in different facets but rarely taking over a game. They have two dominant post players in Paul Millsap and Horford, much like Indiana's duo of David West and Hibbert. Where they fall short is they don't have an answer for Lance Stephenson and George.
If you can't beat them, sign them?
Stephenson will be a free agent after this season and heads the list of available shooting guards who can be had in free agency. Adding Stephenson's unique playmaking, fearlessness and intensity to this lineup could be just what the Hawks are looking for.
According to ShamSports.com, the Hawks have $48 million on the books for next season, leaving enough to sign a defensive-minded wing who can score. Stephenson could be the guy. Luol Deng is also available, as is Trevor Ariza, two guys who are known for their defense and can stretch the floor offensively.
It's an area that needs to be addressed in the summer, and there are a few possible solutions.
They Miss Al Horford
It's obvious that any team would miss its All-Star center, but the Hawks suffered immensely in Horford's absence.
He played just 29 games this season before tearing his right pectoral muscle on December 26. He was averaging 18 points and eight rebounds.
With no reliable backup option, the Hawks were the third-worst rebounding team in the NBA. They had the fifth-fewest blocked shots. Other than Millsap, who averaged 17.9 points and 8.5 boards a game, no one in the frontcourt helped fill the void left by Horford.
Veteran Elton Brand averaged just five points and five rebounds in 20 minutes a night. The occasional flashes by Mike Scott and Pero Antic weren't enough to make up the difference.
General manager Danny Ferry wants to build a consistent winner. He said to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today back in March, "We're not focused on trying to be the eighth seed in the playoffs because that's not our goal. We're trying to build something that's good, sustainable and the components are in place for us to do so."
Frontcourt depth, a playmaking, versatile wing and a healthy Horford could go a long way toward making Ferry's goal come to fruition.
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