With a little less than one-fifth of the 2009-2010 NBA season in the books, it may be a bit soon to anoint a conference champion. What we know so far is that the Atlanta Hawks have come out of the starting blocks quickly, and appear to be a team built to pose a legitimate threat to the Eastern Conference powers that be.
Atlanta is tied with Orlando for the best record in the East at 11-3 (Los Angeles and Phoenix also have 11-3 records in the Western Conference). The Hawks are undefeated at home (7-0) with eight of their 11 wins coming against teams with a .500 or better winning percentage.
The Hawks have tweaked their roster from last season, adding journeymen centers Jason Collins and Randolph Morris. Atlanta also got help in the backcourt by acquiring versatile guard Jamal Crawford via trade and signing veteran forward Joe Smith.
Atlanta has long been a place where aging players come to finish their careers, or unproven talent cuts their teeth in the NBA. Now the Hawks are long, athletic, and young. Atlanta has but two players on the roster (Mike Bibby and Joe Smith) with more than 10 years in the league.
The Hawks trot a balanced scoring attack onto the court now, with no one player or group doing the bulk of the scoring. Veteran Joe Johnson still leads the way for the Hawks at 22 points per game. Still, Atlanta gets scoring from the front and backcourts with Al Horford (14.6), Josh Smith (15.6) providing a solid punch in the paint.
One of the glaring weaknesses from last year's version of the Hawks was the lack of a true center, and a second clutch scorer. With the addition of Collins (7'0") and Morris (6'11), there are plenty of fouls to be given inside.
Crawford is a very capable "Robin" to Joe Johnson's "Batman" as the additional go-to-guy.
With a young roster, multiple scoring threats, long and athletic bodies, and solid veteran leadership, Atlanta appears to be built for the long haul. The Hawks eliminated Dwyane Wade and Miami in round one of last year's playoffs, but were swept by Cleveland the following round.
With Boston getting older, Cleveland, Orlando, and perhaps Miami seem to be the only roadblocks between Atlanta and a deep run in the playoffs. It is of course too early to tell, but at this stage in the young season, all roads point to "A-Town".