It's hard to argue that the balance of power in the NBA has shifted over to the Eastern Conference. Despite there being less of a quality gap between the Western Conference teams, three of the best four teams in the NBA belong to the East. The Miami Heat, the Celtics and the Magic as well as the Lakers from the West are most commonly recognized as the "championship contending" teams.
While the Magic, Heat and Celtics look down on the rest of the minor competition in the Conference, there's one team that has made a blistering start to the new season.
The Atlanta Hawks have started 6-0 this season, and are the only undefeated team in the East. Although Atlanta hasn't had to beat the most challenging of teams so far, there's no doubt that they look like an entirely different force in the new season.
Under new head coach Larry Drew, the Hawks have made a greater commitment to defense, using their length and athleticism to force turnovers and low-percentage shooting on the defensive end of the floor.
Atlanta managed to re-sign star wing player Joe Johnson for six more years at about $119 million. They also managed to retain All-Star center Al Horford, as well as reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. This has enabled the Hawks to retain their strong core of players, while making some minor additions to their roster in the form of Josh Powell from the Lakers and Etan Thomas from Oklahoma City.
Having kept the same core for a few years now, Atlanta has managed to utilize their strong team chemistry to great effect, cementing themselves in the second round of the playoffs. Now, it's all about taking the next step, trying to reach the Conference Finals.
While they don't have the star power of the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, Atlanta has great talent; ranging from All-Stars such as Johnson and Horford, to peripheral All-Stars such as Josh Smith, to consistent and high-IQ veterans such as Mike Bibby and to hot-shooting bench players like Jamal Crawford.
They have a perfect blend, and so far this season, Larry Drew has made this Hawks team a force on the offensive and defensive ends.
Atlanta's First Six Games
Hawks 119-104 Grizzlies (@Memphis)
Hawks 104-101 76'ers (@Philadelphia)
Hawks 99-95 Wizards (Atlanta)
Hawks 100-88 Cavaliers (@Cleveland)
Hawks 94-85 Pistons (Atlanta)
Hawks 113-103 Timberwolves (@Minnesota)
PPG: 104.8 (eighth in NBA)
OPPG: 96.0 (eighth in NBA)
FG%: 0.495 (first in NBA)
OFG%: 0.437 (ninth in NBA)
Based on the statistics above, Atlanta has found themselves in the top 10 of each category. Their outstanding offense is reflected in their FG percentage, which is the best in the league. As mentioned before, they're improving defensively, and are one of the top 10 defensive teams at the moment.
It is equally as important to note that Atlanta shares the ball well on offense, taking pressure off the backs of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, and allowing their potent big men to do more damage down low.
Yes, it's early days, but so far so good for the Atlanta Hawks. Should they maintain such a run, they should end the season third or fourth in the Conference.
Now, the focus for them is remaining in good shape and good rhythm for the playoffs. They can't win it all with this team, but they're a few pieces away from being in the same sentence as the Magic, the Celtics, the Heat and even the defending champion LA Lakers.
For the Hawks, the sky is truly the limit.