After the Atlanta Hawks' 5-0 start, they are alone at the top with the Los Angeles Lakers as the only undefeated teams remaining in the NBA. Most Hawks fans are ecstatic, thanks in part to a bench that has stepped up in response to Josh Childress's departure to Europe in the offseason.
Let's take a look at, and grade, the individual performances by player:
Mike Bibby (14.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.6 TOPG. 40.3% FG, 37.9% 3PT, 76.9% FT)
Bibby has been inconsistent, having his two best games at home against Toronto and Philadelphia. On the good nights, he runs the offense well, and refrains from taking possession-wasting bad looks. He has attempted at least four three-pointers in every game, and has only one game with over four assists.
Still not a typical court general, Bibby needs to continue to feed the ball inside before pulling up for a contested shot. He has been streaky, and at times has stalled the offense's fluidity. Bibby is the leader, but Joe Johnson is the one with the ball bringing it up the court when the game is on the line.
Acie Law (1.8 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 RPG, 0 SPG, 0.6 TOPG, 4-16 FG, 0-7 3PT, 1-2 FT)
Law has been inconsistent in his short amount of time. He has shown that he can run the offense, but still makes mistakes that should be eliminated soon if he wants to increase his playing time. His shot has not been falling, which is understandable due to the small sample sizes.
His awareness is improved from last year, but still does not look comfortable on the court for most of the game. He drives to the basket well, and his passing is strong, but he is nowhere near ready to lead this team.
Joe Johnson (25.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 2.8 TOPG, 50.5% FG, 44% 3PT, 79% FT)
Joe Johnson has come out once again this season and shown that he is capable of being the go-to guy on a playoff team. He has been his best in the fourth quarter, and is perhaps the most important reason that the Hawks are without a loss.
His shooting has been consistent all year, barring the 9-25 performance against OKC, perhaps due to forcing too much with Josh Smith being out. If the Hawks wants to keep their current pace while Smith is out with a sprained ankle, Joe Johnson will have to continue his production.
He is on the fringe of proving his status as a superstar, and this is the time to do it. When Joe Johnson is off the court, the team is entirely different, yet improved from last season. One particularly confidence-boosting statistic for Joe Johnson this year is that he has only played over 40 minutes in two of the five games this season—a noticeable improvement from last year.
Joe Johnson's ability to hold up over the course of the season will do a lot for the Hawks' playoff chances.
Ronald Murray (12.4 PPG, 2.2 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1 TOPG, 41.5% FG, 41.2 3PT%, 57.9% FT)
Ronald Murray has provides offense off the bench, which is exactly what Hawks fans expected with his signing. What some didn't expect, though, was the stomach pain you get from watching him. It is true—Flip Murray has no conscience, and will shoot until his arm breaks, which is hell on a fan.
But up to this point, he has made the shots when they counted, and been a big clutch shooter in the fourth quarter. He will be a fan favorite as long as he is hitting, but once those shot-a-minute jumpers stop falling, his party may be over.
For now, we'll appreciate the scoring.
Marvin Williams (10.8 PPG, 1.3 APG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 TOPG, 46.2% FG, 4-7 3PT, 75% FT)
So far this season, Marvin Williams has hit FOUR times more three-pointers than he did last season. After draining only one shot from long range last season, it looks as if, yes, Marvin actually did improve his range during the offseason.
Williams has been a steady source of offense, defense, and work on the boards, but not as much as many Hawks fans hoped. Facing expectations a breakout season, he has been disappearing on offense for long stretches of time mysteriously. After a rough start to the season, he has scored over 11 points in each of the last three games, and has finally been taking enough shots to be considered a part of the offense.
As long as Williams continues to get the looks, and hit them, his points will improve. His new approach on offense will be integral to his future with this team. As long as he has confidence in his shot, Hawks fans should too.
Josh Smith (12 PPG, 1.3 APG, 8 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 2.5 BPG, 2.5 TOPG, 42.6% FG, 36.4% 3PT, 57.1% FT)
Josh Smith's injury will show us what the Hawks are made of. An absolute beast on offense, Smith is the playmaker on the offense, and improving his offensive game more and more every game. In terms of excitement, Smith's swats and rim-rocking dunks are motivation for the Hawks every time.
Before the injury, Smith was coming into his own on offense, despite his misguided affection towards the three-ball. Smith is at his best when he attacks the basket, but too many times he settles for a three, or deep jumper. He thinks he has Joe Johnson's shot, but the airballs prove that is not the case.
He will be needed, and when the ankle heals, let's hope he begins to attack the basket more. The more jumpers Smith takes, the less effective—and easier to defend—the Hawks offense is.
Maurice Evans (8 PPG, 0.6 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1 SPG, 1.6 TOPG, 44.1% FG, 43.8% 3PT, 3-3 FT)
Evans, the acquisition most likely to replace Childress, has been up and down in his first five games as a Hawk. His shooting since the first game has been strong, and his defense helps him win minutes from Flip. But whenever I watch Evans, I miss Childress more and more.
He was nearly transparent in the game against the Thunder, and seems lost at times on offense, unsure of his role. Just when you think that he should be benched, he'll do just enough to stay in the game. Overall, he has been solid off the bench, but most Hawks fans would love to have Childress back.
Al Horford (8.8 PPG, 3.2 APG, 8.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.2 TOPG, 48.5% FG, 60% FT)
Horford has been consistently stable all season, just as he was last season. While most Hawks fans would love to see him develop more inside moves, he is doing what is asked of him, and crashing the boards well.
Even more importantly, he has only been in foul trouble in two games this season—crucial, due to the Hawks lack of frontcourt depth. Horford needs to continue to crash the boards and take what the defense gives him. If he plays with intensity, and stays out of foul trouble, the Hawks will be much more confident in their frontcourt's depth.
His midrange jumper is money from 17 and in, and his intensity is a plus for a team still fighting for respect.
Zaza Pachulia (4.2 PPG, 0.8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 0.6 TOPG, 40.9% FG, 3-6 FT)
Pachulia, made famous by last year's headbutt battle with Kevin Garnett, is a target of both love and hate. He plays with hustle and intensity on a higher level than anybody on the Hawks, and perhaps the NBA. But, along with his intensity, he plays sloppily and raw.
On offense, when he should be going towards the basket strong, he tries too hard to draw a foul, and hurts the team. On defense, though the best flopper in the league, he fouls too easily—and lacks not only control, but also a vertical leap.
Zaza crashes the offensive boards better than anyone on the team, and isn't afraid to go against anybody. His presence will be crucial with Smith out, due to Solomon Jones' inexperience and lack of any sort of offense.
If Zaza plays with the intensity he had the playoffs, the Hawks will be in a much better position than if he plays as he did in the regular season last year.
Solomon Jones (3.3 PPG, 0.7 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 40% FG, 75% FT)
Solomon Jones was expected to see "some" time this season., but due to Josh Smith's injury, his role has been expanded. Coupled with Zaza Pachulia's inability to not foul everyone with the ball, Jones has played two games with substantial minutes and showed he is a force to be reckoned with on defense and on the boards.
Offense, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Lacking any sort of moves other than running towards the rim and dunking, Jones will need to think of something new to become a legitimate third center for the Hawks.
Jones has a chance to prove that he may deserve playing time, even after Josh Smith returns. These next few games will be big for his confidence, and his development.
Grade: B+ (Defense), Incomplete (Offense)
The Hawks have been successful this season due to a myriad of factors, mostly, their own confidence. They have the mindset that they can beat everyone—and while in past seasons that wouldn't have been true, now it is.
Joe Johnson is the undeniable leader of this team, and the pieces are in place around him. Now it's all about them falling together and finishing the puzzle.
Here is to the 5-0 Atlanta Hawks! I predicted 46 wins this season, and I hope they prove me right. For once, they have the team to do it.