Every Atlanta Hawks Player's Best Basketball Skill

Jared Johnson@@jaredtjohnson21Featured ColumnistMarch 5, 2015

Every Atlanta Hawks Player's Best Basketball Skill

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    When you're an elite team like the 48-12 Atlanta Hawks, it's important to have players who understand what their skills are.

    For example, Kyle Korver shouldn't call an isolation play for himself with the score tied and 20 seconds left to in the game. Likewise, Pero Antic shouldn't demand the ball in the post to go one-on-one against a dominant interior defender like DeAndre Jordan.

    Thankfully, these situations would never happen, because Hawks players understand what their skills are, and, just as importantly, what they aren't.

    Every member of the Atlanta Hawks has at least one basketball aspect that stands out—a skill both fans and his teammates expect him to bring to the table every night. So let's look at what those areas are for all 14 players on the team.

    Note: At press time, the Hawks had agreed to sign Jarell Eddie to a 10-day contract, according to Real GM. However, Eddie will not officially join the team until sometime on Thursday and is not included as a member of the team for this article's purposes.

Pero Antic: One-on-One Interior Defense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key 2014-15 statistics: 43.1 opponent field-goal percentage, Hawks' defensive rating is 100.4 when Antic is on the court

    Antic is that guy who gets selected last at pickup games but somehow always ends up on the winning team.

    The 32-year-old big man from Macedonia can be difficult to watch at times. His shooting has been way off this year (35.6 percent overall and 28.7 percent from three-point range), and he looks painfully clumsy running up and down the court.

    Fortunately, Antic knows how to bottle up opposing big men inside with the right mix of physicality and veteran savvy. The Hawks' defensive rating is 2.5 points per possessions better when he's on the court, enough to offset the offensive rating dip of 2.4 points his presence causes. 

    While Antic's defense is good, he'll have to start hitting his long jump shots at a better rate to justify the 16.2 minutes of playing time he receives per game.

Kent Bazemore: Athleticism

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 statistics: 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes, 12 dunks

    If the Hawks gave out team superlative awards, Kent Bazemore would win "Most Likely to Crack ESPN's Top 10 Plays" going away.

    The 6'5" swingman is Atlanta's most explosive player, which helps his game in many ways.

    First, there's the defense. Per DraftExpress, Bazemore has a 6'11.5" wingspan, which he uses to dominate both the passing lanes and the airways. But the 25-year-old also uses his athleticism to score as well. Watch him fully extend for this vicious punch on Jared Sullinger in the Hawks' 109-105 victory over the Celtics on Dec. 2.

    Bazemore is still learning how to assert himself on both ends of the court, but his jaw-dropping physical gifts will ensure he stays effective in the meantime.

Elton Brand: Basketball IQ

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    Key 2014-15 statistics: 42.9 opponent field-goal percentage inside of six feet, 1.57 assists per turnover

    Elton Brand had a mean post game in his prime.

    But alas, the Hawks have 35-year-old Brand, not the 25-year-old version. The veteran center no longer can shoulder Atlanta's offensive load or play 35 minutes per game.

    What the Hawks get from him now is a pretty good consolation, though.

    Brand's basketball IQ, honed from 16 NBA seasons, is now sharper than ever. On defense, he can predict what his man does before he does it. Brand's opponents shoot 42.9 percent from inside of six feet, 15.2 percent lower than their averages. He's smart with the ball, toohis assists per turnover (1.57) are a shade below the Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol's, according to ESPN.com.

    While he's only been on the court for 255 minutes, Brand's main impact actually comes off the court.

    According to Fox Sports South's Cory McCartney, Hawks teammate Paul Millsap said the following of Brand: "I ask him questions all the time. We play the same position and watching him do it in past years, it's inspirational to watch the things that he's been through and any given time he can come in and contribute."

DeMarre Carroll: Perimeter Defense

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 statistics: 13.8 opponent player efficiency rating (via 82games.com), 29.1 opponent three field-goal percentage

    This one is tough because DeMarre Carroll is both a great perimeter defender and a deadly spot-up three-point shooter.

    But the 28-year-old small forward's stingy defense on the NBA's top offensive talents is what truly sets him apart from his teammates.

    According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, "DeMarre Carroll is the unquestioned defensive stopper on the team. ... Carroll routinely guards the opposition’s top non-big offensive threat. With his versatility, he has guarded point guards, shooting guards and small forwards."

    Carroll is strong, moves well laterally and uses the majority of his energy on the less glamorous end of the court—three characteristics of a great defender.

    It's because of Carroll the Hawks can feel good going into playoff series against players like LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan.

Al Horford: Mid-Range Shooting

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Key 2014-15 statistics: 50.7 percent from 15 to 19 feet, 6.0 points per game from 10 feet to three-point line

    Al Horford is one of NBA's best big men, and most of the best big men are multitalented.

    The 28-year-old center can do a lot of things on the court, but his mid-range jump shot is definitely what makes him special. 

    Horford is the master of the pick-and-pop. After he sets a screen, he quickly finds an unoccupied spot on the floor and waits for one of his guards to find him for a shot before the defense can adjust. A good example of this comes at the 2:18 mark of the linked highlight.

    Overall, Horford shoots 50.7 percent from 15 to 19 feet. From the same distance, mid-range extraordinaire LaMarcus Aldridge shoots just 42.0 percent.

    When the three-time All-Star is on the court, the Hawks have on offensive rating of 110.9, 4.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. Horford's feathery outside touch is a big reason for the discrepancy.

John Jenkins: Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 statistics: 7-of-13 from three-point range, 6-of-11 on catch-and-shoot three-pointers

    John Jenkins probably hasn't gotten the playing time he'd hoped for heading into the season, but he's done well in limited minutes.

    The 23-year-old Vanderbilt product makes most of his impact shooting the ball, specifically spotting up behind the three-point line.

    Jenkins has shot 6-of-11 on his catch-and-shoot attempts from downtown, which averages out to a staggering 54.5 percent. It's a painfully small sample size, but what he's done in past years confirms he is indeed a top-tier long-distance sniper.

    Potential areas of improvement for Jenkins in the near future include defense and passing (he has just one assist in 109 minutes this season).

Kyle Korver: Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Stats: 49.6 percent on three-pointers, 49.7 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers

    If you're guarding Korver, you'd better not lose him. But if you do, you might as well just the ask the refs to give the Hawks three points and get it over with.

    The 33-year-old is the NBA's most accurate shooter from distance, and arguably the best. Korver leads the league with a 49.7 percent success rate from three-point range and ranks second in my personal all-encompassing 3PR metric, as of March 3. He gets most of his looks maneuvering around screens, catching passes and rising up to fire if there's even an inch of space.

    Unfortunately, Korver's normally reliable flick of the wrist is going through a rough patch at the moment.

    In his last seven games, the 33-year-old All-Star has made just 16 out of his 52 attempts from behind the arc (30.8 percent). The dip in accuracy is a tad bit concerning, but Korver is too good of a shooter to stay in his slump for much longer.

Shelvin Mack: Ball Security

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Stat: 2.78 assists per turnover

    It's kind of fitting that Shelvin Mack's biggest strength, ball security, is usually a skill associated with running backs—because he could pass as an NFL tailback (albeit a tall one), with his compact build and sturdy lower body.

    On the basketball court, however, Mack uses his strength and basketball IQ to protect the ball.

    The 24-year-old former Butler star is having a disappointing year shooting the ball (.377/.306/.789 slash) and has surrendered backup point guard duties to Dennis Schroder, but he's still been quite dependable handling the rock. He's averaging a career-high 6.9 assists per 36 minutes, against only 2.5 turnovers in the same time frame.

    Mack's heady and dependable ball-handling is nice, but he'll have to step up his shooting efficiency significantly to win back a rotation spot.

Paul Millsap: Offensive Versatility

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: 16.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, this varied shot chart (via Vorped)

    OK, so I cheated a little bit here. "Versatility" isn't technically a single skill. Per Vocabulary.com, the word means "having many skills or qualities."

    But if the dictionary wanted to, it could have put Millsap's picture below the word, and it would have been just as accurate.

    The 6'8", 245-pound All-Star contributes to the Hawks in so many ways, especially offensively. There's not one specific area in which Millsap is elite, but being good in several areas is much more impressive than being excellent in one.

    Can Millsap shoot? Yes. Can he dribble? You bet. Can he finish in the paint with authority? I'd say so.

    Basically, it's not easy to contain someone with both little- and big-man skills in a power forward's body.

Mike Muscala: Mid-Range Shooting

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: 7-of-11 from 10 to 16 feet, 8-of-14 from 16 feet to the three-point line

    He's no Horford, but Mike Muscala is quite the assassin from mid-range in limited minutes.

    The 23-year-old power forward forces big men to step out to guard him even in the waning minutes of blowouts, which is often when he plays. On the season, Muscala has canned 63.6 percent of his looks from 10 to 16 feet and 57.1 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line.

    Those percentages are better than Horford's, but Big Al has also played about 10 times the minutes Muscala has this year. Even so, what the young big man has done is impressive.

    As the regular season winds down, Moose will get more playing time as the starters rest. If everything goes Muscala's way, his mid-range shooting ability will help him earn a spot in the playoff rotation.

Dennis Schroder: Quickness

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: 55.0 percent of field-goal attempts inside of 10 feet, only 19.4 percent of two-point field-goal makes assisted on, 1.4 steals per 36 minutes

    It's a good thing camera shutter speeds have gotten faster in the past several years, or we'd never be able to get a decent photo of Dennis Schroder. 

    The 21-year-old point guard is one of the NBA's quickest players, with the jets to turn the corner on any and every pick-and-roll. When Schroder gets to the rim (which, let's face it, is pretty much the same time he starts to penetrate), his touch is soft enough to drop the ball though the hoop most of the time. On the season, the German floor general has made 55.3 percent of his attempts within three feet.

    Schroder's speed is helpful in creating offense for himself, but he also uses it to his advantage on defense.

    The 6'1", 168-pound dynamo applies full-court ball pressure on the opposing point guard each possession, preventing the opponent from establishing an offensive rhythm. He also averages 1.4 steal per 36 minutes.

    For a guy who underwhelmed in his rookie year, Schroder is sure making amends in season No. 2.

Mike Scott: Spot-Up Shooting

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: 38.0 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, 53.1 percent on catch-and-shoot two-pointers

    Mike Scott is not gun-shy, I'll give him that.

    "The Threegional Manager" hoists up 6.2 three-point attempts per 36 minutes and hits a respectable 36.4 percent of those jacks. This is from the power forward position, mind you.

    All of Scott's three-point makes this year have been assisted, so he's exclusively a spot-up shooter. But he's a good one—the 26-year-old stretch 4 shoots 38.0 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. On shots inside the arc immediately following a pass, meanwhile, he cans an impressive 53.1 percent.

    Scott may not be amazingly effective in any aspect of the game besides spot-up shooting, but the floor spacing he provides is crucial to the second unit.

Thabo Sefolosha: Perimeter Defense

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: Hawks' defensive rating is 98.4 when Sefolosha is on the court, 2.0 steals per 36 minutes

    I don't know if you've noticed, but when Thabo Sefolosha went down with a calf injury on Jan. 30, wins immediately became harder to come by for the Hawks.

    Yes, Atlanta is 9-4 since the 30-year-old swingman started wearing street clothes, but those nine victories haven't been easy

    There's no question losing Sefolosha's defensive play and leadership has contributed to the slippage. With him on the court, Atlanta's defensive rating is 98.4, which would lead the league. Without him, the Hawks allow 103.9 points per 100 possessions, a number good enough for just No. 10 in the NBA.

    As of Feb. 25, Sefolosha was on schedule with his rehabilitation and planned to return by mid-March, head coach Mike Budenholzer said, via Vivlamore. The Hawks will surely enjoy having Sefolosha's intense and fundamental defense back leading their second unit.

Jeff Teague: Working the Pick-and-Roll (On Offense and Defense)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Key 2014-15 Statistics: 63.3 percent shooting at the rim, 39.5 opponent field-goal percentage

    Like Millsap, Jeff Teague is one of those guys who's really good at a lot of things but not amazing in one particular area.

    But if there's one facet of the game in which 26-year-old All-Star is particularly excellent, it's how he maneuvers the pick-and-roll on both sides of the ball. On offense, he makes the right read almost every time, and on defense, he does a great job of getting around screens to cut off driving lanes.

    Analytics support Teague's brilliance, too.

    According to Synergy Sports data from Feb. 13, via SB Nation's Jake Fischer, Teague was fifth among all guards in points per possession generated in pick-and-roll situations. According to NBA.com, he also allows pick-and-roll ball-handlers the fifth-fewest points per possession (0.72) among players with at least 200 possessions defended.

    As the pick-and-roll becomes more and more prominent in the NBA, Ice Teague will continue to show how important he is to the Hawks' success.

    Note: All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and updated through March 4 unless otherwise indicated.

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