“Kent Bazemore” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Keith Allison
The Atlanta Hawks made a strong surge into the playoffs in the 2015-16 campaign, only to be defeated by eventual NBA Champions the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mike Budenholzer’s men have been a consistent presence in the post-season since his arrival at the club in 2013, but they’ve had their run ended by the Cavs in back-to-back years.
Atlanta were forced to watch center Al Horford leave to join the Boston Celtics, but successfully regrouped with a move for eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard from the Houston Rockets, while making the prudent decision to lock down the long-term future of guard Kent Bazemore on a four-year deal.
Budenholzer’s men have made a solid start to the campaign in their bid to get back to the post-season and finally get over the hump to compete for the Championship. As a result, the Hawks are backed in the latest bet365 NBA betting odds at 12/1 to win the Eastern Conference. Last term Atlanta won 48 of their 82 matches, which was good enough for the fourth seed in the Conference. In the early stages of the campaign the club are displaying good enough to better that record, although a lot can change over the course of the season, especially regarding the fitness of key players.
Budenholzer will be delighted with the way Howard has transitioned seamlessly into the line-up, linking up well with Paul Millsap and Bazemore on the court. The 30-year-old has filled Horford’s void around the rim, notching 12.9 rebounds per game which is reminiscent of his form when he was at the peak of his powers during his time with the Orlando Magic.
“Dwight Howard” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Keith Allison
Should he remain a physical force throughout the season the Hawks will continue to have a potent offense, their only problem may be with the consistency in and around the side as other than Millsap they lack a prolific points-scorer around the net. Dennis Schroder has displayed his talent with impressive displays in bursts, but he needs to become a reliable option throughout the campaign, along with Tim Hardaway Jr and Thabo Sefolosha from the bench.
Defensively the addition of Howard has made an already stringent defense even better. The Hawks have been extremely solid at the back in the regular season, but their problems have been against the more potent attacks in the playoffs, such as the Cavaliers, in the past two seasons. However, there are very few teams that can cope with the ability of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
One advantage they could try to get over the dominant Cavaliers is home field, although Tyronn Lue’s men have started the season in such an emphatic fashion it’s hard to see any side from the Eastern Conference being able to better their record this term. If Atlanta are to pull off the feat they will have to avoid losses to mediocre teams, with their defeats to the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks potentially damaging losses in the long term.
Overall they will need to play complementary basketball on the court. The talent is there for Budenholzer, but he needs to find a strong enough blend of their solid defense and attacking prowess to overhaul the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.