NBA AM: Don’t Overlook the Atlanta Hawks
Of the 30 teams in the NBA, only a few are considered legitimate contenders.
The teams most often characterized as potential champions are the Miami HEAT, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. Then, there are the second-tier teams that can’t be counted out come playoff time like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
However, there is one team that is constantly left out of this discussion.
The Atlanta Hawks are currently 16-9 and the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. They have impressive wins against the Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers and Bulls. They have a balanced attack that features five double-digit scorers. They also have the fifth-best defense in the league.
When Atlanta traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams over the summer, many around the league believed the Hawks were rebuilding and clearing cap space for next offseason.
However, this group has come together and has found a variety of ways to win. They can rely on their star-studded frontcourt of Josh Smith and Al Horford, on their talented backcourt of Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and Devin Harris or on their plethora of shooters such as Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson.
“Everybody said it was going to be a rebuilding year, but in the locker room we knew what kind of team we had,” Harris said. “With the shooters we brought in and with the athleticism we had, we knew how good this team could be.”
The Hawks know that nobody considers them a contender, but every player in the locker room believes they’re capable of making a deep postseason run and surprising people in April and May.
“A lot of people have counted us out, but we’re confident, we’re playing together and we’re a very unselfish ballclub,” Smith said. “Whenever you’re unselfish, it’s contagious. Everyone wants to do things the right way. Everything is clicking on all cylinders right now.”
“We all have a chip on our shoulder because we’re not in that [discussion],” Morrow said. “It’s not something we talk about, we just go out and play, but it does take the pressure off of us. We don’t have to worry about stuff like that. We’re just focused on working and getting better as a team every day. We never lost confidence in ourselves and we feel like we can play with anybody in the league.”
Atlanta may be flying under the radar, but Smith believes they have what it takes to win a title.
“I’m very confident and anything can happen,” Smith said. “Nobody gave the Detroit Pistons an opportunity to win it when they won the championship. They didn’t give the Dallas Mavericks an opportunity to win it either. I think we have the talent. We have enough talent and unselfishness in this locker room to go as far as winning a championship if we keep believing in ourselves.”
Larry Drew, who is in the final year of his contract, has been a big reason for the Hawks’ early success. Atlanta brought in many new faces over the summer, but Drew has done an excellent job of getting everyone on the same page and distributing the minutes. When Danny Ferry took over the Hawks’ general manager in June, it seemed that Drew’s days in Atlanta were numbered since Ferry was expected to bring in his own coach. However, Drew’s job may be more secure now that the team is exceeding expectations with a roster full of ending contracts and looking like a dark horse in the East.
“You have to give Coach Drew credit,” Horford said. “We’re all buying in to what he’s telling us. He simplified the offense for us and we’re going out there playing together and as a team.
“The bond that we share as a team this year, it is impressive how quick we’ve come along and come together. There’s great chemistry in this locker room and that’s a good sign. I think we’re going to just keep growing and getting better as a unit.”
The Hawks have developed chemistry quicker than most teams because many of their players have been close for years. Smith, Williams and Morrow got to know one another at a young age in Atlanta and have been friends since childhood. Williams and Korver were teammates for several years on the Philadelphia 76ers. Morrow, Stevenson, Harris and Johan Petro were teammates on the New Jersey Nets prior to being dealt to Atlanta.
Also, the fact that the Hawks’ roster is loaded with veterans and professionals doesn’t hurt either – the team’s average age is 26.7 years old, and that’s including seldom-used rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott.
The Hawks find themselves in the middle of the spectrum, not extremely young like the Thunder or relatively old like the Celtics. Atlanta believes that they’re right in their prime and ready to contend, even though they haven’t received the credit they deserved in the first two months of the season.
Shved Making Most of Opportunity in Minnesota
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that Alexey Shved was a high schooler who wandered into the Minnesota Timberwolves locker room and took a seat. On the court, Shved has been one of the league’s most impressive rookies this season. However, the wide-eyed rookie with a mouth full of braces and a 6-foot-6 frame weighing just 180 lbs. doesn’t exactly look the part of NBA contributor.
With that said, the 24-year-old he has become a key player for the Timberwolves in the first two months of the season. Minnesota has been ravaged by injuries so Shved has been forced to play big minutes in his rookie season, and he’s making the most of his opportunity. In 25 games, Shved has averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 27.5 minutes. He has the 11th best PER among rookies, ahead of top draft picks such as Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Thomas Robinson and Harrison Barnes.
Shved may be new to the NBA game, but he has been playing professionally in Russia since 2006 and starring on the country’s national team. When his number was called, he was ready to make an impact.
“The NBA and Europe are like different worlds – nothing is the same – but I like this style better than the style in Europe,” Shved said. “I’m really happy to be here. I’ve been playing more because we’ve had so many injuries, but I’m happy that the coaches believe in me. I want to do my best on both ends. We’ve been playing well over the last few games and we don’t want that to stop.”
Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman does in fact believe in Shved and the rookie loves playing for him.
“He’s a very good coach,” Shved said of Adelman. “When I first came here, a few players told me, ‘He’s one of the best coaches in the world.’ For sure, they were right. I can tell he believes in me and I want to play my best and do what I can to help the team.”
Shved signed a three-year deal with the Timberwolves over the offseason, which reunited him with Andrei Kirilenko. The two players were teammates on CSKA Moscow last season and had played together on the Russian national team. Kirilenko has taken Shved under his wing and helped him with his transition to the NBA. On the road, Shved’s locker is right next to Kirilenko’s and the young player often spends the hours before tip-off picking his mentor’s brain.
“For sure, he’s made everything easier,” Shved said of having Kirilenko as his teammate. “We’ve played together for a long time – last summer with CSKA Moscow and then all summer on the Russian team. We understand each other. I know what he likes to do, when he likes to cut and where he likes his passes. He knows the same with me. We play well together, but we need to play better with the whole team. We need to do what’s best for the team.”
Shved and Kirilenko have had to carry the Timberwolves at times since many key players have been sidelined at one point or another including Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Josh Howard. Shved can’t wait until the Timberwolves are at full strength.
“We can be much better once everybody is back,” Shved said. “When they come back, we’ll start playing better and better. We have a great team and so many great players. This team can be very good.”
Rubio returned last week and the Timberwolves are currently easing him back into the rotation, limiting his minutes and benching him on the second night of back-to-backs. Shved has only played a few games with Rubio, but he’s already noticing just how much he can impact a game when he’s on the court.
“He’s a good player and he’s always helping me,” Shved said of Rubio. “He helps me in plenty of moments, telling me what I need to do in the game. I’m always listening to him. He’s a great guy, a great player and a great passer. Everybody wants to play with him because he makes everyone around him better.”
Shved has emerged as an important piece for the Timberwolves and he has helped keep the team afloat as they’ve dealt with injury after injury. Not bad for an undrafted 24-year-old who was signed to be a project rather than an immediate impact player.
Pondexter Discusses the Grizzlies’ Success
The Memphis Grizzlies have solidified themselves as an elite team this year and have had one of the best starts to a season in franchise history. They are currently 18-7, which puts them fourth in the Western Conference but just two and a half games back from first place.
However, as Quincy Pondexter recently told HOOPSWORLD, the team still has room to grow.
Pondexter recently discussed the team’s early success, the group’s potential going forward, the adjustment as players are still figuring out their roles and much more in this exclusive interview:
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