May 03, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: ATL, The Underdogs or Favorites?

What if I told you that a team would barely get into the postseason as an eighth seed and then outplay a number one seed to the point where they look like the favorites to win?  Would you believe me?  Well, that's just what the Atlanta Hawks have been doing.  This Hawks team is the only team in the postseason with a losing record and they just barely got in over the Knicks.  Injuries have plagued the Hawks all year long and this has caused them to draw the eighth seed.  So, going into the series with the reeling Pacers, the Hawks looked like they may have drawn the better matchup.  However, the Pacers may have been on a skid heading into the postseason, but they were still the number one seed for a reason.  They tout one of the best defenses in the league and they still have a rising star in Paul George who has been talked about as one of the best all-around players in the game.  Meanwhile, one of Atlanta's best players in Al Horford was lost for the season back on just the twenty-ninth game of the season.  They also lost Lou Williams for 22 games, Millsap and Korver for a few games, and they lost bench players Ayon and Jenkins for the year as well.  So, I bet the question now is, how are the Hawks playing in a game seven against the Pacers?
Well, let's start with Jeff Teague, the leader of this Atlanta squad.  During the regular season Teague averaged a 16.5 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, and 2.6 rebounds per game all while shooting 43.8% from the floor and and 84.6% from the free throw line.  Now, against one of the top rated defenses Teague is averaging 19.8, 5.3, and 3.8 while shooting 40.6% and 90.1%.  Although his field goal percentage has taken a small hit, he has been taking 3 more shots per game and scoring 3 more points per game too.  Teague has been taking over for the Hawks and leading them to big wins over Indiana.  His two best scoring games in game 1 and game 6 resulted in a 1-1 record, but his best overall game came in game 3 when Atlanta beat the Pacers by a big 13 points.  Now, compare Teague to his counterpart George Hill.  Hill has been averaging 12.7, 4.0, and 3.3 and he also has just a mere 12.6 player efficiency rating.  Teague boasts a 19.3 PER, and he is obviously out performing George Hill in almost every facet of the game.  To go along with the guard play, the Hawks' guards have been raining threes.  The Pacers have been more efficient from three point than the Hawks, but the Hawks have still made 17 more threes than Indiana.  Throughout the series it has seemed like Hawks can catch fire at any moment.
So, how about the big men battling in the paint?  Everyone has heard about the demise of Roy Hibbert this year, thanks to social media, but in comparison to the Hawks is it that much of an impact?  Hibbert has been averaging 4.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, while shooting 30% from the floor and carrying an abysmal 0.6 PER.  This was the man who has been their starting center and was an all-star too.  David West, meanwhile, has been pulling the weight he's been expected to carry.  He's carrying averages of 15.0, 5.0, and 5.8 while shooting 51%.  Their big men on the bench have been ok, but they're not anything write home about.  Mahinmi hasn't been a force on offense at all, but he has played a part in shutting down the paint against Atlanta.  Now, let's see how that stacks up against the Hawks' big men.  Paul Millsap is playing exceptionally well this series, he has averages of 20.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 2.7 apg while shooting 42.7% from the floor.  Millsap has really been a force for Atlanta in this series.  He's been playing great defense, and he's also been making the Indiana big men look bad.  Millsap has been setting the tone for this team when the guards can't.  If a shot isn't falling they pass the ball down low to Millsap and let him go to work.  Once they see Millsap make some shots, the whole team starts to get confidence in their own shot and they start rolling.  Pero Antic and Mike Scott have been able to give Atlanta some big plays as well.  Antic has been a wall on defense and even more so on the boards.  Mike Scott has been able to deliver big plays that get the crowd going in Atlanta.  Scott has been almost like a diamond in the rough for the Hawks and a lot more people are finding out who he is.  The Hawks get the nod as far as the big men go, due to the tremendous play of Millsap and the disappearing act of Roy Hibbert.

It's time for you to decide now, who do you think is the actual favorite in this series?  Let me know on twitter what you think @Sixers_RunWitUs.

- Alex Fischbein

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