Profiling the Pacers’ Possible First Round Playoff Opponents

Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports /
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Photo: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports /

Atlanta Hawks (36-43) – 8th Place

by Jared Wade

Offensive Rating
105.9 (17th)

Offensive Four Factors
eFG%: 51.5% (10th)
ORB%: 21.3% (28th)
TO%: 14.5% (3rd)
FT/FGA: 0.207 (16th)

Defensive Rating
106.7 (15th)

Defensive Four Factors
eFG%: 51.0% (20th)
DRB%: 74.3% (18th)
TO%: 13.9% (8th)
FT/FGA: 0.196 (9th)

Likely Starters
Jeff Teague
Kyle Korver
DeMarre Carroll
Paul Millsap
Pero Antic

Key Reserves
Lou Williams
Elton Brand
Mike Scott
Shelvin Mack

Season Story
When the Hawks hired Danny Ferry to run their team in the summer of 2012, they were committed to revamping their roster. He shipped out Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams right away and would let Josh Smith walk for nothing in free agency a year later. Instead, he used the savings to sign Paul Millsap, and this was supposed to create a formidable inside duo alongside Al Horford. Throw in the return of Lou Williams, and the Hawks were reloading, not rebuilding.

Unfortunately, they lost Al Horford to injury early in the year and the season was ruined before it really begin. Though Horford isn’t Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose, this was just another tale of a team with higher aspirations having to tone down expectations considerably as soon as its best player went down.

Still, the Hawks were able to persevere for a time and seemed to be salvaging a season despite the setback — for a time. They stood at 25-21 on February 1 before the floor fell out beneath them, starting (oddly enough) with a loss to Indiana that sparked a streak in which Atlanta dropped 14 of 15 games. All of the sudden, a decent season had turned into a 26-35 record. Ouch.

They turned it back around a tad by winning their next five but dropped another six straight after that. So despite what Pacers fans saw when the Hawks came to town and spanked them last Sunday, we’re talking about a Hawks team that is reeling and licking its wounds as it prepares for what will be, if anything at all, a short time spent in the playoffs.

Biggest Strengths
The Hawks love to put up the 3-ball and they can make it with some regularity. The team’s best story this year has been Kyle Korver’s ongoing assault on the consecutive-games-with-a-3 record. Steph Curry aside, Korver is quite possibly the world’s best shooter. In Pero Antic and Paul Millsap, the Hawks also have a pair of bigs who can create matchup nightmares (especially for big teams like Indiana) by stepping out behind the arc. The pair launch 3.4 and 2.9 triples per game, respectively.

Biggest Weaknesses
Rebounding. In part due to the long shots of their bigs, the Hawks get very few offensive boards. And that’s against all teams. Against a board-hogging defense like Indiana, Atlanta’s 20.1 offensive rebounding percentage will likely dip even further, which turns the game largely into a question of how accurate the Hawks could be with their jumpers.

The team’s fate can often hinge on the production of Jeff Teague. At his best, he can be a devastating penetrator who disrupts entire defensive schemes by getting to the rim and creating for others. Other times, he can over dribble, miss too many jumpers and fall into missteps that hurt the team’s offensive flow. In wins this year, he shot 37.9% from 3-point range versus 27.1% in losses. His overall shooting is also 2.6 percentage points lower in losses while his scoring falls 2.2 points per game.

Head to Head With Pacers: Indiana 2, Atlanta 2
The Hawks showed some of their early resilience when they fended off the Pacers on January 8 in Atlanta. Despite three straight losses to good teams (Golden State, Chicago, and Brooklyn), the Hawks closed out that week with wins over the Pacers and Rockets to right the ship.

Indiana then beat the Hawks twice in February, with the first matchup in Atlanta being the team’s first regular season win in Georgia in a long, long time.

In the final matchup of the year, the Hawks returned the favor, coming to Indiana to embarrass the team on its home floor. Atlanta led 55-23 at the half, holding the Pacers to the lowest-scoring half in franchise history.

Are They Are Threat to Indiana
The Hawks are not a threat to many good teams, but the Pacers might be the most vulnerable. Indiana’s bigs have struggled to defend the long jumpers from Atlanta’s down-low duo of Antic and Millsap, and we have seen years and years of evidence that Indiana — for whatever reason  — can rarely win in Altanta. That includes two games last year that the Pacers lost in the Highlight Factory, which turned what should have been an easy series into a 2-2, troubling affair.

Really, the Hawks don’t resemble a good team, but they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t commit many fouls, and they get hit jumpers. Against the current version of the Pacers, that’s not the worst recipe for success: Just play steady and hope Indiana beats itself. And with all the scoring droughts and turnovers, these Pacers are more than capable of doing just that. Thus, these days, a seven-game series defeat to a team as bad as Atlanta isn’t out of the question.