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Hawks Riding Team Chemistry For Early Success

There may be more talented teams than the Atlanta Hawks, but few can match their team chemistry.

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Chemistry remains one of the most underrated aspects of building a title contender in the NBA. This isn’t to say talent is an unnecessary requirement for winning at a high level, but year after year some of the most skilled teams fall short come playoff time and the reason typically stems from a lack of complete trust when true adversity arises.

The Atlanta Hawks headed into the All-Star break with the second-best record in the league at 43-11. Their start to the season has defied the vast majority of preseason predictions and now the focus has turned toward the Hawks making a legitimate run for the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.

Sure, you could make a strong argument about there being more top-heavy and talented teams in the league than the Hawks, but Atlanta’s team chemistry and belief in head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system has been a true difference maker – and one of the reasons the franchise boasts four All-Stars this season.

Hawks All-Star center Al Horford believes that the team’s top players could post more gaudy stats, but ultimately it’s their sacrifice as a unit that makes their success possible.

“I feel like people do make sacrifices for the team because this is a team sport,” Horford said. “And usually the people who sacrifice the most are the most successful.

“We all bought into what Coach wanted us to do and we also have a lot of veteran guys in our group. If you look at our team, we have a lot of veteran players that have been on good teams and know how to play good basketball. When you combine those things, I think that is when good team chemistry happens.”

The Miami HEAT and San Antonio Spurs are prime examples of individual sacrifice leading to titles, as they’ve won the past three NBA championships.

Despite Atlanta’s early success, Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap says the team still has room to make even more improvements during the stretch run of the campaign.

“I’m not really trying to look too far ahead and we are just trying to take care of the regular season first,” Millsap said. “But we still feel like there is a lot of room for improvement because we haven’t even played our best basketball yet. We feel like we can still get better and we still have a lot to work on.”

Many people are surprised when evaluating the Hawks’ current success, but they really shouldn’t be at this point. After all, the franchise has reached the playoffs the past seven seasons so they’re not exactly in uncharted territory.

With that said, this may be the most connected Hawks unit when it comes to chemistry and commitment to offensive and defensive philosophies coming from the sidelines.

Millsap believes since credit for the team’s success has been spread equally throughout the rotation, more guys are getting the chance to shine. The Hawks’ starting lineup was recently named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Players of the Month for January (the first time a starting unit has won the award, which is usually given to individual players). Millsap believes that honor and the attention that the team as a whole is getting has helped the Hawks’ camaraderie.

“It does because not one guy is being singled out, so that makes the other four guys happy,” Millsap said. “But it goes back to the way we play offensively and defensively. We move the ball and it’s a wide-open system defensively and we have the offensive freedom to make plays. But in doing so, we also help each other out.

“We hit our stride pretty quick and we came off running. We actually started the season pretty slow, but after guys found their legs we started running. We had guys healthy and stay healthy and even when guys went out, we had guys off the bench who stepped up so it really has helped with our team’s chemistry.”

The Hawks currently enjoy a 6.5-game lead over the Toronto Raptors at the top of the Eastern Conference’s standings. But ultimately, if the Hawks are going to change the perception of the franchise, the team will need to make a deeper run in the playoffs on the biggest stage under the brightest of lights.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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