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NBA AM: Hawks Might Be NBA’s Best Kept Secret

Rolling along without much mainstream respect, the Atlanta Hawks continue soaring in the East

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Are the Atlanta Hawks for real?

At this point, the Atlanta Hawks’ success on the hardwood shouldn’t be a huge surprise to NBA fans. After all the team has reached the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, produced All-Stars and continued to thrive despite multiple head coaches and numerous roster transformations.

This season, the Hawks (23-8) are winning nearly 75 percent of their contests and currently stand second in the Eastern Conference standings – just a half game behind the first place Toronto Raptors. Going further, the Hawks own the league’s fourth best record heading into the New Year.

But despite being on the verge of their seventh straight strip to the postseason, you can make the argument that the Hawks are still flying far below the radar when it comes to securing mainstream respect.

Now, there are a few reasons why the guests may be late arriving to the Hawks’ coming out party. You can’t ignore that the team has disappointed in the playoffs during the run, failing to advance past the second round in all of those trips. The Hawks also don’t possess the huge box office star that attracts the casual fans attention.

Nevertheless, the Hawks are rollicking along and racking up the wins at a high clip. The team boasts a 6-2 record against the Western Conference on the season, which includes victories over Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles (Clippers) over the past two weeks. The Hawks also boast three victories over two of the Eastern Conference’s top five teams in the month of December  (Cleveland twice and Chicago).

Driving the Hawks’ success is their overall offensive efficiency. The team is 15-4 when they score over 100 points, own the seventh best point differential in the league (4.7) and rank in the top ten in three pointers made, three-point percentage, assists, free throw percentage, field goal percentage and steals.

Ultimately, these Hawks will be judged by their playoff success and their ability to erase past disappointments out of the collective memory of the mainstream. Whether that will transpire remains to be seen, but there seems to be something different about these Hawks compared to years past.

Kobe Bryant sends a jab to critics

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is one of the league’s most prolific scorers in history,  will undoubtedly head to the Hall of Fame once his playing career is over and even his harshest critics would have to place him in the top 20 players to ever lace up the high tops.

However, Bryant is routinely criticized for his ball dominant playing style and high shot volume on a nightly basis. This has been on full display throughout the Lakers’ current campaign as Bryant’s supporting cast is much weaker than in years past.

On a Per 36 minute basis, Bryant is hoisting 22.1 shots per game which is the second highest rate of his 19 year career. The highest shot volume rate for Bryant (Per 36) came in 2006 where he launched 23.9 per game.  There’s a pattern here. While the 2006 Lakers squad reached the playoffs, the team featured a weaker supporting cast around Bryant – much like the 2015 campaign.

Bryant hears critics saying he dominates the offense at times and recently took a shot at some of those critics who says he should pass more instead of looking to score.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for you guys to understand that. No, I really don’t,” Bryant said according to the Los Angeles Times. “Like, it’s fascinating to me. When [teammates] are open, they make shots, it’s easy. I sit back.

“When they don’t and we’re down 15 or something points, I try to get it going. Sometimes I make them. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, you think it’s because I’m not passing the ball. It’s really that simple. You guys have a very hard time understanding that for some reason.”

Bryant is averaging 24.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 29 games this season. The Lakers (10-22), currently on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, are in danger of missing the postseason for consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1976.

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

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