The Hawks made the playoffs, which means the team that has no real chance to win the NBA title or probably even a postseason series will not be in the draft lottery or draft higher than 15th (barring a trade).
In most circumstances, the draft wouldn’t be a talking point on the eve of the playoffs. But the Hawks’ organization has made it no secret that tomorrow is a bigger priority than today at this stage of their building project and, well, it’s hard to dispute that mindset.
But the playoff series against Indiana isn’t without some significance. Here are three reasons why:
1.) EFFORT: While the Hawks aren’t a great team, particularly minus Al Horford, they play hard. Other teams don’t like to play them. That’s a good thing. They may be relative gnats in the 16-team playoff field but gnats are kind of a pain. That’s a credit to general manager Danny Ferry for his roster selection, coach Mike Budenholzer for getting players to buy in and most of all the players for not cashing it in when they easily (and almost did) blow a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. If the Hawks can continue that level or effort and toughness in the postseason, it will be a positive sign for the future.
2.) TEAGUE: Guard Jeff Teague (16.5 points, 6.7 assists) has been really good at times this season. And he has been really ordinary at times. The Hawks’ don’t function well when he’s ordinary. If Teague is aggressive with the ball – as he was last week when he won conference player of the week honors, averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals in four games – the Hawks can do some damage against the Pacers. His play theoretically also could impact offseason plans. Ferry never has publicly committed to any player on the roster. Teague is only one year into a four-year contract but he would not be a difficult to move if Ferry or Budenholzer saw something they didn’t like. Teague’s ability to attack offensively and lead are keys for this team moving forward.
3.) SYSTEM: Ferry and Budenholzer have spoken extensively after their San Antonio Spurs’ blueprint, in terms of how an organization is structured and the team’s playing style. How significant of an endorsement would it be if the Hawks gave the Pacers a run. They’ve been decimated by injuries all season, even beyond Horford, and weren’t that big or even that good to begin with. Ferry’s and Budenholzer’s belief is when the Hawks reach the point of running their system with consistency, they should be able to plug a player in when one goes down, without too much of a drop-off (within reason). Their starting lineup: Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Pero Antic. Indiana’s starting lineup: George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert. It’s clear which team is better on paper. That’s when the lesser team’s system is tested.
Do I think the Hawks will win this series? No. But given Indiana was a bit wobbly down the stretch, they’ve got a shot to win a couple of games.