The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games last year and won the East by seven games – numbers that are almost unheard of in today’s NBA. Many analysts expected Atlanta to regress this season, but the Hawks are still a respectable 12-8 and are just two-and-a-half games back in the Eastern Conference standings.
What has made this franchise so sustainable? Coaching? Personnel?
“It’s definitely been both: coaching (and) the personnel that we got in this locker room,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We want to create a winning environment. We’ve been building on this for years now. Hopefully we continue to get better and ultimately reach that goal.”
Atlanta has fully bought into Mike Budenholzer’s system of ball movement and selfless play. Six Hawks are averaging double figures, including Millsap, who leads the team in scoring (18.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.6).
“Everybody’s definitely buying into it,” Millsap said. “Certain guys are going to get more touches than others obviously, but that’s what we wanted to create – equal-opportunity guys. If you’re open, shoot it. And when you do that, guys want to play defense, want to play good team defense. Guys want to move the basketball. That’s just the environment that we wanted to create.”
While it’s still early in the season, the Hawks will almost certainly make the playoffs once again this year. Winning 60 games again would be nice, but making it to the NBA Finals would be even nicer.
“Just continue to build,” Millsap said. “It may not be in the win-loss column, but through experience and knowing what to do when we get there and just getting better. Every game, we got to use that as a stepping stool to get better. Last year was a spectacular year, but everything else we’re trying to get better at.”
Millsap, 30, is from Louisiana and played college ball at Louisiana Tech. He grew up idolizing pretty much every NBA player, from Michael Jordan to Karl Malone, from Reggie Miller to Detlef Schrempf.
“I looked up to the whole NBA,” Millsap said. “I felt like (anybody who) got there made it there for a reason, and I wanted to be just like them.”
Thus, Millsap, understands and appreciates all that Kobe Bryant has accomplished in the NBA. Bryant, 37, has announced that this season will be his last. His 2-14 Lakers will play the Hawks in Atlanta this Friday.
Millsap said that Atlanta has been a “Kobe zone” in the past but that the Hawks have won over a lot of fans in recent years with how well they’ve played. So, how will Bryant be received Friday?
“I hope they boo him to start,” Millsap said, laughing. “But out of respect, seeing that this is his last year, (I hope) they show him some respect.”
Brandon Tierney felt it should be the other way around: cheer Bryant before the game but boo him during it. Millsap disagreed.
“No, you boo him to start and get in his head,” Millsap said in a I’ve-been-around-the-block tone. “And then when the game is over and we win, then you cheer him and say farewell.”