SBNation has a great Hawks blog called Peachtree Hoops and I reached out to them to do a little Q&A. Here are my questions with them. They sent me some questions that should be posted on their site sometime before gametime. Enjoy.
1. Let's start big picture. Last year your team started off blazing hot and cooled down as the year progressed. Seems like the script was flipped this year and the Hawks are peaking at the right time (tossing aside the last couple of games). What's different about this year's team and is this team better than last year's version?
Jason Walker: Two things: Defense and team health -- and both are interrelated. The Hawks have come together to play lights out defensive basketball, finishing second in defensive rating for the season behind the Spurs. A large part of that is the good health, overall, of the team and, specifically to Thabo Sefolosha, who is an absolutely difference maker defensively.
2. In Boston we pride ourselves as a hard-nosed, defensive minded, lock-down type of squad. Meanwhile, the Hawks have quietly held teams to the lowest FG% in the league and have two guys in serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year in Horford and Millsap. Is anyone going to score points in this series?
Jason Walker: The C's always seem to be a tough matchup for the Hawks, due to their length and energy, but they've been beaten up front this season, somewhat, and the Hawks happen to have two of the most efficient offensive players in those spots in Horford and Millsap. IT4 is the highest raw usage player on Boston, and he creates breakdowns defensively for the Hawks, so I think while there will be some bloody battles, the scores will actually appear average, even if the play is above that.
3. We're pretty fond of our coach here in Boston, but I've heard a lot of great things about coach Budenholzer. Tell us why he's such a great coach and a great fit for your team.
Jason Walker: Two excellent coaches here, though I'd love to see Brad play Sully more minutes per game, but you're not asking me about that, are you? Budenholzer has established a move the ball and yourselves philosophy that truly means it could be anybody's play, every time down the floor. With good shooters, this is an intoxicating concept for players to give themselves over to -- there is no Iso-Ball that freezes you out of plays for dozens of possessions at a time. With the makeup of this team, that concept plays to their best strengths, which is why Kyle Korver has done so very well in Atlanta.
4. Many of the Hawks players are known commodities at this point. Horford, Millsap, and Teague are very good, consistent, veterans who know how to win basketball games. Korver had a bit of an off year, but when he's on, we know he's capable of swinging a game or a series. Who else sticks out as an X factor?
Jason Walker: Teague is the Hawks X-Factor -- when he's on point, being aggressive and driving as he has been since the trade deadline, where he's been top five in the league in drives, the Hawks are a much better offense and he plays better on the defensive end as well. That's Playoff Teague. When we get Wallflower Teague, the Hawks get into pretty sizable deficits that are hard to work back from.
5. I have to ask this totally unfair and self serving question that has only a tangential impact to the series at hand. There were rumors that the Hawks were contemplating hitting the reset button at the trade deadline - perhaps in an effort to beat the market. My sense is that was a bit overblown and they were taking a stance of "we'll listen if you wow us with an offer." Do you think the core of this team is going to stay intact beyond this year? Do you think playoff performance will impact that decision? (Ok, ok, all I want to know is "do we have a shot at signing Horford?")
Jason Walker: The reset button was more media than anything else. The team was playing top notch defensive basketball already by that point, but their record hadn't caught up to that. Once the deadline passed, this team came together.
There is no shot at Horford which wouldn't involve major compensation to the Hawks. Sure, he's unrestricted, but he's their team compass and cornerstone of what they are trying to do on and off the court. And his value is enhanced in Atlanta beyond where it would be in other cities due to the mutual fit. Jeff Teague, who I just mentioned as the Hawks main canary in the coal mine in terms of their success, is another story. I believe if Dennis Schröder had shown the consistent maturity on and off the court, Teague would've been dealt by now to maximize his trade value vis a vie his low annual contract. Alas, that hasn't transpired, and the Hawks have re-committed themselves to Teague for the rest of this season and they are lucky he's responded after the specter of that trade deadline passed.