February 24, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) The Eastern Conference standings are not the only proof the Atlanta Hawks are mastering Mike Budenholzer's ball-sharing, pass-happy scheme.

The second-year coach said Tuesday he likes seeing his players get on each other when someone strays from his lessons of court spacing, pick-and-rolls and pass after pass.

Long known for isolation basketball, the Hawks had to change their ways when Budenholzer was hired from the San Antonio Spurs. Now there is balance, with all five starters scoring in double figures.

And there is success.

The Hawks hold a big lead in the Eastern Conference, seven games ahead of Toronto before Tuesday's games. Only West-leading Golden State has a better record.

Budenholzer smiled Tuesday when talking about players policing themselves when there is a ''lapse'' in his system.

''I think it stands out with our players when we are not moving the ball the way we expect to and the way we want to,'' Budenholzer said. ''They get on each other and they get frustrated and I think that's probably one of the best signs is when we don't move it the way we want to, the way we're expecting of each other, it stands out.

''From an implementation standpoint, when they start coaching themselves, when they start coaching each other, that's a huge step and obviously we'll keep coaching them too. But there's nothing like hearing it from your teammate.''

It's also clear to other coaches that Atlanta players are completely on board.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said last week the Hawks' commitment to ball movement is ''almost like a disease that they've caught.''

Guard Kyle Korver remembers growing pains in Budenholzer's inaugural season, especially after center Al Horford's season-ending torn right pectoral muscle after only 29 games.

''It hasn't always been smooth,'' Korver said. ''Last year I don't know if we won a game in February. We had some injuries and it was a tough stretch for us.''

Last season's Hawks were 2-10 in February before barely making the playoffs and losing a tough first-round series against Indiana.

This year's team hasn't lost more than two straight games, but the Hawks are trying to recover from a midseason downturn that followed a team-record, 19-game winning streak.

Atlanta lost four of seven, including an ugly 108-80 home loss to Toronto after the All-Star break, before winning at Milwaukee on Sunday. The Hawks play Dallas on Wednesday night.

''A big part of what we do is chemistry and chemistry develops over time,'' Korver said after Tuesday's practice. ''I feel like we've made good strides but I feel like we can still get better. I feel like there has been a little bit of slippage the last couple of weeks, to be honest.''

Scoring balance in the ball-sharing scheme has helped the Hawks avoid extended slumps. Point guard Jeff Teague leads the team with 17 points per game, followed closely by Paul Millsap, Horford, Korver and DeMarre Carroll.

''It's a fun way to play basketball,'' Korver said. ''Whoever is on the court, you feel like you matter. Even if you don't shoot the ball, you're going to make the pass. You're going to set the screen, and what you do on that possession matters for us scoring. When everybody matters like that, you naturally play harder, you naturally buy in.''

Casey noted it doesn't matter how many times players pass the ball if they can't make the shot. The Hawks rank second in the league in assists and 3-point percentage and fourth in overall field goal percentage.

NOTES: Teague missed Tuesday's practice with an illness. Budenholzer said he was hopeful Teague would play against Dallas. ... Horford's wife, Amelia, gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy named Ean, on Monday. ''I haven't slept the last two nights, but I'll sleep good tonight,'' Horford said.

You May Like