In a league dominated by star players, the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks demonstrated how to be successful without one.
When looking back on the franchise’s history year-by-year, the 2014-15 Hawks were a statistical anomaly. Led by second-year head coach Mike Budenholzer, the team won its first division title since 1994 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1970.
That year, zero Hawks players averaged more than 17 points per game. Nor did any player average a double-double for Atlanta. Despite this, the team produced four All-Stars and a franchise-record 60 wins.
Entering the 2014-15 season, Atlanta was expected to improve slightly upon its 38-win record from the previous year. During the preseason, the team was given a projected win total of 42.5 games, according to Basketball Reference.
The Hawks would shatter this total, winning 60 games. This was the best regular season in the franchise’s 50-year history, and it came as a total surprise to everyone around the NBA.
The team’s roster was comprised of an even balance of youth and experience, but it lacked what most would consider a definitive star player. The team featured two former All-Stars in forward Paul Millsap and center Al Horford, but neither player had ever carried the load of an NBA offense before.
Prior to joining the Hawks, veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver had served as a compliment to elite scorers such as Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose. However, in his 13th NBA season in 2014-15, Korver would become the go-to scorer for Atlanta in big moments. At 33 years old, Korver earned his first All-Star nomination and led the league with a three-point percentage of 49.2 percent.
With a starting lineup of conventional role players, the Hawks found a way to score without relying on any particular individual. Budenholzer’s motion offense dismantled opponents by running constant off-ball screens to free up long-range shooters and create passing lanes to the paint.
Efficiency was the key for Atlanta’s offense in 2014-15, as the team finished top-five in the NBA in with a 38.0 percent three-point shooting percentage, 46.6 percent field goal percentage and 56.3 true shooting percentage, according to Basketball Reference.
The Hawks’ historical season culminated in the new year of 2015, earning a perfect record of 17-0 in the month of January. Atlanta would ultimately win 19 straight games during the run, which is tied for the fourth-longest win streak of any team since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger.
Following the winning streak, the league named Atlanta’s starting five of Jeff Teague, Korver, Demarre Carroll, Millsap and Horford the Eastern Conference Co-Players of the Month for January. Just a month later, the Hawks would send a franchise record of four players to the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.
In the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Hawks earned a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round, Atlanta prevailed in six games over the Brooklyn Nets before grinding through another six-game series victory over the Washington Wizards.
Atlanta would meet its match in the Eastern Conference Finals, as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers won a four-game sweep to end the Hawks’ title dreams.
Despite falling short of its ultimate goal to reach the NBA Finals, the 2014-15 team showed the entire NBA how to win without a star player on the roster. The team found success by playing extremely team-oriented basketball with a focus on defense, perimeter shooting and ball movement.
The 2014-15 Hawks proved to the entire league that it does not take a game-breaking superstar to achieve success in the NBA.
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