The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - How 'bout Those Hawks - Nov. 19, 2009

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

"How 'bout Those Hawks"
by Lang Whitaker

Over and over for the last two weeks, I have been asked the same two questions:

1) How `bout those Hawks!?

This is posed to me not so much as a question but as a declaration. Just today, when I was returning from lunch, two people stopped me while I was walking between the front door of the SLAM office to my desk. To talk about the Hawks. The Hawks!

I'm sure that I hear this often because I am so closely identified, particularly among my family and friends, as a Hawks fan. I'm always wearing Hawks sweatshirts and hats, I write on Hawks.com, I've done color commentary on Hawks radio broadcasts. Even when they were winning a total of 13 games a few seasons ago, my friends and family knew that dinners out or trips away had to be planned around the Hawks schedule. My DVR has seen more Hawks action than Mike Woodson. This team has been very important to me for a very long time. And this hasn't always been easy.

I lived in Atlanta for the first 20-plus years of my life, and I followed the Hawks avidly that entire time. When I moved to New York a decade ago, I wasn't sure how my fanatical fandom would endure. You might think that leaving a team's city would make it harder to follow that team, but you would be wrong. Suddenly, I didn't take it for granted any longer. Following the Hawks meant I had to actually follow the Hawks, actively seek out information, which, thanks to the explosion of the internet and League Pass, was easier than ever to do.

This didn't mean the Hawks have always been fun to follow. There have been some, shall we say, "lean" years in there for Hawks fans recently. As such, I find myself in a state a near disbelief recently that the Hawks, our Hawks, are sitting here three weeks into the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. But we are. Honest, we are.

2) Are they going to keep it up?
This seems to be the common follow-up question to the first question, and I can understand the sentiment. If I knew the answer to this question, however, I would probably move to Vegas and make a living in an entirely different way.

I don't know if the Hawks will be able to continue winning at an 83 percent clip. That would mean they'd finish the season with a 68-14 record, which, while sounding glorious, also seems like a bit of wishful thinking. Something like 50 wins would not only be more realistic, but it also seems like it would be satisfying.

Remember, the NBA is no joke: Even with a 10-2 record as I write this, the Hawks are still only one game ahead of both Orlando and Boston in the East. There's a lot of basketball left to play. Are the Hawks going to keep it up? I hope so.

But either way, right now it sure is fun to be able to say with a smile, How `bout those Hawks?

MAILING IT IN...
Last week we talked about the Hawks and their defensive intensity.
This week, reader Rajesh writes...
What's the deal with the new and improved Hawks' free throw shooting? Last year, the team's average was 73.7% during the regular season. That was second worst in NBA and only .1% higher than the Clippers. This year, we are shooting 78.8% and are seventh in the NBA. Free throw shooting was one of my biggest knocks on the Hawks last year. I def don't want to jinx the team by talking about it, but did you hear anything about the off-season that might of had an impact on the team's new success from the line?

First of all, yes, that's the same Rajesh whose letter we ran last week. He's prolific. The rest of you better step it up. As for the free throw shooting, I have no idea, and I'm pretty sure the team doesn't either. I suppose it's partly because we added Jamal Crawford, who's shooting 83 percent from the line this season, which really helps the team average. But even with Josh Smith hovering around 60 percent, the Hawks do appear to be much improved from the free throw line, which could be huge when we get to the postseason.

Oh, and thanks for jinxing it!

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at lang@harris-pub.com.