One Team, One Stat: Atlanta Hawks' defense shines against top offenses

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2016-17 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Atlanta Hawks, who were the best at defending the best offenses.


The Atlanta Hawks were the best defense against the league’s top 10 offenses last season, allowing just 101.0 points per 100 possessions.


Overall, the league’s top 10 offenses scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions. The Hawks held them to an effective field goal percentage of 48.2 percent (lowest mark), kept them off the free throw line, and were a much better defensive rebounding team against that group than they were overall.

Of course, the Hawks went just 12-13 in those games, because they scored less than a point per possession. A year after establishing an identity as a top-six offensive team that shared the ball, the Hawks took a big step backward offensively, scoring 3.3 fewer points per 100 possessions. Only two teams – Phoenix and the Clippers – saw a bigger drop-off.

The Hawks were the only team that regressed in each of the offensive four factors. They shot worse, grabbed fewer offensive rebounds, turned the ball over more, and got to the free throw line less than they did in 2014-15.

But after a mediocre start on the other end of the floor (they ranked 16th through November), the Hawks had the league’s best defense after Christmas, allowing just 97.6 points per 100 possessions over their last 51 games. They finished second in defensive efficiency, their first top-five ranking on that end of the floor in 17 years.

No team protected the rim better than the Hawks, who allowed their opponents to shoot just 56.7 percent in the restricted area. And they ranked in the top seven in both forcing turnovers and keeping their opponents off the free throw line.

Al Horford, now in Boston, was a big part of the Hawks’ second-ranked defense. His rim protection numbers (opponents shot 49.4 percent at the rim when Horford was there to defend it) were about average, but he was the big man defender on 1,536 pick-and-rolls last season, 600 more than any other Hawk. The Hawks allowed just 98.2 points per 100 possessions with Horford on the floor, the league’s third lowest mark (behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Draymond Green) among bigs who played at least 2,000 minutes last season.

New center and and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard had similar rim protection numbers (49.7 percent) to Horford. But Howard’s Rockets ranked 21st defensively last season and they allowed 105.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

If a return home, a proven system, and additional stability can help Howard become a defensive force again, the Hawks can remain one of the league’s best defensive teams. The other end of the floor provides more questions, but a top-five defense would go a long way as they look to compete with the league’s title contenders.


Have made the playoffs nine straight years, the second longest streak in the league, trailing only San Antonio (19).

Assisted on 66.3 percent of their field goals, the second highest rate in the league. Led the league in assist percentage each of the previous three seasons.

Were the league’s best fourth quarter team, outscoring their opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.

Went 11-12 on the road against other teams that finished with winning records. Only the Warriors (16-4) had more road wins against that group.

Grabbed just 19.1 percent of available offensive rebounds, the lowest offensive rebounding percentage since the league started counting offensive rebounds in 1973.

Starting lineup played 892 minutes together, the second most in the league.

According to SportVU, they led the league with 1,333 “wide open” 3-point attempts.

Outscored their opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with Dennis Schroder on the floor and by just 1.7 with him on the bench.

Kyle Korver had an effective field goal percentage of 56.3 percent, down from 67.1 percent in ’14-15. That was the biggest drop-off among 124 players who took at least 500 shots both seasons. Korver went from taking 75 percent of his shots from 3-point range in ’14-15 to just 64 percent last season.

Howard‘s usage rate of 18.7 percent was his lowest since his rookie season.

NBA TV’s Hawks preview premieres at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 15.