After many pundits suggested the Hawks wouldn’t make the playoffs, Atlanta overcame a late slump to secure the 5-seed in the East. As the team battles the Washington Wizards for a spot in the Conference Semi-Finals, here are my awards after a surprising regular season.
Sixth Man of the Year – Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway finally looked worth the first-round pick the Hawks used to acquire him in 2015. Though he was inserted into the starting lineup later in the year, Hardaway gets the Lou Will Honorary Award for Excellence as Sixth Man. He provided a deadly bench option offensively, scoring 14.5 per game and shooting 35% from deep. If he continues to improve his shooting and consistency, he could be an important piece for this team in the years to come.
Most Improved Player – Dennis Schroder
This was a tough choice between Schroder and Tim Hardaway, but Hardaway already has a place on this list. DS17 had an impressive campaign as the team’s starting point guard. He averaged 18 points and six assists in 31 minutes, up from 11 and four in 20 minutes per game as Jeff Teague‘s backup. The German has a long way to go before he can be considered anything resembling elite, but he looked competent running the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard this season. Much of his improvement is simply due to a usage increase, but progress is still progress. He is signed for another four years at around $17 million per, so he is locked in as the Hawks’ future at point guard.
Defensive Player of the Year – Dwight Howard
Superman Dwight anchored the Hawks’ 4th-most efficient defense this year and provided the tenacious rebounding the team so desperately needed. Howard grabbed four offensive boards a game, double that of last year’s team leader, Paul Millsap. The Hawks have long been considered soft on the glass and Howard has certainly helped with that. It remains to be seen whether or not Dwight’s game regresses, but he should be around in the same capacity for next year at the very least.
Most Valuable Player – Paul Millsap
This one is a no-brainer. Millsap was the team’s scoring leader and its lone All-Star. He was one of the team’s best players on both sides of the floor and gave teams around the league fits on a nightly basis. Too nimble for most power forwards to guard and too big for wing players, Millsap is a constant mismatch on offense. On defense, he is a versatile player that has the size to stick with bigger guys and the quickness to switch onto small forwards. When Millsap was hurt, Atlanta lost virtually every game, going 2-6 during his eight-game absence. Millsap is the one player Atlanta absolutely needs.
Only so many people can earn these coveted superlatives, but the Hawks did collectively over-perform in 2017. After losing Jeff Teague and Al Horford only to bring in an aging Dwight Howard, many teams wrote Atlanta off. This surprising run now meets a first-round matchup with John Wall and the Washington Wizards.
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