Add one more bit of January history for the Atlanta Hawks: The NBA announced Wednesday evening that the entire Atlanta starting five — center Al Horford, power forward Paul Millsap, small forward DeMarre Carroll, shooting guard Kyle Korver and point guard Jeff Teague — has been named the Eastern Conference Player(s) of the Month for January, during which the Hawks went undefeated en route to becoming the first team ever to go 17-0 in a calendar month.
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They look pretty stoked about it — especially Carroll:
BREAKING: Our starting 5 will share East Player of the Month honors for January! pic.twitter.com/Fp1zsV684F
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 5, 2015
If you didn't know the NBA could do that, you're not alone; it was a new one on me, too. But there was precedent for multiple teammates sharing Player of the Month honors — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did with the Miami Heat in December 2010; the Dallas Mavericks trio of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley got a three-way split of the Western nod in November 2002; and Boston Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker shared the award in December 2001 — so the league saw fit to offer the collective atta-boy.
Or, more to the point, the Hawks themselves saw fit to suggest said atta-boy, and the folks who make the decisions on such matters seemed to agree that it was a good call, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
So its clear -- teams nominate Players of the Week, Month and Rookies of the Month - to a committee that decides the award
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 5, 2015
Teams make a case for their guys or guys -- an independent panel decides, so Hawks getting all starters was conceived by the Hawks.
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 5, 2015
And while that might not make Atlanta's reserve corps feel especially sunny, it does seem like a pretty sweet honor for an Atlanta starting lineup that absolutely bulldozed the league during the opening month of 2015.
The Hawks' starting five outscored the opposition by 72 total points over the span of 207 shared minutes in January, which works out to a whopping 19.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool. The starters both scored (114 points-per-100) and defended (94.7 allowed per-100) at rates that would lead the league over the course of the full season, shooting a blistering 54 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point land as a unit while holding their opponents to comparatively dismal marks of 43.3 percent and 25.6 percent, respectively; the former would be the third-best full-season mark in the NBA, while the latter would lead the league by a country mile.
And in keeping with the team's many-hands-make-light-work ethos of sharing both the ball and the burden of being a star performer on a nightly basis, no one Hawk seemed to stand head and shoulders above his compatriots in that month-long march to the top of the Eastern Conference. All five averaged double-figures, led by Millsap's 18.3 points in 33 minutes per night with Carroll's 12.3 points bringing up the rear.
Each offered strong supplemental contributions, too — do Millsap's eight boards, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 40.8 percent 3-point shooting outweigh Horford's 7.8 boards, 4.3 dimes, 1.4 blocks and 58.8 percent mark from the floor? Does Teague's sterling 3.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as the straw that stirs the Hawks' drink outpace Korver's blistering 56.7 percent long-distance marksmanship, on 6.1 attempts per night, as the sword of Damocles hanging over opponents' necks on every Atlanta possession? And what about Carroll's consistently stout perimeter defense and gap-filling offensive performance, shooting nearly 53 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point land despite virtually never ranking as a primary option on a given trip?
How do you divide up credit for so total a team performance? You can't. Or, perhaps more accurately, whether you can or you can't, as it turns out, you don't have to.
That might be sour news for some of the other deserving options in the East — say, LeBron (29.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists in 36.3 minutes per game for the now-on-a-roll Cleveland Cavaliers), mid-month Player of the Week honoree Kemba Walker (23.6 points, 4.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds per game to help the Charlotte Hornets fight back into the playoff chase) or Brandon Jennings (20.9 points and 7.2 assists in 29 minutes per game for the resurgent Detroit Pistons).
But James, Walker and Jennings all missed at least four January games due to injury, while every member of the Hawks suited up at least 14 times on the way to that perfect 17-0 mark, helping to alleviate any bad taste that the collective honor might leave and present a nice, wide opening for the NBA to tip its cap to the league's pre-eminent present-day practitioners of the beautiful game.
“We appreciate the recognition of our starters’ play during this past month. It is reflective of all the work our entire team and organization has put in,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said in a team statement. “We place a strong emphasis on having the right approach every day and making daily improvement. Collectively, we know that we have a lot more work to do this season and look forward to continue growing as a team.”
And, lest we forget, Coach Bud deserves his fair share of the credit for the Hawks' rampage to 40-9, too. He received it Monday, when he was named the conference's Coach of the Month on Monday. Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors took home the honor in the West.
James Harden, who has been many things during his NBA career but remains just one man, was named the West's Player of the Month for January. The All-Star shooting guard averaged 25.8 points, 6.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game on blistering 48/43/88 shooting splits while leading the Houston Rockets to an 11-6 mark for the month.
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