Those principles, especially with the Hawks buying into what coach Mike Budenholzer has described as a vanilla defensive approach has catapulted the team atop the Southeast Division standings, and the team sits just .5 games behind Toronto for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
All-Star forward Paul Millsap has basically embodied the philosophies Atlanta values the most, using his 6-foot-8 frame in unorthodox ways to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Coming off an All-Star campaign during his first season in Atlanta, Millsap has helped the Hawks post a 16-6 record as the team has won each of its last nine games.
Through 22 games, the 29-year-old forward has stolen the ball 49 times, second most in the NBA and has managed at least one steal in 21 of his appearances this season.
His play on the defensive end has helped the Hawks hold opponents to just 97.3 points a game, the eighth fewest in the league.
“He’s very unique and gifted in just his anticipation, seeing things maybe a little bit before they happen,” Budenholzer said. “Recently a lot of people have been talking about that, I’m not a steals coach. It’s kind of goes against being solid and fundamental. But We are fortunate to have him. It’s great to see him grow on that end of the court.”
Prior to Saturday’s contest against the Magic, Shatter The Glass caught up with Millsap to discuss what drew him to the Hawks as a free agent, his approach on the defensive end of the floor and much more.
How do you like the way this team is constructed, with everyone being able to knock down jump shots?
It helps out a lot. It’s not just myself, it really helps everyone, (defensively) you have to pick and choose who you help off of and it opens things up at the basket. When everyone is shooting, that’s when we are at our best.
Almost everyone on the team is capable of handling the ball and setting up of the offense, how does that versatility contribute to your success?
That’s the beauty of our team, the big guys can handle the ball. Guys can do different things, so when you get that versatility, we are really hard to guard.
Is that one of the things that influenced your decision to come to Atlanta as a free agent?
Definitely, for sure. I like the style of play with Coach Bud. He like me know what the style of play was going to be, so that helped persuade me.
What makes you so effective stealing the ball on the defensive end, are there tendencies you look for?
I just put my best foot forward, get out there and play to the best of my abilities. Whatever comes with that, comes with that.
What do you think has been the key to Atlanta’s nine game winning streak?
Defensive intensity and just being able to play as a team.
What do you think kept the Hawks in Friday’s game with Orlando with the offense struggling to make shots most of the night?
Our defense helped us out a lot, if you’re not scoring, you have to stop them from scoring. No question, defense was the key for us.