Five thoughts on the Hawks' 3-0 start:
1. Between the impressive home games against the Celtics last April that put the Hawks on the map and the fact that the Hawks have beaten three teams predicted to make the playoffs to start this season, I'm feeling good about this team. The Hawks are playing well against the better teams in the NBA. That said, they started last season by beating Dallas and Phoenix at home and almost beating Detroit on the road, but they ended up at 37-45. The lesson: let's not get too carried away.
2. The most obvious difference between this year's team and last? Zaza! Mark Bradley had the same thought that I did in watching the first two games: the old Zaza is back. The guy who played his rear off in going after offensive rebounds has showed up, not the guy from last year with the niggling injuries and the bad attitude. Not coincidentally, Zaza is in the last year of a four-year deal that was one of Billy Knight's best decisions in Atlanta.
(Speaking of Bradley, I heart him again after a strong column on the Hawks and this mea culpa on the Dawgs. Not every columnist will link all of his columns supporting a position that turned out to be meritless. I may disagree with Bradley at times, but he always shows a level of humility and accountability when he's wrong. That said, I'd like to see him address the fundamental flaw in his thinking: overrating the most recent piece of evidence. In last week's case, it was Stafford's performance at LSU.)
3. Speaking of our dearly departed GM, his worst decision was taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul. Last night, Paul did nothing to change anyone's mind about that mistake, but Marvin did show a very encouraging glimmer: he knocked down a trio of threes. Marvin made one three all of last season. That's a major problem for a small forward who isn't an especially good finisher at the basket. Williams worked on his outside game in the offseason and the results were evident last night. If he presents a real threat from three-point range, then life gets easier for the other Hawks on offense. Three-point shooting was a major weakness for the Hawks last year, but with Maurice Evans getting a lot of minutes and Marvin showing better range, that weakness could become a strength.
4. The Hawks are playing much better defense this year. I'm at a loss to explain why, other than to point to the small sample size of games. Is Evans really a huge defensive upgrade at the small forward position? Has Mike Bibby gone from defensive liability to average defender in an effort to get a big deal in the offseason? Are the players finally listening to Mike Woodson and implementing his defensive schemes properly? Suggestions are encouraged.
5. From my living room on Saturday night, it seemed as if Hawks fans had not forgotten how to cheer. There was a lot of talk in the media before the season that the buzz from last year's playoffs had dissipated because of Josh Childress signing with Olympiakos, but the fans quickly remembered what it's like to provide a home court advantage once the Hawks started to make their run. We still have an LA-style late arriving crowd, but the people in the seats at Philips are taking the momentum from last April and running with it. We'll see if the crowd is good on Friday night against Toronto without the opening night buzz.