Stepping Up in March
by Jon Newberry
The month of March featured many obstacles to overcome for the Atlanta Hawks.
- They began the month with their six-time All-Star, Joe Johnson, on the sideline with a knee injury.
- They had six back-to-backs and a back-to-back-to-back on the schedule
- Nearly everyone on the roster missed time due to injuries/illnesses/personal matters. The list of players that were available for every game (Smith, Teague, Pachulia, Hinrich, Dampier) is much easier to write out than the list of players that were sidelined.
With so many challenges, the Hawks needed some individuals to step up if they were to bounce back from a lackluster month in February when they posted a 4-9 record.
Even with five overtime periods in March added to the already grueling schedule, the Hawks were able to post an 11-8 record and firm up their spot in the postseason. Here are a trio of players that posted career months to help lead the way.
With the other two captains in street clothes to start the month J-Smoove put the team on his back for three straight wins, including a thriller over Oklahoma City that featured the current Hawks’ “Dunk of the Year” (see video on right).
In the end, josh had the most productive scoring month of his career, averaging 23.0 ppg. The only other months he has averaged over 20 ppg were during the tail end of the season back in 2007. Smoove also was a beast on the boards, averaging 10.1 rebounds per contest. It was the fourth time in his career that he has averaged a double-double for an entire month. The others were February of this year (17.1 ppg/10.4 rpg), February of 2011 (18.6/10.0) and April of 2007 (21.1/10.3).
One other stat that may go overlooked was Josh’s improvement at the free throw line. After shooting just .552 at the charity stripe through the end of February, Smoove hit .721 from the line in March.
Joe’s late game heroics this month are well documented (see video on right), but his overall production was also at a very high level despite the fact that he missed the first four games. His 22.4 ppg is his highest average since January of 2011 when he scored 26.0 ppg.
Johnson was on fire from behind the arc, connecting on 48 percent of his shots from long range, which is his most accurate month since he hit over 50 percent way back in April of 2005. His 40 made 3-point shots are the second most in any month of his career (he hit 46 in March of 2008).
Often overlooked in the box score in favor of more prolific scorers, Zaza has been a huge piece to the Hawks’ puzzle ever since Al Horford went out with his pectoral injury. Pachulia stepped up his production even more in March, posting averages just short of a double-double.
His 9.4 ppg is his highest scoring month (minimum 4 games played) since March of 2007, and his 9.9 rebounds per contest were the most since his first month with the Hawks back in November of 2005. All in all, Big Z pulled down 179 total rebounds in March, with 62 of them coming on the offensive end.
Now, with just one month left in the regular season, the Hawks will look for this trio to keep rolling. The team will hope for better luck with injuries and illnesses, and try to get everyone clicking as they prepare to make waves this postseason.