The Atlanta Hawks upset the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their 2011 NBA Playoffs second-round series last night, and many people that walk this earth still managed to make fun of them. This mostly has to do with the Hawks launching horrendous shots on offense that just so happen to go in. They don't play team basketball; they play isolation basketball, and they must be stopped! Even it it works!
No doubt, the Hawks are hitting shots they probably shouldn't make. Every time you expect their supposed bad shot selection to catch up to them, there's Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford hitting a stepback 18-footer with a hand in their face after dribbling for 14 seconds. It offends so much of what we want out of basketball teams that it inevitably leads to a lot of backlash. "Oh, this will catch up to them eventually," we say. "They can't possibly keep this up."
But what if ... gasp ... it can? Ask Orlando Magic fans if this style of offense will hold up in the long run, and you're liable to get a punch in the face. Atlanta certainly didn't regress to the mean against them, and it's not like Orlando is a horrible defensive team.
In fact, is there really any regression to the mean going on at all? During the regular season, the Hawks shot 43 percent from 16-23 feet as a team. That led the league. During the playoffs, Atlanta has hit 72 of their 186 shot attempts from that same range. Pull out a calculator, and you'll find that's ... just under 39 percent. In this supposed unsustainable hot streak of shooting, the Hawks are somehow managing to shoot worse from mid-range than they did in the regular season?
How do you explain that? Maybe the reality is that Atlanta is a better team than we realize.