NEW YORK -- "If it was going to happen," Kyle Korver says, "that's the way it should have happened."
The Hawks shooter is talking about the volume of Atlanta Hawks at this year's All-Star Weekend, the most zoo-like zoo in the galaxy, in the mega-zoo of New York this time around. But through the media sessions (which are apparently really rough) and the VIP meet-and-greets (and about 100 in-store appearances), there is an honor. They were chosen as the game's best players, and they did it together, along with their coach.
The Hawks are the best team in the league, but their media hounding was the least, their posters the least prominent on buildings and in subways this weekend. Atlanta is somehow not the favorite at many sports books to win the title. The most frequently asked question about them is if they can really win in the playoffs, despite their having matched up with and beaten nearly every contender you can name, and more importantly, despite having showed the kind of team-first basketball that everyone raved about after the Spurs' title last summer.
And yet, part of the reason there's such skepticism despite their contingent at All-Star Weekend is how surprising it was. All-Star forward Paul Millsap said it was surprising even to the Hawks.
"Are we surprised? It's a little surprising," Millsap admitted. "To play as we did in so many games in the first month ... we didn't reach our expectations. But we're used to the success now, it's something we've gotten used to, and we're not going to settle for anything less."
So how did they get here?
Mike Budenholzer stressed in an interview this week that Atlanta's entire structure really "isn't that complicated," which seems counterintuitive when you watch them play. They move the ball with breakneck speed, their rotations and spacing seem so orchestrated and well designed. How can this really be so simple?
"It's so simple," Millsap said. "People might not get it. They don't expect it to be that simple and be productive with it. It's just fundamental basketball, going out and having fun."
"Honestly, it's just playing pick-up basketball," All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. "Unselfish basketball. You've got to have intelligent players who know how to pass and are willing to pass up a good shot for a better shot."
The Hawks are masters at that concept, registering the third most secondary assists or "hockey assists" in the league, behind only the Warriors and Spurs. But that doesn't come about through mastery of an advanced playbook, instead Millsap says it's about what they focus on.
"It's about our work ethic. We practice the basics. We practice on the simple stuff, so that when the game comes around, it's second nature."
"Our whole offense is free flowing," Teague said. "We don't call plays too much, it's all reads and reactions from one another."
For the Hawks, that speaks to their commitment to and trust in one another. That's why the four stars were so glad they were chosen together.
"That's the biggest thing," Teague said. "We're the ultimate team. We play for one another, put one another ahead of ourselves everyday. That's why we're winning."
"We all understand we're a piece to the puzzle," All-Star forward Kyle Korver said. "Without one of the pieces we're not as good. Analytics are all the rage, but how do you analyze chemistry?"
But while the first half of the year has been great, maintaining that push through the rest of the year is tough. Just ask the Pacers. Atlanta is confident that the same things that got them to New York can carry them in the postseason, though.
"I think teams have to match up with us," according to Teague. "We don't go into games thinking we have to match up with them. They have to match up with us."
It has been an unbelievable run for the Hawks. They won't be the biggest names introduced Sunday night, but that all reflects what makes them different. Good individually, great together. They have four All-Stars, which proves their talent. Now it's time to see how far what got them to New York can take them from here.