How one free agent signing changed the culture of the Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks let go of a couple cornerstone players this summer. The signing of Dwight Howard seems to have brought a winning culture right away.

The Atlanta Hawks have been among the NBA’s most unacquainted franchises for the better part of their history. From the glory days of Dominique Wilkins, to the eight-year drought of under-40 wins to start the new millennia, to the current franchise’s record nine-consecutive playoff appearances, people just have never taken the Hawks seriously.

Even during Atlanta’s greatest two years in franchise history, the previous two before now, strengths were never able to counter the team’s mediocrity in more important aspects of the game. Causing doubt, lack of determination, and the inability to sustain themselves with the NBA’s elite.

After the Hawks’ second consecutive playoff exit at the hands of a Cleveland Cavaliers sweep, the opportunity presented itself for the Hawks to gain a new look. With Jeff Teague gone, and AlHorford testing free agency, Atlanta went to the free agent market in an attempt to acquire something the team hasn’t had in a long time; a star. The only question was, where?

Ultimately, one free agent signing wound up changing the culture of the Atlanta Hawks’ franchise; as Dwight Howard decided to come home. Not only did the Hawks get the big name star that they have been searching for since Joe Johnson was traded, Dwight is filling up seemingly every weakness that Atlanta had in previous years.

Sep 26, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) poses for photographs during Atlanta Hawks media day at The W Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

While the star discrepancy has been an obvious enigma for the Hawks, the most obvious issue was rebounding the basketball. Last year the Hawks ranked 24th in the NBA in rebounds per game, and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in rebounds allowed per game to their opponents. Even in the team’s 60-win campaign, the Atlanta ranked near the bottom at 28th in rebounding.

While it seemed inevitable that Dwight Howard was going to help this team tremendously on the boards, few would have imagined that “Superman” was going to completely transform this team into one of rebounding-proficiency.

Atlanta is current 6th(!) in the NBA in rebounds per game at 46.3, and after ranking dead last in this category each of the past two seasons and second-to-last the year before that, the Hawks are 3rd in the NBA in offensive rebounding at 11.8 a game. I can guarantee you that no Hawks fan, including myself, saw that coming.

What is even more incredible, is that the Hawks have out-rebounded their opponents in every one of their eight games so far this season. For the most part, they have had double-digit advantages in that aspect.

This includes their victories over the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. That game in Cleveland Tristan Thompson, who ate the Hawks alive on the boards in the past, was held to just 2 rebounds while Dwight Howard had 17 rebounds.

Nov 5, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) dunks against the Houston Rockets in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard has obviously been the center of the rebounding upswing; averaging 15.9 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. His dominance has led the team to great success early on, and his smiley-cheerful attitude seems to have an outstanding effect on the team as well.

This team is doing one thing undoubtedly well, and that is having fun. From Baze Gaze’s to animated bench celebrations all the way to chatting with the audience after a dive into the stands, this team has a swagger and a feel-good attitude on the court. After years of Hawks teams that have been typically quiet and stoic, this is a rather vigorous change.

A player that has been continually scrutinized throughout his entire career, Dwight is single-handedly changing the culture of what has been an irrelevant franchise in the NBA’s standards. Howard wants his name to be heard, and at this rate, the entire league will be aware of just who the Atlanta Hawks are.

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