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Basketball Prospectus Previews the Southeast Division

The debut of Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection system continues with a look at the Southeast Division. Pelton's (very cagey) projection for the Hawks? 34 wins.

Having returned to the playoffs and taken Boston to seven games in the first round, the Atlanta Hawks entered the offseason with plenty of reason for optimism. Things were going along fine until Josh Childress grew tired of restricted free agency and decided to exercise his own unique form of unrestricted free agency by signing to play in Greece with Olympiakos. Suddenly, the Hawks lost their top reserve (and calling Childress a reserve understates his value to Atlanta) with few options to replace him.

New GM Rick Sund made a pretty good save to replace Childress with Maurice Evans at a bargain price. Still, Childress' absence will hurt the Hawks dearly. Running the same "what if?" scenario I described earlier takes Atlanta from 34 wins to 40--and a strong shot at the postseason--with Childress. Even that 40-win total might seem a little low, but three close wins against the Celtics at home should not overshadow a 37-win regular season for the Hawks.

With Childress, Atlanta would still have major depth issues. I have projections for just nine players because Mario West was the only other player on the roster to play 250 minutes last year. An injury to any of the Hawks' frontline players could spell doom. Backup point guard is a question mark, with Acie Law needing to take a giant step forward to be a regular contributor and Flip Murray too erratic to be counted on at the position. Based on all of that, Atlanta is likely to return to the lottery after last year's exciting playoff run.

Pelton's system forecasts a great season from Josh Smith, a good season from Al Horford, slight improvement for Marvin Williams, and a poor (by his standards) season from Joe Johnson*.

The Joe Johnson projection is, I think, a reason for optimism were one looking for ways the Hawks players might outperform their cumulative projection. Another Would be to (continue to) hope that Acie Law and Zaza Pachulia provided limited production entirely due to injury rather than lack of ability last season. I certainly hope that's true. Otherwise, that bench is going to be even less useful than my most pessimistic fears.

*Pelton does acknowledge that the Joe Johnson prediction is on the low side likely being undully influenced by Johnson's uncharacteristically low 2PTFG% last season.