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NBA Power Rankings: Hawks ranked 5th in the East by Sports Illustrated

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The Atlanta Hawks haven't always garnered a lot of positive attention nationally, but one writer ranks the team fifth in the suddenly ultra-competitive Eastern Conference.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In a world in which many pundits seem to ignore the Atlanta Hawks entirely, it is always nice to see some positive thought surrounding the team. Al Horford is back, the wing depth has been bolstered, and some new blood has been added to the front line in the form of rookie Adreian Payne. With that, preseason power rankings have begun to circulate, and one writer paints the Hawks in a fairly positive light.

Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated had this to say about the team, as he ranked Atlanta fifth in the Eastern Conference:

Oh, how quickly we forget Al Horford. Atlanta's best player suited up for just 29 games last season, of which Atlanta won 16. During that time the Horford-led Hawks were the third-best team in the conference (and 10th-best in the league) by net rating, a mark earned by quality play on both ends. When Horford went down Atlanta naturally followed, though in his absence it found ways to stretch the talents of Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver to their fullest. Those qualities should be synergized into a better Hawks team in 2014-15, made fuller with the additions of another competent wing defender (Thabo Sefolosha) and another shooting big man (rookie Adreian Payne).

Mahoney's assertion that people seemingly forget about Al Horford is an accurate one. This is a team that managed to win 38 games with its best player on the sidelines for nearly two-thirds of the campaign, and as we've covered (ad nauseum) in this space, Al Horford is one of the best 25 players on the planet by any calculation.

The Hawks slot in behind the Cavs and Bulls (duh) on this list, but Mahoney inserts only Washington and Toronto ahead of Atlanta, and that is perfectly reasonable. It will be extremely intriguing to watch Al Horford, Paul Millsap and company operate together under Mike Budenholzer for a full, 82-game schedule, and it appears as if at least one pundit agrees.