The Atlanta Hawks are unifiers.
You have to give it up to Wes Wilcox, Mike Budenholzer and the basketball operations, coaching staff and players. In a league that conjures arguments, disagreements and the hottest of hot take beverages at times, the planet seems to agree wholeheartedly on one thing about the upcoming season.
That thing is that the Atlanta Hawks will significantly drop off from last season. The team that won 60 games last season and advanced further than any team in Atlanta franchise history is going to free fall from that perch down to a more (for them) palatable 48-50 wins.
I can't understand it. To wager such things is to say that last season, a season in which the sublime execution of Mike Budenholzer's offense combined with the solid continuity of core players led to a marvelous season, one in which four starters played so well, they were recognized as All-Stars, was a fluke.
To say that the team is a sub-50 win team, as ESPN, numberFire, FiveThirtyEight and other national forecasters have put on the record, would be to say that it was hard to believe that the Hawks won that many games.
1. DeMarre Carroll is great, but he's not worth 12-14 wins.
Toronto must've gotten the best deal on the free agent market, because I haven't seen so much value attributed to someone to a team in quite some time. He's the one piece the Hawks lost and folks are assigning so much value to that that it has justified the winning free-fall predicted in the Hawks record.
Carroll was great for the Hawks, but that much? Not true. The Hawks will rebound by getting Thabo Sefolosha, the true unsung value of last season, to play more of the role Carroll played as the season wears on. It was Sefolosha who enjoyed the second highest on/off court value to the Hawks last season before injury took him off the floor. The Hawks record was 43-9 with Thabo on the floor last season, with a +11.4 points per 100 possessions mark. Say, that sounds pretty good!
The Hawks will miss Carroll, for sure, but not quite the San Andreas like quake that the predictions would make you think.
2. The Hawks didn't even come close to selling out for that 60 win mark.
There's a perception that the Hawks went all in to max out their regular season wins but nothing could be further from the truth.
The Hawks rested guys over the last ten games of the season. Ten games! That's not even counting the Spursian like resting that happened even before that. For a team to simply coast on about 12-15 percent of their regular season games and still win so many games should be a sign that there could be, if pushed, room to move up, not go significantly down.
The Hawks clinched home court so early they coasted -- what if they had been pushed for that and had to play out the final ten games? They were 5-5 in those games, so given their winning percentage, maybe another win and a half, two wins?
Also, consider that the Hawks stumbled coming out of the gates as Al Horford was getting his conditioning back after an offseason recovering from his pectoral injury. The team started 5-5 last season as Al ramped up and the team gelled around him. They finished 5-5 after they cut the engine. They were 50-12 in between. Does that sound like a 48 win team to you?
3. The impact and help from Tiago Splitter.
Carroll is gone and will be replaced by Thabo (who we've already documented) and Kent Bazemore, who played better as the year went on and ended up above replacement player value.
But Splitter comes in and replaces Pero Antic. Antic, who is one of our faves and a stellar teammate, was below replacement value as a player last year and didn't help the Hawks enough where they need it, on the defensive glass.
Splitter was well above replacement value last season, is still in his prime, and will take Antic and Mike Scott minutes, which will be a huge net positive to the team.
To look around the predictions landscape, you would have though the Hawks brought Joe Smith back. This was a key acquisition for the team and should be, at the very least, be treated as positively impacting the Hawks as losing Carroll was negatively.
4. Pythagoras agrees the Hawks were no fluke last season.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks had an expected win total of 56 wins last season. That's with the 20 games we already highlighted as beginning and end and the Hawks outperformed expectations by four wins. Again, that's hardly worthy of the under 50 win predictions we've seen.
It does say something that the national folks who watch the Hawks the most have their win totals much higher than those that don't. They know what they saw and why it wasn't an anomaly.
5. The Hawks aren't sexy and so what?
I know it's more exciting to get warm and fuzzy about the Bulls, Heat and whoever the flavor of the month gets propped up when it comes to the Hawks.
They don't have the marquee name to sell tickets in other arenas. They manage minutes to the point where the stats won't be flashy either. To wit, Paul Millsap led the team with a non-exhaustive 32 minutes per game played.
All they do is play together, move the ball, take and make good shots and get back on defense. This will be the third season that Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schröder have played together -- that means something. Now they are adding in an improving Kent Bazemore, Splitter and getting Thabo back for a full season.
They've already proven the can execute consistently for a full season. Guess they'll have to do it again to prove they belong at the top of the pack.
6. Yeah, but that Cavs series.
You mean the series in which Millsap was playing with a bad shoulder (largely ignored or forgotten), Kyle Korver was knocked out like a ten-pin, Al Horford got suspended for almost having the same done to him and DeMarre Carroll played on one leg? Oh and this was the conference finals against the best player in basketball.
And this is supposed to be a negative? I know that series left people unfairly saying that the Hawks were the worst 60 win team ever -- as if losing in the conference finals was supposed to prove they were a fluke. To say that and believe it is to say you don't think the Hawks success is real, that somehow they played some kind of cupcake schedule and padded wins.
It was the most ridiculous statement then and remains so now. This team is real. It's repeatable. And I think there is room to grow. So yes, I am so fired up about this global deflation and the lack of proper respect for what this team did that I am predicting improvement. They had 20 games where they were either ramping up with their best player or winding down after clinching. If the East really is better, then the Hawks will have no reason to coast and will beat last season's wins and smash everybody's bogus, low-level, slap in the face win predictions for this season.'