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ESPN projects Hawks for 44 wins, 6th place finish

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Is this Atlanta Hawks team better?

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN.com is beginning its Summer Forecast series which is an early statistical look at the 2017 NBA Season. The Atlanta Hawks had a busy offseason with the departures of Jeff Teague and Al Horford but rebounded with the addition of Dwight Howard.

This Hawks team will be different but the jury is still out on whether or not the changes will make them better. ESPN projects the Hawks for 44 wins which is four fewer than last year and a sixth place finish among Eastern Conference teams.

On the surface, Dwight Howard brings more rebounds, blocked shots and a better ability to finish at the hoop. However, according to RPM, which estimates on-court team performance, former Hawk Horford ranked 27th with a 2.97 rating last season, while Howard had a -0.04 rating. Atlanta still projects as a playoff team, but our forecast thinks it'll take a hit with Dwight.

The Hawks went into the offseason with the clear goal of getting better in the rebounding department. Howard in many ways will provide a boost all by himself. Atlanta was already a really good team defensively and will miss Al Horford’s versatility. Still, Howard is a good enough rim protector that the drop off shouldn’t be that noticeable.

However, the offense may end up being the question mark. Atlanta dropped all the way to 18th offensive rating in 2016 and that could take another hit with the loss of Teague and Horford. Howard theoretically gives Atlanta a low post presence and pick and roll partner for Dennis Schröder if he is willing to buy in. However, his free throw shooting and sub par passing skills won’t make things any easier.

Howard’s addition only increases Atlanta’s need for shooting and they didn’t do much to shore that up this summer. Teague had an up and down season overall, but shot the basketball as well has he had at any other point in his career. The team thinks that Schröder can improve as a shooter but how quick can he realistically get there?

The lack of shooting looks like a major concern for Atlanta heading into training camp. If they can get the job done from the perimeter, then they may not have a problem eclipsing last season’s record. However, if they fall off even more, then even 44 wins might be a tall task.