As of February 7, the Atlanta Hawks have scored 5,395 points this season, and have allowed 5,421. The team has thus given up more points than it has scored, a number that is reflected in more advanced statistics as well. Per NBA stats, the Hawks have been outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks 15h in the league.
While one should never draw huge conclusions from single statistics, these findings are concerning for the team. There is no reason to panic at the moment though, especially since the Hawks are 30-22, and currently are only a half-game out of fourth place (and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs). However, a negative point differential and net rating indicate that this Hawks team still has some work to do.
According to basketball-reference, the Hawks’ expected win/loss record is 25-27, a jarring difference from the 30-22 mark that they current sit at. Per the site’s SRS rating (a combination of point differential and strength of schedule), Atlanta sits at 18th in the league, hardly an encouraging sign for a team that has its sights set on the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer certainly deserves credit for getting the Hawks to outperform their point differential so far, especially at this point in the season.
The difficulty here is determining what all of these statistics mean for the rest of the Hawks’ season. As tempting as it would be to take this negative point differential as evidence that the team is fatally flawed, it is more accurate to view it as a reflection of how inconsistent Atlanta has been this season. The difference between the team’s last two games shows this well — the Hawks obliterated the Magic at home, and then looked completely flat against the Jazz.
In addition, the point differential from the entire season often obscures how the team has played lately. The Hawks’ net-rating in the calendar year 2017, for example, is positive, ranking 13th in the league at 1.0. While this number is far from elite, its difference from the team’s season-long numbers helps illustrate the general inconsistency that the Hawks have shown this year.
However, the fact that Atlanta has a negative point differential at this late date in the season is concerning. This is especially true given the upcoming schedule, which gets much more difficult in March and April (after the trade deadline). If the Hawks haven’t been able to post a positive differential and net rating after a long stretch of winnable games, the team could be in real trouble when they have to play teams like Toronto, Memphis, and San Antonio in quick succession.
The key word here is “concern,” and not “panic,” though. Even if the Hawks have more flaws than their record indicates, 30 wins is still impressive at this point in the season and it would take a lot to fall out of the playoff picture. These numbers should be viewed as evidence that this team hasn’t fully established itself yet, not as proof that the Hawks are a doomed team.
As the trade deadline draws closer, these statistics should be used to evaluate the team’s path going forward. As good as Atlanta has been in January, the point differential and net rating both show that there is slightly more to the picture than 30 wins, 22 losses, and fifth-place in the East. There hasn’t been much recent news about the Hawks and trades recently, so all of this may be a moot point though.
Atlanta is a good team, and wouldn’t have gotten to this points without a good defense, a solid coach, and some skilled players. Stating that the point differential for the season so far is negative doesn’t undermine any of this, neither does it suggest that the Hawks are “really” a 25-27 team masquerading as a 30-win squad. Rather, these numbers suggest that the Hawks still have some work to do before the playoffs arrive, and that this team hasn’t fully established itself yet.