In looking ahead to the 2017-2018 NBA season, it has become commonplace to see the Atlanta Hawks projected to finish in the Eastern Conference basement. In fact, three major outlets (NBA.com, CBS Sports and ESPN’s RPM) have pegged Mike Budenholzer’s team as the worst squad in the entire league.
This week, though, a panel of ESPN NBA experts voted on the order of finish in the Eastern Conference and, in the end, the Hawks were not listed at the bottom. The panel averaged a projected record of 27-55 and that was good for sole possession of 13th-place, ahead of the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls.
The days of the Hawks being "Spurs East" seem at an end. Atlanta has made the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons (the longest active streak in the NBA outside of San Antonio), but the talent drain has caught up with the Hawks, leaving them with none of their quartet of 2015 All-Stars. Kevin Pelton gave the Hawks a D-plus for their offseason, and it seems the panel agrees, dropping them a remarkable 16 wins from a season ago.
For clarity purposes, the Hawks finish only one game ahead of the Nets and Bulls and that illustrates something we have been saying all along. There is a bottom tier in terms of roster construction in the Eastern Conference and, while the Hawks might be involved in it, Atlanta certainly isn’t a full cut below teams like Brooklyn, Chicago or even Indiana and Orlando.
Throw in the fact that the Hawks arguably have the best head coach of the bunch in Budenholzer and a roster that makes sense schematically with more shooting and a mobile rim protector in Dedmon and, well, things make sense to a certain degree. There is, of course, the argument that Atlanta should be trying to lose as many games as possible in an effort to position the franchise in the 2018 NBA Draft but a lot of fans want the team to win as many games as possible and this paints a rosier picture than some previous releases.