Fans of the Atlanta Hawks were less than thrilled when a panel of ESPN experts placed Trae Young at No. 8 among candidates for the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year award. On Tuesday, the worldwide leader provided more fodder for Hawks supporters looking to pick a fight, as ESPN forecasted Atlanta to finish with the NBA’s worst record.
The panel projected the Hawks to win just 22 games and Chris Forsberg wrote the following in conjunction:
First-year coach Lloyd Pierce has three first-round picks to trot out in Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman. The Hawks are playing the long game, which means they’ll be short on wins for the foreseeable future. But hitting on draft picks and managing their cap might just be the fastest path back to respectability.
It isn’t stunning to see Atlanta in the NBA’s cellar, simply because that has been a widespread national theme throughout the off-season. Still, the 22-win mark seems a bit low, even in comparison to oddsmakers in Las Vegas and off-shore, and that might be what draws the most ire locally.
ESPN’s panel projects the Sacramento Kings (24 wins), Phoenix Suns (27 wins) and New York Knicks (28 wins) to be the closest “competition” for Atlanta. Of course, it remains to be seen as to how the Hawks actually approach the upcoming season, as any 22-win baseline certainly builds in the potential that the Hawks could lean heavily into a tanking effort in the season’s final months.
Elsewhere, Hawks fans will have a close eye on the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks this season and ESPN doesn’t treat either team with much optimism. Cleveland’s top-10 protected pick would not convey if this projection came to fruition, with only six teams pegged for worse records than the Cavs. The Mavericks would have the 9th-best record in the league, leaving Atlanta in a favorable position (at least theoretically) with regard to the 2019 draft.
In the grand scheme, this is one projection and it should be treated as such. Seeing a 22-60 projected record might not sit will with everyone, though, and Atlanta’s talent level is almost certainly better than that if deployed optimally.