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Atlanta Hawks projected for slight improvement by ESPN model

ESPN’s RPM elevates the Hawks to a higher level than 2017-18.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks-Press Conference Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the new season comes new win projections, courtesy of ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, whose model sees the Hawks finish in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings ($). Pelton’s model uses ESPN’s RPM along with his own projections of players’ minutes throughout the season to come up with the standings, which can be read in full above.

Atlanta is projected for just under 26 wins, with only the Sacramento Kings finishing below them in the league standings.

Atlanta figures to be a bit more competitive than last season’s 24-58 finish, though the Hawks may have incentive to be the first team that goes all-in on lottery positioning in a season when most other teams are at least hoping to improve.

Another year near the bottom of the standings (and the top of the lottery) would be just fine for the Hawks and general manager Travis Schlenk, who have openly steered into a rebuild over the past year and change since Schlenk was brought in to replace Mike Budenholzer as the organization’s top decision maker.

It has to be noted that the bottom of the standings, especially among teams that are not actively competing for the playoffs, can be very difficult to project. In the Hawks’ case, how Pelton chooses to distribute minutes likely has a huge impact on where their final number falls.

In particular, the point guard position will be one to watch this season, as the split between veteran Jeremy Lin and rookie Trae Young will shift the team a few wins one way or the other. If Young comes in and makes an immediate impact as a shooter and passer on the offensive end of the floor, then he’ll likely get the starting nod earlier in the season than many project, with Lin taking a backseat to his development. If Young struggles in his rookie season (which would be no surprise nor a reason to be concerned about his long-term development), then new head coach Lloyd Pierce may stick with Lin as the starter, which could elevate the Hawks to a few more wins.

While the team seems to have their roster set for opening night after the signings of Vince Carter and Daniel Hamilton, things can fluctuate in a big way throughout the season, especially if a trade involving Kent Bazemore comes together before the February trade deadline. Bazemore was the team’s best player last season and will be again this year if he remains with the team throughout the 2018-19 campaign, but with rumors swirling around his future, it would not be a surprise to see the Hawks’ projections plummet another few wins if he were to be moved for more future-facing assets.

Across the rest of the league, Hawks fans will be particularly interested in the projections for the Dallas Mavericks (32.1 wins, 7th in the lottery) and Cleveland Cavaliers (31.0 wins, 6th in the lottery). Atlanta owns the Mavericks’ first-round pick in the 2019 draft if it falls outside the top five, whereas they’ll pick up the Cavaliers’ first-rounder if it’s not within the top ten.