October is here and, while baseball and football have the national stage for a few more weeks, the 2019-20 NBA season is rapidly approaching. Training camp is underway for the Atlanta Hawks and, aside from a laundry list of injury-related maladies, the buzz is almost universally positive. Having a talented, youthful group will bring optimism to the forefront but, before the preseason opener arrives on Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s time to take a (brief) glance at some of the NBA power rankings that are available for public consumption.
Many words, both in audio and written form, have already been assigned to league-wide evaluations, from over/under projections to off-season power polls. Things can change a little bit as the season arrives, though, and AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today projects the Hawks at No. 21 overall with the following snippet.
The Hawks probably aren’t ready for playoff contention just yet, but they’re heading in the right direction. A core of Trae Young, John Collins, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter is one to be excited about.
It isn’t a shock to see Atlanta with a bottom-10 projection but, in the grand scheme, No. 21 is relatively optimistic when compared to the consensus. In fact, USA Today’s list has the Hawks ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For another voice, John Schuhmann of NBA.com projected Hawks at No. 10 in the East earlier in the summer:
The Hawks had a top-10 offense (112.1 points scored per 100 possessions) over the last three months of the season, and the only three players to average at least 20 points and eight assists over that stretch were LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Trae Young. They’ve added Hunter and Cam Reddish to their young core, and Evan Turner will provide some additional playmaking. But when it’s time to start moving up the ladder in the East, they will need to make some progress defensively. They were one of two teams (Phoenix was the other) that ranked in the bottom five in both opponent effective field goal percentage and opponent free throw rate. No team was outscored by more points per game (3.9) at the line.
Some roster shifting has happened since those rankings arrived but Schuhmann is (very) analytical in nature and the list isn’t coming from nowhere. It is tough to put the Eastern Conference hierarchy in full-league context but Atlanta landing ahead of Chicago, for example, is relatively encouraging.
Zach Lowe put together his preseason tiers and Atlanta was in “the rest” section. Specific rankings weren’t assigned but the Hawks were in a seven-team tier at the bottom of the league’s pecking order and Lowe wrote the following.
The Hawks are getting some “pesky No. 8 seed” buzz. They went 23-30 after a 6-23 start. Trae Young found his swagger, even if he didn’t quite find his jumper; Young cracked 35% from deep in just a single month -- February -- but given the difficulty and distance of his attempts, his rookie arc was encouraging. John Collins is good. Alex Len had a sneaky solid season.
But I’m pumping the brakes. This team is so young. The veterans they added or brought back -- Evan Turner, Jabari Parker, Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter -- don’t move the needle.
Playoff hype feels premature. Next season should be a different story.
Finally, ESPN put together its “training camp edition” of NBA power rankings and the Hawks came in at No. 24 overall, with Andrew Lopez picking Kevin Huerter as the team’s “breakout player.”
The casual NBA fan knows about young stars Trae Young and John Collins, but the most they might know about Huerter is that he was the player Dwyane Wade chose to swap jerseys with last season. Huerter shot 38.5% from deep last season, and among Hawks players only Young made more 3-pointers.
Atlanta sitting behind both Oklahoma City (a profoundly weird basketball team) and Chicago on this list won’t sit well locally but, in a small consolation, the Hawks are a bit higher (No. 22) in the numbers-only ESPN Basketball Power Index.
It goes without saying that none of this actually matters and game action is not far away. For the most part, national outlets, ranging from the media to the wise guys in Las Vegas, project Atlanta to finish with a win total in the low-to-mid 30’s but, if things click, there is clear upside beyond that.