Almost a month has passed since we took a glance at national projections for the Atlanta Hawks but, with training camp inching closer, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton released the network’s projected standings based on real plus-minus (RPM). As he notes, the estimate isn’t necessarily kind to the Hawks, with 30.4 projected victories and only a 3 percent chance to crash the playoff party.
Given the young Hawks won 29 games last season, this projection might be somewhat disappointing. The veterans that Atlanta added this summer, most notably Evan Turner, don’t figure to help the team win, and lottery picks De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish also project as below-replacement players as rookies.
It isn’t stunning to see this kind of projection on a purely statistical basis, simply because of the reliance Atlanta might have on young players, including Hunter, Reddish and Bruno Fernando as rookies. It could be argued that the Hawks actually downgraded (for 2019-20 only) on their supporting cast — particularly with the loss of Dewayne Dedmon (RPM’s highest-rated player on the Hawks roster last season) — and, as such, the team will be relying on projected jumps from Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter.
However, this projection is definitely on the lower end for the Hawks and, without knowing the full, player-by-player projections, it is probably safe to assume that Turner (No. 421 in RPM last season), Jabari Parker (No. 322 in RPM last season) and the other peripheral additions don’t stack up favorably in the numbers. For those that might want to know the background of how these projections come together, here is Pelton’s explanation:
Our RPM projections utilize the multiyear, predictive version of RPM as a starting point. They’re adjusted for typical player aging and -- new this season -- then regressed toward the player’s projected offensive rating and defensive rating from my SCHOENE projection system, based solely on box score stats. (For players without RPM projections, including rookies, the SCHOENE ratings are used instead.)
Games played are projected based on time missed over the previous three seasons. I then make a subjective guess at minutes distributions for each team. Multiplying those minutes by players’ offensive and defensive ratings yields team ratings that translate into expected wins. I used those projections to simulate the season 1,000 times and record the average number of wins as well as how often each team made the playoffs.
The entire pecking order is behind ESPN’s paywall but, for the sake of clarity, the Hawks land at No. 12 in the East, ahead of only the Hornets, Cavaliers and Knicks. At the very least, it seems overly pessimistic to project Atlanta behind the Washington Wizards in the standings (in fact, it’s relatively ludicrous), even if the other 10 teams have reasonable arguments to be ahead of the Hawks at this early juncture in the calendar.