After a (very) busy offseason of transactions, the Atlanta Hawks are widely projected for significant improvement in 2020-21. As usual, there are differing opinions on just how much better the Hawks will be during the upcoming season but, on Tuesday, a prominent statistical model weighed in with a league-wide projection.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN released his RPM (real plus-minus) projections for every team in the league and, with a 36-win projection over a 72-game season, he projects the Hawks at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference with a 63 percent chance to finish in the top eight.
Here come the Hawks! After loading up on talent using cap space this offseason, Atlanta is favored to finish eighth in the East on the strength of a top-tier offense. The Hawks have the league’s sixth-best projected offensive rating, offsetting the league’s worst projected defensive rating.
On the more positive side, it is encouraging for Atlanta to be projected at No. 6 in the NBA on the offensive end. Trae Young is one of the NBA’s best offensive players, and his presence in the center of it all should help the Hawks to be explosive. From there, Atlanta has a returning standout in John Collins, while also fortifying the team’s offensive attack through the additions of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari.
In short, most can agree the Hawks project to have a (very) good offense as long as health cooperates, but the defensive projection from ESPN’s model isn’t ideal. To put it plainly, it seems too pessimistic to suggest that Atlanta will be the worst defensive team in the NBA, if for no other reason than the Hawks project to be better on that end this season and they were not the league’s worst defensive unit in 2019-20. In fact, teams like the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers were historically poor defensively last season, and neither made significant upgrades.
Furthermore, the Hawks did invest in their defense over the last ten months, even if offense was more of a focus. Clint Capela is a staggeringly large upgrade from Atlanta’s center rotation last season, Kris Dunn is a defensive ace on the perimeter, and the Hawks should benefit from additional defensive seasoning for Young, Collins, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. All told, the Hawks may not rank in the top half of the league defensively but, without serious injuries, it is hard to see Atlanta being dead-last.
In terms of the pecking order, the Hawks trail the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers in ESPN’s projected standings. However, Atlanta is almost in its own “tier” of sorts, with a 2.9-win gap between the Hawks and both the No. 7 team (Indiana) and the No. 9 team (Washington).
Projections and predictions will continue to roll in as the season approaches but, on Dec. 1, a major statistical projection pegged the Hawks for the playoffs. That is a far cry from the last three seasons.