The Atlanta Hawks almost knocked the top-seeded Indiana Pacers out of the Eastern Conference playoffs in the first round in a big upset on the NBA odds. Can they build on that?
The Hawks’ best strength is a player they didn’t have most of last season. Al Horford is a strong, powerful small center-power forward hybrid who is smart, a two-way player, and a guy who can hit the medium-range jump shot to take pressure off his teammates. Horford is a player who, when blending with the rest of the Hawks’ starters, can make Atlanta a very hard team to deal with. Atlanta was the third-place team in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, before Horford got injured. Without Horford, the Hawks plummeted to a 38-44 record that, while good enough to make the playoffs, was far below the franchise’s expectations for the season. With a healthy Horford, Atlanta can make a serious run at 50 wins, especially since the Eastern Conference has been so bad in recent years. Horford, teamed up with quick point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Paul Millsap, would create a Hawks team that has well-defined roles and good balance spread across the various positions. With the acquisition of shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the acquisition of promising power forward Adreian Payne in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Hawks are building depth at a level they haven’t enjoyed in the recent past. This is not a team of superstars, but the best player, Horford, could make Atlanta a deep team that’s not especially weak at any one position.
If you did have to look at weaknesses for the Hawks, a team that’s not ready to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, it’s that there isn’t a second star to complement Horford. Great NBA teams generally need two star-level players so that at the end of the game, there’s not one option defenses can key on. If there are two stars, defenses have to play man-to-man at more positions and can’t easily double-team. This is the limitation Atlanta will be facing during the season.
The other big weakness the Hawks will face this season is that they aren’t as strong at shooting guard as other teams in the league. Kyle Korver is really a bench guy more than a starter. He is an excellent shooter, but he’s not as strong on defense and cannot get to the basket the way a number one shooting guard should. This is where Sefolosha comes into play. It’s going to be very hard to determine how good Sefolosha will work with this roster after being camouflaged by the superstars in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Sefolosha will need to be great if Atlanta is to contend for the East, but that’s not likely to happen at all.
When considering your NBA picks bear in mind, the Hawks should be better than eighth in the Eastern Conference, and they should be able to win at least 45 games. Can they do much more? There are too many questions on this team, which has to have everyone playing fairly well and at least more than Horford playing really well in order to crack 50 wins and get a first-round playoff win. The worries about Sefolosha will probably not go away during the season, but the East’s weakness will enable the Hawks to once again play a Game 7 in a first-round series. Let's breakdown the NBA odds for Atlanta.
Odds To Win Division: 9/2
Odds To Win Conference: 40/1
Regular Season Win Total: 44.5
NBA Prediction: Fifth In Eastern Conference, Loss In Second Round Of The Playoffs