The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games last year, but the NBA odds have them buried at 28-1 to win the championship in 2016. What the heck is going on in the Dirty South?
Surely this can't be right. At press time, the Atlanta Hawks, who earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year at 60-22 (50-30-2 ATS), are just 28-1 on the 2015-16 championship futures market at Bovada. Among the teams in front of Atlanta: the Los Angeles Lakers (25-1), who won 21 games last year and are picking second overall in Thursday's NBA Draft.
Okay, it's traditional that people bet way too much on the Lakers, so we can understand their basketball odds being where they are. But Atlanta's? Is this real life? Let's take a moment to look back at the 2014-15 campaign and see if we can make some sense of this. We might find something that will convince us to put the Hawks in our basketball picks for next season.
Let 100 Flowers Bloom
The Hawks have had a checkered history since making the move from St. Louis in 1968. There have been some highlights along the way, most notably in the late 1980s with the Human Highlight Film himself, Dominique Wilkins. But the team fell into disarray in the early Aughts, racked with ownership issues and a shrinking fanbase.
Then Mike Budenholzer came along. The former assistant with the San Antonio Spurs was hired in 2013 to be Atlanta's new head coach, and after scraping into the playoffs as a rookie, his Hawks went into the 2014-15 season as 100-1 long shots to win their first title in the Dirty South.
That seemed a bit harsh at the time. Atlanta already carried plenty of betting value as a rebuilding small-market franchise, but the Hawks were also fourth in man games lost; the team's best player, Al Horford (22.0 PER), tore his right pec in late December and missed the rest of the season. Surely some better health would push the Hawks deeper into the playoffs.
And so it came to pass. Atlanta enjoyed much better health last year at No. 10 in man games lost, with most of those absences coming from players outside the starting five. Horford (21.4 PER) played 76 games last year and made the All-Star team, alongside teammates Paul Millsap (20.0 PER), Jeff Teague (20.6 PER) and Kyle Korver (14.8 PER, 49.2 percent from downtown).
Eventually, the basketball odds caught up. After the Hawks went into the holidays on a tasty 14-1 SU and 11-3 ATS run, their odds improved all the way to 25-1. Then Atlanta went on that crazy 15-0 SU and ATS winning streak and moved to third place on the NBA odds list at 15-2. That's as good as things would get, though. Injuries started adding up again, and the Hawks slipped to 12-1 going into the playoffs.
Don't Pay the Ferryman
So how do they end up plummeting to 28-1? It could be the way they were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern final. But again, injuries played a key role; Korver sprained his right ankle in Game 2 and was lost for the season, while DeMarre Carroll (15.9 PER) hurt his left knee in the opener and was ineffective guarding James the rest of the series.
There's also some palace intrigue in Atlanta with Budenholzer taking over as team president following the buyout of GM Danny Ferry, who was largely responsible for putting this team together in the first place. But now that those pieces are in place, and with Budenholzer proving himself as Coach of the Year, surely the Hawks are still on the right path going into the new season. Let's see if they manage to re-sign Millsap and Carroll as unrestricted free agents before we jump on the bandwagon, though.