John Schumann, an advanced stats writer for NBA.com, recently put out his Eastern Conference power rankings and is one of the first national reporters to give the Atlanta Hawks a shred of respect. Most analysts and TV personalities have the Hawks behind the Nets, Bucks, 76ers, Heat, and in some cases, the Celtics. It is laughable to think that just because Boston and Miami had louder offseasons, they’re a better team than Atlanta today. It is also crazy to me how anyone can say Philly is better than the Hawks, especially considering the Ben Simmons saga isn’t over. We have no idea what this team could look like by the start of the season; Simmons seems persistent in his trade demands.
With that being said, it is just nice to see someone recognize the top-to-bottom talent on Atlanta’s roster. He ranked the Hawks third in his Eastern Conference power rankings; here are his three numbers to know and one key question:
Three numbers to know…
• The Hawks were the league’s second most improved team last season, both in regard to winning percentage (+0.271) and point differential per 100 possessions (+9.6), topped only by Golden State in both cases.
• The Hawks were the only team that ranked in the top five in both free throw percentage (81.2%, fifth) and free throw rate (27.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field, fourth). They outscored their opponents by 2.8 points per game, the league’s biggest differential, at the free throw line.
• Combining pick-and-roll ball-handler and roll-man possessions (via Synergy tracking), the Hawks scored just 0.87 points per possession on 33 possessions per game in the conference finals, down from 1.03 points per possession on 39 possessions per game through the first two rounds.
Key question: Is De’Andre Hunter a plus on both ends of the floor?
Hunter’s return from a long absence was brief (he played three regular season games and five playoff games before suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee), but it was very intriguing, especially on defense, where he played a critical role in slowing down Julius Randle. In 329 total minutes with Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela on the floor together last season (regular season + playoffs), the Hawks allowed just 96.1 points per 100 possessions and outscored their opponents by 15.6 per 100.
More of those minutes would be nice, but Hunter obviously has to stay healthy. And if he can take a step forward offensively (a little more off the dribble, closer to 40% on catch-and-shoot 3s), the Hawks have a heck of a starting five. And if there aren’t enough minutes to go around on the perimeter, that’s a good problem to have.
I fully expect Hunter to take the next step in becoming an All-Star this upcoming season, but health is certainly a concern with the former fourth overall pick. Entering his third season, he will look to establish himself as one of the best two-way players in the league. A full offseason and regular season under Nate McMillan should only improve chemistry and team morale; the Hawks aren’t going to win less than 50 games this season.