Dec 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and small forward DeMarre Carroll (5) and point guard Jeff Teague (0) and center Al Horford (15) walk on the court against the Utah Jazz in the third quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference Preview: A Look at the Atlanta Hawks

Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential

Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Raptors fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.

Everybody has a chance. Well, mostly everyone does… perhaps omitting Milwaukee from the conversation, but even they must be more excited than last year (but everything is relative, right?). But “mostly everybody” has a strong case for their team. Maybe we should review every team starting with how they finished last year?

This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Raptors.

Atlanta Hawks logo

Atlanta: Maybe the hardest team to pick in the whole Eastern Conference is the Atlanta Hawks. Why? Actually, believe it or not, Atlanta was a top-four team in the East before all-star forward Al Horford went down. And now, he’s back. But Atlanta, as consequence, seems to be the team forgotten in the East. However, they can make some noise, disrupting most projected scenes in the conference. Horford returns to a roster that includes what perhaps is the quietest all-star in history (in terms of buzz) in Paul Millsap (right).

Apr 24, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) dunks the ball against the Indiana Pacers in the second quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The potential good:  Like I said, Horford is back. And Atlanta is good when he plays. How good? Well, on their pace with Horford, they would’ve compiled a 45-37 record in an entire season. So that’s okay… not great though. You know with how great the East was last year (I hope you read sarcasm well…), that would’ve done well– actually gotten fifth place, right in front of Washington. And we’ve seen the praise I’ve dumped on Washington. So maybe this hype should be on ATL?

“When healthy, we’ve been a very good team. Good things can continue to unfold.” – Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry

Personally, Horford was shooting 57% from the field, and a career high 18.6 per game. But as a team– this is a team preview, not individual– Atlanta fared quite a bit differently with and without Big Al. Jared Dubin of Bleacher Report compiled the following statistical comparison of the numbers.

Before Horford’s Injury After Horford’s Injury
O-Rtg 104.7 102.7
D-Rtg 102.3 105.0
Net Rtg +2.4 -2.3
FG% 47.1% 45.0%
3PA 23.9 26.9
3PT% 38.2% 35.4%
AST 25.9 24.3
Scoring Margin +2.2 -1.9

Basically what I’m trying to convey to you is that Horford is valuable. I’m not sure if the NBA does a WAR (wins above replacement) like baseball does, but this is evidence enough that Horford is q big WAR’er (that was supposed to be a funny… but it didn’t work out is well as I planned). The point still remains the same: Horford makes Atlanta a threat.

Apr 8, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) shoots the ball against the Detroit Pistons in the fourth quarter at Philips Arena. The Pistons defeated the Hawks 102-95. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

More potential good:  The roster looks pretty good. I said Horford is back, and so is the game’s most effective spacer in Kyle Korver (right). This could make for a deadly combination. Aside from these two, Atlanta traded Lou Williams to Toronto, but acquired John Salmons in return. To replace Williams, Atlanta landed Thabo Sefolosha, who comes from powerhouse Oklahoma City. They drafted Adreian Payne out of Michigan State, a big body that appears ready for the NBA. Demarre Carroll looked great in his breakout year and the latter two are in great position to be mentored by savvy veteran, Elton Brand (below, right).

Nov 22, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) is fouled by Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the first quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

More potential good:  As I’ve commented for all Southeast Division teams, LeBron James has left Miami. So Atlanta gets to play a team without James (as does everyone else, too, granted… but teams play teams within their own division much more than teams from other divisions, so Southeast Division teams benefit a whole lot more). That creates a major void in the Southeast Division.

Apr 16, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Elton Brand (42) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Atlanta won 111-103. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The potential bad:  All of a sudden, the Southeast Division looks deep. Washington appears to be the clear pick, Charlotte is on the rise, even Orlando must be better, and Miami are still the Heat (and have Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade). Atlanta is oft-forgotten but shouldn’t be underestimated. However, only one team from the division is guaranteed a playoff spot. But having three playoff teams means a lot of wins in the division, which means a fair bit of losing too…

More potential bad:  However, as ESPN’s Michael Wilbon likes to point out, Atlanta has never won anything… and more often than not, they are pretenders rather than contenders. They always seem like they’re right there but can’t take the next step. So it’s awfully difficult to bank on this team going forward until they show us something. And this year, it looks like they can atleast. But, will it be the same old story?

May 5, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha (25) warms up prior to action against the Los Angeles Clippers in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Eastern Conference regular season rank: 8th place

“We’re not focused on trying to be the eighth seed in the playoffs because that’s not our goal,” said Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry. “We’re trying to build something that’s good, sustainable.”

“And the components are in place for us to do so.”

This year’s potential pre-season FS rank: 8th place*

*With the injury of Paul George, Atlanta is likely to vault past Indiana

Where do YOU think Atlanta will finish this season?

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As I’m writing this, I almost wanna go back and change some projections. It’s fair because of the injury to Paul George… and how often Atlanta is forgotten. However, it was truly difficult to suggest the powerhouse of the last few years– Miami– could miss the playoffs (not to mention Brooklyn… except I just did). But the idea is getting more and more traction in my mind, especially when considering the Hawks (who I think actually are as good, if not better than Miami). As such, it’d be easiest to give Atlanta a range of about second to fifteenth, but that’d be terribly uninformative.

I think Washington takes the division, but somebody has to win it– Washington, Charlotte, and Atlanta may be a beautiful dogfight all year long (sorry Michael Vick… didn’t mean anything by that) . A reasonable range for Atlanta is fifth to ninth, with better than a lotto ticket’s chance for the Hawks to steal the second seed.

Click here to return to the intro page, which includes links to the rest of the preview series.

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Tags: Al Horford Kyle Korver Paul Millsap Toronto Raptors

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