Hawks are being overlooked in NBA Southeast Division odds
Sunday’s NBA All-Star festivities had everything fans have come to expect from the league’s midseason classic: electrifying dunks, dazzling displays of skill, and oodles of alley oops. In fact, the only thing missing from State Farm Arena was a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
The franchise was shut out of the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, Slam Dunk Contest, and the All-Star Game itself despite hosting all four events.
It’s the kind of blatant disrespect the Hawks have been dealing with all season, first from fans and analysts, and now from the league’s head office. Even bookmakers are getting in on the act, as evidenced by the team’s distant +600 odds to win the Southeast Division despite the fact the Hawks are just two games out of first place.
Southeast Division Winner 2020/2021
Sun, May 16 2021, 6:00 PM
Writing off Atlanta may be the hip thing to do, but we’re not ready to toss in the towel just yet. We’ve been monitoring Atlanta’s progress closely, and believe there are four very good reasons why the Hawks could win the division and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
1. Reinforcements are on the way
The Hawks have looked more like a MASH unit than an NBA team this season, with players combining to miss 150 games to injury. Point guard Kris Dunn was diagnosed with cartilage disruption in his right knee in late November and has yet to suit up this year. Shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic fractured his right knee on Jan. 9, and has missed 25 games. Small forward De’Andre Hunter underwent knee surgery on Feb. 8 and has missed 18 games. Power forward Danilo Gallinari sprained his ankle on Jan. 2 and missed 12 games.
The list goes on and on, but there is hope on the horizon as several players appear close to returning soon. Hunter and Dunn are both expected back by the end of March, and Bogdanovic has progressed to one-on-one drills with contact. Dunn, in particular should help shore up Atlanta’s dismal 23rd-ranked defense, while Hunter and Bogdanovic should goose the team’s 11th ranked offense.
Speaking of missing players…
2. Playoff Rondo is ready to round into form
Rajon Rondo missed 19 games to begin the season due to a litany of back, ankle, and knee issues as well as COVID-19 health and safety protocols. At 35, the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion has clearly lost a step, but he’s still an enormously useful reserve with a knack for playing his best basketball as the playoffs approach.
Over the course of his 15-year career, Rondo’s minutes, scoring, defensive rating, and usage percentage have all gone up after the All-Star break. The Hawks don’t need him to play like a superstar, but they could use his veteran savvy and proven ability to anchor their second unit while Trae Young sits.
3. Nate McMillan is a proven winner
Many around the league questioned whether the Hawks made the right decision when they unceremoniously dumped head coach Lloyd Pierce on March 1. However, there’s no questioning the fact they found an outstanding replacement in Nate McMillan.
The hard-nosed, defensive specialist has a 661-558 (.529) lifetime record over 16 seasons, and was 183-136 (.574) in his last stop in Indiana, where he led the Pacers to the playoffs in each of his four seasons on the bench.
McMillan is already 2-0 this year with the Hawks, and his emphasis on tenacious D was apparent in Atlanta’s commanding 94-80 victory over Miami on March 2. The Hawks held the Heat to 37% shooting from the field and 27% from deep, and won the war on the glass, 47-26.
"Losing Coach Pierce, we all had to do better," McMillan said after the game. "And that was the challenge to this team tonight. He took a hit because we didn't do what we were supposed to be doing out there. And I thought tonight, they did better."
4. The Hawks can hang with the big boys
Unlike other underperforming franchises, Atlanta has shown an ability to beat elite teams. The Hawks have already pulled off signature victories against the Nets, 76ers, Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, and Heat.
With reinforcements on the way, and a new emphasis on getting stops, the Hawks are well positioned to soar over the Heat and win the Southeast Division.