The Atlanta Hawks pulled off a relatively surprising upset on Monday evening, toppling the Orlando Magic (as a 10.5-point underdog) on the road without Trae Young. That was a nice moment for Lloyd Pierce’s team after a dismal start to the season but, as 2020 approaches, the Hawks still own the NBA’s worst record (7-27) and net rating (-10.1) through 34 games.
Prior to Atlanta’s victory on Monday, the Hawks went through a stretch of 21 losses in 23 games and, even if some of that was explainable, it was rough. Despite some preseason buzz about an interesting young core (and a 4-6 record in the first ten games), the overall results haven’t matched the talent level and, with a bottom-five mark on both offense and defense, the eye test isn’t exactly sterling. Still, John Collins missed 25 games with suspension, Kevin Huerter missed 11 of his own and, well, the Hawks are leaning heavily on a trio of rookies in De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Bruno Fernando.
GM Travis Schlenk is constructing an intriguing core but, in a present-day sense, the Hawks did little to nothing to attempt to improve the roster for 2019-20, leaning instead on young players that generally don’t help teams win consistently in the NBA. That may be the right strategy in playing the long game but, when Collins missed extended time, there wasn’t much behind him and the Hawks simply can’t withstand any kind of absences to their central figures.
On the bright side, Young has been fantastic this season and, when he plays, Atlanta’s offense has still been functional. The second-year guard is posting All-Star numbers (28.5 points, 8.3 assists per game on solid efficiency) and, even with defensive concerns, Young has been the shining star for the Hawks in an otherwise dismal campaign. When he sits, though, the Hawks have an impossibly bad 92.1 offensive rating and, with a quick glance at Atlanta’s roster and the absence of a legitimate backup point guard, that was a foreseeable issue.
Ultimately, there is no reason to believe the Hawks will be as bad as their 7-27 record suggests, at least as long as their key pieces are healthy and on the floor together. Atlanta was dinged by a brutal early schedule and, in conjunction with the suspension of Collins, they never really had a chance to “get right” in the early going. As such, the Hawks may replicate what happened in 2018-19, when the team struggled mightily in the first half before teasing the NBA world with an encouraging run in March and April.
Gone are the expectations (at least in some circles) of playoff contention but in the grand scheme, the future remains bright in Atlanta. After all, Young has the look of a legitimate No. 1 option and that is, by far, the biggest factor in any rebuild across the league. What remains to be seen, though, is how the Hawks will be positioned when they enter the 2020 offseason with gobs of salary cap space and a record that may not be terribly appetizing to potential free agent additions.
Where do the Hawks land in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s examine.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (30-5, Last week — 1st)
The Bucks were disappointing on Christmas, losing by double-digits to the Sixers. Since then, Milwaukee is 3-0 with two wins coming without Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor. This is still the clear No. 1, with the best record in the league and (easily) the best net rating to boot.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (26-7, Last week — 2nd)
I know, I know. The Lakers recently lost four games in a row and they were edged out by the Clippers on the biggest regular season stage. Just like Milwaukee, though, Los Angeles bounced back with back-to-back wins. They were impressive victories, too, with a road win over Portland and a decisive home win over Dallas.
3. Denver Nuggets (23-9, Last week — 3rd)
After a relatively slow start offensively, the Nuggets are kicking into high gear. Denver is 9-1 in their last 10 games and, during that run, the Nuggets lead the NBA in offensive rating, scoring 117.3 points per 100 possessions. The struggles were never going to continue but this is one heck of a positive regression.
4. L.A. Clippers (23-11, Last week — 4th)
The Clippers got the showcase victory on Christmas, displaying their upside with a win over the Lakers. In a big-picture sense, that victory did more than a recent 3-4 spell in terms of determining what the Clippers actually are. We still have to dock them a little bit for the losses.
5. Utah Jazz (21-12, Last week — 11th)
Utah is taking advantage of a soft recent schedule in making a real run. The Jazz have won eight of their last nine games and, after plenty of consternation in November, the Jazz are right where they need to be.
6. Miami Heat (24-9, Last week — 6th)
The Heat were all set for an appearance in the top-five. Then, Monday happened. Miami lost by 18 points in Washington and the Wizards didn’t have Bradley Beal. Weird stuff happens in the NBA, but that not’s a great result.
7. Boston Celtics (22-8, Last week — 7th)
Did you know that the Celtics have the third-best winning percentage in the league? Boston is almost flying under the radar at this point and that feels wrong. The team’s last result was a home loss to Toronto but, before that, Brad Stevens’ team won five straight.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (23-12, Last week — 8th)
Philly’s headline-grabbing win over Milwaukee was a lot of fun to watch, with Joel Embiid displaying all-court brilliance and the Sixers really appearing to come together. Since then, the team is 0-2 but, to be fair, the losses came by one point each.
9. Dallas Mavericks (21-11, Last week — 12th)
The Mavs are 19-9 with Luka Doncic and, while it may feel like old hat by now, Dallas wasn’t supposed to be this good. Rick Carlisle also pulled off quite a feat in having the Mavericks competitive without their centerpiece and this is a finely tuned machine.
10. Houston Rockets (22-11, Last week — 5th)
Losing to the Warriors (on Christmas) and Pelicans within a week isn’t as bad as it would’ve felt in November. It still isn’t great and Houston has to fall as a result.
11. Toronto Raptors (22-11, Last week — 10th)
The Raps went from a five-game winning streak to a period of three losses in four games. There were no bad losses during a run against the Thunder, Celtics and Pacers, but Toronto isn’t the same team when injuries strike them this way.
12. Indiana Pacers (21-12, Last week — 9th)
Indy deserves credit for the way they’ve played to this point, but there are recent signs of cracking in the foundation. We’ll see how long they can hold up as Victor Oladipo reportedly edges closer to a return.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-15, Last week — 13th)
For another week, the Thunder are basically in their own tier. There are 12 teams with clearly better profiles. There are 17 teams with clearly worse profiles. Then, here is Oklahoma City right in the middle and playing well.
14. San Antonio Spurs (13-18, Last week — 15th)
After the way things started, it feels unbelievable to say out loud… but the Spurs are currently the No. 8 seed in the West. The metrics still hate this team, but San Antonio has picked up enough wins to be taken seriously.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (11-23, Last week — 27th)
People are talking playoffs again in New Orleans. That is wild to say but, after four straight wins in impressive fashion, it isn’t necessarily crazy. The door is wide open at the bottom of the conference in unexpected fashion and, as of Tuesday morning, the Pelicans are only 3.5 games out. What a weird season.
16. Phoenix Suns (13-20, Last week — 24th)
Eight losses in a row… was bad. Phoenix did just win back-to-back games on the road and, even with the disastrous streak, the Suns are right in the middle of the playoff pursuit.
17. Chicago Bulls (13-21, Last week — 18th)
Chicago is 5-4 in the last nine games and that is enough to inspire real optimism. After all, the Bulls are (somehow) only 1.5 games out of the playoffs, and this team suddenly ranks No. 6 in the NBA in defensive rating.
18. Brooklyn Nets (16-16, Last week — 14th)
The good? Brooklyn is still in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot in the East. The bad? Kyrie Irving still isn’t playing and the Nets just lost four of five to fall to 16-16.
19. Memphis Grizzlies (13-21, Last week — 22nd)
Did you know that the Grizzlies are 11-14 in their last 25 games? Memphis is very young, but they are playing highly respectable basketball, and that includes wins over Oklahoma City and Charlotte this week.
20. Orlando Magic (14-19, Last week — 17th)
As discussed repeatedly in this space, weird things happen in the NBA. Orlando still lost to the Trae Young-less Hawks at home on Monday evening. There has to be some kind of penalty for that one.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (14-20, Last week — 16th)
Things were trending up for the Blazers last week. That is no longer the case after four straight losses. More troubling might be that the Blazers lost at home to their direct competition in the Suns and Pelicans.
22. Golden State Warriors (9-25, Last week — 26th)
In the grand scheme, the Warriors are still having a tough time. Golden State still has the second-worst record in the NBA, for example. Steve Kerr’s team has won four of five games, though, including an inspired effort on Christmas.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-20, Last week — 29th)
The Wolves have emerged from a disastrous period and look to be functioning again. Two wins in three games will help to right the ship, but Minnesota needs Karl-Anthony Towns on the court sooner rather than later.
24. Washington Wizards (10-22, Last week — 23rd)
After losing 9 of 11 games, the Wizards blasted the Heat by 18 points on Monday. Washington’s leading scorers were Jordan McRae (29), Garrison Mathews (28) and Ian Mahinmi (25). I don’t know, man.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-22, Last week — 20th)
It came against a (very) easy schedule, but the Cavs just won four out of five games. Friday’s loss in Boston was probably a return to order but, to Cleveland’s credit, they came out and beat Minnesota the very next night. It helps that Darius Garland and Kevin Porter are playing better basketball.
26. New York Knicks (9-24, Last week — 28th)
Are the Knicks… decent right now? It certainly feels like it. New York just beat the Nets and Wizards (on the road) in back to back games and the Knicks are a competent 5-5 in their last 10 outings. Hold on to your hats.
27. Detroit Pistons (12-22, Last week — 25th)
It’s not going well in Detroit right now. The Pistons have lost seven of eight and, despite hope of a resurgence, FiveThirtyEight now gives Dwane Casey’s team just a 16 percent chance to make the playoffs.
28. Charlotte Hornets (13-22, Last week — 21st)
After winning four out of five, reality is back in Charlotte. This is an intriguing team that is more fun to watch than you might think, but the Hornets have dropped five in a row to earn this demotion.
29. Sacramento Kings (12-21, Last week — 19th)
No, the Kings aren’t actually this bad. Sacramento did choose a bad time to lose seven games in a row, however, and that explains the dip.
30. Atlanta Hawks (7-27, Last week — 30th)
Brandon Goodwin was awesome on Monday and maybe, just maybe, the Hawks have found a capable backup point guard to support Trae Young. For now, though, the team with the worst record and the worst net rating has to be No. 30, even after a win.