Five Thirty Eight (a terrific stats driven website) has the Hawks winning only 29 games in 2019-20 we think they will win more
The case for the Hawks
The Hawks won 29 games last season so Five Thirty Eight is projecting no improvement this season. We expect a win total of 34-40 with the Hawks battling in the Eastern conference playoff hunt into the last week of the season. Why?
Culture/Player Development: Travis Shlenk, the GM-recently promoted to President of Basketball Ops, is building a team that values ball movement, three point shooting and shots at the rim while coach Lloyd Pierce and his staff emphasize player development. Alex Len, who started his career in Phoenix, has been raving about the Hawks development staff. He has been working out at the Hawks facility 5 days per week since the end of the season as he tries to win the starting center job. The staff is working with Len, a Ukrainian who played his college ball at Maryland, to improve his side to side and pick and roll defense as well as continuing to improve his three point shot. Per the Athletic, Len shot 36% from 3 point land last year but 41% after the All Star break (on more than 4 attempts per game). This kind of improvement will enable Len to serve in more of a Brook Lopez role which will free the paint up for Hawks terrific power forward John Collins when he wants to drive to the basket. We expect Len to start and play roughly 26 minutes per game (6 minutes more than last year and 10 more than Five Thirty Eight predicts). Another player who has been working hard in the offseason is the Hawks terrific young point guard Trae Young. Young has already added 12-16 pounds of muscle. He is already a terrific 3 point shooter and passer with an elite runner/floater game. Young is working this summer to improve his mid-range game which becomes more important against elite defenses in the playoffs.
We expect continued Improvement from their super young core: Point guard Trae Young averaged 25 points and 10 assists in the second half of his rookie season. Power forward John Collins (coming into his 4th year) averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and 35% three point shooting last year. Kevin Huerter started 59 games at the shooting guard last year in his rookie campaign-he shot 39% from 3 point land while averaging 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assist per game. The biggest issue with the Hawks last year was their below average defense. The Hawks worked to address this by trading up to draft defensive minded wing De’Andre Hunter from UVA with the 4th pick in the draft. Hunter, who we believe will start immediately at small forward for the Hawks, should be a great compliment to the offensive minded Young, Huerter and Collins. Five Thirty Eight’s model hates rookies on defense, we think Hunter will be much better. High upside wing Cam Reddish, the 10th pick in the draft, has a 7 foot 1 inch wing span and could develop into a solid defender if he can answer the questions that popped up at Duke about his motor and toughness-hopefully is offseason surgery has him healthy.
Rotation: Five Thirty Eight predicts Jabari Parker will start and play 23 minutes per game for the Hawks next season. We simply don’t see that. Parker, who signed a two year $13MM deal with the Hawks (second year is player option), is on record saying he does not get paid for playing defense. We lived through his often injured stint in Milwaukee and while we could see Jabari getting 12 minutes per game as the backup four man for the Hawks his days of starters minutes are over in our view. The Hawks need to find some forward minutes for .Alan Crabbe, Reddish, De Andre Bembry, Evan Turner and the often injured Chandler Parsons (on top of starters Collins and Hunter).. We see more contribution to winning from 11 or so minutes from this group than from a full 23 minutes of Jabari.
Trade Deadline: The Hawks, who are in the last year of the super rich Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons contracts, could be very active at the deadline. We anticipate them pursuing some defensive minded help at the center position to supplement Alex Len and his likely back ups Damian Jones and rookie Bruno Fernando.
In summary we believe the Hawks will exceed Five Thirty Eights 29 win projection. Alex Len is improving under the care of the Hawks development staff and will be a solid NBA center playing roughly 26 minutes per game-Collins will likely play center for 10 minutes or so (most of the 4th quarter). Trae Young and Huerter will both improve in year 2 at the guard spots while Collins should be an All Stare next year in his 4th year. Hunter will bring defensive upside and smarts to the small forward position (move to the 4 in the 4th quarter). Net, we love their young starters and with Parker (limited minutes at the 4), Crabbe, Reddish, Bembry, Jones/Fernando and Turner helping off the bench, we see the Hawks competing with the Bulls, Nets and Pistons for the last playoff spot in the East.