To call the Atlanta Hawks first season under coach Mike Budenholzer a roller coaster would be an understatement. The Hawks came out the gate hot, stabilizing themselves as an almost virtual lock for the three seed in a very weak Eastern Conference. Then the injury bug visited Atlanta and decided to stay in Atlanta. Al Horford went down, but players stepped up and Atlanta continued to hold its weight. Eventually the injuries became too much to handle and the Hawks started descending down the Eastern ladder of playoff spots.
Currently they sit in ninth place, behind a New York Knicks team that is spotty but hot, winning 12 of its last 15 games. The Knicks (33-43) have a percentage lead over the Hawks (32-42) for the eighth seed.
It’s a battle for two teams to make the playoffs, both of which will almost undoubtedly lose to either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
The Knicks have six games left on the schedule, all against teams over .500 (Toronto twice, Chicago, Miami, Washington and Brooklyn). If the Knicks end up with the eighth seed, there will be no doubt that they deserved it as the Hawks play only four teams over .500 in its eight remaining games, five of which are at home.
Generally rooting for your team to miss the playoffs is uncommon, but in the case of the Hawks, it only seems right. Early this season, Atlanta sat as a potential playoff threat while Brooklyn struggled and was set to be high in this year’s draft lottery. The Hawks owned the rights to swap picks with the Nets via the Joe Johnson trade. Now the scenario is a complete 180.
Whichever team, New York or Atlanta, misses the playoffs will be in a pretty good spot for the draft lottery. If it were to end today, the Hawks would be in the tenth position going into the lottery meaning they would have a 1.1 percent chance at the number one overall pick.
If the Hawks struggles continue there is a chance they could end up worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers, earning the ninth spot in the draft lottery. This would give the Hawks a 1.7 percent chance at the one pick and a 6.1 percent chance at a top three pick.
Sure these are low odds, but they’re not impossible. In 2008, the Chicago Bulls had the ninth worse record and won the lottery allowing them to select Derrick Rose. In 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers had the eighth worst record and ended up winning the lottery and that pick went to Cleveland as they selected Kyrie Irving. These examples don’t even include the many times a ninth place team has ended up in the top five in picks.
Bottom line is simple; Atlanta doesn’t have the fire power or even enough healthy bodies to make a playoff run. They need to throw away the rest of the season and hope to get lucky to have a shot at the studs in this big time draft class.