Atlanta Hawks: Good Record and All, They're Overrated and Headed Nowhere

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Atlanta Hawks: Good Record and All, They're Overrated and Headed Nowhere
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After having watched the Atlanta Hawks lose to my, um, developing New Jersey Nets twice this season, I started to question if the Hawks were really as good as their record indicated.

I got my answer Sunday night in the fourth quarter of the Knicks-Hawks game, when New York—actually, mostly Shawne Williams and Roger Mason—turned a one-point Knicks lead into an 18-point blowout in just four minutes.

The Hawks didn't just lose the game; they did so embarrassingly.  Hell, Roger Mason scored five points (a season high) down the stretch, just one point fewer than what Joe Johnson and Josh Smith put up combined in the final nine minutes.

Never mind that the game was important, with the Hawks just five games ahead of the Knicks for the No. 5 playoff seed.

Never mind the game was in Atlanta.

Never mind Carmelo Anthony didn't even play two minutes in the final quarter.

The Hawks, a perceived potential playoff threat, just rolled over and diedlike Eddy Curry's playing career.

This team is 37-26, not 26-37—so what gives?

If you haven't figured it out already, the team simply isn't as good as it appears on paper.  Sure, it's winning just under 60 percent of its games, but further investigation indicates the Hawks are merely padding stats against weaker foes and struggling against good ones.

Against teams below .500, the Hawks are 25-6.  Against teams .500 or better, Atlanta is just 12-20.

Of these 12 wins against good teams, only the following three stick out as truly being impressive:

  • 80-74 at Magic in early December.
  • 91-81 vs Magic in late December.
  • 83-80 vs Bulls in early March. 

Five wins came against teams that were under .500 at the time—the Grizzlies (two), the 76ers (two) and the Knicks.

Another win came against a struggling 24-22 Knicks team that had won just three of its previous 10 games.

The remaining three wins came against teams that weren't at full strength:

  • 110-87 at Jazz (no Paul Millsap).
  • 93-89 at Heat (no Chris Bosh).
  • 90-83 at Blazers (limited Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby). 

Keep in mind that Johnson missed 10 games with injury; however, the Hawks' win percentage with and without him is comparable—.593 with; 556 without.  Also, only three of these games were losses to above-.500 teams—at Boston, at San Antonio, and at Miami.  The Hawks probably would have lost these games either way.

Furthering the point that Atlanta is overrated is the fact that its actual record is better than its expected win-loss record.  In other words, based on a formula derived from stat guru Bill James's Pythagorean Theorem of baseball, the Hawks should be 33-30 right now, not 37-26.

Actually, the Hawks are the only team currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs that is (statistically) exceeding expectations.  In short, this means the ball has bounced in the Hawks' favor a bit more than it has for other teams.

ESPN's Strength of Schedule ratings support this notion by pegging the Hawks as the recipient of the easiest schedule thus far.

Atlanta may win just enough down the stretch to maintain its grip on the No. 5 seed, but don't expect much after that.  This team wouldn't beat the Knicks or 76ers in a best-of-seven series, let alone the Magic or Heat.

Johnson’s signing resembles Rashard Lewis’s more and more with each passing day.

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