The Atlanta Hawks were the NBA’s biggest surprise last season, going on a fantastic late run after the organization fired head coach Lloyd Pierce. Nate McMillan stepped up as the interim coach, the injury-battered roster got healthy, and they swiftly turned into one of the most unexpected very good teams in the league down the stretch.
They were a mediocre 14-20 when Pierce was dismissed and went on a tear. From that point forward the Hawks went 27-11 and had a net rating of +4.5 in the regular season before dismantling the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference 4 seed vs 5 seed matchup. Then the Hawks crippled Ben Simmons from an emotional perspective and essentially unwound the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game win.
The Hawks took the eventual NBA champions to six games before bowing out, missing Trae Young in two of the final three matchups.
2020-21 was a great success, but can they improve upon that showing in the 2021-22 season?
The Atlanta Hawks were a big surprise last season, but they won’t be catching anybody off guard next season. Here’s how they should finish in 2021-22.
The Hawks were on a ridiculous 58-win pace in that 38-game span after McMillan took over coaching duties. They also scarcely resemble that middling 14-20 squad from a roster perspective. Assuming good health luck, they’re a deep and dangerous squad that can score at will and also defend at a higher level than you would think.
In fact, they could easily be considered the third-best team in the Eastern Conference at this early point, especially if the Sixers and Ben Simmons drag out their maddening saga well into the season. The Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks are clearly ahead of them in the pecking order, but nobody else is in their stratosphere.
With this in mind, here’s our prediction for the Hawks’ record next season:
Atlanta Hawks 2021-22 record: 51-31
Eastern Conference standings finish: 3rd
Considering the tale of two teams that the Atlanta Hawks were a season ago, their playoff outlook largely comes down to just how much you believe that the second phase of the year is their true version. As a big believer in ATL Phase 2, I’m all in on the idea that this team matches up well with everybody but the most elite of teams in the NBA.
They have a ceiling that is well short of a championship this season (injuries around the NBA notwithstanding), but 22-to-25 teams around the league would kill to have their outlook over the next few seasons.
When we’re talking postseason, how far can the Atlanta Hawks go in the NBA playoffs?
Lose 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks
Unfortunately for the Hawks, they don’t have a Giannis Antetokounmpo or anything that can stop him. For that matter, if they did, they definitely don’t have an answer for the three-headed monster in Brooklyn of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Their season should be expected to come to an end much the way it did last season, at the hands of Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s not what they want, but should that really be considered a disappointment?