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Chicago Bulls Eastern Conference competition preview: Atlanta Hawks

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This month we're going to try and talk about the teams the Bulls will be competing against for Eastern Conference seeding. That's a generous criteria that'll include a lot of teams, because the East is still a big morass of mediocre. These are also meant to jibe with the SBNation NBA preview that is going on.

Atlanta Hawks

Last year: 60-22 (1st in Eastern Conference, Lost 0-4 in Conference Finals to Cleveland)
'15-'16 Vegas Over/Under: 50 wins

It's almost easy to forget, but the Atlanta Hawks were amazing last year, winning 60 games and easily securing the #1 seed. Between some regression and untimely injuries their playoff run was abruptly ended by the Cavs, but it was a very successful season.


In: Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Holiday

Out: DeMarre Carroll, Elton Brand, Pero Antic

Forced into a tight spot with their own free agents, the Hawks chose to retain Paul Millsap at a premium and let their starting SF, Carroll, go to the Raptors. They used remaining cap space to take on Splitter's deal from San Antonio, and dealt their first round pick for Hardaway.

Depth Chart
Jeff Teague Kyle Korver Thabo Sefolosha Paul Millsap Al Horford
Dennis Schroder Tim Hardaway Jr. Justin Holiday Mike Muscala Tiago Splitter
Shelvin Mack Kent Bazemore Mike Scott
Walter Tavares

Earl Barron

The loss of Carroll looms large, as he was fifth on the team in minutes and they didn't get a suitable replacement. Adding Splitter however makes them one of the top frontcourts in the league, allowing Horford and Millsap to play more PF and providing a far more stout defender than Antic was off the bench.

What to expect

It's turned out possible for a 60-win team to be under the radar entering the next season, as everyone has figured that was a bit flukey and difficult to repeat. By pathagorean method they were more like a 56-win team, and their health last season (until those playoffs) will be difficult to repeat, especially considering both Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver are coming off of offseason surgeries. As solid as the Splitter move was, this was a net-negative offseason.

But this is still quite a collection of talent, and they've shown to be more than the sum of their parts playing the kind of pace-and-space offense that the Bulls want to employ themselves.

Can they compete with the Bulls?

Atlanta was one of those teams last year that exposed the Bulls lack of athleticism, carving them up on a couple occasions. If anything, the Bulls will be just a year older, so that ugly trend may continue. That said, it was a Hawks offense that was running on all cylinders, something that looks difficult for them to repeat. They had a known deficiency in their defensive rebounding, something the Bulls could certainly exploit, though Splitter will help them there. But he gets hurt a lot too.

For a season-long comparison, they were 10 games better than the Bulls last year and it's tough to see that difference being made up outside of some key injuries, as Atlanta is especially vulnerable on the wing.


[BaB's own Kevin Ferrigan gives his take using his own statistical model, described as: a plus-minus that used two years of data blended with predictive real plus-minus, and minutes projections from Kevin Pelton of]

The Hawks won 60 games last year, but they had the point differential of a 56 win team. After the season, they lost swingman DeMarre Carroll in free agency with no real replacement. Most of their roster had career years last year (Kyle Korver especially stands out) and most of them are on the wrong side of the aging curve. My projection system estimates a pretty strong regression to the mean and 45 wins. Subjectively, I think they probably slightly overperform that number because Coach Bud is really good at his job.