With about six weeks left in the NBA regular season, the Hawks face stiff competition to secure the top odds to win the No. 1 draft pick by finishing at the bottom of the league standings. The Hawks are among eight teams with 20 or fewer victories, and at least three of those other squads have declared their intention to go all out with tanking.
The Hawks likely will improve their position in the race for the top pick once they finalize a buyout with Ersan Ilyasova who, in my view, has been no worse than their second-best starter. Also working in the Hawks’ favor in terms of tanking: they have the second-worst record in the league despite facing a relatively easy schedule so far, and they may have the toughest slate of opponents left among the bottom eight in the league standings.
Below I complied a chart highlighting those eight teams. Included are their league strength of schedule ranking so far and the quality o f opponents left on their schedule, both based on Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS). Also included are the teams’ predicted record in FiveThirtyEight.com’s projections, which measure a team’s quality based on game results and quality of roster.
SRS avg. ranking
As you can see, based on SRS the Hawks have the toughest slate of opponents left by far. But there are caveats to consider. Among them are injuries; trades; location and timing of games (back-to-backs, for example); the aforementioned tanking strategies by some teams, and games in which playoff-bound opponents may rest starters and key reserves once their seeding can’t be improved.
The Hawks have been better since they got healthier. But it appears they still have a good shot at finishing last and securing the best odds for the top pick--odds that will decrease dramtically when the lottery system changes for the 2019 draft.