Checking the NBA standings, we find that the Atlanta Hawks occupy eighth place in the East. That’s the worst place to be. The eighth-place finisher makes the playoffs but gets to face the No. 1 seed — either Indiana or Miami — in Round 1, which means there would almost surely be no Round 2. The eighth-place finisher also misses the draft lottery, which is much the bigger deal.
According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, available on ESPN.com, the Hawks have a 1.1 percent chance of reaching the NBA finals. Also according to Chad Ford’s ESPN mock draft lottery, the No. 9 finisher in the East — currently Cleveland — would have an 0.8 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. Those are terrible odds either way, but the 1.1 percent seems way too optimistic. (Does anyone see the Hawks winning three consecutive playoff series? Heck, does anyone see the Hawks in their weakened state winning two playoff games?)
All things considered, you’d rather try your lottery luck than test your chances against LeBron James. But here’s the truly sobering part: Even with the Hawks in nose-dive mode — they’ve lost 11 of 12 and still must face Portland, Golden State and the Clippers on this Western swing — the odds are against them falling out of eighth place. They still hold a 3 1/2-game lead over both Cleveland and Detroit, neither of which shows much inclination of making a charge. The Pistons have lost seven of eight, the Cavaliers four of six.
Back to Hollinger’s playoff odds: Despite dropping 11 of 12, the Hawks have an 84.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. In a season that has seen them lose Al Horford, John Jenkins and Gustavo Ayon to season-ending surgery and has seen Paul Millsap and Pero Antic miss extended time, that might be construed as an accomplishment. But if you care more about the Hawks going forward than in the here and now — and Danny Ferry, the general manager, surely does — mightn’t you rather take your shot with that 0.8 chance of winning the right to draft Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid or Jabari Parker?