As the NBA world encapsulates itself in the New Orleans Pelicans trading Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team with the most intriguing situation heading into this week’s NBA Draft has received little to no press: the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks own three first-round picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Added onto their own selection (eight), the Hawks have the 10 pick, which came in a 2018 draft night trade with the Dallas Mavericks that led to the Hawks’ selection of Trae Young, and the 17 pick, which was acquired along with a protected 2020 first-round pick and Allen Crabbe from the Brooklyn Nets for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round pick.
Now, the 2018-19 season was another lowly year for the Hawks, from a record standpoint; they finished 29-53, which warranted 12th place in the Eastern Conference. At the same time, there are several reasons for this organization to be highly optimistic about the road ahead, beginning with the budding young talent in head coach Lloyd Pierce’s starting five.
Young shined in his rookie season and made a case for winning the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game, he was Atlanta’s floor general. Whether it be his ability to get inside, shoot off the dribble, or find the open man, Young showcased a tantalizing offensive skill set. He quickly established himself as a franchise player.
John Collins is arguably the most underrated young player in basketball. He can jump out of an arena, runs the floor, hits the boards at a high rate, and has shown the ability to be a go-to scorer. This season he averaged a team-high 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and was one of the most productive sophomores in the NBA; the season prior, Collins averaged 10.5 points per contest.
Centers Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len had plausible seasons. Averaging 10.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game, Dedmon made an impact on both ends of the floor. He plays in the post, finishes inside, and holds his own defensively. Meanwhile, Len averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He operates in the post, finishes over defenders inside, and hits the boards at an efficient rate.
Another pleasant development for the Hawks was Kevin Huerter. The rookie wing averaged 9.7 points per game and shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. That perimeter shooting bodes well with Young’s fiery skill set.
The Hawks have the chance to add to their young core and further progress their rebuilding efforts this week. They’re going to want to add a wing to play alongside Young and a frontline mate for Collins. With picks eight and 10, the Hawks could be in line to select a combination of Cam Reddish, Nassir Little, Rui Hachimura, and Tyler Herro. If they want to swing for the fences, they could select French forward Sekou Doumbouya.
Drafting two of those five prospects gives the Hawks youth and depth. Simultaneously, they can select the best player available at 17.
While they could stockpile young players, the Hawks also have the option of getting creative on the trade market in two ways, the first being trading back with one of their later picks (10 and/or 17). Doing so could potentially net an established player who would give their rotation more veteran pedigree, as well as a later pick.
On the other hand, if the Hawks are in love with a player who may go in the top five such as R.J. Barrett or Jarrett Culver, they could use their slew of draft picks to move up. The Pelicans appear interested in dealing the number four pick, which they acquired from the Lakers as part of their return on Davis, making trading up feasible for the Hawks.
Regardless of whether they keep their picks, trade back, or trade up, the Hawks offseason could be far from over after the draft. With roughly $35 million in cap space, they have the money to make impactful signings. The Hawks could open up more room by dealing Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million salary for the 2019-20 season) who is a respectable defender and outside shooter, but doesn’t project to be part of the Hawks’ future.
In all likelihood, top-tier free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and others don’t have the Hawks on their short list of teams they’d like to play for, but there are under-the-radar players who could catapult the Hawks up the conference.
The Hawks shouldn’t spend money for the sake of doing so, but there are a handful of players worth consideration, despite the high price tags that would likely come with signing them. Julius Randle is coming off a career year where he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, has a savvy two-way game, and would give the Hawks a dynamite frontline.
Concurrently, the likes of Khris Middleton, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Harrison Barnes would add consistent and veteran scoring. Terrence Ross could be a sneaky signing given his electric two-way play. If they want reliable perimeter play, the Hawks could pursue Danny Green, or Wesley Matthews. Maybe they extend an offer sheet to Malcolm Brogdon, in hopes of pairing him with Young in their backcourt?
A young core, three first-round draft picks, including two in the top 10, and cap space is a trio teams crave, especially ones devoid of a star. Out of the rebuilding teams in the sport, or ones who “tanked” this season, the Hawks have the most promising future.
At the end of the day, it’s the Eastern Conference. Whenever it looks like, the conference is going to turn a corner and be well-balanced, it takes a 180. The Detroit Pistons, who were the eight seed with a .500 record, have proven players, but are far from boasting contention status. The Orlando Magic, who were the seven seed, had an encouraging season, but their franchise player, Nikola Vucevic, is a free agent, and the jury is out on whether they’ll be a playoff fixture moving forward.
Why can’t the Hawks be a threat to make the playoffs in 2020 after catching fire in the second half of the season and having the arsenal to pull off a highly productive offseason?
Keep close tabs on the Hawks this week; they may be the team that steals the NBA offseason.