The Hawks are stuck in the middle.
The team enters Thursday’s NBA Draft with the No. 19 overall pick of the first round. This year’s draft has a core group of 11 players, point-guard laden, that most around the league consider to be the top of the class. That leaves the Hawks to select from a group of players that could be chosen anywhere between 12th overall to early second round.
New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said he is open to trading up to get into the top of the draft but it’s not a priority.
“I don’t feel a lot of pressure to move up,” Schlenk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s not like I’m sitting here saying we’ve got to get the 10th pick in the draft. I don’t think it will be that easy.”
The Hawks also have two additional picks, the first and last selections of the second round at No. 31 and 60. It would likely take a key player plus their first two selections for the Hawks to get in a conversation to move up.
There has already been trade movement before the draft. The Celtics and 76ers have agreed to swap picks Nos. 1 and 3. In addition, the Kings hold two picks in the top 10 at Nos. 5 and 10. They could be a trade partner for the Hawks or another team looking to move up. The Trail Blazers have three first-round picks, all below the first 11, with picks Nos. 15, 20 and 26.
The key to making a bold move and part with some of the Hawks’ accumulated assets — 11 picks over the next three drafts — would be to identify an attainable difference-maker near the top of the class. Attainable being the key.
“We are looking at all of it, really,” Schlenk said. “I would say it’s wide-open. There is such a wide range of what might happen in front of us, what may happen behind us.
“I don’t know that there will be a lot of value to trade back.”
It’s unlikely one of the top 11 available players would fall all the way to the Hawks at No. 19.
Schlenk has said repeatedly in his short time on the job that the team will draft the best player available. They will focus on players with length, athleticism and character. Don’t expect to take a player based on need, even with the possibility of losing four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap.
The Hawks had two first-round selections last year and took Taurean Prince at No. 12 (after a three-team trade sent Jeff Teague to the Pacers) and DeAndre Bembry at No. 21. Both played sparingly at the start of the season. By season’s end, Prince was starting in the playoffs.
Schlenk joins the Hawks with a reputation as a solid talent evaluator. Much of the work of compiling information of potential first-round draftees has been done by the Hawks’ existing basketball operations staff after the changes last month that led to Schlenk’s hire.
Questions remain for Schlenk and his staff as they consider the possibility of a move up the draft board. There also remains the possibility that one of the players available at No. 19 can be a productive NBA player.
“How do we get to — I’ll throw a number out there — the top 10?,” Schlenk said. “Obviously, we aren’t going to be able to do that with just (pick Nos.) 19 and 31. Then you are talking about having to give up a player or a future asset. If we did move up, who are we taking? Do we think that will be one of our cornerstones as we look at the long-term process of hopefully becoming a contender?”
The following players are those who most observers around the NBA consider the top players available in the coming NBA Draft.