The Hawks hold a 13.1 percent chance of winning the draft lottery, which will be held tonight. Should the ping-pong balls align, I’d say Deandre Ayton has a 70 percent chance of being their No. 1 pick. Yes, the NBA keeps getting smaller, but this is still basketball. Having a good big man is never a bad place to begin.
Ayton is a huge young man – he’ll turn 20 in July – whose impressive upper body isn’t the work of years of weight training. He got serious about that only in the past few months. He’s not unskilled, either. He can make a jump shot. The biggest question about him involves defense, which sounds a tad strange: You always figure blocking shots would be easy for a tall guy.
Question is, can you teach a guy to become a shot-blocker? That applies not just to Ayton but to Marvin Bagley III, who began the college season as the presumptive No. 1, but has been nit-picked for his defensive liabilities. Were the Hawks further along in their rebuild, Bagley might be a better fit – he’s a polished low-post scorer, a quick and powerful leaper and a tremendous offensive rebounder. But they’re about to exercise their first lottery pick in a decade, which means “fit” doesn’t yet register.
This lottery is awash in big guys. Apart from Luka Doncic, nobody smaller than 6-foot-8 figures to be among the top half-dozen picks. As Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk noted Monday, recent impact draftees have been wings. (Boston has two in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.) This isn’t a wing-friendly draft. There are the bigs, and then come the point guards, meaning Trae Young and Collin Sexton.
Doncic is a wing, albeit one with playmaking capability. He’s from Slovenia. He plays for Real Madrid. He still has a tournament to go, meaning he could still play his way up (or down) the board. He turned 19 in February. If someone other than Ayton goes No. 1 overall, it’s apt to be Doncic.
Ten months ago, it seemed this draft could have – in either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr. – a talent on the order of Ben Simmons, who’s considered the best player to enter the league since Anthony Davis, who was the best player to enter the league since the high schooler from Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary. That view has undergone modification. There’s not a Simmons or a Davis, let alone a LeBron. It’s a better draft than in 2013 (No. 1 pick: Anthony Bennett) or 2006 (No. 1 pick: Andrea Bargnani), but there’s no MVP-type lock in this lottery.
There is, however, one really big 19-year-old who handled himself well in what was a frazzled (to say the least) Arizona season. I can see the team holding the No. 1 pick being dazzled by Doncic in the Euroleague Final Four – and Phoenix, which has the best chance of winning the lottery, has hired Igor Kokoskov, who coaches Doncic for the Slovenian national team, as head coach – but I keep thinking Ayton will wind up going first. Maybe he’ll wind up here. We’ll know more by 8 p.m.