RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson of Duke.

The Hawks hold three Round 1 picks. Is that good or bad?

The draft lottery could have gone worse for the Hawks – but not much worse. Had the percentages regarding pingpong balls held, at worst they’d have had the fifth and ninth choices overall. They wound up with Nos. 8 and 10. Their only consolation was that the pick they were owed by Dallas didn’t land in the top five, which would have meant the Mavericks got to keep it. 

There are some drafts where having two top-10 picks is a fine thing. This isn’t one. There’s a clear separation between the three best players – Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett of Duke, Ja Morant of Murray State – and everyone else. This is a bad draft to be holding five picks between No. 8 and No. 42, which is where the Hawks were. Then they did the strangest thing: They went and got another. 

On Thursday, it was reported – the NBA doesn’t allow official confirmation just yet – that the Hawks sent Taurean Prince, a starting wing, to Brooklyn for Allen Crabbe, who has been in the league since 2013, though not so you’d notice, plus the No. 17 pick in this draft and a lottery-protected Round 1 pick in 2020. Having six selections over two rounds might make sense for a team beginning a rebuild, but that’s no longer the Hawks. They’re two years into this, and they have something of nucleus in John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. 

Such a team shouldn’t be interested in volume for volume’s sake, and the NBA really isn’t a volume sport. (MLB and pro football are.) The NBA is about high-level talent. Round 2 picks can sometimes pan out – Draymond Green was one – but not often. It’s noteworthy that that the five men who made this season’s All-Rookie team went 1-5 in the 2018 draft. This year’s class is so top-heavy it’s unclear if even the 10th man chosen will become a starter. 

A check of NBAdraft.net shows the site’s mock Round 1 directing Mfiondu Kabengele of Florida State to the Hawks at No. 10. Kabengele is a good-shooting big man who didn’t start for FSU. (We stipulate that the Seminoles were the nation’s deepest squad.) The No. 8 pick is projected as Cam Reddish of Duke, another tall shooter who got lost in the considerable wake of Zion and Barrett.

The shooting part would suit the Hawks, who have modeled themselves after Golden State, and those two would absolutely add to the talent base. But would either/both make a real difference? And now, having seen the Hawks add an even lower Round 1 pick … well, you’d have to think there’s something afoot. 

General manager Travis Schlenk is on record as saying he didn’t want five rookies on next season’s roster. He made that comment when his team held five draft picks. His team now holds six. When a team stockpiles so many non-prime picks, the obvious thought is that it’s looking to bundle them in an upward trade. Trouble is, after Zion, is there anyone worth such a reach? 

Zion would energize any franchise, but he’s bound for New Orleans. There’s no way the Pelicans would swap their lottery windfall for the Nos. 8, 10 and 17 selections and sell it to the never-ardent NOLA fan base. It’s believed the Knicks, who hold the No. 3 pick and who never seem to know what they’re doing, could have interest in a pick package. But No. 3 is apt to be Barrett, who’s more slasher than shooter. (He’s also a bit of a ball-stopper. Ask Duke fans about the final minute against Michigan State.) Would he fit what the Hawks’ design? 

Say Barrett goes No. 2 instead. That’d leave Morant at No. 3. He’s a point guard. The Hawks already have their point guard. Where’s the gain in that trade-up? And be honest: Is there anyone who stands to be available after No. 3 and before No. 8 – possibilities include De’Andre Hunter of Virginia, Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech and Coby White of North Carolina – who’d qualify as a must-have? 

In the immediate aftermath of a surprisingly sunny Hawks season, it was possible to believe, with some lottery luck, this could be a playoff team in 2020. That the Hawks got unduly unlucky makes such a leap problematic. As it stood, their best draft hope seemed to lie in finding more pieces, as opposed to the right piece. That’s what makes the addition of an even lower first-rounder so puzzling. That said … 

Schlenk’s a bright guy. His reset has gone much faster than anybody expected. I’m sure he has a plan for this draft. I’m not sure what it entails, but maybe that’s just me. See, I’m not such a bright guy.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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