Credit Travis Schlenk for wrangling a lottery gone wrong and making it go right. The Hawks cobbled together enough not-prime assets to gain access to the first pick outside the top three, which was as high as they could reasonably hope to get. They took what might have been Jaxson Hayes and turned him into De’Andre Hunter. That’s an overall win.
Still at issue is whether it’s a windfall. Hunter might not have been the fourth-best player in this draft. Even if he was, this year’s fourth-best might have been 10th-best last year. He’s a good defender who became a scorer as a redshirt sophomore at Virginia. (That’s correct. The NBA’s No. 4 pick sat out his freshman season.) His 3-pointer sent the NCAA title game to overtime, where his 3-pointer put the Cavaliers ahead to stay and completed the ascent from losing to a 16th seed to winning it all. Of note: Hunter didn’t play against UMBC because of injury.
Hunter could well become a useful piece on an upper-tier team, which the Hawks aren’t yet, though his upside mightn’t be as high as, say, Coby White’s. We say again: Hunter was a three-and-done, which few lottery picks are. He might be the better fit here, though, given the Hawks’ newly won status as the NBA’s worst defensive team.
Best-case scenario – and what’s a draft if not an exercise in best-cases? – is that Hunter becomes another piece in a growing core. Trae Young and John Collins have All-Star potential. Kevin Huerter could be a lesser Klay Thompson, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s potential here. There’s hope here. And here is where, not so long ago, there was (shudder) only Dwight Howard.
As we know, the Hawks hired Schlenk and went the tanking route. The trouble with tanking in the NBA – as opposed to baseball – is that you’re a prisoner of the lottery. This year’s lottery was tweaked in the effort to make future tankers think twice. Sure enough, the team with the NBA’s fifth-worst record wound up with only the No. 8 pick, and then the Hawks saw New Orleans, which won four more games than they did, hook the rights to take Zion Williamson.
That the Pelicans didn’t stop with Zion wound up benefiting the Hawks. (Who said NOLA hates the A-T-L?) On Saturday, New Orleans agreed to trade the disgruntled Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a boatload of young talent and the No. 4 pick, which ended up being shipped to the Hawks.
The NBA’s policy on pre-draft trades is silly – officially, Young was picked by Dallas a year ago – and that inanity was on display Thursday night. Hunter was “taken” by the Lakers, who already had agreed to trade the pick to the Pelicans, who just agreed to trade it to the Hawks. That Lakers cap Hunter was handed – and briefly donned – Thursday night will live less long in L.A. lore than Rasheed Wallace figures in Hawks history. (For late tuners-in, ’Sheed arrived from Portland and played once as a Hawk before being offloaded to Detroit.)
Because of such rules, the Hawks were proscribed from discussing Hunter on draft night. Nor can they introduce him to the Atlanta audience Monday. Nor will they be able to acknowledge his addition until July 6, at which time the Hawks will be gathering in Las Vegas for the NBA’s Summer League. And you thought mid-level exceptions were complicated.
The Hawks didn’t, as many mock drafts projected, take Cam Reddish with the No. 8 pick. Officially they spent that on Hayes, the Texas big man, but he’s headed to New Orleans in exchange for the Hunter pick. (The No. 17 pick, acquired from Brooklyn last week, also went to the Pelicans.) The Hawks did, however, choose Reddish with the No. 10 selection, which as far as we know hasn’t been traded since … well, since last June, when the Mavericks sent it to the Hawks in exchange for the rights to Luka Doncic.
About Reddish: He’s a talent. Also about Reddish: He spent his one season at Duke mostly watching Zion and RJ Barrett. He skipped an NCAA Sweet 16 game because his knee hurt, which came as news to the Duke camp. (He played in the Elite Eight two days later.) He’s the tallest of the three famous Blue Devils freshmen – he’s 6-foot-8 – and the best shooter of the bunch. And yet: He conceded this week that his work ethic hasn’t been the greatest.
On a weird night, this was maybe the weirdest thing: The Hawks got a more gifted player at No. 10 than at No. 4. If you think about it, that makes some semblance of sense. The Hawks aren’t close enough to a finished product to think only in terms of immediate impact. Hunter will play more than Reddish next season. Hunter could start. Reddish might not make the rotation. But three years on, Reddish might seem the bigger deal. If he gets serious, he could be big-time. If not, he’ll be remembered – if he’s remembered at all – as a lottery dud.
Thus did a whirlwind night end with the Hawks a better draft than they figured to have when the week began. They didn’t need three Round 1 picks a year after exercising three Round 1 picks, though it took three into two that resonated.
Hunter has a high floor, Reddish a high ceiling. The Hawks landed the kind of player they lacked, meaning a defender, and added to their growing mix of shooters. Schlenk did his job. His roster is significantly better today -- or will be when the Hawks can officially claim Hunter -- than it was yesterday.