NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces that the Atlanta Hawks won the third pick during the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Chicago.
Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Bad lottery luck shouldn’t be bummer for Hawks

This NBA lottery result might feel like a downer for the Hawks after so much positive came out of rebuild Year 2. They had the fifth-best lottery odds but ended up with the No. 8 overall pick. Soon after the pick was revealed their Hawks star point guard, Trae Young, used Twitter to sum up what might have been the general feeling for his team’s supporters: 

I get it. The Hawks hoped to move all the way to the top of the draft, where Zion Williamson is the prize (the Pelicans lucked out, winning the pick with just a 6.0% chance). Instead, the Hawks slid back to No. 8, just one pick better than the worst they could have done. Getting the protected draft pick the Mavs owed them at No. 10 mitigated things just a little because that was expected -- the Hawks had a 75 percent chance of it conveying. 

But this lottery result shouldn’t be too big of a bummer for the Hawks. Picking higher is better, of course. But recent NBA draft history shows that the expected return on the No. 8 pick isn’t much worse than No. 5. 

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton has complied a draft-pick value chart based on historical outcomes for each selection. According to his calculations, the No. 8 pick is worth about 10 percent less than No. 5. The top pick is extremely valuable, and the No. 2 pick is worth about 75 percent as much. After that, the expected value of picks declines dramatically until the No. 9 pick is worth less than half as much as No. 1. 


 

The Hawks have a reasonable chance of landing a good player with the Nos. 8 and 10 picks. They also could use those picks in trades. General manager Travis Schlenk often says good players can be found lower in the draft. Now he has two top-10 picks in this draft to find at least one. 

You have to like Schlenk’s chances of doing it, based on past performance. He’s had four first-round picks in two Hawks drafts. Three of those players already have shown they have bright NBA futures. 

In 2017 Schlenk used the No. 19 overall pick for John Collins, who is no worse than the fifth-best player in his class. Last year critics questioned Schlenk for trading No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to Dallas for Young. Then Young had a fine rookie season, Kevin Huerter (No. 19 overall) was a top 40 3-point shooter, and now the Hawks also have that extra pick from Dallas.

No doubt it would have been a franchise-altering stroke of luck for the Hawks to win the right to take Williamson. But the Hawks had only a 10.5 percent chance at that. They had an equal chance of winning each of picks two, three and four. 

None of that happened, but the Hawks had been lucky in the draft lately. That’s why they already have some good young players. First-year coach Lloyd Pierce did a fine job helping them get better. Adding two top 10 picks to that foundation is a very good consolation prize. 

“We Gon Be Aighttt !!!” Young tweeted later Tuesday night, along with a picture of himself with Collins. I think he’s right. The Hawks can overcome one night of bad lottery luck.


 

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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