ESPN reported Friday that the Knicks are considering trading the No. 3 overall pick in the June 20 draft to the Hawks for picks Nos. 8 and 10. The Hawks are not considering that deal because, as I hear it, they hadn’t heard from the Knicks about a trade as of Friday afternoon.
That’s not to say the Hawks aren’t open to trading up. I believe they’d do it if they decide they must have one of the players available after Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. The Pelicans will pick Williamson No. 1 and the Grizzlies reportedly are keen on Morant at No. 2. The best of the rest includes wing players RJ Barrett (Duke), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia) and Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech).
There won’t be a top prospect left at pick No. 8 if this draft is as thin as analysts say. Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk may not view it that way. However, if he determines that the gap between the players available at No. 3 and No. 8 is substantial, then maybe Schlenk would do that two-picks-for-one deal with the Knicks.
That’s a plausible scenario. I still say it’s doubtful. Schlenk’s philosophy is to accumulate draft picks, not shed them. He calls draft picks “swings of the bat” because, like hitters in baseball, GMs fail at it more than they succeed. A deal would have to be very enticing for Schlenk to agree to give up two swings for one.
It took a lot of work for the Hawks to get that No. 10 pick, which was protected in the top five. It was part of their bounty from the Mavericks for Luka Doncic, the No. 3 overall pick. The other part was point guard Trae Young, picked No. 5.
Schlenk took a calculated risk with that trade. He decided that whatever difference there is in potential between Doncic and Young was exceeded by the value of the extra pick. The Hawks and Mavs ended up with the top two rookies in the draft.
The final verdict on that trade will come after Young and Doncic reach their primes and we see what becomes of the No. 10 pick. The point is that Schlenk valued the extra draft pick so much that he made the bold move of trading Doncic for Young to get it. Schlenk’s philosophy regarding picks makes it difficult for me to envision him making a deal that nets him one less.
Also, Schlenk frequently emphasizes that good players can be found anywhere in the draft. The history of the draft shows that the higher a team picks, the more likely it will select a good NBA player. Schlenk’s track record shows that he can find them later.
In the 2017 draft, Schlenk selected Wake Forest big man John Collins with the No. 19 pick. Collins immediately established himself as a solid NBA player. He was even better in his second season, even if his defense slipped.
Schlenk had the No. 19 pick again in the 2018 draft and used it to take Maryland wing Kevin Huerter. He was one of the top shooters in the league as a rookie. Huerter also was a solid defender and surprisingly skilled at scoring in the paint.
Young, Huerter and Collins fit Schlenk’s “dribble, pass, shoot” template. The Hawks spread the floor, played fast and shot a lot of 3-pointers. Barrett, Hunter and Culver also fit Schlenk’s mold for the most part.
The same is true of some prospects who could be available at pick Nos. 8 and 10. Players such as Coby White (North Carolina), Cam Reddish (Duke) and Romeo Langford (Indiana) aren’t projected to be NBA stars. That doesn’t mean they won’t beat those expectations.
Theoretically, the Nos. 8 and 10 picks together are worth about 50 percent more than the No. 3 pick alone. That’s according to the latest version of the draft value chart created by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. But that’s based on historical outcomes. If there’s a specific player in this draft that the Hawks want at No. 3, they should pay the premium to get him.
I doubt the Hawks know yet if there is such a player in this draft. They only recently started ranking the prospects. They may eventually decide they are content with the group of players they expect to be available at Nos. 8 and 10. Or they could choose to trade back in the draft, which I think is a more likely outcome than trading up.
I can’t see Schlenk giving up more draft picks than he gets back during this phase of his rebuild. He likes swinging the bat too much. The Knicks will have to pry it away from him if they come calling.
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