Different year and circumstances, same plan: Hawks to draft best player available

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Welcome to another sign of the Hawks’ recent success.

The Hawks are scheduled to make the No. 20 overall selection in the NBA draft Thursday after a historic run to the Eastern Conference finals. Just over eight months ago, they had the No. 6 selection after a dismal season that saw them omitted from the season restart following the pandemic.

The Hawks also are scheduled to have the No. 48 overall selection with their second-round pick.

This version of the NBA draft also will be different in that it is – somewhat – a return to normal. When the Hawk selected Onyeka Okongwu last year, they were limited to virtual interviews in assessing the draft class. That was a bit easier with such a high pick. This year, the Hawks returned to in-person workouts, bringing in 90 players for an up-close look.

“In the first round you have a ton of different names, a lot more names to go through and do all the intel on and make all the calls about,” Hawks assistant general manager Landry Fields told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the midst of the last-minute work to finalize the team’s draft board and strategy. “Last year, not having the pre-draft process and all the guys coming in, you were basically you had to go to Zoom and talk to guys, and that was the majority of how you were trying to make a decision. You got a feel for guys, one on film and two how they were on Zoom. This year, we at least had the touch points of getting them in for workouts.”

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Hawks

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks did not bring any players in for multiple workouts, as they have in the past. The logistics during ongoing COVID-19 concerns played a factor. There were several players who had solo workouts.

This year’s draft preparation had one additional hurdle in that general manager Travis Schleck was so involved in the Hawks’ playoff run, that didn’t end until July 3 – just 26 days before the draft. That left Landry and the rest of the Hawks’ front office to do a lot of the talent evaluation.

One thing remains unchanged going into this draft. The Hawks’ philosophy remains the same. They will take the best player available. There is a roster that largely is established. There are areas of need, such as backup point guard. There are injuries, such as the shoulder issue that will keep Okongwu out for six months. There are considerations on coming contracts, such as that of restricted free agent John Collins. There is forethought into the future makeup of the roster against the salary cap. Still, the players selected are not contingent on those factors.

“You want to factor it all in, but the general rule and philosophy is best player available,” Fields said. “You are looking at guys to draft whose contracts are favorable. That is always going to be something, no matter where you are picking, no matter what fit it is, especially in the first round when you have these rookie scales (contracts), of course, it’s always something that is helpful for teams. At the end of the day, it’s always going to be best player available, but if it does fit a need that’s always great, too.”

Fields described the draft as deep. There are franchise-type players available at the top of the draft, including Cade Cunningham, who is expected to go No. 1 to the Pistons. Fields said there are players that the franchise would “feel very good about” getting at No. 20. Fields said the Hawks are more apt to consider needs with their second-round pick.