Hawks’ game plan set ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft

Coach Nate McMillan's Hawks finished 43-39 last season. (AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Coach Nate McMillan's Hawks finished 43-39 last season. (AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The Hawks will take another step forward toward next season as they try to rebound from a disappointing end to last season. Thursday’s NBA draft (8 p.m., ESPN) will mark the first major opportunity for this team to shake things up.

With the opportunity to add more young talent to a capable core, Hawks general manager Landry Fields said the team is prioritizing finding the best player available.

“Heading into Thursday, it’s gonna always be the same,” Fields said Monday during the team’s pre-draft availability. “It’s about drafting the best available talent to help upgrade our team, and whether that’s something that’s present or for the future and how they develop, that remains to be seen. But at the end of the day, we want to draft good players.”

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Not only have the Hawks tried to zero in on players who are skilled on the court but they also have tried to find players who fit the values and culture of the organization.

So in pre-draft interviews, Fields and the team’s other executives try to learn as much as they can about a prospect’s background. They focus on experiences in which a player overcame adversity in order to gauge his level of self-awareness.

“That doesn’t necessarily make or break whether you draft them or not,” Fields said. “It just gives you a clearer picture on how far they need to develop to where you think they’ll be ready and also like just set a time frame from their age standpoint.”

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The Hawks picked Jalen Johnson (right) in the first round in the 2021 NBA draft. He was the 20th overall selection. (AP file photo)

Credit: AP

The Hawks picked Jalen Johnson (right) in the first round in the 2021 NBA draft. He was the 20th overall selection. (AP file photo)

Credit: AP

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The Hawks picked Jalen Johnson (right) in the first round in the 2021 NBA draft. He was the 20th overall selection. (AP file photo)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Hawks have the 16th pick in the first round, and that may come with fewer bells and whistles than the top 10. So the Hawks have to weigh all of the options available when it comes to the players available after the 14 lottery teams and the Hornets make their picks. The Hawks also have the 44th overall pick in the second round.

So, though the Hawks have talked about picking players based on the team’s needs, they have tried to avoid getting caught up in that line of thinking.

“There’s always a fine line, and you have those discussions, for sure,” Fields said. “But there’s only a few times each year where you can really upgrade your team, and one of those is the draft. And in this league, you need talented players to win basketball games.

“So, we try not to get too caught up in positional needs in the draft. It is still very much the best-player-available approach and how that looks. If it fits with the need, fantastic, but at the end of the day we have to categorize, too, where that drop-off is, and maybe at that point need becomes more important.”

Though the Hawks feel comfortable picking at No. 16, they have and are still testing the waters for potential trade opportunities to move up in the draft. They have checked the pulses of other teams to see what they could get in return.

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Hawks power forward John Collins has trade value. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Hawks power forward John Collins has trade value. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

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Hawks power forward John Collins has trade value. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

The Hawks have been linked to potential deals with several other teams, with star forward John Collins listed as a prominent trade piece.

“We feel great at 16, but if there’s a chance for us to move up and get a player that we really like there, or if there’s a chance for us to move back and get something in compensation for that, that’s what we’re gonna do because that’s ultimately going to help us get better and more than just on the court,” Fields said.