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Hawks mailbag: What should the team do with its first-round pick?

May 14, 2018 Atlanta: The Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler and general manager Travis Schlenk after a press confernce introducing Lloyd Pierce as the 13th full-time coach in the Atlanta history of the NBA basketball franchise on Monday, May 14, 2018, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
May 14, 2018 Atlanta: The Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler and general manager Travis Schlenk after a press confernce introducing Lloyd Pierce as the 13th full-time coach in the Atlanta history of the NBA basketball franchise on Monday, May 14, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

The Hawks’ season is officially over, since they’re not part of the NBA’s plans to restart the season in late July in Orlando. They will not play another official game until December (sigh). But, there’s still plenty to talk about regarding offseason plans, the draft lottery, the future of the franchise and more.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions on social media for the mailbag. I’ve done my best to answer those questions below. Let's dive in:

Which prospect in your opinion makes the perfect fit in the Hawks’ rebuilding process? 

First things first. Hawks (20-47) general manager Travis Schlenk has said that they are committed to their first-round pick, and they will keep it unless a great offer, something they couldn’t turn down, comes along. In his time as Hawks GM, Schlenk has been aggressive on draft nights, and coach Lloyd Pierce’s statement that the Hawks will be a playoff team next season, which will require a huge leap in a short amount of time, adds a little intrigue.

Let’s also talk draft odds: the Hawks have a 12.5% chance of getting the No. 1 lottery pick (Golden State, Cleveland and Minnesota, the three teams who had a worse record than the Hawks at the time of the season’s suspension, have a 14% chance). Lottery odds are based on team’s records as of March 11 when the season was suspended, so the restart in Orlando will not change them. The Hawks have a 12.2% chance at the No. 2 pick, an 11.9% chance at the No. 3 pick, 11.5% at No. 4, 7.2% at No. 5, 25.7% at No. 6 and 16.7% at No. 7.

This is a tricky draft (some analysts see this as a weaker class, and it does appear on paper there are fewer future stars) without a consensus top pick. Depending on where they land, an exceptionally young Hawks team may be better served by trading this pick for a more proven player or by trading down to try to secure another asset, though obviously Schlenk would play that close to the vest. That may not seem like the flashiest move, especially as enthusiasm/impatience for wins grows among the fan base, but I still think you have to think long-term to an extent.

Moving forward, the Hawks have a few needs: depending upon what happens with Jeff Teague in free agency (Teague wasn’t great for the Hawks in his 25 games this season, with 7.7 points and four assists in 20.8 minutes per game), they likely will need a backup point guard, someone who can prevent the offense from falling apart when Young goes to the bench. And with as many minutes as Young plays (35.3 per game), that player need to be able to play alongside Young, too, often off the ball. They also need depth and more shooting on the wing, and as a team, they need to take a step forward on defense. The Hawks also need to get a little older, with Schlenk hoping to add some more experienced players in their mid-20s or so.

They obviously have their main star in Young, and they likely won’t be looking for a big, since they just added centers Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon and still have Bruno Fernando on the roster, with power forward John Collins a cornerstone of the rebuild. If they keep the pick, I think it makes sense to target a versatile wing that has defensive potential. You never know who will be left on the board, but Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Isaac Okoro of Auburn, Florida State’s Devin Vassell and Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith come to mind and I think would fit in with the Hawks.

If LaMelo Ball is the best player available when the Hawks make their selection, will they take him, or draft for need?

Honestly, the Hawks could sure use another ballhandler and scorer, so I wouldn’t say Ball’s skill set doesn’t fit any of their needs. Ball’s insane passing ability and touch make him a standout prospect, one that many people project to go first overall. Also, his height (6-foot-7) makes him intriguing for the Hawks, because with Young’s stature (6-1, 180), the Hawks really can’t afford to have another small guard in their backcourt, which eliminates several options in this draft.

If Schlenk follows his “best player available” philosophy, then it’s possible, but I’m skeptical of two things. 1. Would a backcourt of Young and Ball (when Ball isn’t running the offense in Young’s stead) be able to play defense at all? 2. It’s not likely he’ll be on the board when the Hawks pick, anyway.

With the addition of Clint, do you think playoffs is a realistic expectation next year? 

The short answer is I think it’s possible, especially considering the Hawks went 12-15 in their final 27 games. That number is nothing to write home about, but there’s an easier path to the playoffs in the East than the West. The Orlando Magic (30-35), the No. 8 seed heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, also went 12-15 in their most recent 27 games.

The Hawks got much better once Collins came back from suspension, rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish got more minutes under their belt and Kevin Huerter got healthy. Defense and rebounding were huge problems and adding Capela will help with that, though he’s just one guy.

But it’s already a step in the right direction, and the Hawks have the money to make moves this offseason and bring in some solid free agents, in addition to whatever they do with their draft pick, which can’t fall out of the top 8.

Add all that together and I think it’s possible the Hawks can compete for a playoff spot, if they can put all their pieces together successfully, but they’ll have to prove they’re capable of that.

With Vince Carter's retirement, is there a player you have your eye on to step into the role of veteran leader of this Hawks team? 

No one can replace Carter or his experience (literally no one, with Carter playing an NBA-record 22 seasons). But, with all his playoff experience, I see Capela (who recently turned 26) stepping into that role pretty easily, and I think he has already started to do so. He’s not a very loud guy, but I spotted him coaching young players (particularly Cam Reddish) multiple times during timeouts after the Hawks acquired him at the trade deadline.

According to Huerter, Capela has been a vocal leader in the locker room. I see Capela's leadership and experience in big-time games helping the Hawks out quite a bit.

Can Trae lure a max free-agent player to the Hawks? 

Yes, at some point, or at least a very high-caliber free agent, depending on what the team wants to add. Pierce has talked about the immense value that comes with having an All-Star starter on the roster.

But, usually those guys sign with franchises that are winning at a high level, so it’s a little too early to tell and will all depend on if the Hawks take a big leap forward next season, and if they can sustain it.