Travis Schlenk sent text messages.
The Hawks’ general manager watched from high in an Atlanta hotel, his temporary home, as the Golden State Warriors won another NBA championship with a Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night. Schlenk wanted those in his employ to get a better idea of how his former team won its second title in three years. The players on that roster share similar characteristics. They are all long. They are all athletic. They are all skilled.
Schlenk said he will look to add those types of players to the Hawks during the NBA Draft on Thursday. The Hawks have three selections, No. 19 overall in the first round and the first and last picks of the second round with Nos. 31 and 60.
“I’m going to say this a lot,” Schlenk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are going to focus on character. We are going to focus on length. We are going to focus on skill. Those are the things we did at Golden State and all the draft processes that I’ve been in. We’ll do the same thing here.”
Ten of the players on the Warriors’ roster are between 6-foot-6 and 6-9. That includes Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green, who at 6-7 is taller only than 6-3 guards Stephen Curry and Ian Clark. Yet, Green has played center a great deal for the Warriors, a byproduct of his versatility.
In addition to the All-Star-laden Warriors’ lineup and bench, think Patrick McCaw. The developing rookie, drafted by the Warriors in the second round last year, is a 6-7 versatile wing who played meaningful minutes in the run to the championship. He’s a good shooter, not a great shooter, but being able to defend multiple positions with length and athletic ability is a big deal in today’s NBA.
Schlenk has seen the plethora of mock drafts that populate the internet. Most have the Hawks selecting a big man — a power forward or center — with the first-round pick. The rationale makes sense. The Hawks have one power forward on the roster, Ryan Kelly. They have one center, Dwight Howard. They are on the verge of losing Paul Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries and Mike Muscala, all unrestricted free agents, after the draft.
Not so fast.
“We are looking for a basketball player,” Schlenk said of the No. 19 pick. “There happens to be a bunch of bigs that everyone assumes is going to be available there. We’ll take the best player available.
“You draft the best talent available regardless who is on your roster. … I think that’s when you get in trouble, when you draft off need not off talent. Especially the way the league is going where guys are interchangeable and guys are multi-positional, you just take the best player.”
Schlenk said the potential loss of Millsap, a four-time All-Star, won’t affect his draft plans. If the Hawks lose Millsap, they will look to free agency to bring in a replacement.
Schlenk acknowledges he is behind studying the pool of first-round players in this year’s draft. As the assistant general manager of the Warriors, he was concerned with the second round, as the team has neither a first- or second-round pick. The plan was to buy a second-round pick.
So, there is catch-up work to do. Schlenk credited the work of the existing basketball operations staff in identifying the first-round talent and doesn’t think there will be an issue come draft night.
The Hawks are looking at nine players with the No. 19 pick, but Schlenk declined to name the players.
There are 11 players generally considered the top of the draft class, including five point guards. After those players, the draft is wide open, according to Schlenk, and there could be trades up and back. Schlenk said he doesn’t feel pressure to move up and doesn’t see value in moving back. The players the Hawks select at Nos. 19 and 31 figure to be on the roster next season, and the pick at No. 60 could be a draft-and-stash candidate.
Schlenk said he and coach Mike Budenholzer, who previously held the position of president of basketball operations, have had many discussions about the draft and talent evaluation.
“The similarity is the skill level,” Schlenk said of their thought process. “He likes his players to have skills, have shooting, be able to pass. I have all those same likes, as well. The one thing, as the new guy coming in, that I focus more on than they have in the past is the length and athleticism. Not that they don’t like that. They do. It’s just I put more focus on that.”
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