How the coronavirus changed the Hawks’ draft preparation, offseason schedule
June 24, 2019 Brookhaven- Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk speaks at the introductory press conference for Cam Reddish, a Hawks 2019 draft pick, at the Hawks practice facility, in the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, in Brookhaven, Georgia on Monday June 24, 2019. Reddish was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019, and was the 10th overall pick. Reddish previously played small forward/shooting guard for the Duke University Blue Devils. Christina Matacotta/CHRISTINA.MATACOTTA@AJC.COM
Because of the coronavirus, this Hawks offseason will look drastically different than it has in past years.
Really, the changes will stretch further than that, as the Hawks won't get to play another official game until December (the season would normally start in October). They are one of eight teams excluded from the season restart in Orlando, Fla., and the 2020-21 season may be condensed.
Normally, there would be a draft combine in mid-May for teams to evaluate prospects, but as of now, teams don’t know if that will happen or what that would look like. Because of increasing coronavirus cases, a virtual draft combine seems likely.
According to Schlenk, the Hawks’ scouting department continues to hold several Zoom calls a week with prospects, preparing as if they won’t be able to bring players to Atlanta for workouts.
“It’s unclear at this time whether or not we’ll have a combine, where we’ll all go to one place or if those will be virtual,” Schlenk said. “It’s unclear if we’ll be able to bring players into market and work them out as we would in the past. We’re, I guess, preparing as if that’s not going to happen this year and trying to do the best we can. That would be, quote unquote, worst-case scenario, and if things change, and we are able to bring guys in or if there is a combine, that will just kind of be icing on top of the cake for us.”
The most difficult part of not being able to evaluate players in person is missing out on the medical exams that normally are performed.
“We’ve tried to dig in a little deeper in the video, certainly a little earlier than we have in the past,” Schlenk said. “I think the big questions are how we’re going to do the medicals. That’s really a big part of that process, and right now all that’s kind of up in the air. That’s, I don’t want to say it keeps me up at night, but it’s certainly something we’re worried about and hoping that we can find a resolution for.”
Also, many conference tournaments were canceled, along with the NCAA Tournament, which gave scouts fewer opportunities to see players play in-person.
“A lot of the guys at least projected to go in the top 10 ended up not playing a lot this year, so didn’t have an opportunity to see them,” Schlenk said. “A couple guys went to Australia and because of injuries stopped playing early. Obviously a couple guys left college early as you’re aware of. So there is kind of an open-endedness to scouting there. As far as what we’ve done during this whole process, is we have our weekly scouting calls, and we’ve kind of focused on five guys a week.”
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce applauded Schlenk and the rest of the Hawks’ scouting department for how “active” they have been since the season went on hiatus in March.
Moving meetings to online isn’t all bad, as Schlenk pointed out, since the Hawks have been able to talk to many more prospects than they would normally be able to.
“There’s certainly something that can be gained when you’re having a conversation with someone when you’re in the same room as opposed to this format,” Schlenk said. “But what it’s allowed us to do is talk to a lot more guys because guys have been stuck at home, too. Everyone’s looking for something to do, so the number of people we’ve been able to interview, I’ve been surprised by.
“... But we’ve talked to a lot of guys that are projected to go in the late first round. We’re going to have a pick in the 50s and a pick in the top 10. Those are normally, in a normal year, we wouldn’t have a chance to talk to those guys, but guys have been open to us. So from that side, it’s been good. We’ve had as many as 20-something people on our calls when we talk to one player and that certainly can be intimidating for a young man to have a job interview with 20 people.”