Will Hawks draft Marvin Bagley III or Jaren Jackson Jr.?

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Michgan State center Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to be among the top picks in the 2018 draft. He spoke to media at the draft combine in Chicago.

Before the Hawks won the No. 3 pick in the lottery, I'd heard that they prefer Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr. over Duke big man Marvin Bagley. That also was the word that came out of NBA's GM meetings Tuesday night, according to a league source. I think Jackson would be a good selection for the Hawks for reasons I will explain later.

But … wait!

 

The Trae Young part of Givony’s report matches another rumor I heard from the GM meetings: that the Hawks might be willing to trade down and take Young. But that line of thinking assumes that the Hawks are determined to trade Dennis Schroder and can do so; I’m not sure they are, or if they can without taking back trash. There is no way the Hawks could draft Young and keep Schroder, and passing on the No. 3 pick to drop back for Young would come with its own risks.

I hate draft rumors. They can be contradictory, like this Bagley vs. Jackson story. Teams send out false signals to hide their true intentions. Agents plant info that helps their clients. Different scouts and executives within an organization have different opinions about players, and those opinions change throughout the draft process.

If DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic are off the board, as expected, will the Hawks pick Bagley at No. 3? Will they take Jackson? Will they trade down and select Young? Will they end up taking some other prospect that isn’t even a part of these rumors?

I don’t know. Heck, maybe GM Travis Schlenk doesn’t even know yet for sure, and if he does, he’s obviously not saying so publicly.

What I do know is that Jackson projects as a shot-blocking big who can make 3-pointers, and that's all the rage. When new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce talked about the way he wants to play defense — with an anchor big who can protect the rim and switch on the perimeter — I was thinking that Jackson fits that bill nicely.

Jackson is not as stout, physical or long as Joel Embiid. But Jackson is plenty long enough (7-foot-5.25 inch wingspan) and looks to have the frame to put on weight — he won’t be 19 until September. For some players, aggressiveness may be something that can’t be coached, but maybe Jackson is one of those guys who can develop a mean streak if coaches push the right buttons.

Jackson has 3-and-D potential as a big man. He made 38 of 96 3-point tries for Michigan State (39.6 percent) and 106 of 133 free-throw attempts (79.7 percent). Jackson has an unorthodox shooting stroke that may need some tweaking, but he’s got a quick release.

There are, of course, reasons to like Bagley over Jackson.

Bagley is a much more instinctive and polished offensive player than Jackson around the basket. Bagley has more “springiness” at the rim, one reason he’s been a much better offensive rebounder than Jackson. Bagley made nearly 40 percent of his 58 3-point tries, though his 63 percent shooting on free throws is worrisome because that number tends to correlate strongly with NBA 3-point shooting potential.

Bagley gives maximum defensive effort and can guard in space, but his relative lack of length means he may never becomes a good NBA rim protector. That wouldn’t be as much of problem if Bagley can play power forward. But if he can’t become a 3-point shooter, Bagley would have to be paired with a rim-protecting five who stretches the floor.

Those players are hard to find. Jackson has great potential to be that kind of NBA player. That’s why I think the Hawks should pick Jackson if he and Bagley are available when they pick third. My educated guess is that’s what the Hawks will do if given the choice.

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