Let this be the last Hawks draft-lottery column for a good long while

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk got a No. 6 draft pick to play with Thursday night.
Hawks GM Travis Schlenk got a No. 6 draft pick to play with Thursday night.

Life outside the bubble, much like life outside the womb, is hard.

The Hawks, of course, were excluded from the bubble because the bubble was reserved for NBA teams that still had a playoff pulse in March. The Hawks didn’t like it. They wanted a second, lesser bubble, where they could hang with their own kind and as safely as possible play games and enjoy fellowship. Disney World was taken. Weeki Wachee Springs or Dinosaur World might have been available, though.

Instead, they were thrown into the same cruel and chancy world as the rest of us. It’s a place where every day’s a lottery, and, in fact, the Hawks were part of an actual one Thursday night.

In case you missed it, the NBA draft lottery, also known as the New York Knicks’ summer home, has come and gone. Conducted virtually, it had even less sizzle than usual given the coronavirus precautions. An NBA exec opened envelopes in a silent studio while team representatives sat in their various isolation chambers, expressionless, wondering what they had done to deserve this brand of basketball purgatory. If mannequins could get on Zoom, this is what it would look like.

Meanwhile, LeBron James continued to warm up, wanting the whole thing done with.

The Hawks “won” the sixth pick overall. Could have been a lot better – they had a 12.5% of getting the top pick. Could have been worse – the floor was the eighth pick. The best that could be said is that they got through it and nobody got hurt.

It really is about time for this team to progress beyond this contrivance, about time they were better than that. This is the Hawks’ third consecutive year in the lottery. And Jami Gertz, bless her heart, can’t hold that smile much longer.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk would promise nothing. “I wouldn’t put the pressure on them or anyone that it’s playoffs or bust (next season), but we do want to start to see our group improving on the floor for sure,” he said Thursday night. The Hawks won 30% of their games this season, down from 35% the season before. So, there is no happy trend to point to here.

What this sixth pick does, initially, is to relieve the Hawks of any need to consider hometown guard Anthony Edwards. After one season helping Georgia go 5-13 in the SEC, the Ant Man is still seen as a potential difference-maker at the next level and will be somebody else’s enigma before the sixth pick. At Georgia, Edwards alternated between spellbinding and maddening, as is the lot of the unrefined. Jay Bilas seems to like him at No. 1. The best that I can say is that in a draft class of fuzzy pedigree, Edwards certainly is one of them.

There was no Zion Williamson-type talent to covet this year. Throw in all the roadblocks to scouting that the pandemic threw up in the spring, and know that this draft could be even more of a crap-shoot than others. So, not getting a higher pick in the lottery isn’t seen as such a bad break for the Hawks.

Although, there certainly is no guarantee they will stay in their place on draft night. Schlenk has shown himself a restless bargainer, trading picks and positions like he gets paid by the deal.

If they stay with No. 6, the best that can be said of the Hawks’ position is that they should be able to get someone of ability – hopefully someone who can spot-up shoot – who won’t necessarily have to be forced into a major role. The hope here is that the Hawks already have built enough through the draft – their five top returning scorers are all 22 or younger – that whoever is taken at No. 6 won’t have to be rushed to the front.

“The year we drafted Trae (Young), we knew he was going to be a starter when we drafted him,” Schlenk said. “I’m not going to say whoever this draft pick is won’t be a starter, but we have a nice core of young players. That creates competition. What happens in free agency, what happens in trades, all those things will affect (the draft pick’s role).

“It will be more of a situation you have to earn as opposed to be given, which is good.”

Life outside the bubble for the Hawks didn’t take an obvious turn for the better by the events of Thursday night. The lottery was a diversion, not relief.

And it gets only harder in the short term. With faces pressed against the outside of the bubble, the Hawks and their fans wonder what might have been. They can enviously witness Luka Doncic, a player drafted by the Hawks in 2018 but then immediately flipped for Young and, eventually, Cam Reddish, continue his case for superstardom. His 70 points thus far ranks second-most in NBA history for a player in his first two playoff games.

Man, that bubble life must be sweet.

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