Hawks need to go big in this draft

We live in a time, or possibly in an alternate universe, when an NBA head coach is seeking to leave the Boston Celtics for a job with the Los Angeles Clippers.

This is either a sign of apocalypse or that anything is now possible when it comes to the Hawks’ future.

Danny Ferry’s efforts to build the Hawks into something closer to a contender than a punchline begin in earnest with the draft Thursday night. The team has four picks (two firsts, two seconds), barring a trade that could see two or three of them packaged to move up the team from the relative leftover drafting positions of Nos. 17 and 18.

This draft class is getting knocked as nothing special. It lacks obvious, immediate-impact game-changers. Even the consensus No. 1 pick, Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, while talented, is a project. One mock draft had him going as low as fourth.

Ferry’s view: “In every draft there’s 12 to 15 players who are going to have good, important careers. How important is the question. But in the middle of the draft, where we’re picking right now, the draft is the same as it usually is. I feel like we’re going to have some good opportunities.”

He wouldn’t disclose much. That was to be expected. General managers generally go in one of two directions when it comes to pre-draft interviews: 1) They disclose nothing; 2) They lie.

There’s no reason for them to publicly share thoughts on players, draft needs or possible trade partners. It would be like if somebody sat at a poker table and announced, “I’m holding a pair of jacks. How much do you guys think I should bet before the draw?”

The Hawks wouldn’t even announce when they were working out players in the past few weeks, a departure from the past. If word leaked out, it usually was because the prospect told everybody on Twitter that he was in town working out for the team. Others, such as UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad, typed the non-specific Tweet that could’ve led you to believe he had just landed in Atlanta, like this one from Monday night: “What’s good Atlantaaaaa!!!!!!!”

Muhammad’s Twitter handle is @phenom15balla. He’s a shy fellow.

Ferry also wouldn’t discuss how this draft might impact his plans for free agency next week, although he did offer one minivent, saying, “It’s a mistake,” that the league holds the draft before free agency. “It should be the other way around,” he said. (The NFL starts free agency before the draft, enabling teams to crystallize their needs at draft time.)

The Hawks need players at all positions. But if there’s one absolute, it’s this: They need size. They need to go big. Unless Ferry is confident that he will be able to bring in a center, a power forward or preferably both in free agency, this draft needs to scream, “I’m bigger than you.”

Al Horford is their center, but power forward is his more natural position. He’s not physical, and he often gets overpowered at the defensive end of the court. Regardless of where he plays, he needs help up front.

When Zaza Pachulia went down last season, the Hawks lost what little muscle they had. With Pachulia, they might have beaten Indiana in the first round of the playoffs instead of losing in six games. The Pacers outrebounded the Hawks in five of the six games and by 66 overall (296-230). Indiana’s average rebounding total of 49.3 was the highest average allowed by any of the 16 playoff teams.

Ferry proved in his first season that shooters can be acquired relatively easily, via trades and free agency. But there’s a dearth of quality big men.

Barring an unlikely deal that vaults the Hawks into the first handful of picks, they’re not getting Noel (7-0, 206) or Maryland’s Alex Len (7-1, 255). But they conceivably could trade up high enough (seven to 10 spots) to have a shot at Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams (7-0, 255) or Indiana’s Cody Zeller (7-0, 230). Otherwise, at least a couple of the following should fall to them: Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk (7-0, 234), Duke’s Mason Plumlee (7-0, 238), Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng (6-11, 230), Brazil’s Lucas Nogueira (6-11, 218) and France’s Rudy Gobert (7-2, 238).

Ferry offered only a generic response on the topic of needing a center: “The strength of this draft is good point guards and good bigs. But in the draft there’s going to be good players when we’re picking, regardless of the position.”

True. But they don’t all rebound and defend the lane.

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