With two key players testing free agency this summer, the 2016 draft will give Atlanta a chance to add some much-needed depth.
This article is part of a series on NBA team needs. With the NBA Draft fast approaching, many franchises are narrowing in on prospects that could improve their teams for years to come. We have now reached the middle of the first round and will be looking at the Atlanta Hawks. Check out the bottom of this piece for the draft order accompanied by the corresponding articles that have been published so far.
*This draft preview was written prior to Atlanta trading for the 12th pick from the Utah Jazz in a three-team trade.
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Draft Picks: #21
Team Needs: Wings and Frontcourt depth
Key Players: Paul Millsap, Al Horford (FA), Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder
Roughly one year ago, the Atlanta Hawks were humbled by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. After winning 60 games in 2015, they were bound to regress this year; little did they know the end result would be yet another sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.
Atlanta is a good basketball team that has been unable to take the next step necessary to get past the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Last summer, they said goodbye to DeMarre Carroll and brought back Paul Millsap on a three-year extension worth $58.9 million. Millsap had a stellar 2016 season, making the All-Star team and earning NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors. Meanwhile, the Hawks appeared to miss Carroll’s defensive prowess as well as the depth and size he provided on the wing.
The Hawks are facing an identity crisis. Al Horford, their franchise cornerstone of the last decade, is a free agent. The also risk losing Kent Bazemore, who contributed big minutes for large portions of this season, to free agency. Atlanta also has to decide soon between Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder as their starting point guard of the future, assuming they want either of them at the helm moving forward.
Horford and Bazemore are both set to cash in during free agency as the salary cap increases. While they have early bird rights on both players, it seems likely that one or both of them won’t be calling Atlanta home next year. With the possibility that both leave, this is a very important draft for Atlanta. Their production on the wings has been poor since Carroll departed and Kyle Korver has aged. Bazemore was their only dependable two-way wing, but he was only an average three-point shooter.
Atlanta is about to be short on bigs too. Their frontcourt depth might have seemed shallow in the playoffs, but that was mostly due to Tiago Splitter’s injuries. However, Splitter and Millsap are the only Hawks bigs with contracts for next year as of right now. Mike Scott and Mike Muscala can be brought back for a little over $4 million total, but that’s not exactly top premium depth.
If the Hawks are serious about taking the next step toward becoming the best team in the East, they will have to address these issues this upcoming offseason, starting with their first round draft pick—number 21.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
21st Pick in the NBA Draft:
Atlanta not only has multiple positions where they need to add depth, but they also could use someone that can contribute right away. With the salary cap going up, rookies will be the best deals in the league and a cheap way to stopgap a loss of Horford or Bazemore. That’s why for this pick, I’m narrowing in on wings and bigs. Let’s start out on the wings.
Players can always fall, but rather than reel off twenty possible names, we’ll stick to who should be in their range as candidates. On the wings that leaves Denzel Valentine, Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, and DeAndre Bembry. Now, having covered other teams in this range with similar needs we’ve discussed a couple of these guys before. Valentine would fit right into Bud’s system as a really intelligent secondary ball handler and playmaker, but his defensive issues, as well as injury concerns, could cause the Hawks to pass on him at 21.
Another player with injury concerns is Malik Beasley, who recently underwent surgery for a left leg stress fracture. While Valentine’s injuries are a long-term concern, Beasley’s is much less so. Therefore he actually could be a steal at 21 for Atlanta, as he was originally projected to get picked in the teens before the injury. Beasley stands a little under 6-foot-5, without an outstanding wingspan, but at Florida State he showed tremendous 3-and-D potential. He shot almost 39 percent from deep and showed some good athleticism at times with plays like this.
He even played at the Hawks’ home arena! Beasley was a very efficient freshman who scored an impressive 15.6 points per game in the tough ACC. In fact, he even shot nearly 52 percent on two-point field goal attempts as a freshman! He might not have the highest upside, and it could take him a couple years to figure it out, but Beasley would be a nice option as a young two-guard of the future. But if Atlanta is put off by his injury or unsure of his defensive potential, they could opt for a much more NBA-ready prospect, such as Taurean Price—from Baylor.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
We discussed Taurean Prince at length in our Grizzlies preview, but he would be a wonderful fit as a three-and-D replacement for Bazemore, and an understudy for Thabo Sefolosha. He has an NBA-ready build, a good shot from deep, and he’ll benefit from all of the action and passing in Bud’s system to get him easy looks. Prince would be 22 as a rookie, ready to take on a bigger load than most younger first-year players.
A small workload of responsibility, though, would benefit him as a rookie. As talented as he is, and even with his physical tools, at times he was prone to doing too much at Baylor. Way too many possessions ended like this:
Still, this is a guy that shot over 36 percent from three over his final three years at Baylor. And Prince could even project to be a small-ball four later in his career thanks to his build and the the league’s current trend toward “going small”. Versatility and defense are two things the Hawks value more than most teams, and Prince has the potential to bring both of those to Atlanta. Another wing who could also bring more versatility and defense to the Hawks is St. Joe’s DeAndre Bembry.
Bembry’s draft stock shot up at the combine, much like Malachi Richardson’s, but for very different reasons. While Richardson gained attention for his physique, Bembry got attention for his feel for the game. In all of the scrimmages, he stood out more than most, looking at times like the smartest guy on the court.
The reigning A-10 Player of the Year stands at about 6-foot-6, but that might be due to his enormous afro. However, thanks to a 6-foot-9 wingspan he could eventually play some small forward, despite seeming like a born-to-be two guard. Bembry might have had one of the most balanced stat lines aside from Ben Simmons and Denzel Valentine last season, posting 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. Over the past two seasons, he’s assisted on nearly a quarter of St. Joe’s baskets while he was on the court. He also played the third-most minutes in the NCAA, which bodes well for his ability to handle the rigor of an 82-game NBA schedule.
His all-around game is his key to the league because there’s no guarantee that his three-point shot will even reach a league-average level. That being said, he impressed Marc Eversley, the new VP of player personnel for the Sixers, with his outside shot in a workout. Eversley and countless others have been impressed by how intelligent and athletic Bembry is on the court. He could develop into far more than a three-and-D wing or a secondary ball handler. But his passing could make him a very special player in the NBA and a steal on draft night.
There are plenty of wings for Atlanta to consider, but not many bigs that could be equally enticing. This portion of the draft is where a lot of international bigs are projected to go, such as Ivica Zubac (Croatian), Ante Zizic (Croatian), and Zhou Qi (Chinese). Given that they may need more time overseas, it’s probably not in Atlanta’s best interests to select one of them, as the Hawks are in more of a “win-now” mode.
The best candidate could be Kansas’s Cheick Diallo. Diallo has been another high riser on draft boards who is now expected to go in the 15-20 range. But should he drop to Atlanta at 21, there’s plenty to like for a team with a lack of frontcourt depth.
Diallo is the Energizer Bunny of big men prospects: a pogo stick that can dunk. At the NBA combine, Diallo showed he was not utilized or given a chance at Kansas with an impressive display. He attacks the glass, blocks shots, and probably has a poster of the word “motor” above his bed. Here’s what Jonathan Givony of Draft Express thinks:
His propensity for protecting the rim and crashing the glass with his 7‘4 ½ wingspan could help earn him minutes as he adds strength and begins to figure out the best way to put his tools to use.
He’s only 6-foot-9, so he will likely struggle at first, but he could potentially develop into a player similar to Tristan Thompson in a few years, and look at just how valuable he’s been to the Cavs as a small-ball five. You could also look at Bismack Biyombo’s rise as another sign that players with a real motor (even though they may lack size) have a place in the NBA.
While Atlanta has needs up front, there are far more options on the wings. Diallo would be an excellent addition, but the Hawks might be more inclined to draft a player more ready to contribute from day one. That makes Denzel Valentine, DeAndre Bembry, and Taurean Prince, especially, great candidates to play for coach Bud.
The Draft Order and Team Needs
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets (From New York)
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (From Denver)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks (From Utah)
13. Phoenix Suns (From Washington) - Second 1st Round Pick
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (From Houston) - Second 1st Round Pick
16. Boston Celtics (From Dallas) - Second 1st Round Pick
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (From Portland) - Third 1st Round Pick
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks - Second First Round Pick
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics - Third First Round Pick
24. Philadelphia 76ers (From Miami) - Second First Round Pick
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (From Oklahoma City) - Third First Round Pick
27. Toronto Raptors - Second First Round Pick
28. Phoenix Suns (From Cleveland) - Third First Round Pick
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors
No Picks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards
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