Draft Watch: What Are the Mock Drafts Saying About the Hawks?
The 2020 NBA Draft is still months away, but for teams like the Hawks, it has been in mind since before the NBA season even tipped off. Atlanta's season went south quickly this year, and while the Hawks aren't necessarily tanking for a high draft pick, they have positioned themselves to draft high in the lottery for a third consecutive season with a chance to add another important player to the team's already promising young core.
This time of year is when the shape of the draft begins to form. Draft-eligible players reach the point at which their production starts to become representative of who they are, and the NBA standings start to crystallize to a point at which lottery odds can be projected. We can imagine certain players on specific teams, accounting for fit, timelines, and upside. As a result, mock drafts provide interesting and instructive fodder for fans and media alike to get a clearer picture of how things could shake out in June. The exact order of the Draft has yet to be determined, but the Hawks are currently tied with Golden State for the best odds for the top pick.
At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a consensus top five in the 2020 Draft, and it's unclear if there a high-level star will come out of this year's class, which is instead full of uniquely intriguing players with significant strengths and significant weaknesses. That leaves room for uncertainty and dissent among evaluators that is both exciting and unnerving. As much as in any draft in recent memory, opinions of this year's prospects truly depend on the eye of the beholder.
No matter where it falls in the lottery or who it takes with its pick, Atlanta will draft someone who plays the same position as someone currently in its young core and doesn't have a glaring hole that needs addressing. The Hawks most likely won't draft a point guard given that they already have an All Star at that position, and they could be wary of selecting a center with John Collins and Clint Capela already on the roster.
That won't necessarily preclude them of drafting a big man, but it seems most likely that Atlanta will target a wing if it can, and the Hawks are in some position to draft for fit due to Young's offensive dynamism and defensive limitations. The Hawks need someone who can cover for Young's poor defense (which could seem to rule out lead guards like Cole Anthony or LaMelo Ball) without taking too much off the table on offense. Teams can never have enough wings or enough shooting in today's NBA, and it would make sense to draft a player who checks both boxes. This year's draft however, doesn't appear heavy on shooters or two-way wings -- part of the reason so many evaluators believe it could be a weaker draft.
Georgia native Anthony Edwards something of a de-facto consensus top pick (nearly every mainstream draft website has him currently slotted at #1 overall), but even he has warts in his game. He hasn't been particularly efficient or good on defense at UGA this season, but he is a versatile and skilled scorer with an NBA body and tantalizing upside.
At the moment, most mock drafts project Atlanta to take either Isaac Okoro or Deni Avdija (though that could change if the Hawks have a chance to take Edwards first or second overall). Okoro is a strong, defensive-minded wing from Auburn who could help solidify Atlanta's perimeter defense with his instincts and versatility. He might be as safe a bet as any wing to develop into a helpful and reliable NBA defender, even if his offensive game comes with major red flags. Okoro is shooting under 30 percent from beyond the arc this season and doesn't project as a great shooter due to his shaky mechanics and free-throw shooting. He might be a slight reach as a top-three pick, but the Hawks could be in position to take the gamble.
"Taking a chance on Okoro, who’s from the Atlanta area, makes a degree of sense here given the circumstances," SI's Jeremy Woo writes. "If he can work himself into being just an average shooter, he should become a valuable, starting-caliber wing, with potential to be more in a best-case scenario."
Avdija, a versatile playmaking wing from Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel, has risen quickly on draft boards over the last year and is the inverse of Okoro in some ways. He may never be an elite offensive player, but Avdija has great feel as both a scorer and a passer, even if he isn't currently a great shooter. Both The Athletic and Bleacher Report's latest mock drafts tentatively forecast Avdija going to Atlanta in the top five, as a means of acquiring more playmaking and insurance against the possibility that one of Huerter, Hunter, or Reddish isn't a long-term starter on the wing.
"The Hawks could really use someone like Avdija as a forward scorer or creator to pair with either one of Cam Reddish or De’Andre Hunter," writes Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. "Given that nothing is broken mechanically, it’s a reasonable bet [that he becomes a passable shooter]. He also needs to keep developing his strength on the ball, but his feel for the game is off the charts and he knows how to make the right play at the right time."
Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report adds that "Avdija might not have the same perceived upside as super-athlete and scorer Anthony Edwards, but scouts view him as one of the draft's safest picks and a fit for any lottery lineup."
Should Atlanta land a top-five pick again, the possibility of trading it could remain open. Absent a clear star at the top of the draft and given some of its top prospects' flaws, the Hawks may prefer to trade down, recoup another asset, and take a safer player who projects as a more complete role player next to Young. (I have no knowledge of whether the Hawks' brass feels this way, but it might be wise to at least consider the option.)
Either way, Atlanta is nearing a crucial point in their rebuild. This team plans, realistically or not, on taking significant strides forward next season, and every move will matter as it moves toward playoff contention.