Feature image: Source: Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America
In Part 1 of this Atlanta Hawks draft preview, we identified that given the nature of Kent Bazemore’s free agency (with the unprecedented spike in salary cap) and his Early Bird Rights, and given the Hawks’ lack of wing depth, the wing positions are in the most need of improvement in this draft. Now that we’ve identified what position the Hawks should look to draft in (here’s Part 1, in case you missed it), let’s go through some actual draft candidates.
But first, some house cleaning…
It’s worth mentioning before we start, today’s topic revolves around who the Hawks may select with the 21st overall selection, and not their two second round picks. Why are we only discussing their first round pick? It would just drag on forever if we go through second round prospects too…
When considering players, I’m making a conscious effort to find players that would “somewhat” fit in the Hawks system. So, players like Malachi Richardson — who’s probably not falling to 21 anyways — who love to shoot, play isolation, shoot, to not pass, shoot, kills the play, and shoot, I’m not including. There’s not many players like this (it’s mainly just Richardson, actually), but I thought it was worth mentioning. This may or may not have been an excuse to exclude Malachi Richardson…
I’m not including players who will clearly not be available at 21. When I say “clearly”, I mean the top prospects like Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown — who are clearly being selected by lottery teams — not the Wade Baldwin’s and Deyonta Davis’ of the world, who may or may not be selected in the lottery. That should go without saying, but there’s always one person out there…
It’s also worth mentioning that I am by no means a college basketball expert, nor will I ever (more than likely) claim to be. I did however carry out extensive research into each player, so I do have a fairly good understanding of each player discussed today.
Today, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hawks have traded Jeff Teague to Indiana, who have shipped George Hill to Utah, who have sent the 12th overall pick to the Hawks. The core of this particular piece was written before this news broke, and will not address the options open to the Hawks at 12.
Alrighty, sorry about that. Always important to cover your tracks these days… Let’s get cracking.
Taurean Prince (SF) — Baylor (Senior)
Season averages: 15.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 36.1 3P%
One thing the Hawks like out of their wing players is defense. If you cannot defend, you’re probably not going to see a lot of minutes for Coach Budenholzer. Tim Hardaway Jr. learned the, um, hard (a) way, when he was sent on multiple D-League assignments to work on his overall game, including his defense which was awful. There will be no such assignments (at least for defense) necessary for Prince, whose calling card is defense.
Here’s but just a taste.
The Hawks’ starting small forward this season, Kent Bazemore, isn’t exactly the tallest, nor the bulkiest player for his position. He’s 6’5 (and could hold his own, don’t get me wrong), which would create an issue when players like Carmelo Anthony (6’8) and Danilo Gallinari (6’10) came to town. Prince, meanwhile, possesses very good height for a small forward, standing 6’8 tall (with a 6’11.5 wingspan to boot). He looks great physically, with a strong frame to accompany his other strong physical attributes. Prince’s size and his long arms would also help the Hawks improve a facet of their game that could always do with improvement — rebounding.
But Prince’s game isn’t just limited to what he’s able to do on the defensive end: he can be effective on the offensive end too. While his three-point shooting slid from 40% to 36% this season (partly because he slid into the starting lineup for Baylor for the first time in his fourth season and lead the team in scoring, drawing more attention to him), he’s still a 38% career three-point shooter. In this workout video, you can see Prince consistently nailing his threes, which is encouraging.
(Thanks, DraftExpress, for disabling embedding options on all of your videos…)
Now, that obviously doesn’t mean he’ll be the most outstanding three-point shooter in the NBA right away, but he should be competent enough that opponents will come to respect his shot. His pull-up game is good, he can shoot decently off of screens, and he also possesses a surprising slashing ability, specialising more so straight line slashes. He’s a good cutter, which will be of great benefit to him if he is drafted by the Hawks, who love to use a lot of cutting actions in their offense. He’s a decent passer, has a great motor, and knows how to use his size to his advantage. With his size and his shooting ability, he should also give the Hawks the option to play him as a small ball four (with, perhaps, Millsap shifting over to the center spot and Prince [similar to Mike Scott] operating as the power forward).
Some question his decision making and shot selection, but I don’t think his shot selection is going hugely matter if he’s drafted by the Hawks. He won’t be the main man on offense, so there isn’t an urgency to create for himself in Atlanta as there was for him to do so for Baylor. If his shot selection turns out to be awful, you best believe Coach Bud and his assistant coaches will snap that habit out of him quickly, otherwise he won’t play a whole lot. Bud isn’t afraid to freeze out new acquisitions, the Tim Hardaway Jr. move proved that. I do have concerns that Prince may get a little lost offensively with the offense the Hawks run (not knowing when to cut, pass etc.), but I think he’ll get used to it after a while.
Overall, I am completely sold on Prince for the Hawks and I think he would be a great/the best possible pick pickup for the Hawks if he’s available at 21. Defense, size, decent three-point shooting — what more could you want when drafting from 21?
Denzel Valentine (SG/PG) — Michigan State (Senior)
Season averages: 19.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1 SPG, 46.2 FG%, 44 3P%
Those are quite the averages. In fact, according to DraftExpress’ 30 year database, Valentine is the only player to average over 19 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists per game. You have to be pretty damn talented to average stats like, and Valentine has talent in abundance.
He’s just a fantastic shooter. 44% from behind the arc is no joke, but it’s even more frightening when he’s splashing threes from NBA range in college. And the degree of difficulty that he can hit some shots with… He’s right up there with Buddy Hield as one of the best shooters in this entire draft class. And the Hawks could certainly use that outside shooting.
He’s not an explosive player, and his lack of speed prevents him turning the corner and prevents him from opening better opportunities to finish at the rim, where he’s not the greatest. I don’t see that being much of an issue: he’s probably not going to be the primary ball handler on this team, so he’s going to be playing off-ball and will play much more of a shooter’s role, and he’s a good enough shooter to the point that getting to the rim isn’t an absolute necessity, like it would be for OKC’s Andre Roberson.
Valentine possesses great size for a shooting guard (and point guard, where he logged a considerable amount of time this year with Michigan State) standing 6’6 tall and a 6’10 wingspan to go with. That wingspan, in addition to his great instincts, make him a great rebounder for his position — something the Hawks could always do with. He just has a knack for knowing where the ball is going to be, it’s hard to explain why he’s so good when it comes to rebound. It doesn’t make sense for a 6’6 shooting guard to average 7.5 rebounds per game. And the rebounding aspect of his game directly feeds into another. When he secures that rebound, he’s gone — he’s racing up that court in transition, where he is deadly. Not for himself, but for others. 30% (according to DraftExpress) of his 7.8 assists per game came in transition. For such a volume shooter/scorer, he’s not selfish. That’s a rare trait for someone who scores the ball like Valentine does, and that attitude would serve him well in Atlanta.
But he’s not just a good passer in transition. He’s also very dangerous in pick-and-roll situations where he’s the ball handler. He’s able to find his roll man consistently, and in many different ways: bounce passes, passes over the top of the defense (thanks to his superior size), etc. The Hawks (like many teams, but I feel like they do more than most) run an awful lot of pick-and-rolls, and his ability to orchestrate the pick-and-roll would be very beneficial for the Hawks. His general feel of the game appears to be very high, some claim that Valentine “May have the best basketball IQ out of anyone at this draft”. I certainly wouldn’t argue against it…
(Denzel Valentine’s strengths. Why, DraftExpress, why?)
However, his defense is baaaaddddd… I mean, good Lord… MSU tried to hide him all season and for good reason. His focus on the defensive really leaves something to be desired, and (from what I’ve seen) he defends in the same way a turnstile operates: things just go on through. The Hawks coaching staff would have serious work to do if they did draft him, and a trip to the D-League would not surprise me in the slightest. His lack of lateral quickness certainly doesn’t help on that side of the floor either.
(Valentine’s very bad defense)
Despite that, Valentine was set to be a guaranteed lottery pick, but a knee issue is causing some concern among NBA executives, and that’s why his stock has taken a tumble in the last fortnight. No one seems to know much about the injury, which is concerning. However, while it has cause to scare off lottery teams (given the situation those teams are in where they have to get the pick right), teams looking to make a home run in the 20’s should take the gamble if they’re aren’t overly concerned by his knee.
I think Valentine could be a great pick for the Hawks. The coaches can definitely work on his defense, because it would be a shame if that was the only thing (besides the knee concerns of course) that turned the Hawks away from Valentine, since he could potentially offer the Hawks so much: size, rebounding, shooting, and playmaking — while also addressing their need for a wing player and possibly even backup point guard, should the Hawks decide to move Teague and commit to Schröder. They could get both in Valentine.
Valentine could offer the Hawks an awful lot, but are his unknown knee issues and horrifying defense enough to put off the Hawks from selecting him with the 21st overall pick?
DeAndre Bembry (SF) — Saint Joseph’s (Junior)
Season averages: 17.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 26 3P%, 47.9 FG%
Here’s a guy who I think is certainly being overlooked in all the mock drafts you see out there.
DeAndre Bembry is an interesting player. Standing at, effectively, 6’6 (with a 6’9 wingspan), Bembry has been described as a “Swiss army knife in the half court”. Where do you start with a player like that?
Well, he’s pretty bouncy out on there the court, certainly possessing a lot more hops that Denzel Valentine does. Bembry enjoys playing above the rim and he’s more than capable of doing so.
Bembry is very good in the open court. His long strides (and a nifty euro-step move to boot) and creativity, both around the rim and in the open court, opened up a lot for the Hawks. No, no, not the Hawks Hawks, but the St. Joseph’s Hawks, where he played his college ball… I was so surprised when I saw just how good he is around the rim (where he shot 63%), he’s very creative. His ability to finish at the rim helps complete his slashing game, which is also very impressive. If I were to describe Bembry in a nutshell, I would describe him like this: The dude can get to the rim, man.
But he’s just as good without the ball as he is with it — he’s an excellent cutter which, again, is a talent that would serve him very well in Atlanta, who love to use off the ball cuts as part of their offense. Bembry can also mix it up in the post, where he can be pretty effective for someone who is 6’6. He’s not the shooter Valentine is, but he’s capable of knocking some shots down, that’s for sure. He did shoot a lacklustre 26% from behind the arc, but his jump shot isn’t Tony Allen broken. It can, and probably will, be adjusted.
Bembry is also a good rebounder, and when he grabs a rebound (much like Valentine) he likes to make things happen. And boy, he can make things happen. He’s a very good passer, I was amazed by his feel for the game. He just knows when and how to find his teammates, whether it’s in transition, in pick-and-roll, or off of penetration. His creativity and playmaking (described as “highly unselfish”) would find a great home with the Hawks under Coach Bud.
I think it’s fair to say that say the “Swiss army knife in the half court” analogy is pretty accurate.
The only bad thing I would say about Bembry is that he’s a little laid back. He’s just not quite into the game as you’d want him to be. However, this aloofness translates onto the defensive end. He’s not always focused on defense, and tends to fall asleep at times. His defense will have to improve, but he has all the tools needed to be a good defender who is able to guard multiple positions.
People say that he’s not the greatest shot creator out there, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re a role player in Atlanta — he’s not going to be the main scoring option on this team and the Hawks don’t play iso anyways, so he doesn’t need to be an elite shot creator.
Bembry would appear to be a jack of all trades, but will remain a Hawk by the time Thursday night has come and gone?
Juan Hernangomez (SF/PF) — Estudiantes (International)
Season averages: 9.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 35.8% 23.7 MPG
What a name. Juan Hernangomez.
Hernangomez is a little different to what we’ve seen here so far. I would say he’s more of a power forward right now, but he could develop into a small forward of some sort.
He possess good physical qualities that you’d like to see in a forward: 6’9 tall, with a 7’0 wingspan, decent frame (that he should be able to further develop), and he’s fluid running the floor (much better than you may have originally thought). He has surprisingly decent hops too and those, combined with his long arms, enable him to play above the rim. He could prove to be a nice target for his point guards to toss an alley-oop toward, especially when he dives toward the rim in pick-and-roll situations, which he loves to do — loves to use that dive.
Hernangomez also possesses a good looking stroke, connecting on 36% of his three-point attempts with Estudiantes (also a great name) last season. He should be able to provide some decent spacing once he adjusts to NBA range. He’s also good at running off of screens and scoring that way, which did surprise me. His pick-and-pop game is very solid indeed. The Hawks run quite a bit of pick-and-pop action for their bigs, as both Millsap and Horford are both very good from mid-range and beyond, as is Mike Scott. So Hernangomez would have no issue fitting in, in that sense.
He’ll also have no issue when it comes to cutting. Hernangomez has a great feel as a cutter, as his ability to dive to the rim in pick-and-rolls may lead you to believe. There’s also some potential for him as a post presence. He shows some really good footwork, and his nimbleness should be able to take him places in the future when this aspect of his game is further developed.
Hernangomez would definitely help (not solve, please note the difference!) the Hawks with their rebounding issues. He has a great feel when it comes to rebounding, and deploying him at small forward with Millsap and Horford would give the Hawks the big lineup — that can actually secure rebounds on a consistent basis — they’ve been wanting on both ends of the floor.
He’s a capable passer, but tries to do too much at times. He’ll have to learn which passes need dialling back and simply settling for the easy pass, not the home run play.
He’s got work to do defensively and his lack of top level experience shows at times. He has the tools, with his leaping ability, length, and adept footwork, to become eventually evolve into a good defender, but he’s got work to do to get there. But it’s definitely possible.
Hernangomez certainly provides a different element compared to some of the other wings we have looked at today, but is he too different?
Malik Beasley (SG) — Florida State (Freshman)
Season averages: 15.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 38.7 3P%, 47.1 FG%
The first thing that stood out me, just from looking at the stats, was how efficient of a shooter Beasley is. 47% field goal percentage for a shooting guard who takes over 11 shots a game and over four three-pointers a game — that’s no joke. According to DraftExpress, Beasley joins Kyrie Irving as the only player in ACC history with a true shooting percentage of above 60%. For a shooting guard, that’s incredible.
Beasley has a nice offensive game, excellent you might say for someone who is so young. He can hit the floater, he can obviously shoot, he deals damage in the open court (whether he’s spotting up to shoot or takes the ball to the rim), but what’s most impressive (to me at least) is his slashing ability and his ability to absorb and finish through contact — he just bounces off of bodies while still being able to finish.
When it comes to shooting, his stroke is solid, his release is quick, and his elevation is quick. All of this has helped him develop into a very solid three-point and pull up shooter. Very few freshmen possess the offensive package that Malik Beasley possesses. It makes you wonder why he isn’t more highly rated…
He’s also an above average athlete, capable of plays like this.
If Bazemore does indeed depart, Beasley would certainly be able to (at the very least) replace Bazemore’s athleticism.
He’s a good rebounder for his position, a capable passer (though his handle could do with some improvement), provides effort on the defensive end, and people have praised his motor, work ethic, demeanour, and his character.
For someone who is just 19 years old, Beasley seems as though he’s way ahead of the curb compared to a lot of these prospects. The only serious knock against him is his defense. There’s no question that he tries, but he gambles an awful lot which leaves him (and his team) exposed. And he does it often too, it really is an issue. If he can break that habit, I’m not sure how many shooting guards in this draft that are better than Beasley. He could prove to be a steal at 21, but is he the wing the Hawks really need?