As big a fan as I may be of the hiring of Danny Ferry and the new direction of the Atlanta Hawks, I have one main axe to grind: the selection of John Jenkins in last year’s NBA Draft. In Part I of this series I included some notes on incumbent players. My notes on Jenkins were, to put it mildly, unflattering.
The reason I was and remain disappointed in the selection of Jenkins is because last year, like this year, the draft had good depth. Jenkins was universally projected as a second round pick and I felt several players picked after him, including two of Jenkins’ former teammates at Vanderbilt, had a better chance to be long-term contributors at the NBA level. Festus Ezeli is completely undeveloped on the offensive end but has the size, athleticism and instincts to guard the best centers in the game, as he showed in the playoffs against Tim Duncan. Meanwhile, it’s too early to say if Jeff Taylor will stick as a rotation NBA player, but his defensive potential is worlds better than Jenkins’.
To understand why I prefer players like Taylor over Jenkins, please take a few moments to peruse this excellent analysis by former SI.com and current Grantland writer Zach Lowe. Today’s NBA game has become hugely dependent on the 3-point shot. But streaky volume shooters who can’t guard their position (Jenkins, Jannero Pargo, Willie Green) are a dime a dozen. What’s rare and precious is to find players who can both shoot with accuracy and guard NBA wings. The discovery of two such talents, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, has extended the Spurs’ championship window by years.
I mentioned in Part I that this will be the most critical draft for the Hawks since 2005. Thanks to Ferry’s masterpiece Joe Johnson trade, the Hawks will have two selections in each round. Ferry previously selected Green in the second round for the Cavaliers, and new coach Mike Budenholzer was the driving force behind the trade that brought Leonard to the Spurs. If the Hawks can find rotation players with the 17th and 18th picks (Leonard went 15th in 2011) this year, it could alter the course for this franchise the way Leonard and Green have for the Spurs.
With that in mind, I present my 2013 Atlanta Hawks Depth Chart, listing the 18 players I feel would be the best selections for the Hawks. This is not a mock draft, as I am uninterested in the needs or intentions of other teams. This is the pool of players, ranked in order of preference, I believe the Hawks should pick from if they are still available. For example, Shabazz Muhammad does not appear on this list. Muhammad is a one-dimensional scorer who lacks the athleticism to translate that dimension to the NBA level. If he’s still available when the Hawks pick at 18, I believe the Hawks should pass on him and select a player from this list.
1. Victor Oladipo
This is the one player in this draft that I look at and think “multiple future All-Star selections.” There’s something about the confident power and grace of his movements that reminds me of Isiah Thomas, although he plays a different position. Oladipo’s defensive potential on the wing is off the charts and his offensive potential is underrated. This is a player who, like DeMarcus Cousins, I feel several teams are going to feel stupid for passing on.
2. Ben McLemore
I spent much of the college basketball season trying to catch one of those games where McLemore went off and flashed the potential everyone was talking about. I never did catch that game. If NBA games were played in a lab environment, McLemore would be your prototype shooting guard. But it is precisely the assertiveness of Oladipo that makes him a better risk than McLemore. However, McLemore’s upside is so high that I would likewise not want to be the GM that missed on him.
3. Nerlens Noel
Kentucky wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire even before Noel got hurt. Assuming he’s able to make a full recovery from knee surgery Noel is still years away from developing physically to the point where he can guard NBA centers on an everyday basis. His upside is probably similar to DeAndre Jordan, which wouldn’t be bad without the expectations of a projected #1 pick.
4. Otto Porter
Porter compared himself to Tayshaun Prince, which I think is perfect. He should be a solid starter for years, but I don’t believe he projects as an All-Star due to below-average athleticism. His ball skills, shooting and feel for the game will make up somewhat for his lack of bounce but he’ll never be a stopper against LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
5. Alex Len
I’ll be honest. I watched Len in the NIT have trouble getting into his moves and getting his shot off against much smaller competition. When I look at Len and project him as an NBA player, I think Shawn Bradley. I’d still take him at 17, but with NBADraft.net now projecting him as the top overall pick, he’ll be long gone.
6. Anthony Bennett
If he had played at Duke instead of UNLV, I would still say he reminds me of Larry Johnson. Coming from me, that’s high praise. There are some questions about his defensive potential and the Hawks don’t have a need at power forward. Again, I would take him if he slipped but he’s not going to.
7. Trey Burke
The Hawks are absolutely in the market for a backup point guard. Burke is a big time shot maker and a winner. His athleticism and ability to guard his position at the NBA level are major question marks but I would welcome him as Jeff Teague’s backup.
8. Steven Adams
The Pacers were one play from making it to the NBA Finals this year. The reason they were that good is because Larry Bird hit home runs on mid-first round picks Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Horford needs a center to play next to and Ferry needs to hit a similar home run to find him one. Adams’ game is significantly less developed than Len’s but the frame and athleticism are there for him to develop into an NBA starter. This is the first player on this list who could actually fall to the Hawks. If he does, this should be a no-brainer.
9. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP projects as one of Lowe’s new age Battiers. He’s shooting up a lot of draft boards because of his outside touch, defensive potential and because GMs are realizing how little help he had at Georgia. This would be an ideal pick for a Hawks team desperate for perimeter defense. Ferry should consider trading for Dallas’ 13th pick if he falls that far.
10. Michael Carter-Williams
MCW was neutralized in the NCAA Tournament by the much smaller Burke. However, with the legacy of player development the Hawks have imported from San Antonio, this might be the right franchise to fix MCW’s shot. If he added some outside touch to his size and ball handling, this could be a star. Well worth the risk although I’m mostly predisposed to write off guards who can’t shoot.
11. Lucas Nogueira
Could be the next Anderson Varejao or could be the next Hasheem Thabeet. As I said, Ferry needs to hit a home run and this is the type of player for whom you swing for the fences. The speed with which he changes ends is phenomenal. He projects as a better help defender than on-ball defender until he adds some weight. If Ivan Johnson is re-signed, the Hawks have two players in Johnson and Horford who can guard elite centers 1-on-1. This would give the team the luxury of developing a player like Nogueira. This could be Ferry’s Hibbert.
12. Gorgui Dieng
I’m reading where a lot of people can’t understand why Dieng isn’t projected higher. Count me in that camp. He showed in the NCAA’s that he’s an elite defender with a mid range jumper who can pass. When did there stop being a market for that? Dieng is exactly what the Hawks need, as Cole Patty describes in his excellent draft profile, linked above.
13. Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Not rated this high by most but I feel he was buried in Michigan’s rotation much like Eric Bledsoe was in Kentucky’s. Burke is a ball-dominant point guard and Michigan was so stacked with talent that it was difficult for Hardaway, Jr. to stand out. Nonetheless, he fits into Lowe’s new age Battier categorization due to his outside shooting and defensive capabilities.
14. Reggie Bullock
As with Hardaway, Jr., few are projecting Bullock this high. However, I would select him with one of the Hawks’ picks for the same reason. Bullock is an outstanding outside shooter who projects as a legitimate wing defender at the NBA level. The NBA is a copycat league and all 30 teams are going to be looking for the next Danny Green.
15. Shane Larkin
Tested out as one of the best athletes in this draft and possesses some of the leadership qualities Teague lacks. I would not hesitate to select him if he were available.
16. Sergey Karasev
The market for Kyle Korver’s services may prove greater than I would hope. As such, the Hawks may be in the market for a player with similar length and shot-making potential. Karasev’s poor defensive potential is not ideal, but his offensive game is so advanced that he might be worth the gamble.
17. CJ McCollum
My original idea for this piece was to collaborate with Grandad, the blogger well known to the AJC.com Hawks blog community who spent 30 years as a head basketball coach at the high school and NCAA Division III level. Prior to the 2011 draft, G-Dad was insistent that Kawhi Leonard was a player the Hawks should trade up to select. I quickly found that reaching a consensus would be impossible due to our divided opinions on McCollum.
Grandad feels as strongly about CJ McCollum as he once did about Leonard. On the other hand, I see McCollum as a ‘tweener who isn’t athletic enough to defend either guard position. There will always be a place in the NBA for players with McCollum’s shooting and ball handling abilities. However, I feel the Hawks already have the undersized shooting guard role filled with Lou Williams and Jenkins.
18. Dennis Schroeder
The German point guard may take some time to develop but the physical gifts are all there. With Ferry hoarding cap space for free agency, he may feel that a high-upside project on a rookie scale contract is a better value than what it would cost to retain Devin Harris.
Sirs Not Appearing in this Film
One player Grandad talked me out of was Rudy Gobert, to whom he applied a great Tommy Lasorda quote: “If he got into a foot race with a pregnant woman, he’d come in third.” Nogueira is underdeveloped physically but has the speed to get out on the break and get back on defense. Gobert’s length is intimidating but he will have trouble with the speed of the NBA game. If you watch enough highlights of Gobert, you will notice that lack of balance and agility is also an issue. He falls down frequently enough to induce Marvin Williams flashbacks, something that will send most Hawks fans screaming into the night.
Also absent from my depth chart are Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee. With Josh Smith possibly gone, I prefer the rim protecting potential of Nogueira and Dieng. The Hawks already have the best stretch four in the game in Horford and don’t require additional finesse at the position. Plumlee for me projects somewhere between Jon Koncak and Tyler Hansbrough.
I’ve already stated my issues with Muhammad. Aside from any questions about his attitude I just don’t feel his game translates to the NBA. He could end up being a career double-digit scorer and make a fool of me but this is the sense that I have.
And finally, I’ve left out European sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’ve watched high school teams that would run Antetokounmpo’s lower-division Greek professional team off the court, and he’s not even dominating at that level. His length is negated by the poor form and low release on his set shot. As I explained in Part I, I believe Ferry will build the Hawks to win immediately. Despite rumors of a first round promise by the Hawks, I don’t see Ferry investing in a player who may not be ready to contribute until the back end of his rookie scale contract.