No team has more riding on next week’s NBA draft lottery than the Atlanta Hawks.
If the pingpong balls fall Atlanta’s way, the Hawks could be the only team to end up with two of the top nine picks.
The last two drafts have set the foundation for the Hawks’ makeover. John Collins and Trae Young are the new faces of the franchise .
More help is needed following 29 wins this season. General manager Travis Schlenk dares to dream of hitting the jackpot in the May 14 lottery and having the first and ninth picks in the June 20 draft. That best-case scenario would add significant momentum to an already promising rebuilding process.
“We like the position we’re in,” Schlenk said Friday following a workout with draft hopefuls at the Hawks’ practice facility. “We all know right now we’re sitting with the fifth odds and potentially the ninth odds, so it’d be real exciting. The best-case scenario would put us at one and nine. That would be great for the franchise.”
Schlenk said building a strong base with young players will help the team attract top free agents.
“There’s a buzz around the league about our young core,” he said. “Once we show that we’re in contention and playoff contending, that’s when free agents are going to look at this group and say I want to go there and we can take it to the next level.”
The draft spotlight is on Duke’s Zion Williamson, the probable reward for the team landing the No. 1 draft pick. Schlenk smiled when asked about Williamson and said it’d be premature to talk about the powerful forward.
“We’ll worry about that after the lottery,” he said.
Then the GM couldn’t resist.
“Obviously the player himself was phenomenal in college,” Schlenk said of Williamson. “Just his size and athleticism. All the stuff I’ve heard about the person is off the charts, too.”
Schlenk took a huge gamble in last year’s draft. He traded Luka Doncic , the No. 3 selection, to Dallas for Young and a top-five protected draft pick. That pick belongs to the Hawks this year unless Dallas, currently slotted ninth, moves into the top five. Otherwise, it shifts to Atlanta in 2020, again as a top-five protected pick.
The Hawks had three first-round picks last year. Shooting guard Kevin Huerter joined Young in the all-rookie backcourt. The third first-rounder, forward Omari Spellman, started 11 games.
Taurean Prince, who had a strong finish to his third season, also looks to be part of the long-term plans for Schlenk and coach Lloyd Pierce.
Pierce said after the season the Hawks established an “identity” in his first season “where we compete and play hard. Our guys play for each other. They play with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and that was really the goal.”
Now the coach wants this year’s draft class to fall in line with Young, Collins and others.
“That’s what I’m hoping whoever we get walks into,” Pierce said. “I hope it’s not chaos they’re walking into and we have to start the process.”
The Hawks have three second-round picks but may not have room for that many rookies next season. Schlenk could be looking to package picks in another trade.
It may be difficult for even a No. 1 pick to top Young’s impact on the team. The exciting point guard was a double-double machine with a flair for game-winning floaters and a Stephen Curry-like knack for extra-long 3-pointers.
Schlenk and Pierce already are happy with the Doncic-Young trade. But they know final judgment on the deal awaits the Hawks receiving the added first-round pick.
With a little lottery luck for Atlanta, the wait will soon end.