The role of seven-footers and post players in the NBA has changed dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are no longer based upon back-to-the-basket fundamentals; they aren’t created behind a pretexting inside-out philosophy. In today’s NBA, motion is the centerpiece of efficient schemes and sets, outdating and minimizing the impact of isolation post-ups: pick and rolls, cuts, and spread offenses flanked with shooters—these are the principles on which modern offenses are constructed. The role of the big man has been revolutionized, and this draft class is proof of that—and proof of the value that has been attached to these reformed players.
With the 17th and 18th picks in Thursday’s draft, the Hawks are likely to use one of those selections to gain a frontcourt player compatible with mainstay Al Horford, assuming they don’t trade up into the lottery. Length, vision, timing, and athleticism are now more valuable than an advanced touch around the basket—elite defense (or the raw material necessary to become an elite defender) and a cognitive understanding of pick-and-rolls on both sides of the floor are the primary responsibilities bestowed upon young bigs. And there is a plethora of young bigs with first round talent in this draft, but the obvious objective is to find the player who best fits within a grand scheme, system, or vision—all of which Danny Ferry has been cultivating since creating immense cap flexibility last summer.
Gorgui Dieng is the name most often associated with Hawks in the blogosphere, and he’s probably the best fit if he’s available, but Ferry isn’t limited to a dearth of options and none of the respected mock drafts have pegged Dieng as the Hawks’ selection, despite his perceived availability. Mason Plumlee has been the proposed choice several times, but Dieng seems to be the prospect more congruous with Horford’s game. In addition, while Plumlee may possess the raw goods such as strong rebounding, elite athleticism, and an undying motor, his style of play doesn’t seem as translatable: his inside game won’t be effective against NBA defenses, his free throw shooting is erratic with a hitch in his release, and he’s not an elite defender. Below average offense and average defense isn’t the combination one wants associated with their name, but that is Plumlee’s unfortunate stigma.
Dieng lacks elite offensive skills too. He’s incredibly raw around the basket, and while he’s a decent midrange shooter, he won’t be a major offensive contributor in his first few years. Still, he has value and won’t be rendered useless: he’s reliable in pick-and-pop scenarios and is an above-average passer. Those are things upon which one can build. No one is asking Dieng to become a force with the ball in his hands—all that’s required is competence, assuming he flourishes as the defensive specialist he proved himself to be at Louisville. He’s bouncy, has an innate sense of timing, is very long, and uses his body well. Those are qualities you look for in an interior defender, and while he could stand to add a few pounds, he seems ready to contribute as a rim-protector and help-defender right away.
There are options past Dieng as well, like Rudy Gobert, the Frenchman with the freakish wingspan, but he’s even less offensively polished than Dieng and is unproven as well. Kelly Olynyk out of Gonzaga might be another option, but he’s a defensive liability with an offensive repertoire better suited for college.
When it comes to the frontcourt players most likely to be available when the Hawks are on the clock, Dieng seems to be the best choice. He’d work as an excellent complement to Horford defensively, he has some underrated offensive qualities, and he has all the raw materials necessary to make it in this league for a long time. He doesn’t need to be a star or even necessarily a reliable player—in year one, he just needs to play and develop into his role—the revolutionized big: a disruptive defender who rebounds and can function in spread offenses. Systems can hide flaws, and if Coach Budenholzer can get creative, Dieng will be useful from day one with plenty of room to grow.