It is New Years Day. Time for a look at the prospects for the upcoming draft with a view through the lens of the Hawks current circumstances. Even with the Horford injury, it is looking pretty strong for the Hawks to at least finish ahead of the Nets and the Nets pick ending up in the lottery (barring a coaching change in Brooklyn).
As of tonight, there are four teams behind the Nets in overall record and three teams virtually tied with them. The Nets would be slotted between 5-8 in lottery odds. Based on today's standings, the Hawks would pick no lower than 11th in the NBA draft. In honor of that, here are the top 11 prospects as I see them today. I intend to update and expand these ratings as the season goes along and as the Hawks draft reality becomes easier to gauge.
1. Jabari Parker (6'8 SF, Duke) Fits right in the Carmelo/Durant/Anthony Davis mold of impact college freshmen destined to immediately star in NBA. He is already showing signs of being an elite shooter (.528/.455/.750) and can defend and rebound his position. There are some criticisms that he adds weight easily (sort of like Melo) and may not have the feet to defend other elite small forwards. The first critique is garbage to me, but the second may be true. I think the Melo comparisons are fairly good, but Parker is a much better man-to-man defender at this point in career. I think he has a little more Grant Hill-like athleticism than some observers. He will need to improve his playmaking to be a star, but he is as much of a guarantee as I remember. I think he is going to be an All-Star SF who can slide over to PF as needed and could be a top-20 NBA player as soon as next year. He would absolutely fit perfectly with Hawks and not sure anyone else should be considered for us given the rest of our roster.
2. Andrew Wiggins (6'8 SF, Kansas) In three months Wiggins has gone from overrated to underrated. He is not Lebron, but some stupidly made such comparisons prior to this season. However, like Lebron it is possible to see him being a player who can do anything--potentially. He just is no where near as polished as some other guys coming out of high school. That being said, he is shooting 34% from 3 and averaging almost 16 points on 11 attempts a game. He plays within the team concept and is committed on the defensive end of the floor. He appears to be intelligent, hard-working, and a team player. The fear is that he does not yet have the alpha mentality and disappears from games. While a concern, both of those traits are common among 18-year-old prospects. He has most potential of any player since Lebron, but plenty of legitimate concerns that he maybe should be further along given amount of time he has played basketball. He would be an interesting choice if Hawks were in 2 slot given that other guys might be better in short-term. I could see him going #1 overall, but not sure teams wanting to contend immediately would have him that high.
3a. Julius Randle (6'9 PF, Kentucky) I have had a chance to see him a lot and once live. If he wants to be a PF, he is going to dominate the position for next 15 years. He uses either hand seamlessly within 10 feet and has abnormal handle for a big man--as long as he does not try to play on perimeter. He has a beautiful stroke and potential to be an above average free throw shooter. He is already an alpha dog who works hard and wants to dominate. He has plenty of holes defensively. Most notably just poor defensive instincts particularly as a shot blocker. I have not seen him take plays off defensively but he just seems to get lost. He is a relentless rebounder which hopefully shows that the defensive part can come around.
3b. Joel Embiid (7'0 C, Kansas) Has been biggest surprise of college season. He was a good prospect, but a step behind the great ones. Now rising fast and some even see him as #1 player due to his position. He has shown surprising assertiveness and offensive acumen compared to his film. In half of games I have seen him, you would believe he was the better prospect over Wiggins. He does not move like a center. I only have him behind Randle because of Randle dominating better players to this point. Hawks would have to love matching Embiid or Randle with Horford after allowing either to be third post player as a rookie.
3c. Marcus Smart (6'4 PG, Oklahoma State) I was not a fan of Smart last season. Some people thought he would have gone #1 last year which was a greater commentary on the draft being bad than his status. He has won me over this year. He has gone from a tweener guard to a player who looks like he can run a team. He has committed himself on defensive end of floor this year and keeps teammates involved. I still would not call him a good shooter, but he has eliminated his shot as a liability. He is awesome going to the basket and his physicality allows him to even take ball up against bigs. A team that already has size and no point guard might look at Smart. I place him at same talent-level as Randle/Embiid but lower due to playing a position less in demand and he does not translate to it as clearly as the other two. If Hawks are at a slot to draft Smart, I could see them making a trade as he does not make much sense with Teague and Schroeder on board.
6. Aaron Gordon (6'8 PF, Arizona) I have gone from having Gordon ahead of most to cooling on him. He is a very talented athlete with great range for his size. I am just not sold on his body and desire fitting the PF position and not sure he has the feet/agility for SF. He is not much of a playmaker. I am just afraid he might be a tweener. As someone who loved Derrick Williams (still like his potential but he has no clear position), Gordon is scaring me to death right now. I think he is going to need the right situation to find a position. He will either need to play alongside an elite center (which does not exist among teams drafting high) or for a defensive-oriented team that can handle him being a liability on the wing. All that being said, he may have a passion for the game beyond what his body shows (see: Durant, Kevin) that allows him to make up for the deficiencies. Right now, I feel the 5 before him become stars. Not ready to bet that for Gordon yet. He could go anywhere 2-10 based on the next few months. Probably one of the weaker fits for the Hawks.
7. Dante Exum (6'6 PG/SG, Australia) I have not been to Australia recently, or ever. I have only seen the film and read reports everyone else has. Right now he is either a shooting guard who does everything well for that position but shoot (which is sort of a big deal) or a point guard with a need to improve his handle and ability to stay in front of people. He is not as big as Shaun Livingston or Penny Hardaway, but cut in that mold. Thin, but sneaky strong kid who loves game and getting others involved. He may come over to states and play college ball for a year according to some reports, but most think he will declare. Anything I say about him should be tempered by others who have seen him play.
8. Zach Lavine (6'5 PG/SG, UCLA) I first saw him shooting up boards and wondered what people were seeing. However, the last two games I watched him play I bought into the hype. If I wanted a combo guard who could contribute off bench right away, but potentially develop into a star I would bump him way up list. Truthfully, I should probably have him #6. He is both quick and sneaky quick because of his size. He can shoot and moves well with and without ball. I think his floor is being a starting shooting guard in NBA, but he could become a star as a point guard if he become a better playmaker. He needs to improve his free throw shooting. Some compare him to Russell Westbrook because of size and quickness, but I am not sure that fits. He has a little bit of Manu Ginobili in him outside of his shooting stroke. He has a lightning quick jump stop with a jumper that looks like it could be taken from a phone booth. If he can translate his percentages to next level, it is more a matter of what guard position he will play than whether he can succeed. Intriguing for Hawks, because they could choose to develop him as a 2-guard if he fell to us.
9. Noah Vonleh (6'10 PF/C Indiana) I have not gotten to see him much. I think he is a PF, some see him as a center. He can probably play center in NBA, but he can do some things most centers cannot do. He has good shooting range for a guy with long, muscular arms. He could grow into becoming an elite defender, especially at PF. I could see him climbing the board in next few months. Much like LaVine, not having a clear position should not prevent him being projected to contribute. He has a lot of Al Horford-like qualities, so it would be interesting to see what Hawks would do with him.
10. Gary Harris (6'4 SG, Michigan State) Lowest ceiling of anyone on this list. If positions and readiness were not factored in, he may be a #15-20 prospect. However, there are not many 2-way shooting guards in the NBA and Harris projects to be able to be good, not great at both ends of floor. He does almost everything well, but only impresses in brief stints. He needs to improve his ball-handling, especially since he is not great off the ball. He is not going to be a star, but he can probably start at 2 right away for many teams and may remain there for 800-1000 games.
11. James Young (6'6 SG/SF Kentucky) This is my guy. Some have him much lower. He is wiry and does not pass the eye test. I have seen him play a lot and he just continues to impress. He is typecast as a shooter and he can definitely shoot, but he is a smart player who really competes. Most importantly, he finds ways to compete when his shot is not falling. His floor is Danny Green, but he could become Danny Granger pre-injury. I think he possesses rare mental toughness for his age. If Hawks end up in back of lottery, this is the guy I want.
Others considered and to watch going forward: Rodney Hood (Duke), Jerami Grant/Tyler Ennis (Cuse), Glenn Robinson (Michigan), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Willie Cauley-Stein/Harrisons (Kentucky), Dario Saric/Vasilije Micic/Jusuf Nurkic (International).
Please pass along your impressions of potential prospects and add names that you think should be in top 11.