ATLANTA HAWKS DRAFT: 2003
One number away.
As the NBA Draft Lottery unfolds behind closed doors, team reps watch as a series of numbers are posted for the top 3 picks. If your team has that lucky combination, then you get that pick.
In 2003, the Atlanta Hawks had traded their number one pick to Milwaukee in the Glenn Robinson deal but it was protected in the Top 3, so if the Hawks' number was called, they would keep the pick.
In this draft was a gold mine of NBA talent. If there was any year to get lucky and get into the Top 3, this was it.
You know all the names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade
These four and Darko Milicic were unanimously regarded as the Top 5 players to be picked. The Hawks would have been ecstatic to get any of them coming off a failed "playoff guarantee" and lottery level season, but the golden nugget was James.
As the numbers peeled off, Hawks VP of Media Relations Arthur Triche started to hyperventilate (ok, maybe not). The numbers for the #1 pick were right in line with the Hawks numbers. It came down to the last number called and....
Missed it by a single digit. Like a shot rimming out at the buzzer, the Hawks were losers in the lottery, and their pick went to Milwaukee at #8.
Meanwhile, this meant that they did get to use the pick from Indiana gained in the 2001 NBA Draft trade that saw the Hawks defer their point guard selection and send Jamal Tinsley to Indiana. This pick had been protected Top 18 for two years, but this season it was #21, so over to the Hawks it went.
(Sidenote: The Hawks had actually traded the better of the two picks to Milwaukee, unless it was Top 3. #8 was, and still is, higher than #21)
The Hawks had players in work out, but nobody knew for sure what they would do on draft night with that pick.
It was quite a night for a lot of teams, as one of the richest drafts began to unfold. LeBron to Cleveland, Darko to Detroit, Anthony to Denver, Bosh to Toronto, and Wade to Miami.
Milwaukee used the #8 on a point guard, TJ Ford, but nobody left on the board made Hawks fans particularly remorseful about not having that pick.
When the pick came up at #21, folks were a little surprised that now Hawks GM Billy Knight took Boris Diaw, a little known guard/forward from France.
Diaw fit the picture of what was to come for the Hawks in terms of ambiguous positioning and interchangeability of players. Diaw 6'8 size and ability to pass gave Knight and coach Terry Stotts ideas of playing him at guard and running the offense through him on the perimeter one day.
Diaw played a lot in his first season, logging over 25 minutes a game, but his production was poor. His PER was 8.8, due in large part to a reticence to play any kind of offense whatsoever.
Diaw became known for his passive play, at times passing up open layup or attempts at the rim to kick it out to the perimeter for an outside shot. It was as if the rest of us saw and open hoop and he saw a large poster above the rim that said "NO!".
In a game during his rookie season, Diaw took over in overtime and dunked, jumped, and disrupted the opponent to win the game for the Hawks. When he was asked where that came from he offered, "I thought I needed to step up a little there." When asked why he didn't feel that urge in other areas of the contest, Diaw simply shrugged off the question as if to be unaware of whatever it was that caused such passive play.
Still, he was young, and the Hawks were trying to find ways to get the most out of his talents. He was tried at PG along with Jason Terry, and also at shooting guard and small forward. His second season showed some improvement, but less playing time. When the time came in the 2005 offseason to go after Joe Johnson of Phoenix, a more productive form of Diaw, for sure, Diaw was sent packing with (2) #1 picks to make it so.
His first season in Phoenix, Hawks fans saw what might have been as the Suns played Diaw in the power forward position, something never tried in Atlanta, and Diaw thrived, posting a 17+ PER and recording a 13 point, 7 rebounds, 6 assist campaign. Certainly some of this improvement was due to more playing time (35 mpg), but his rate stats improved drastically as well, including win share per 48 minutes.
That would be high water for Diaw, however, and has since settled into a replacement level player that played 2 1/2 more seasons in Phoenix and another 2 1/2 in Charlotte for the Bobcats.
A solid first selection by Knight considering the position in the draft and it gave a glimpse into what Knight was looking for in rebuilding the Hawks.
Final Note: From the moment he set foot into the Hawks locker room, Diaw was the stinkiest player in Hawks' history. Alas, even this legacy wouldn't last as he would yield the throne in 2004-2005, Diaw's last season as a Hawk, to Peja Drobnjak, who maintains the title to this day.