The Atlanta Hawks' front office has been a tight-lipped, leak-free operation in recent years (when disgruntled owners are not on the other end of the line) and it has not made it easy to discern what direction the team will go on draft day. The forthcoming change in ownership a day prior to the June 25 draft and potential resignation of Danny Ferry will make it even more difficult to discern what Atlanta will do with the 15th selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Whatever changes occur within the front office in the month ahead, all signs point to NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer remaining the most significant broker in personnel decisions. If that is true, it should be expected that Atlanta will continue to target players with measurable success at the college level or international talent that can potentially be stashed overseas. Jeff Teague (selected as a sophomore out of Wake Forest in 2009) is the only current Atlanta player who was not drafted into the NBA as an international player or college upperclassmen. While the Hawks could break a trend and draft a freshman, it would be unexpected.
From 2006-2012, twelve freshmen were selected in the middle picks of the first round (#11-20). Among those selections, only Avery Bradley (Celtics) and Thaddaeus Young (Sixers) remained with their team beyond their rookie deals. With Atlanta's focus on player development since Ferry was brought over from the Spurs system, the percentages are not in favor of a rookie being selected. If Atlanta should select a freshman, Kentucky shooting guard Devin Booker has shown a degree of maturity that could endear him to the Hawks. If Booker is off the board, other freshman option may be teammate Trey Lyles (who has been mocked with the Hawks via Yahoo Sports) or UCLA freshman power forward Kevon Looney who the Hawks brought in for a workout according to his agent.
With the likelihood that the Hawks will bring over 2014 second-round pick Walter Tavares as a rebounder and rim protector, Atlanta has no acute positional needs entering this draft. This should permit Atlanta to choose the best player available that fits their skill profile. However, point guard does appear to be the least likely choice with both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder under contract through the end of 2017. The position is not particularly strong in this draft, so seeing a point guard come off the board would be a big surprise while also leading to reasonable speculation of a future move. The Hawks enter the draft with all of their future draft selections intact plus additional selections--including the Raptors' second round pick in this draft. Such flexibility could allow Atlanta to move up or down if there is a specific player coveted by Bud and company. With limited roster spots available for 2015-16 and a weak 2016 draft, Atlanta could use next year's selection to move up.
With all of these factors taken into account, five players have emerged as strong fits Atlanta's recent development profile. All five players have at least 2 years of college experience and have found offensive success without a need to dominate the basketball. If Atlanta stays at #15, I will be surprised if the name called is not among those listed below. For other possibilities, you can check out our 2015 Draft Rankings:
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, Small Forward, Junior (6'9, 219) [PTH #14] [DX #16]
Dekker is the most obvious fit for Atlanta at #15. He is a two-way wing player with three years of college experience who has shown well competing at the highest level. Dekker is viewed as a great shooter but his profile suggest otherwise. He shot 33% from the three-point line as a junior and only 70% from the free throw line. He may be able to continue the growth he showed in the NCAA Tournament, but all statistical projections show that his shooting is far from an elite skill.
Highlight: This is solid highlight package summarizing Dekker's 3 seasons in Madison. It fairly reflects his diverse talents but keep in mind that he had many games where his perimeter shot was absent:
Why Atlanta? Dekker has no notable holes in his game. He profiles as a small forward on both ends of the floor and being able to slide to the 4 in special lineups. He has a lot of tools but none of them are particularly special. He is a strong rebounder who can defend the perimeter while making unselfish plays with an above average handle. These are all skills Atlanta needs and could make for a solid fit. He is not likely a difference maker on the front end of the roster but is more likely to help balance a team's bench in a way that makes an impact. If his shot emerges from the ashes and he proves to be able to defend both on the wing and the post, he will leave teams regretting he fell out of the lottery.
Justin Anderson, Virginia, Shooting Guard, Junior (6'6, 231) [PTH #13] [DX #22]
Anderson was a rising sleeper in the draft prior to suffering an injury late in the college season. He played in a system at Virginia that does not showcase vertical athleticism but he can leap with anyone. His handle is a little overrated as he is prone to careless turnovers and does not have a great first step. However, he is unafraid of contact and has shown an ability to be a knockdown perimeter shooter. He is the most likely player to go outside the lottery and become a two-way star.
Highlight: Some prospect reviews call into question Anderson's athleticism. This playlist offers up a much different perspective:
Why Atlanta? The Hawks need players who can make open perimeter shots reliably while defending their position. Anderson is as ready to contribute as any player in the draft and his athleticism is undervalued. He has the potential to become an elite defender. He needs to improve his handle to become more efficient on the offensive end. It is understandable that some would view Anderson as a reach at #15 but trading back in the draft based on projections is a dangerous gamble if the Virginia junior is the best player available. Anderson has the best profile to become a star of all the players likely to be available with the 15th pick.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, Small Forward, Sophomore (6'6, 211) [PTH#21] [DX #21]
Hollis-Jefferson is an elite athlete whose basketball skill is most evident on the defensive end. He was as good an overall defender at multiple positions as anyone in college basketball. In both seasons at Arizona, he showed unparalleled commitment as a stopper and projects to be a elite defender at the next level if he continues to put in the work. The challenge for NBA teams is that his limitations as a shooter and creator could be a major liability on offense. Outside of finishing at the rim, his shot-making is very poor compared to other prospects. Teams will select him in hope of him developing into a competent shooter.
Highlight: Hollis-Jefferson has a highlight reel of emphatic dunks from his two college season. His dunk over 7'6 Mamadou N'diaye shows how his elevation is immune to all but the most elite rim protection:
Why Atlanta? Hollis-Jefferson has had a lot of noise as a target for Atlanta due to his elite athleticism and unselfish character. Atlanta could certainly use a defensive stopper who can rebound. The Hawks have shown an ability to help players develop their shooting and Hollis-Jefferson could certainly benefit from such a system. However, his form and percentages are as bad as any prospect in recent drafts and will take some remarkable work. Most offenses can absorb one offensive liability on the floor and RHJ has elite defensive gifts that may exceed his offensive liabilities. If placed on the floor with four shooter--which is possible with Atlanta's current roster--Rondae could provide much needed athleticism and versatility on the defensive end.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Senior (6'4, 198) [PTH #11] [DX #19]
Grant is the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and twin brother of 2014 NBA Draft pick Jerian Grant. He is a darling of the metrics crowd and has flashed star potential at his best moments. Posting over a 3:1 assists-to-turnovers ratio while shooting nearly 6 free throws a game at a 78% clip, Grant shows well on most statistics that are known to translate well to the next level. He is not a great defender but he is a good one with potential to improve. He has the ability to impact a game from both guard spots which is very rare.
Highlight: While many know of his great performances against Duke and Kentucky in his senior season, his 12 points in 28 seconds against Louisville as a sophomore may be his best highlight:
Why Atlanta? Grant is not the most obvious choice for Atlanta from a need perspective, but he actually could solve several problems for Atlanta in 2016-17. Presuming that the Hawks will not have both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder beyond 2017, Grant could spend a year in the Hawks system before potentially filling a role as a backup point guard capable of sliding to the 2 spot. Coach Budenholzer has favored playing two point guards together over the last 2 seasons but none of Atlanta's current three point guards are ideally suited to play off the ball. Grant would be a much better fit at doing so and could develop into a super sub in such a role.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas, Power Forward, Sophomore (6'10, 235) [PTH #17] [DX #17]
Portis is an elite offensive rebounder (4.9 per 40 minutes) with stretch potential (46.7% from three on limited attempts) and a nasty streak. He has stretches in games where he seems to be everywhere while showing off a diverse mix of skills. His 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes falls short of being an average rim protector for his height but he does flash vertical skill on the defensive end that could help him improve in time. After two college seasons, his path to NBA success remains unclear as his skills do not perfectly match a modern NBA position. However, he has an ideal frame for a power forward and enough tools that he could develop into a player that can play multiple positions.
Highlight: The following clip is not the most exciting work Portis has displayed but he shows a little bit of everything. It is a great clip because you can see his patience and continual movement on a few of the possessions:
Why Atlanta? Portis has been linked to Atlanta by multiple draft reports (CBS and Chad Ford) based upon the potential for his tools to develop well in the Hawks' system. There is some weariness in fit given that Portis shares similar skills to 2014 Draft Pick Adreian Payne. Both players are reported to be guys of solid character who are a little slower at processing what happens on the floor. However, Portis plays with more aggression, has a better handle and is nearly three years younger than Payne. If the 2015 SEC Player of the Year is able to translate his intensity into focused effort, his offensive rebounding and diverse offensive skill could develop very well in Atlanta's system.