The Atlanta Hawks have no business holding the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but here we stand. By nature of the "gift that keeps on giving" in the form of the Joe Johnson trade, the Hawks were able to swap first-round selections with the Brooklyn Nets, and that is the recipe for a 60-win team to hold a near-lottery pick in what appears to be a loaded draft.
While the "big guns" like Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor will be long gone by the time Atlanta's pick arrives, there will still be plenty of talent to choose from for Wes Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer. In this space, we will evaluate three players who could/should be available when the Hawks make their selection, but of course, it should be noted that the NBA Draft is always a fluid event, meaning that one or two of these athletes could be off the board.
Without additional delay, let's take a look at the trio of potential "targets":
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF Arizona
Hollis-Jefferson can't shoot.
To be clear, the above statement is not up for debate at this point in his career, as the former Arizona forward's jump shot has repeatedly been described as "broken" by NBA scouts. That obvious issue is the central reason that Hollis-Jefferson's draft stock has slipped to the point where he would be available at number 15, but if we can see beyond that, Hollis-Jefferson is tremendously gifted.
The defensive end is where the 6-foot-7 forward makes his biggest impact at this point, and his 7-foot-2 wingspan is enough to make scouts salivate at his potential. Hollis-Jefferson is a willing defender with a big-time motor and polish beyond his years at the age of 20, and he was repeatedly asked to be the "lockdown" defender at Arizona during his short time with the Wildcats.
On that end of the floor, he would be an immediate fit with the Hawks. Admittedly, Hollis-Jefferson's offensive acumen lags behind his abilities on the defensive side, but at the same time, he was able to shoot better than 50% from the floor as a college sophomore based largely on a strong ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic. A 38-inch vertical leap combined with his significant length makes him the total package athletically, and it is encouraging to see that he is already comfortable off the dribble.
The biggest question about Hollis-Jefferson is whether you believe that he can develop a serviceable jump shot. This is an "easy" comparison, but most pundits (myself included) profiled DeMarre Carroll as simply a defensive stopper with a broken jump shot upon his arrival in Atlanta, and the player development department deserves a ton of credit for improving that skill. It would be wildly aggressive to suggest that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can develop into a shooter that makes threes at a clip in the high-30's, but if he can simply become a league average 3-point shooter on corner threes, the value would be immense.
Hollis-Jefferson likely doesn't have star upside, but in the mold of Carroll or even Kawhi Leonard, he does everything else well, and I like that.
Kelly Oubre, SG/SF Kansas
Oubre is the definition of a hit-or-miss prospect, and that is terrifying. Still, the fact that the Hawks are a 60-win team with the benefit of a draft pick beyond their means gives the team license to take a home run swing, and Oubre best fits that bill.
As a freshman in Lawrence, Oubre averaged just 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while playing only 21 minutes per contest, and he was largely in the doghouse of head coach Bill Self early in his only collegiate season. There were questions about his effort level and even his mental make-up, but as the season progressed, his contributions stabilized, including a 25-point "breakout" performance against TCU during the Big 12 Tournament.
Still, if you believe that Kelly Oubre is the type of upside player that this pick warrants, it is almost best to avoid his collegiate tape altogether. Bill Self has a history of burying high-pedigree players who don't buy in immediately (see Cliff Alexander), and the fact that Oubre worked his way back into his (relative) good graces is encouraging. In the same breath, Kelly Oubre was a consensus All-American and projected top-10 NBA Draft pick while still in high school, and the tools are real.
Oubre stands at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, and he boasts a 37-inch vertical leap combined with the raw tools to become a high-end shooter in the NBA. There are some questions about his actual basketball abilities when creating off the bounce, but as an athlete, he projects as a potentially strong defensive player who can stretch the defense offensively, and given his pedigree and tools, he would be a top-10 pick in most drafts.
Admittedly, this is the player that I have the most qualms with for the Hawks. It wouldn't be a surprise to me if Atlanta had crossed Oubre off their board entirely given his issues in college, but at the same time, it is rare to snatch a player with his type of upside outside of the lottery, and the relative stability of this roster combined with a lack of urgency for this pick to contribute in year one could provide cover if Wilcox and Budenholzer wanted to swing for the fences.
Bobby Portis, PF Arkansas
Portis is one of my favorite players in the 2015 NBA Draft class, regardless of projected position. Throw in the fact that he has repeatedly been linked to the Hawks in various mock drafts, and it makes all of the sense in the world that he would land here.
First and foremost, I'm a fan of his size and motor. Portis is nearly 6-foot-11 with strong bulk, and while some young players (he is only 20 after playing two seasons at Arkansas) struggle to produce consistent effort at this size, there are no concerns about his willingness to ratchet up the intensity. In fact, Portis has been vocal about "playing angry" in the past, and that ability led him to 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while being chosen as the SEC Player of the Year ahead of the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Of course, Portis isn't quite the prospect of either big man from Kentucky, but at number 15, the value is real. He is a skilled offensive player who can capably score with his back to the basket, while also boasting the ability to step out and knock down jump shots with consistency out to 20 feet. It would be aggressive to project Portis as a three-point shooter in the pros, but from a Hawks perspective, he would be a solid fit given his relative ability to space the floor. It is unclear if he can develop the skills needed to create his own offensive at a high rate in the NBA, but from the 15th overall pick, you aren't craving the desire to do so.
If there is a knock on Portis, it comes on the defensive glass, where he sometimes struggled at Arkansas. In evaluating the tape, it does seem as if Portis was carrying an above-average load on both ends when compared to other lottery prospects, and in the NBA, he could be more singularly focused on his responsibilities, rather than serving as a "do-it-all" player on the back-end with the Razorbacks. It is fair to suggest that Portis needs to work on his rebounding and rim protection, but in the same breath, he is a willing and capable defender at both the 4 and 5 spots, which would fit nicely alongside Al Horford when thinking to the future.
Portis isn't the "sexy" prospect that Kelly Oubre is, and he doesn't have the defined NBA skill of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's defense, but he is a finely tuned player that still possess the upside to become an above-average starter in the NBA. It isn't often that the Hawks would choose the player most closely associated with them during mock draft season, but in this case, Atlanta could do much, much worse than Bobby Portis with the 15th overall pick.