In advance of the 2015 NBA Draft, it is fun to tackle players that could theoretically be "targets" for the Atlanta Hawks. We did just that in a piece earlier in the week, and there is no shortage of available talent in what appears to be a deep class of players. However, there is always the flip side in the world of scouting, and some players jump off the page in a negative light.
To be fair, there are reasons why these players would be mentioned in the draft range of the Hawks. The 15th pick is something of a pivot point in the draft as the first selection outside the lottery, and once the 2015 class zips past the top 10, any number of scenarios could unfold where certain players can be overdrafted. In the same breath, there are always players who are generally overvalued, and that combined with potential fit concerns in particular systems (i.e. with Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta) can generate red flags for certain situations.
With all of that on the table, we will take a look at three players (or, really, two players and a general idea) that Wes Wilcox and the aforementioned Budenholzer should avoid with the 15th overall selection. Simple inclusion in this column does not mean that any player mentioned will be a complete washout at the NBA level, but rather that a) the Hawks have been options available, and b) the player is not worthy of the 15th pick in a loaded draft.
Anyway, let's get to it.
Sam Dekker, SF/PF Wisconsin
I'm planting my flag against Sam Dekker.
In general, the Dekker hype flew off the rails in the midst of Wisconsin's march to the NCAA Championship Game, as the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 19.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 41.7% from beyond the 3-point arc. In fact, Dekker's stock was even higher before an uneven performance (0-for-6 from three) in the title game, and his red-hot shooting often carried the Badgers in times of offensive distress.
That provides background to dispel one important misconception.
Sam Dekker isn't a shooter.
In his final two seasons at Wisconsin, Dekker converted just 92 of his 280 three-point attempts for a relatively ugly 32.9% clip from beyond the arc. This, of course, took place in one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball, with the benefit of the (much) shorter three-point arc than he will face at the NBA level. Admittedly, Dekker has shown flashes of greatness from three, including a 39% clip as a freshman and the aforementioned NCAA Tournament run, but in general, he is miscast by many as a dead-eye shooter.
The rest of his offensive game, though, is encouragingly strong. Dekker made 63.9% (!) of his two-point field goal attempts as a college junior, and he is a very skilled player around the rim and off the dribble. In that vein, he is a pretty good athlete (34.5-inch vertical leap, etc.) that was able to shine at the college level when he was assertive enough to do so.
On the flip side, Dekker's most significant contributions offensively in college relied on his extra length (6-foot-11 wingspan) and athleticism, and at the NBA level, he is merely an average-to-reasonable athlete rather than anything special. That offensive package leaves a good deal to be desired considering, well, there are wide-ranging questions about his defense.
In short, Sam Dekker is a tweener. He stands 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, and while that would be more than acceptable for an NBA small forward, there are real issues when projecting his ability to defend NBA-caliber players at that position. He lacks the requisite burst and overall defensive acumen to become a strong defender at the 3, but in terms of size and bulk, it is a safe bet to assume Dekker would overwhelmed if asked to defend high-end power forwards. There are question marks about virtually every college player on the defensive end as they transition, and that is fair to point out, but Dekker's are simply more pronounced.
Lastly, the 21-year-old Dekker has struggled with consistency. He entered Wisconsin with a bang, creating strong buzz with his play as a freshman and sophomore, but Dekker inexplicably disappeared for stretches of his junior season, causing his stock to fall in a significant way. Some point to his ability to "rise to the occasion" while focusing on his tournament performance, but some scouts (and I would echo this) tend to worry about a player who could disappear at the college level and does not possess any singular dominant skill for the NBA.
In a vacuum, Sam Dekker is an NBA prospect and he very well could latch on as a solid contributor. However, there are simply too many questions about his game, and without the ability to reasonably project that he will become a consistent, mid-30's shooter from three-point range, he shouldn't be considered with the 15th overall pick, regardless of any notion that he would be a "perfect fit" in Atlanta's scheme.
R.J. Hunter, SG Georgia State
The R.J. Hunter is hype is real, and I'm confused. In a recent mock put forth by Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (the same mock that landed Stanley Johnson to the Hawks at 15), Hunter flew off the board with the 12th overall pick, and the notion that "several lottery teams like Hunter" was put forth.
Again, I'm confused.
To be fair, I've actually driven the R.J. Hunter bandwagon in other spaces on the internet throughout his collegiate career at Georgia State, insisting that he was an NBA player and the best collegiate basketball player in the state of Georgia. Still, Hunter is (currently) a one-dimensional player who profiles closer to the John Jenkins of the world than to a player that should be garnering lottery consideration in a strong draft.
Hunter is, of course, one of the best shooters in the draft, and he very well might be the best. The 6-foot-6 gunslinger converted only 30.5% of his attempts from long range (7.5 per game) in his final season with the Panthers, but he was often double (or triple) teamed, and his shot selection... left a lot to be desired. During his sophomore year, Hunter knocked down 39.5% from three, and in the summer between his final two seasons, he impressed scouts in a huge way while generating first-round hype following a strong showing at the LeBron James camp in Las Vegas.
While I'm not worried about his pure ability to make shots from distance at the NBA level, that is the list of things that I'm not worried about with R.J. Hunter. He will likely struggle, at least initially, in generating quality looks for himself, as his current offensive array is better suited to the Sun Belt Conference than the NBA. He does have the length (6-foot-10 wingspan) and relative athletic upside to improve, but when you're investing a pick in the top-15 on a player with limited ceiling, "safety" must be considered.
On the defensive end, Hunter is a mess right now. Again, a lot of college players are inconsistent (to be kind) defensively as they are forced to carry huge offensive loads, but the 21-year-old Hunter was often bad at GSU while playing against below-average competition. Defense is the single biggest knock against him, but much like Jenkins and dozens of college shooters before him, Hunter won't be able to gain access to consistent playing time without being at least a competitive defender.
If the Hawks were picking in the low-20's, R.J. Hunter would make a lot of sense. Mike Budenholzer, quite obviously, values shooting in a significant way. Still, it would be a considerable reach in my mind to go with Hunter in this spot, and the upside isn't worth the risk.
Any point guard
Let's get this out of the way.
I really like three point guards that are slated to go in the second half of the first round. Tyus Jones, Jerian Grant and Delon Wright (in that order) all have a chance to become useful NBA players, with Jones possessing considerably more upside, but with the way the Hawks are currently constructed, they simply can't take a point guard.
There is something to be said for taking the "best player available", and I believe that this organization buys into that concept, but with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder locked up for at least two additional seasons and Shelvin Mack still in the fold, it would be a misuse of resource to invest in another first-round point guard. If the Hawks are sold on Grant or Wright, it could become a defensible move based on their theoretical versatility as combo guards 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively, but both players need the ball to function in the NBA and that's not a great fit.
It must be noted that the Hawks could go rogue and elect to place either Teague or Schröder on the market in a draft day trade, and that isn't completely insane. Still, unless that happens, the "best player available" moniker should be changed to the "best non-point guard available" in this instance.