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NBA Draft 2016: 5 first-round targets for the Atlanta Hawks

Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan State Spartans Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks are one of the better franchises in the NBA at keeping their personnel thinking private. Many teams in the league have “leaks” throughout the NBA Draft process, but Mike Budenholzer, Wes Wilcox and company are good at keeping things under lock and key.

To that end, this piece highlighting “targets” for the Hawks in the first round is blind speculation. It isn't “sourced” within the team, and while it does take some mock draft content into account from across the league for reference purposes, some of these players will be off the board by the time the Hawks make their selection at number 21 overall.

Before we get to the actual names, here is a brief list of picks that would be just fine without making the list, i.e. “others receiving votes”:

  • Malik Beasley, SG Florida State - I like Beasley as a prospect and the Hawks could easily tab him as a future starter at the shooting guard spot. Unfortunately, Beasley is a “pure” 2-guard, and with Tim Hardaway Jr. already on board and Kyle Korver on a cheap contract, the cupboard is fairly full. For the record, I prefer Beasley to Hardaway Jr. as a developmental player, but the Hawks invested heavily in the former Knick last season and that throws a wrench in this at 21.
  • Malcolm Brodgon, SG Virginia - Brogdon was included in our look at potential values in the second round, and he is the only player on that list that is worthy of a first-round investment. I am higher on Brogdon than most, but while his upside isn’t as high as most players on this list, he is very safe and the rare example of a player that might be able to help as a rookie. He would be absolutely ideal at 44, but Brogdon would fit just fine at 21 as well.
  • Brice Johnson, PF North Carolina - Johnson is a prospect that I would like a lot more if he could play center. I just don't see that as an option. He is a phenomenal rebounder, a good athlete and Johnson performed well at the college level, but at 6-foot-11, he still profiles as a pure power forward defensively. If Johnson could protect the rim or add some real bulk to his 210-pound frame, then maybe, but right now it's probably a slight reach at 21, even if not an egregious one.
  • Thon Maker or Cheick Diallo - Two 19-year-old big men that have been all over the board when it comes to mock drafts. Both Maker and Diallo are 19 years old and firmly in the “project” zone when it comes to development, but with Atlanta’s roster as is, there is nothing wrong with taking the high-risk, high-reward approach. This is especially true if the plan is to “run it back" with the veteran core (i.e. re-signing Al Horford and, maybe, Kent Bazemore), but the upside on Maker and Diallo is higher than most players in this range.

Now, to the “real” list.

DeAndre Bembry, SG/SF St. Joseph’s

Bembry is perhaps the most popular “mocked” player to the Hawks and with good reason. He would be an awesome fit.

The Hawks need a “big” wing to combat some of the match-up issues that have given the team fits in recent years (see James, LeBron) and Bembry comes in at a solid 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and real NBA physicality. The former St. Joe’s swingman is a very good athlete (38-inch max vertical leap) who has a nose for the basket offensively and varied skills to combat the opposition on defense.

Bembry’s lone weakness is his jump shot and, well, the Hawks have enjoyed phenomenal success in fixing that issue for both DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore in recent seasons. That approach won't work for every prospect, but I’m a big fan of Bembry’s tools and he would be a beautiful addition to the roster without additional investment in needing to move up on the board.

Demetrius Jackson, PG Notre Dame

Jackson would rank at the bottom of this five-player list, but it is entirely possible that the other four are off the board and he would be a “best player available” choice in that instance. Atlanta has reportedly been shopping Jeff Teague with aggression in recent days, and if they pull off a deal for the veteran point guard, Dennis Schröder will be the team's lone point guard option.

Jackson’s downside is that he will be 22 years old at the start of the 2016-2017 season and, ironically, he is less than one year younger than Schröder. If you can see past that, though, Jackson is the second-best point guard prospect in this class in my mind (behind Kris Dunn) and I’m a big fan of his game.

At Notre Dame, he displayed leadership and physicality at the position and Jackson is already a good defender. It is fair to say that he is probably not a top-15 point guard in the NBA long-term, but Atlanta could use a creative and talented backup in the short term that has the ability to grow beyond that if everything falls into place. Throw in the fact that the Hawks can work with his enigmatic jump shot and I like the fit... if needed.

Domantas Sabonis, PF/C Gonzaga

This is probably a pipe dream. Sabonis is comfortably within the lottery in a lot of mock drafts, but in recent days, the big man can be found in Atlanta’s range in a few spots. In my mind, Sabonis is a top-10 overall player in this class, though, and even if the Hawks needed to move up a few slots, he would be worth that investment.

At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Sabonis plays with reckless abandon but with an obscenely high basketball IQ. He averaged 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Gonzaga (while playing only 31.9 minutes) and Sabonis was able to post a 65.4% true shooting on the back of 77% from the free throw line. He isn’t an elite rim protector by any means, but Sabonis could play both the 4 and the 5 spots at the NBA level and he is a solid positional defender in many ways.

Fans of the Hawks that pine for rebounding help would love Sabonis immediately, and he would be a seamless fit in Atlanta’s scheme on both ends of the floor.

Taurean Prince, SF/PF Baylor

Most of the comparisons that Prince has received to DeMarre Carroll probably have something to do with their similar choice in hair style, but Prince's game is also quite familiar to Hawks fans. He is a versatile combo forward that could play at both the 3 and the 4 spots, and Prince is a tenacious player that is seen as a defense-first option at the NBA level.

Unlike Carroll, Prince is already a capable shooter (36.1% from three) at the time he steps on an NBA court, and it is hard to find full-fledged weaknesses in his game. The upside with Prince is probably as a stand-out “3-and-D” player with versatility at the NBA level, but he would be a very solid pick that could potentially help the Hawks sooner rather than later.

Denzel Valentine, SG/SF Michigan State

Much like Sabonis, this looked to be outrageously unrealistic just a few days ago. Valentine’s stock has dropped (at least in mock draft circles) in recent days, though, as chatter builds that he could be dealing with a fairly serious knee injury. That has to be mentioned in the grand scheme, but even if Valentine is unable to maintain value into his 30’s based on the ailment, he would be a nice value at 21.

For my money, Valentine was the best player in college basketball a year ago (sorry, Buddy Hield) when he averaged 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game with 46/44/85 shooting splits. Being the best in college doesn’t automatically translate into NBA success, but Valentine is a talented and versatile player that projects quite well as a professional.

He is a very good outside shooter (as evidenced by that 44% clip from three), and Valentine’s 6-foot-11 wingspan helps to make up for a relatively uninspiring 6-foot-6 height. The 22-year-old isn't an elite athlete, but he isn't a bad athlete either, and Valentine’s court awareness and motor certainly are not in question at this point.

Picking up a versatile player that can shoot, defend and pass (at an elite level) would be great at number 21 overall. Even if Valentine’s knee is a legitimate concern, that would be the only reason he is available in the first place.