The 2016 NBA Draft is just hours away, and the Atlanta Hawks hold a potentially valuable pick in the first round. Though their selection is soundly outside of the lottery at number 21 overall, the Hawks have the ability to add a player that will be effective and, more importantly, cost-controlled for the future, and after what transpired in 2015 (cough, Tim Hardaway Jr., cough), the pressure is on for Mike Budenholzer, Wes Wilcox and the front office.
With all of that in mind, the Hawks can easily “miss” by making an errant choice here and this post is dedicated to that possibility. It must be noted that this is simply one man's opinion (read: mine) and not representative of our entire staff, but alas, I will be weighing in on a few players that Atlanta should avoid selecting with their first-round choice.
Let’s get to the players that the organization should run (quickly) away from on Thursday evening.
Malachi Richardson, SG Syracuse
Richardson burst on to the scene with a lights-out performance in a wild upset win over Virginia during the NCAA Tournament, and he hasn’t looked back in terms of NBA Draft stock. At the time, the 6-foot-6 swingman was not on the radar as even a first-round selection in the minds of most NBA Draft pundits, but after that explosion and a nice follow-up against North Carolina, some now see Richardson as a fringe lottery pick.
That, in short, is insane.
Though his tools are impressive, Richardson is a big project at the NBA level, especially when considering how poor his college numbers are. He did shoot a respectable 35.3% from three during his one college campaign, but Richardson's efficiency was ghastly (46.6% eFG) in an overall sense, and he famously posted more turnovers (79) than assists (77) over a 37-games sample.
Beyond that, he is an “old” college freshman in that he is already 20 years old, taking some of his upside off the table, and inconsistency has been a real problem for Richardson. There is, of course, a scenario in which Richardson pans out in a big way if he can clean up his misgivings, but he doesn't particularly address Atlanta’s needs on the wing and nothing about his on-court performance suggests a first-round grade, even in a weak class.
Tyler Ulis, PG Kentucky
Let me say this now. I really like Tyler Ulis.
He was an exceptional college basketball player and, in a vacuum, I think he has a chance to be a useful NBA player. However, point guard doesn't appear to be a need (see Teague, Jeff) at the moment for the Hawks and Ulis’ has a fairly clear ceiling as a prospect.
At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds (not a misprint), Ulis has been overlooked for the entirety of his basketball career based on size, and that is unfair to some degree. At Kentucky, Ulis did an excellent job at running the show for a talented group, and he is an excellent distributor using elite quickness. Still, there are real concerns about whether he can act as a starting point guard at any point in the NBA, and at 21, you’d want that ceiling to be at least reasonably in view.
Ulis’ size is limiting on the defensive end, simply because he will be overpowered by many players at the position. I don’t believe that he will be a “bad” defender by any stretch given his effort level and quickness, but many match-ups will exist in which he will need to be hidden. Beyond that, Ulis isn't an elite shooter by any means, connecting on only 34% of his threes in college, and because of his size, that won't get it done in the long-term.
Overall, I think Ulis has the potential to be a nice backup point guard in the NBA and if this was a second-round discussion, the Hawks would likely be overjoyed to pick him up. At 21, though, it would be a reach and there are better options, especially after word broke that Ulis could be dealing with a long-term hip injury.
The Center Position
Okay, this is cheating, but hear me out. Cheick Diallo and Thon Maker were included as “others receiving votes” (or something like that) in our “targets” post, and given the considerable upside and athleticism, I’d be okay with either as the pick at 21. Also, Ante Zizic seems to have jumped on most mock draft lists, and if he was able, I’d be alright with that given his versatility and two-way projection. Now, everybody else in Atlanta’s range? No thanks.
I don't dislike Jones at 21 in the same way as some centers, mostly because he has the upside of a legitimate rim-protector. Still, the skill level isn’t really there around the rim right now, and it feels like a reach at 21. If the Hawks were looking to trade back and focus on this area of the roster, Jones would be reasonable.
At least one mock draft places Onuaku in Atlanta’s range, and I don’t get it. He's a second-round prospect in virtually every way, and that stems from being a virtual zero on the offensive end. There is a lot to like in his defense (especially in the 7-foot-3 wingspan and shot-blocking ability), but he would be repetitive with Edy Tavares in some ways and Onuaku looks like a long-term project to potentially extract future value as a fourth/fifth big man.
Stone isn’t a bad prospect in that he's a legitimate center with real touch around the rim that can (potentially) stretch defenses with his jump shot. That combined with solid rebounding and shot-blocking in college makes him a real thing. At the same time, he is nowhere approaching an elite athlete and, on the defensive end, that is going to be problem. There is room in the NBA, even with the changing landscape, for plodding, offense-focused big men but Stone looks like a career backup to me. That’s not a fit at 21, and it especially doesn’t work with a guy that has motor/effort concerns.
Zubac is certainly a “true center”, so he has that going for him. At 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds, he presents massive NBA size and excels in the low post offensively. That is a dream for many Hawks fans, but Zubac isn’t an NBA athlete and he has trouble in rebounding and shot-blocking. Again, there is a place for this type of NBA prospect, but grabbing a big in the first round with a ceiling that is very cramped better be a “safety” proposition, and Zubac isn’t safe, either.