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TAKE 5: Prospects On the Hawks Radar

The Atlanta Hawks have picks No. 19 and No. 31 in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft. There are five sophomore college prospects who should be strongly considered at either spot.

John Collins dunks against Pittsburgh in ACC play.
John Collins dunks against Pittsburgh in ACC play.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The sophomore season for many college players is much like the Saturday of a major golf tournament--only for college prospects "moving day" is an entire "moving season." In recent years, players such as Utah's Jakob Poeltl have removed their name from the draft and improved their stock while others such as Michigan State's Gary Harris have returned to no longer be a lottery pick. For all the easy criticism thrown at players for leaving too early, more first rounders fall in their sophomore season then improve their stock.

Last season, California's Ivan Rabb and Indiana's Thomas Bryant were likely lottery selections following outstanding freshman seasons. Barring a significant change of evaluations, neither will be near the lottery this year. For a more glaring example, Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes was a borderline lottery selection in 2015 and now his receding perimeter shot should leave him as an undrafted free agent. Fortunately, other sophomores who were not high on scouting radars entering the season had breakout years. In our first Take 5 look at 2017 NBA Draft prospects, we examine Rabb, Bryant and 3 prospects who may have surpassed them this year. Any or all of them could be on the board when the Atlanta Hawks make the 19th pick.

John Collins, PF (6'10, 225), Wake Forest

Collins is probably the least known prospect of the players reviewed here. His college production (19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) far exceeded his lack of media coverage.  Collins is not a threat to spread the floor (no three-point attempts in his college career) but he is advanced as an offensive player in the post with a strong mid-range game. In shooting 62% from the field and 74% from the free throw line, he could reasonably expand his game toward the perimeter as he develops--but he should not have to do so to find success. In the video below, you will see his ability to score from multiple positions on the floor and to move effectively without the basketball:

The production is undeniable. Collins had a 35.9 PER his sophomore season which is the highest total for a major conference player in the last decade. Other players listed in the top 25 PER seasons over the last decade include: Kelly Olynyk (36.16), Mike Muscala (35.73), Anthony Davis (35.13), Kenneth Faried (34.74), Frank Kaminsky (34.43), Demarcus Cousins (34.18), Damian Lillard (33.98) and C.J. McCollum 32.38. Collins has strong statistical company as a prospect among a group of players who were drafted later than what their NBA production has projected. His game is not without holes. He will need to improve his body to be a productive rebounder as his wingspan (6'8") is limited.

Collins is not likely to become a reliable shot blocker which will put a greater need on improving his feet and court awareness. Both of those issues are rather typical for a sophomore--especially one as young as Collins. Freshmen lottery prospects Josh Jackson (Kansas) and Lauri Markkanen (Arizona) are actually younger than Collins who will turn 20 during his rookie NBA season. With a well-developed post game, a growing knowledge of playing in pick-and-roll and a high motor that understands how to move, Collins looks like the best option for Atlanta at #19 should he fall. Wherever he lands, I expect him to be productive offensively early on in his career and one of a handful of players in this draft that should help the rotation of a good NBA team sooner rather than later.

Caleb Swanigan, PF/C (6'9, 247), Purdue

While Collins may be the most under-the-radar sophomore, Caleb Swanigan is one of the most coveted prospects among average fans. Typically, I am the first person to raise the red flag and dissent from the masses on college stars but Swanigan remains underrated by most scouts (currently projected as a borderline first-round choice). Collins and Swanigan are late lottery selections in my view due to their rare ability to be physical in the paint while expanding their games to the perimeter with unusual finesse. Unlike Collins, Swanigan can take himself and his large frame beyond the arc and knock down the deep ball (45% from deep). He is a physically imposing player who is unafraid to mix things up and can knock down free throws (78%). You can see the presence of all of these skills featured in the video below:

The NBA may be shifting to make a place for players who can specialize in a specific area but Swanigan brings a physical game that is not limited to any place within a 48-minute game. Swanigan was a 300-pound player in high school who has shown discipline in work ethic to get himself into his current condition. A one-time Michigan State commit, Swanigan's play is a hybrid of former Spartans' Zach Randolph and Draymond Green. While it would be unfair to place expectations on him to reflect the rate of improvement Green has shown as a professional, Swanigan's dedication to his body and the game is a reasonable comparison. The challenge will be his present defensive limitations which must continue to evolve as he works on his body and technique. However, his 7'3.5 wingspan should leave many teams eager to help him develop on the defensive end.

Purdue coach Matt Painter did an outstanding job in helping Swanigan grow his skill set as a sophomore. One of his more remarkable numbers (other that his well-known double-double prowess): he scored in double figures in the last 26 games of his college career and on only one occasion did he have more field goal attempts than points. He does not need to dominate the ball in order to score. He can go find it. Swanigan has special talents and the work ethic to be a unique NBA rotation player with the long-term ability to start at the 4 or 5.

Luke Kennard, SG (6'6, 202), Duke

Kennard left high school with a mature game and regarded by most scouts as a player whose game would excel in college but struggle at the professional level. While his freshmen season may have confirmed some of the speculation, Kennard is classically underestimated as an athlete despite finding success (19.1 points per game) against elite prospects in high school and college. He is most known for his lethal shooting stroke (44% from deep, 86% from charity) but can lead the break and find open shooters when called upon to do so. Those who may choose to limit him to being a spot-up shooter will be surprised by how well he can create for himself. However, his shooting stroke is occasionally long and he may find some difficulty creating the necessary space to get it off at the next level. The video that follows shows his versatility and improved handle well:

The video features his offensive improvements but ignores his growth from being a liability to a strong perimeter defender. He has defensive limitations (only a 6'5" wingspan) but his feet and hands allow him to hold up on the perimeter. The wingspan is a minus overall but prospects with shorter wingspans are often more capable of repeating their shooting stroke (see J.J. Redick).  He is willing to compete against switches and his physical progress at the college level is undervalued. He rebounds the ball well for his position (5.1 rebounds per game) and uses great timing in closing out on shooters. Kennard should be able to immediately contribute as a shooter off the bench and may grow into a full-time starter in 2-3 years. He would be an ideal fit with a team like Atlanta that desperately needs shooting and could use an additional player to handle the basketball in an emergency.

Thomas Bryant, PF (6'10, 241), Indiana

Thomas Bryant was valued as a 5-10 pick during much of the 2015-2016 college season. He dropped in value near the end of his freshman season and eventually decided to return to Bloomington for his sophomore season. While the Hoosiers severely underperformed, Bryant had a mostly even season (12.6 ppg/6.6rpg) and showed slight improvements in several areas. He has an enormous frame (7'6" wingspan) to play either post position and his shot should allow him to stretch the floor (56/38/73 shooting slash). His game is a little more like a traditional European big without the level of polish. In the workout and interview below you can see the balance he is seeking to be an all-around prospect:

Bryant may be limited in helping a team as a rookie but he has incredible potential to become a star in time if he lands in the right spot for development. He currently projects best as a stretch 4 with the ability to defend at a high level inside and out. If his outside shot becomes consistent then his role in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop could be nearly impossible to shut down. His defensive instincts and movement are behind even for his young age but he is not so lost that he cannot grow. My deepest concern is that he may enjoy the finesse of the game at a level that can lead to landing an NBA spot but does not presently enjoy the physicality of the game that could make him an elite player. Atlanta would be an ideal fit for him and the team at the #31 pick.

Ivan Rabb, PF (6'10, 215), California

Ivan Rabb joins Swanigan and Kennard as three of my favorite prospects from the high school class of 2015. Along with Jamal Murray and Brandon Ingram, all five prospects outplayed their projections since their senior seasons of high school. Unlike the others, Rabb plateaued some in his sophomore campaign despite a productive season (14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. The relentlessness in pursuing the basketball shown in his freshman season was not as present this year and his shooting took a step backwards in all areas. He may eventually develop a reliable outside shot but his 2 seasons below 67% from the free throw line is troubling to project such growth. The video below shows why Rabb has been viewed as a lottery pick at times (as well as a strong comparison with Arizona's Lauri Markkanen--a likely top 10 choice):

I enjoy Rabb as a player due to his general effort and willingness to be physical on both ends of the floor. However, his defense ebbs and flows as he too often softly contests shots while failing to pay attention to detail on taking good angles on the perimeter. As a freshman, he showed a tenacity and instincts on the glass similarly to Kenneth Faried along with the shared oddity of lacking the same skills in defending the post. During this season he regressed more in the former than advancing in the latter. I would have selected him late in the lottery last season but he now seems to be a better fit in the 20-25 range due to the limitations of not having a clearly projected position. A reliable jump shot or better use of his physical gifts could change his status quickly. The Atlanta Hawks would be fortunate to land him at #31 but the previous 4 players would be better options at #19.