Upperclassmen have slowly become endangered species in the NBA Draft. They are difficult to find and commonly stereotyped as unathletic, low-ceiling players. Even as Malcolm Brogdon exploded as one of the best rookies this season, we face a draft where the upperclassmen have the lowest evaluations in draft history. It is possible that no upperclassmen will be taken in the lottery (best chance: UNC's Justin Jackson) and no seniors in the first round. Despite the low grade, I expect a couple of teams to take upperclassmen late in the first round in hopes of landing a player that can make a rotation sooner than later.
I agree with the consensus that this is a soft group of upperclassmen but several of the players are undervalued. My present board does not have an upperclassmen with a lottery grade but a few have a top-20 grade. With the long-term historical success Atlanta has had with experienced college players, there is a strong probability that the Hawks will take an older player at either #19 or #31.
Jordan Bell, JR, PF (6'9, 227) Oregon
Bell is finally getting recognized for his immense athleticism and high motor. He was one of the stars of the NBA draft combine and a very productive player in college. He does not thrive in the traditional passing and shooting skills which are most easily identified and increasingly important in professional basketball. However, Bell showed through his junior season and postseason workouts that he no longer projects as a liability in these areas. Bell could be a highly productive rookie who can bring defense and rebounding off the bench. His ability to defend the perimeter should translate quickly in allowing him to cover stretch bigs. Should his shot continue to develop, he could end up being the steal of the draft.
Josh Hart, SR, SG (6'6, 204) Villanova
If there is a player that I most want to overvalue and view as a lottery choice, it is Hart. He has had a nearly unparalleled combination of efficiency and production for a two-way college wing. He can shoot, pass and rebound at a plus rate for his position with elite-level recognition on the defensive end. However, he has some limitations in size without elite physical gifts. He found much of his offensive production off excelling on straight-line drives and shots over inferior talent--both skills that do not translate as well among the elite athleticism of professional athletes. With an average handle, he does not project as a starter in the long term--at least not without a team built to his limitations. He should be a first-round pick rather than the middle of the second where he is most often projected. His floor is a wing who should be able to knock down open shots, make good decisions and play better than average defense. He is not a sharpshooter but a player who is unafraid of pressure and can be relied upon to perform under late-game pressure.
Sindarius Thornwell, SR, G/F (6'5, 214) South Carolina
Thornwell--along with Hart--have been personal favorites of mine since their freshman seasons. It was a joy to watch Thornwell get the credit he deserved during his recent NCAA Tournament success. Thornwell defended players at all 5 positions in college while running the point early in his career and transitioning to becoming reliable in the post. He has a rare combination of being good with the ball in his hands but not needing the ball to make an impact. As a wing player, he is an elite rebounder who plays with intelligent toughness. He will be challenged at the next level to remain a relentless player as he faces players with greater size, longer verticality and lateral quickness. He has no specific skill that clearly translates as elite and lacks a clear position...both red flags for players of his experience. However, the same could have been said for Malcolm Brogdon last season and he has been a revelation for the Bucks. Thornwell plays with the competitiveness and similar skill set as Marcus Smart and a team would be smart to select him late in the first round.
Derrick White, SR, G (6'5, 200) Colorado
White was a Division-II transfer to Colorado who is still learning to adjust his game against elite athletes. He may have more difficulty than the typical senior in making the transition to professional basketball but he has more athleticism and well-rounded skill than the average senior prospect. His shot should project well statistically at the next level but his delivery can be labored at times. His handle does not match what a team would want in a backup point guard but he could be useful running a team in limited minutes or against certain matchups. White projects as the first senior to be selected on several boards but I would not put him in front of the three prospects above. A team in need of experience with an atypically high ceiling could unlock a gem in selecting White.
Johnathan Motley, JR, PF (6'9, 230) Baylor
Motley has been one of the most challenging grades for me this year. In flashes he looks like a borderline lottery pick and then other film reveals a player I would leave off the board. He is good at a lot of things but there is no skill that he can depend upon to guarantee a role as a professional. With his combination of size and athleticism, an improved skill level could quickly take him from a player that struggles in a rotation to an NBA starter. However some of his measurables show that he is not as athletic as he appears on film against inferior players. He could be a two-way menace due to his physical tools but his instincts are severely lacking on both ends of the court.
These are not the only upperclassmen for the Hawks to consider but all five are options where their strengths and personalities appear to be an easy fit in Atlanta. Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State and Frank Mason of Kansas are players who I like where the fit with Atlanta is less obvious. Iwundu lacks a reliable perimeter stroke and Mason is an undersized--albeit talented--point guard who lacks the physical skills to get by elite talent. Taking him at #31 would be too much of a reach. On a team loaded with former college upperclassmen, expect Atlanta to add at least one more in this draft class.