Stealing the idea from our good friends over at SB Nation’s Blazer’s Edge, we asked ourselves the same question they did: Can you build a contender using middling draft picks and no major free agency signings? Instead of going all the way back to 2010 (as they did with Portland), we decided to shorten up the timeline, using the 2013 hiring of Mike Budenholzer as our starting point for the Atlanta Hawks.
Some ground rules before we jump into our alternate universe:
- Any transaction involving draft picks that happened before the 2013 draft still holds. The Hawks still fleeced Brooklyn in the Joe Johnson trade.
- Upon the beginning of our alternate universe’s timeline, all current players under contract with Atlanta are barred for life from the NBA for illegally gambling on games. There is no punishment for the organization other than losing their entire roster and having to start from scratch. However, they are not given any compensatory draft picks to reassemble their team, either.
- The other players in the league, however, don’t see the Hawks’ punishment as just and therefore the vast majority of them will not entertain signing with Atlanta. They believe the Hawks ownership and management went behind their players’ backs to the league and ratted them out. Even though new management is in place, the players don’t trust the Hawks and other than guys holding onto their NBA careers, they won’t sign in Atlanta.
- To make things less complicated, the real-life picks that the Hawks earned throughout this period still hold, even though they would obviously be far worse and therefore get much higher draft picks. We have to balance out the hindsight somehow, and full-blown tanking in addition to perfect information just makes this exercise too easy.
- We have perfect hindsight as of Summer 2017 and can use the trades that were actually made during the drafts as potential alternatives. However, trades that depend on certain players being on the Hawks roster, either through free agency or the aforementioned gamblers, cannot be made.
Without further ado, the new-look Atlanta Hawks:
The Hawks had four picks in the 2013 draft: their own picks at 17 and 47, plus 18 and 50, both from the Houston Rockets. 18 was acquired in the Johnson trade to the Nets, and 50 was acquired directly from Houston back in 2009.
On draft night, three trades would become available to us, one of which we will execute: Dallas desperately wants our 18th overall selection, and trades us the 16th and 44th picks in this year’s draft, as well as Jared Cunningham, who has just completed the first year of a four-year rookie scale contract after being drafted in 2012, though we’re going to waive him, as the real-life Hawks did partway through his sophomore season.
With the 16th overall pick, the Atlanta Hawks make the first of a few obvious choices and select Rudy Gobert, who originally went 27th to Utah in 2013. Gobert will anchor the defense and provide a threat rolling to the rim as he develops into one of the best centers in the league. Many catch-all metrics already rate Gobert as the best player from the 2013 class, though the consensus remains that Giannis Antetokounmpo, selected just one choice ahead of our pick, will be the true superstar from this year’s draft.
With the 17th overall pick, we have quite a few options, but eventually settle on Allen Crabbe as a wing scoring threat and floor spacer around Gobert. Crabbe doesn’t have the defensive acumen to be a wing stopper but provides a good offensive punch. And as a bonus, since Crabbe is a first-round pick in this universe, he doesn’t become a free agent until 2017, so we don’t wouldn’t have to match an offer sheet from Brooklyn during The Great Spending Spree of 2016.
With the 44th overall pick, we’re still going with Mike Muscala here—the only pre-2017 pick the Hawks made in real life who will be on the final roster. Muscala has proven himself to be a nice all-around backup center and fits nicely into Budenholzer’s system on both ends of the floor.
With the 47th overall pick, we’re going to grab a point guard, selecting Raul Neto, who originally was selected here by the Hawks but was part of a draft-night trade to Utah. The other option here was to exercise that trade and receiving a future second-round pick, but there was nobody available in the back half of the second rounds in 2014 or 2015 who was better than Neto.
With the 50th overall pick, we’re going with James Ennis, a versatile wing who broke out in 2016-17 for the Memphis Grizzlies. His combination of defense, energy, and three-point shooting will be key for our new team, plus it’s fair to think that Alternate Timeline Hawks University would do just as good a job as real-life Hawks University could with a player of Ennis’s talent.
Atlanta had two picks in the 2014 draft: 15 and 43. Remember, we’re not assuming that the team did any better or worse in the 2013-14 season to change these draft slots, so we’re stuck with what the real-life Hawks give us.
With the 15th pick, we really flex our hindsight skills to reach way down the board and pick up real-life 41st overall pick Nikola Jokic. Sure, we already have our center of the future in Gobert, but Jokic’s value is too great to pass up on here and we can always either trade one of them at some point down the line or have 48 kick-ass minutes at the center position. It’s too bad we didn’t have an earlier second-round pick, but using a middling first-rounder on the guy who will almost certainly end up as the best player from his draft class is nothing to sneeze at.
With the 43rd pick, there isn’t a ton of talent available, but we’re going with Jordan Clarkson to complement our guard rotation. Other options available are Dwight Powell (another center!), Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, Edy Tavares (the Hawks real-life pick here), Lamar Patterson, and Semaj Christon. Not exactly a murderer’s row there, so we’ll take Clarkson.
We have two picks available to us in 2015: 15 and 59. This was the draft after the Hawks sensational 60-22 year, but the 15th pick comes to us courtesy of Joe Johnson and the Nets. In real life, the Hawks traded 15 to Washington in exchange for the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. (already two years into his rookie contract) and two future second-rounders from the Wizards. Given what we know about Hardaway’s Atlanta career and the ludicrous contract he signed to go back to New York in 2017, we’ll hold onto the 15th pick.
With the 15th pick, we have a number of different options: Kelly Oubre, who was originally selected in this spot, Larry Nance, Josh Richardson, Richaun Holmes, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. We have enough guards (or will have once this exercise is over, another benefit of our Bran Stark-like hindsight) and don’t need another center, so we’ll take Larry Nance. Nance can play some small-ball center but will mostly operate from the power forward position, giving us some much needed athleticism from that spot, especially if Jokic ends up as our long-term center.
With the 59th pick, we only have two options, but once again will use our fantastic hindsight to go off the draft board altogether and pick up an undrafted wing to add to the rotation: Bryce Dejean-Jones. Dejean-Jones not only fits what we’re looking for from a roster construction standpoint, but comes with the much more important bonus of perhaps saving his life, which tragically ended in May 2016 after a promising rookie campaign.
The Hawks had two selections in 2016: 21 and 54. In real life, the Hawks sold the 54th pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and although we’ve saved ownership a lot of money over the past few years by solely stocking the roster with rookie contracts and minimum fringe guys, they see the inevitable luxury tax on the horizon with extensions coming for Gobert and Crabbe and take the cash from the Cavaliers.
With the 21st pick, the Hawks reach down into the second-round to make another very easy decision: Malcolm Brogdon, who won Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 and went to high school in Atlanta (and we all know how much the current ownership regime likes guys from Atlanta). Brogdon, however, won’t be shipped out of town after one year, since this version of the Hawks is on the rise.
Since Dwight Howard was not on the team to be traded before the 2017 draft, the Hawks retain the 31st overall pick (another piece from the aforementioned Nets trade) rather than inexplicably trading it to Charlotte, in addition to their own 19th overall pick.
With the 19th pick, we’re not going off the rails here. John Collins remains a Hawk. I don’t want to start a riot in the comments section.
With the 31st pick, we can still take Tyler Dorsey, but with ten extra guys available, I went with Semi Ojeleye, who had a better grade than Dorsey on a lot of boards and gives us yet another versatile wing to enroll in Hawks University.
The Final Roster
After re-drafting the past five years, we’re left with quite a formidable roster:
Not a bad roster, if I do say so myself. We’re perhaps a little heavy on bigs and light on the wing—we could go back and swap out Larry Nance for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but the eventual clash between Gobert and Jokic is coming and one of those guys will have to be traded, hopefully bringing back a quality wing in the deal to augment our rotation at that position.