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DeAndre Ayton headlines four-player haul for Atlanta Hawks in latest ESPN mock draft

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We’re getting closer.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks still have 35 games remaining in the 2017-2018 NBA season and, while the playoffs are no longer in even fringe consideration, there is plenty to be gleaned from what transpires. In looking ahead, though, the 2018 NBA Draft beckons and the Hawks are expected to have four picks within the top 35 when June 21 rolls around.

To that end, Jonathan Givony of ESPN released a two-round mock draft on Thursday and Atlanta’s four-player haul is quite interesting. Headlining the proceedings is the presence of Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton, who lands with the Hawks at No. 2 overall with only Luka Doncic off the board.

The Hawks are not in a position to draft based on need at this stage of their rebuilding effort, and there are question marks about how well promising big man John Collins fits in alongside another center who doesn’t protect the rim at an elite rate.

Nevertheless, Ayton has elevated himself into the conversation as a top-two pick with his incredible, natural physical tools and high skill-level. His rebounding and scoring prowess could be very attractive here, even if Mohamed Bamba might actually be a better fit stylistically.

Many Hawks fans have become enamored with Oklahoma point guard Trae Young in recent days but, at least for me (and in this mock), there is a two-player tier at the top with Doncic and Ayton. As Givony notes, there isn’t a perfect stylistic fit between Ayton and John Collins but it would not be enough to deter me from selecting the uber-talented center and, in short, Ayton possesses the highest upside of any player in this class.

Later, the Hawks picked up USC guard De’Anthony Melton (using Minnesota’s pick) and Tulane swingman Melvin Frazier (using Houston’s pick) and both are interesting prospects. Melton has not appeared for the Trojans this season as a result of the FBI recruiting probe but the write-up references “his defensive versatility, toughness and intangibles” and Melton is an interesting combo guard that would theoretically provide quality depth.

As for Frazier, who is a less heralded prospect, the 6’6 junior has his stock “moving in the right direction” and his shooting (41 percent from three) has turned a lot of heads in recent days. He certainly would not amount to a sexy pick but, in short, it would be a surprise if each and every selection that Travis Schlenk made this year qualified under that provision.

Lastly, the Hawks end up with European forward Rodions Kurucs at No. 32 overall and that fits with a widely held assumption that Atlanta will not be making all four picks with a focus on the 2018-2019 season. It is certainly possible that the Hawks, as they do in this case, will make all four selections but, if so, searching for a player to “draft and stash” at some point makes all the sense in the world and Atlanta may be quite active in aiming to move up in the draft by packaging picks.

This is a very interesting quartet, with Ayton providing the massive upside of a No. 2 overall pick and some “safer” selections on the perimeter later in the draft. What say you?