Full-blown mock draft season is still a few weeks away but, on the heels of the 2018 NCAA Tournament wrapping up with a Villanova title victory, there is plenty of draft-related content to peruse. With that in mind, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated released a new, two-round mock draft on Tuesday and it includes a wildly intriguing haul for Travis Schlenk and the Atlanta Hawks.
With the team’s first pick, Atlanta landed Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 3 overall.
The Hawks aren’t tied down to much of anything on their roster beyond John Collins, and are in search of a foundational player. Jackson’s ability to space the floor and protect the rim makes for an ideal fit, and would give Atlanta a great interior duo. Although he wasn’t maximized at Michigan State and ended the season in a slump, Jackson really helped himself overall. While displaying a greater offensive skill level than expected, he also made a tangible defensive impact (5.5 blocks per 40 minutes). He needs to mature physically and mentally and is probably a few years away from being able to anchor a winning team, but Atlanta has time to let him grow.
The choice of Jackson Jr. over the likes of Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and others will be controversial but it also makes sense on some level. As referenced above, Jackson Jr.’s defensive ceiling is immense and he was utterly dominant at times on that end in East Lansing. The theoretical possibility of him as a rim protector that also brings spacing on the offensive end is tantalizing and, even if Bagley III is “safer” given his box score production, this will be an argument that will be litigated quite a bit if the Hawks own the No. 3 pick.
Beyond Jackson Jr., the Hawks invest in high school guard Anfernee Simons with Minnesota’s first round pick at No. 19 overall. Simons is the enigma of this draft as the lone high school prospect, having spent a fifth year at IMG Academy and displaying all kinds of upside. This would be a (very) risky pick but, in the same breath, Atlanta is likely to have four picks in the top 35 and that brings leeway to take big swings.
Then, the Hawks followed up that kind of high-upside, low-floor pick with the exact opposite, tabbing Kansas veteran guard Devonte Graham at No. 30 overall with the pick conveying from the Houston Rockets.
The Hawks will pick three times in the first round and have a great opportunity to replenish their talent base. Graham is viewed as a safe bet to be a useful ball-handler, though not a star. His production was consistent at Kansas, although he shot just 39.2% on two-point shots and struggles to finish at the rim sometimes. Leading the Jayhawks to the Final Four was a nice boost to his résumé. As Atlanta rebuilds, and with Dennis Schröder’s future unclear, adding a steadying presence to the backcourt makes sense.
Graham isn’t likely to be a full-blown starter in the NBA but he has good size and a nice shooting stroke to go along with defensive tools and the ability to distribute. His former backcourt mate, Frank Mason, is enjoying a solid season in Sacramento and Graham projects as a quality, versatile backup that would make a ton of sense at the (very) end of the first round.
Finally, the Hawks pick up Missouri big man Jontay Porter at No. 33 overall and he is perhaps the most intriguing pick of the entire second round. The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr. had a very strong finish to the college season and, as a result, is considering a jump to the league to capitalize on the rise of his stock. He could return to Missouri but, in this scenario, the Hawks add a talented prospect with the ability to pop into a useful piece.
Of course, every possible caveat applies, including the fact that the draft order won’t be set for more than a month. Still, mock drafts like this one provide food for thought and, beyond that, plenty of fodder for arguments.