Although the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15 signals the unofficial start of full-fledged mock draft season, there is still plenty to speculate on when it comes to the prospects entering the league on June 21. In fact, Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation is doing just that on a regular basis leading up to the draft itself and, in his most recent mock projection, the Atlanta Hawks land a highly coveted asset... at No. 3 overall.
The full context of the draft order (i.e. a random lottery generator) can be found by reading the piece itself but, in short, the Hawks pick up Arizona big man Deandre Ayton.
Ayton is the draft’s premier physical specimen, and a major candidate to go No. 1 overall. He’s a massive center (7’1, 250 pounds, 7’5 wingspan) who is incredibly explosive athletically while being blessed with soft touch around the rim and the early traces of a legitimate face-up game. Defense is the real question. He’s a safe bet to put up all-star worthy numbers in the league, but big men who stand out as defensive liabilities have a difficult time contributing to winning. The Hawks should be willing to roll the dice on his pure talent if he somehow lasts all the way to No. 3.
The controversial part of this mock scenario is not what the Hawks would do, but rather the Orlando Magic taking Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. ahead of Ayton. Regardless, Atlanta could easily be in position to draft Ayton at No. 1 or No. 2 (or even No. 3 as in this case) and that allows for a bit of imagination.
Ayton was the talk of the NBA Draft just a few weeks ago after an utterly dominant showing in the Pac-12 Tournament but, after a one-game flame-out in the NCAA Tournament, skeptics are centering on his defensive question marks. To be fair, Ayton’s defensive profile in the NBA is very much in question (as noted above) but he does have the physical tools necessary to develop and it has to be noted that his college situation at Arizona (playing with another full-time center) did him no favors.
It would be a minor surprise if Ayton actually fell out of the top two at this point and a number of scouts and front office executive firmly believe he is the No. 1 player in this class. Questions about fit with John Collins in Atlanta and Ayton’s ability to simply remain on the floor defensively in today’s NBA are legitimate but he’s an impressive talent and this is a theoretical partnership that could be highly dissected over the next few weeks.
What say you?