Only 20 games remain for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018-19 NBA season and the team is firmly on the outskirts when it comes to playoff contention. As a result, the stretch run arrives with development for the future at the forefront and, while the team has an intriguing core already on the roster, the 2019 NBA Draft could provide an important opportunity for Travis Schlenk and the front office to make a dent.
With that in mind, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated released an updated mock draft this week and it provides an intriguing scenario for the Hawks. With the No. 5 pick, Woo projects the Hawks to land on Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver.
This isn’t a new concept, as Culver has already been mocked to the Hawks on a few occasions. Still, it is worth noting that Woo describes the No. 5 slot as “probably the most difficult juncture in this draft” and, in addition, he says there is “not a correct answer or a consensus right now” after Zion Wiliamson, R.J. Barrett, Ja Morant and Cameron Reddish.
Culver would be at the top of the heap (at least for me) when it comes to prospects available in this scenario and he would genuinely help Atlanta as the team moves forward. Still, the more interesting aspect of this particular mock scenario comes at No. 9 overall, where Sports Illustrated sends Texas big man Jaxson Hayes to the Hawks.
After using their first lottery pick in responsible fashion, the Hawks would be in position to take a bigger swing here, with Hayes making sense as a developmental big who can finish and protect the basket. He’s still sort of a rough outline, but compares favorably in some ways to Jarrett Allen, who also came out of Texas with questions attached and has exceeded expectations early on with the Nets. While Hayes is not a dynamic scorer and has a long way to go in that regard, his natural ability as a defender and overall profile is plenty attractive as a development project. The Hawks wouldn’t ask too much of him right away, and should be able to create the right type of perimeter spacing to maximize Hayes up front.
As noted here, Hayes isn’t a consensus top-10 prospect in this class and, for many, he would be at the fringe of consideration for the lottery. However, Hayes is arguably the most interesting pure big man in this class and, of course, Atlanta has something of an “open slot” next to John Collins in the team’s future plans.
There will be plenty of time to litigate the specifics of fit for Culver and/or Hayes in Atlanta as the draft approaches but this framework provides food for thought as March arrives in earnest.