With the lottery coming up in less than two weeks and the NBA Draft following a little more than a month after that, everything surrounding the Atlanta Hawks is intensely focused on their opportunity to bring in a pair of top-ten picks to add to their young roster. As pre-draft workouts began in Atlanta this week, general manager Travis Schlenk made himself available to the media to answer questions about the draft process, free agency, and the team’s internal development. Given the time of year and where the club is in its rebuilding cycle, the draft is the most important single event of the year, and Schlenk knows the opportunity the team has to add significant talent.
“We like the position we’re in,” Schlenk said. “As we all know, right now we’re sitting with the fifth[-best] odds and potentially the ninth[-best] odds. It’d be real exciting. Best-case scenario for us obviously would be to have one and nine and that would be great for the franchise.”
As for where Schlenk plans to go with those picks, he says the team still wants to go with the best player available in each spot, rather than choosing based on the positional needs of the team.
“We’re still in a development stage,” Schlenk noted. “We feel good about the development we’ve made this year, but I think it’s important not to jump steps. We’re still going to take the best players we can. You look at the playoffs now, position-less basketball is really what’s out there. We’re going to keep getting the best talent we can and add them to the mix, then we’ll figure out how to blend them all together on the back end.”
In general, the best-player-available approach is almost always the correct way to do things, as the draft is all about stockpiling as many good players as possible and figuring out how to fit them together later. If you end up with too many good players, you can always move them for depth at another position or more draft picks, but that’s really only applicable at the edges of the game’s positional designation. There’s no such thing (in a reasonable world) as too many wings, especially as the team becomes more versatile with each passing year. Regardless of the fact that the team already has four wings in Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter, and DeAndre’ Bembry, it would take nobody by surprise if the team invested another top-10 pick (or even both) in a wing.
The point guard position is more difficult because there are fit concerns next to Trae Young. Grabbing just about any wing at the top of this draft will work next to what they already have at that position, but doing the same with a point guard would present real issues for the team in the immediate and long-term future. In his media session, Schlenk played it off as though the team would be willing to take another point guard, but the reality is that he’d almost certainly love to trade out of a spot in which Ja Morant, Darius Garland, or Coby White were the best player available.
The other end of the positional spectrum is not nearly as set in stone for Atlanta, making it easier to take a pure center in the early part of the first round, though the value proposition there isn’t as strong as it is at the smaller positions. None of the Hawks’ young bigs have emerged as a surefire starting center the way Young has at the point guard spot and both of the available long-term candidates — John Collins and Omari Spellman — are just as good playing the 4 at this point in their careers, with Collins fully cemented as a long-term core piece. The offensive versatility those guys bring to the table makes it a lot easier for Schlenk to take a center early in this draft without necessarily worrying about the positional issues it would cause with the rest of the roster.
Best player available is almost always the correct approach to take in the draft, but there are points at which it can become detrimental. In particular, the point guard spot for the Hawks is essentially settled going forward, so investing another top-10 pick in a player who can only play point guard without a trade on the table would be a poor decision. No matter how many wings a team has, they can always mix and match them together and play up to three or even four of them at the same time, but playing two pure point guards together, especially when one of them is as ball-dominant as Young is, can be a recipe for disaster.
If the Hawks move up to No. 2 or find themselves in a spot on draft night where the next guy on their board is a point guard, look for them to trade out, whether that’s moving back and collecting more assets or packaging that pick and some of their other assets to move up and snag someone who fits the team and the modern NBA better.