Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition focuses on Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ.
Ethan Happ was one of the better college players in the country over the past two seasons, averaging over 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game as a senior, leading the Wisconsin Badgers to the NCAA tournament for the third time in his four seasons with the program. Happ is a multi-dimensional talent who made a large impact on both ends of the floor during his college career, but the lack of shooting prowess raises concern about his fit in the modern NBA. As a result, Happ may not be selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, with a potential path to the association arriving via a two-way contract initially, with Europe and other foreign markets certainly in play as well for the Wisconsin graduate.
The 6’10 senior was listed at power forward for the Badgers, but will likely have to slide over to center as he makes the jump to the NBA, simply because of his lack of athletic tools. Happ is a competitive defender, but his (relative) lack of size begs the question as to whether or not he can protect the rim at even an average clip at the next level.
Even if he isn’t the best rim protector, he graded as a great team defender while at Wisconsin, so if a team with a center that can shoot the three grabs him, there might be a way to work around his deficiencies in height and shooting. Happ is a great passer for his position, with an assist percentage over 35% for his senior season, and that rate is astronomical compared to mostly all of his contemporary collegiate big men. He showed both the ability to pass in transition off of a defensive rebound as well as out of low and high post. The well-rounded big man brings a variety of skills to the table with an immensely high basketball IQ.
It can not be overstated, however, how little shooting acumen Happ currently possesses, begging the question if he will ever develop any sort of proficiency when it comes to shooting the ball. Synergy tracks that Happ only had 12 shooting possessions, with only four points on jump shots in the entire 2019 season. Happ exclusively gets his offense at the rim, but gets there in a variety of ways.
Happ has standard on-the-block post moves, plays a good roll man in the screen-and-roll, and actually handles the ball well enough to push the break himself off a defensive rebound, or simply face his man up on the perimeter. He honestly plays a little bit like Ben Simmons in the way he gets his points around the basket even when the opposition is dedicated to stopping him in the paint. He’s obviously not as fast, or as explosive, but he lives off of calculated maneuvers inside and finishes in traffic much like the former number one overall pick.
While there are fairly significant weakness in Happ’s game (shooting, size), he also brings a lot of versatility to the game on both ends of the floor. In the right fit, next to a center that can shoot the three as well as protect the rim, it actually wouldn’t be that surprising to see Happ do well in the NBA despite his projection. He has an array of moves in the post, and seems to find ways to weave to the rim when facing up for the perimeter despite not having a great deal of speed or athleticism to work with on the wing. It’s just going to be an uphill battle from a size/athletic ability standpoint, so the degree to which Happ is able to impact games will be tough to project until you can see how he adapts to the increase in speed and size at the next level.
The Hawks have generally stayed away from prospects with as little shooting prowess as Happ in the Travis Schlenk era, but Happ could potentially be in play as a two-way candidate for the club. The Hawks have used the G League franchise to stash young guys, calling them up to the NBA roster when need be, and Happ could certainly fill one of those roles next season if they choose to go that route. Regardless of if it’s in Atlanta or not, a two-way contract is Happ’s best shot at playing in the NBA next season, as he currently sits at No. 99 on ESPN’s Top 100 prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Finding an exact NBA comparison for Happ is tough, as there aren’t too many 6’9 or 6’10 big men that don’t shoot the three left hanging around in today’s spaced out, three-pointer-crazed game. Still, with as many things as he can do on the floor, Happ certainly could play his way into someone’s rotation in the NBA, if he can find a way to compete on the defensive end, though that’s going to be tough for a 6’10 player with an old school center’s skill set. Happ’s passing and mobility fit him to the new, spaced-out play better than he gets credit for, frankly, but the shooting will be an obstacle he will have to try and conquer, and if he’s unable to develop any sort of jumper, he may ultimately be destined to play overseas.
Stats courtesy of Synergy and Sports-reference.com.