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Isaac Okoro tabbed by Hawks in ‘frozen in time’ mock draft

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Iowa State v Auburn Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Mock draft wasn’t supposed to fully arrive until May but, with the NBA in hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft is very much in limbo. On one hand, college prospects have now completed their seasons and, as a result, it is almost easier to evaluate them as “finished products.” On the other, pre-draft activities will be at the mercy of nationwide best practices (and the revised NBA calendar), leaving a great deal of uncertainty.

With that as the backdrop, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic put forth a new mock draft on Thursday morning, noting that “the only certainty right now is uncertainty.” That definitely feels true but, through the lens of the Atlanta Hawks, we’ll examine many scenarios in the coming months and, in this mock exercise, Vecenie sends Auburn wing Isaac Okoro back to Atlanta with the No. 7 pick.

The Hawks need two things: help on the wing and more defensive talent. Those are the skills they have to put around Trae Young. At the trade deadline, they went about shoring up the center position defensively by acquiring Clint Capela. Now they can do that in the draft by taking Okoro. Really, Okoro is just a winning player. He makes all of the little plays across the court, including playing great defense both on ball and in a team construct. In fact, I think he’s one of the best defenders across college hoops despite only being 18. That Auburn won a lot of close games this year isn’t an accident. The Tigers got timely scoring from some of their older guards, and Okoro helped them manufacture points through effort, athleticism and an incredibly high feel for the game. It’s also not an accident that they looked like a mess when Okoro missed a few games due to injury in February.

Okoro is a local product, playing high school basketball at McEachern, and Vecenie is accurate in describing the freshman as a “winning player.” He is a fantastic defender, both currently and looking forward, and his passing and basketball IQ really jump out when evaluating him.

With that said, there is at least one glaring weakness (as with many prospects in this weak draft) that will scare people, and Vecenie addressed it.

I really can’t imagine someone better for the Hawks, even if I do have some real questions about Okoro’s offense long-term. While he is one of the best above-the-rim finishers in the country, his jump shot is still kind of a mess. He shot 29 percent from 3 this year, and has some real mechanical questions that he’s going to have to work out. Shooting is the key skill for him. Offensively, he’ll go as far as the jumper goes. Still, given the way that he impacts winning, I’d expect someone to take the plunge on him somewhere in the mid-lottery.

Atlanta desperately needs shooting and, well, Okoro wouldn’t fix that need. What he would bring, though, is aptitude in virtually every other area and that is worth mentioning. If the Hawks were to get unlucky and slide down to No. 7 overall, Okoro would very reasonably be in play. He projects as a high-quality role player in the future but, in this class, there is nothing wrong with that outcome with the No. 7 pick.

In addition, Vecenie very clearly notes that this mock “is almost entirely about what I’m hearing from sources about draft ranges on specific players, as opposed to it more being about where I am on players.” That seemingly indicates that Okoro is someone who could very much land in this area of the board and, with the hometown connection and his defensive tools, it probably won’t be the last time Okoro is pegged to Atlanta.

Stay tuned.