It is “What if?” Week on SB Nation and, through that lens, NBA sites executed do-overs for the first round of 2014, 2015 and 2016 NBA Drafts. While the Atlanta Hawks didn’t actually execute a first round pick in 2015 (thanks to the Tim Hardaway Jr. trade on draft night), the team did fire on a total of three first round selections in 2014 and 2016.
If you missed it, check out how 2014 went for the Hawks. Here is a look at the 2016 edition.
The summer of 2016 was wild in NBA circles, and that certainly extended to the Atlanta Hawks. In addition to the controversial actions of the team — signing Dwight Howard, re-signing Kent Bazemore, losing Al Horford etc. — in free agency, the Hawks flipped Jeff Teague (with one year remaining on his deal) to the Utah Jazz before draft night, securing the No. 12 pick in the process. From there, the Hawks already held their own pick, landing at No. 21 overall, and a team with 108 combined wins across the two previous seasons held two interesting picks.
In the real world, the Hawks used those selections on a pair of older college wings in Taurean Prince (No. 12) and DeAndre’ Bembry (No. 21). Though the selections were a bit more vexing after Atlanta elected to pay Bazemore a hefty sum to return, the choices did fit the ethos of head coach (and lead executive) Mike Budenholzer, who was firmly in win-now mode and on the hunt for rookies that might be a bit more advanced and able to contribute in a hurry.
At this stage, it is probably safe to assume that Atlanta wouldn’t make those exact picks again, even if neither would qualify as anything close to a disaster in retrospect. In fact, the Hawks avoided real mistakes in a way that teams like the Suns famously did not, but it is also interesting to look back and see what Atlanta (and the rest of the NBA) could do if they were given a mulligan.
For the sake of context, this is how the first 11 picks of a re-draft of the first round went between SB Nation’s NBA writers, constructing the situation the Hawks faced at No. 12 overall.
- No. 1 pick - Ben Simmons
- No. 2 pick - Brandon Ingram
- No. 3 pick - Jaylen Brown
- No. 4 pick - Pascal Siakam
- No. 5 pick - Jamal Murray
- No. 6 pick - Domantas Sabonis
- No. 7 pick - Buddy Hield
- No. 8 pick - Malcolm Brogdon
- No. 9 pick - Caris LeVert
- No. 10 pick - Dejounte Murray
- No. 11 pick - Malik Beasley
Much like the 2014 edition, quibbles could be made with the order but, at first glance, this appears to be a perfectly reasonable 11-man group at the top. With that out of the way, the player that the Hawks “acquire” in this re-draft is, from the viewpoint of Peachtree Hoops, a player that shouldn’t be available in this setting and a heist emerges as a result.
That player is Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
To be fair to our SB Nation colleagues, it is entirely possible (or even likely) that some of them didn’t realize VanVleet was even in play. After all, the former Wichita State guard went undrafted in 2016 and, as such, it would be easy to overlook VanVleet as an option.
Still, VanVleet is easily the best player remaining and, with apologies to a few players already selected, the 26-year-old simply fell too far and that benefits Atlanta in this hypothetical. VanVleet turned in the best season of his career in 2019-20, averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. In addition, VanVleet connected on 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts (on 7.0 attempts per game), further establishing himself as a high-end option in Toronto.
To go along with his improving offense, VanVleet is a stout, effective defender. He is certainly limited in size, but VanVleet is physical and intelligent on that end of the floor, able to hold up against larger opponents when asked to do so. Overall, VanVleet is a tremendous value at No. 12 overall in a re-draft, even when accounting for his advanced age (26) when compared to some of the other options.
Armed with the knowledge of a tremendous value at No. 12, the Hawks still have another pick to deploy, though eight selections were made in the meantime. To allow for context, here are those picks before Atlanta chooses again at No. 21 overall.
- No. 13 pick - Ivica Zubac
- No. 14 pick - Dorian Finney-Smith
- No. 15 pick - Jakob Poeltl
- No. 16 pick - Cheick Diallo
- No. 17 pick - Furkan Korkmaz
- No. 18 pick - Alex Caruso
- No. 19 pick - Taurean Prince
- No. 20 pick - Kris Dunn
The No. 21 pick wasn’t quite as clear-cut for the Hawks, as VanVleet simply fell in Atlanta’s lap to the point where it was a no-brainer selection at No. 12. This time around, there are interesting candidates to consider, and they bring varied traits to the table. In the end, though, Peachtree Hoops settles on an under-the-radar player that brings appeal at a position in high demand across the league.
That player is Houston Rockets forward Danuel House.
As noted previously, House isn’t in a tier of his own in the way VanVleet was, with interesting options like Bryn Forbes, Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney McGruder, Juancho Hernangomez and others still available. Still, the 6’6, 220-pound House is a two-way forward with the ability to shoot and hold up defensively. It is fair to point out that House didn’t find his way as an NBA contributor until his third season but, when recognizing the value of players that fit his archetype in the modern game, the case falls into place.
In two seasons with the Rockets, House buried 187 of his 489 three-point attempts (38.2 percent on significant volume) and that is his primary offensive appeal. He is not a creator by any stretch, but as a low-usage role player, that isn’t an issue. Defensively, House isn’t necessarily outstanding but, outside of premium match-ups against All-Star opponents, he is perfectly fine in executing a scheme and contributing in a positive way.
Is House a sexy choice with a first-round pick? Perhaps not, but when taking a look at the available options in a draft that isn’t exactly known for its depth, this is a solid choice.
All told, the Hawks found a legitimate gem with VanVleet at No. 12 and the celebration in Peachtree Hoops land mirrored the pleasure of that choice. At No. 21, no such eruption occurred but, in an overall sense, this is a very good haul for a team with two selections outside the top 10.