With the NBA still in hiatus, mock draft season isn’t here in full force, even after months (and months) of speculation. The 2020 NBA Draft was supposed to land on Thursday, June 25 but, with the league firmly focused on restarting the 2019-20 season in an Orlando-based bubble, teams like the Atlanta Hawks are left waiting in the wings with regard to their top selections. In fact, the lottery won’t arrive for more than two months and, for a class that isn’t overflowing with talent when compared to others, that leaves a long runway for discussions, arguments and overall conjecture.
The Hawks will enter the lottery with the fourth-best odds and, with that in mind, many (early) mock draft projections place Atlanta in the No. 4 position. It is worth noting that the Hawks have only an 11.5 percent chance to pick at exactly No. 4 overall but, in the absence of further clarity, it makes some sense to have fun and slot Atlanta in their current placement.
To that end, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports released a mock draft this week and, with LaMelo Ball, Obi Toppin and Anthony Edwards off the board, he projected the Hawks to select former Memphis center James Wiseman with the No. 4 pick.
James Wiseman’s decision to quit on Memphis midseason raised eyebrows with some NBA executives who were left wondering if the 7-1 center is wired to be great. But his natural ability is so overwhelming that he won’t slip too far in a draft devoid of high-end talent. Obviously, this is the worst time in the history of professional basketball to be a center and only a center because the position has never been less valued. But it’s still hard to imagine a physical specimen like Wiseman going any lower, or at least much lower, than fourth or fifth.
To reference Parrish’s own words, this selection would raise some eyebrows. For starters, evaluators are sharply split on Wiseman, with some believing that the former five-star prospect is a lock for a top-five perch based on his physical tools and potential ceiling. In contrast, others believe that Wiseman’s general appeal is dulled by his one-position projection as a pure center, as noted by Parrish’s claim that “the position has never been less valued.” Without a ton of high-level tape to evaluate after he appeared in only three college games, some of Wiseman’s potential limitations could also be magnified in the evaluation process.
Beyond the scouting disagreement on Wiseman, the Hawks just invested a first-round pick to acquire Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets. Capela, who is 26 years old, is under contract through the 2022-23 season at a reasonable salary cap figure and, for all intents and purposes, he appears to be Atlanta’s center of the present and (near) future. From there, Atlanta has a well-paid, competent backup center in Dewayne Dedmon, with at least a modest investment in the future of second-year big man Bruno Fernando, all before remembering that John Collins will spend at least some of his time at center in small-ball looks.
Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk recently made it clear that the Hawks “are not going to draft a guy based on positional need,” and that would theoretically open the door to Wiseman. After all, teams can get themselves in trouble by drafting to fill a need at the top of the board and, if the Hawks really believed that Wiseman was the best player available, an argument could (easily) be made to go ahead and pull the lever to acquire him. Still, Wiseman may not even be the best big man available — at least if USC’s Onyeka Okongwu has anything to say about it — and, from a team-building perspective, the Hawks are already spending quite a bit of salary cap capital at the center position.
If this exact (and unlikely) scenario did play out, the Hawks wouldn’t have an “easy” decision of any kind, with Ball and Edwards already off the board and a general lack of star power available. It does seem at least somewhat improbable that Atlanta would spend a top-five pick on a pure center after the aggressive work of Schlenk and the front office at February’s trade deadline. In the end, though, the Hawks may elect to simply take the best player available when they are on the clock in August... even if that player is a point guard or center.