In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Several prospects will be profiled in this space. In this edition, we break down Syracuse wing Elijah Hughes.
Elijah Hughes was one of the best players in the ACC during the 2019-20 season. In his second season in the conference, he averaged 19 points and five rebounds as a primary option for Syracuse. After starting his college career at East Carolina, Hughes emerged as one of the top players in a premiere conference as a 21-year old. With the Atlanta Hawks lacking consistent shot making — at least on the current roster — from three-point range, Hughes could be an intriguing option at No. 52 overall or with a Two-way contract in the event the wing is not drafted.
Hughes is a dynamic player who can operate and get his offense without the basketball. Per Synergy, he grades as excellent in spot-up shots as well as on the break in transition. He also grades ‘very good’ overall in the halfcourt as well as in isolation.
It is hard to feel confident about Hughes in isolation, however, at the highest level. He isn’t the smoothest ball-handler and has a tendency to take difficult shots when it’s not entirely necessary. Still, Hughes has a knack for making those and he’s someone a defense has to respect no matter where they are on the floor, with or without the basketball. He ranked in the 91st percentile when single covered in the post, an underrated aspect of his game. While it’s not the biggest sample size, he does have nice touch around the basket.
Hughes is also a great cutter, showing a knack for taking advantage of defenders who over play his three-point shot. His range extends well beyond the college three-point line, so in a lot of cases, the defense would be pushed out all the way to the line. He showed an ability to set defenders up for back cuts, and there were more than a couple explosive dunks on plays just like this.
As strange as it may sound, the most glaring weakness for Hughes from an NBA standpoint may be that he played for Syracuse. Like any Syracuse product, the defensive tape is almost useless for NBA translation due to Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. It is an effective defense at the college level, but in terms of evaluating one player out of that scheme for NBA purposes, it is quite challenging. You can see little things on film, general things like speed, awareness, discipline, but that’s about it.
Hughes was okay in those areas. He is more of a vertical athlete than a straight line runner, but he was still able to use his burst to generate two stocks (steals + blocks) per game in 2019-20. The challenging part of this from an evaluation standpoint is deciphering if those numbers are projectable when he goes back to playing man-to-man. Given his vertical talent, it doesn’t seem crazy that Hughes could block his fair share of shots for a small forward at the next level. The zone experience should also be a plus for his help-defense instincts, but you never know.
Offensively, one of Hughes’ biggest weak spots is operating pick-and-roll as a ball-handler. He is okay when passing out of these spots, but ranked in just the 21st percentile when attacking off the screen. This is obviously not ideal, but Hughes honestly does his best work off the ball, and he shouldn’t be asked to run too many pick-and-rolls at the next level anyway.
Hughes looks to be comfortably in the top-50 for most, as he ranks No. 41 on ESPN’s NBA Draft big board and No. 39 on Sam Vecenie’s over on The Athletic. It is hard to say if he projects as a ‘3-and-D’ player given the lack of film of him playing man-to-man defense in the past two seasons with Syracuse. With that said, his combination of burst and shooting ability make him an interesting piece and someone who will either be drafted or signed to a two-way, most likely on the night of the draft. At 6’7, Hughes’ extended shooting range is rare, and he will definitely get a shot to prove that he can stick in the NBA.
Fit with Atlanta
If the Hawks elect to hold on to the No. 52 pick on draft night, Hughes would be a solid choice should he be available. Much like Terence Davis last year, Hughes’ combination of size, burst and shooting ability will make him among one of the more coveted players outside of the obvious first-rounders. Unlike Davis, Hughes is a question mark defensively and may take more time to develop. Even with that being said, teams could do much worse than Hughes with their Two-way contracts if he were to go undrafted in surprising fashion.