The off-season is here in full force for the Atlanta Hawks and, as a result, much of the focus with the franchise centers on the draft and free agency. Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk has assembled an intriguing young core, however, and a recent ranking of the best prospects currently in the NBA reinforces that belief.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic set out to produce “one massive, omnibus, top 50 ranking of the best prospects league-wide,” citing an “expected value equation” in the process. Ultimately, the Hawks were well represented, with each member of the franchise’s youthful quintet landing in the top 39.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Trae Young is the highest-rated player on the list, coming in at No. 5 in a tier that projects “potential Hall of Fame trajectory.” The 21-year-old guard averaged 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game while acting as the central engine of Atlanta’s offense in his second season, and Young made a leap that can only be described as genuinely encouraging, both for himself and the path of the organization as a whole.
From there, John Collins comes in at No. 20 overall, with Vecenie saying “his productivity has been genuinely special for his age.” Collins, who doesn’t turn 23 until September, averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this season while producing a video-game level true shooting percentage of 65.9 percent. That offensive explosion, coupled with genuine defensive improvement, outlines an interesting future for the former Wake Forest big man and, while there are a handful of players ahead of him on this list that could be seen as controversial, Collins falls in a tier occupied by “high-level starters with All-Star upside.”
In the back half of the top 50 list, Atlanta’s trio of young wings was recognized, with Cam Reddish at No. 28, Kevin Huerter at No. 36 and De’Andre Hunter at No. 39 overall. Vecenie discussed all three at length in a recent visit to the Locked on Hawks podcast but, in short, he remains a fan of each young player.
Reddish’s strides in the second half of his rookie season are well-documented and, considering his defensive performance and offensive potential, the former Duke wing’s two-way potential is incredibly interesting. Reddish’s tier description was “high-upside prospects, but there are flaws here,” and he ranks ahead of fellow 2019 lottery picks Coby White, Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver, Jaxson Hayes and Rui Hachimura, in addition to Hunter. Based on his ranking (though not explicitly), Reddish would land at No. 4 among soon-to-be second-year players, and that is substantial praise.
As for Huerter, Vecenie recognizes his high-level shooting and more.
Above all, he remains a monster shooter off the catch. Among the 162 players league wide to take at least 100 catch-and-shoot shots, Huerter was 14th in terms of efficiency with a 64.3 effective field goal percentage, and again that came in a year where he navigated a shoulder injury that held him to 32.4 percent from 3 in December as he played his way back into shape. Huerter is going to develop into one of the league’s elite level shooters.
Hunter, who ranks fifth among Atlanta’s five-man group of youngsters on this particular list, still grades out as the No. 7 overall player from the 2019 class — ahead of some classmates in Culver, Garland, Hayes and Hachimura — with a nod to his play bringing confidence in the future.
Hunter’s rookie season was weird, and yet his value was likely as expected. The weirdness came from his strengths entering the draft not totally bearing themselves out. However, his potential flaws were figured out in a real, tangible way that inspires some confidence long-term. Overall, Hunter established himself as a solid, steady rotational player, having played more minutes this season than any other rookie in the league.
On the whole, it is clear that Vecenie stands alongside Hawks fans in conveying genuine optimism about Atlanta’s future. Lists like these are almost designed to inspire discussion in terms of where players are ranked — and this list is more than worth a full read even for non-Atlanta considerations — but the full takeaway should be the bright future of the Hawks, led by this five-some and the presence of a genuinely effective veteran in Clint Capela.