On Tuesday morning, Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce (virtually) met with the media to discuss myriad topics, with part of the conversation centering on the upcoming 2020 NBA Draft. Though the timeline is altered this year due to numerous factors, the Hawks do know they’ll be in position to make a pick in the top eight when the tentative date of Oct. 15 arrives and, as such, there is considerable interest in what the front office is doing in preparation for that major decision.
To that end, Schlenk offered a bit of insight on the team’s thought process and, while he did not speak of specific players (for clear reasons), he did state plainly that drafting for need would not be the team’s plan, at least in the first round.
“Certainly when we’re picking in the top eight, we’re not going to draft a guy based on positional need,” Schlenk said. “We’re going to try to take the guy we think is the best player for us and that is going to fit in with our team. I do think, when you get back into the second round, or late in the draft like we’ll have a pick in the 50’s, then there might be a situation where if you have two guys of similar ability, you might take the guy who fills a need then. Because now you’re thinking about roster depth and things of that nature. But, at the top of the draft, we’ll certainly focus on who we think’s got the chance to be the most impactful player.”
It comes as no surprise that Schlenk would take this public stance and, given that the Hawks do not have the type of glaring positional needs of some rebuilding franchises, it makes even more sense. Still, the uncertainty of the 2020 class — especially before the draft order is finalized — is noteworthy as a consideration, especially when considering some of the best players in the draft (LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, Onyeka Okongwu, etc.) land at positions like point guard and center that are not current “needs” in Atlanta.
“A lot of the guys at least projected to go in the top ten ended up not playing a lot this year,” said Schlenk. “So we didn’t have an opportunity to see them. A couple guys went to Australia and, because of injuries, stopped playing early. Obviously, a couple guys left college early this year as you’re aware of. So there is kind of an openendedness to scouting there.”
If there are positive takeaways from the bizarre nature of the shortened season and the reality of Atlanta’s extended offseason, one may arrive from the extra time afforded to the team’s front office to evaluate draft prospects, even under less than ideal circumstances.
“As far as what we’ve done during this whole process of scouting, we have our weekly scouting calls where we kind of focus on five guys per week,” Schlenk said. “The staff will go through and give their thoughts on it, and we’ll talk about them. We’ve been doing all the interviews we can through Zoom, just talking to the most prospects we can. We’ve stayed busy. Now, at least we have a tentative date on when the draft might be, so that has given us something to shoot for. We’ll continue to move forward.”
Pierce, who said he attends about “80 percent” of the draft calls at this stage, commended Schlenk and the front office for doing a “tremendous job” in preparation for the draft and the offseason as a whole. While other considerations — including free agency and the ongoing quest for NBA-sanctioned offseason activity in a full-squad setting — are in play, the draft is a hot topic for a team with a substantive chance to hold a top-four pick in October.
Even the draft process, though, is up for tinkering in the coming weeks.
“It’s unclear at this time whether or not we’ll actually have a combine where we’ll all go to one place, or if those will be virtual,” Schlenk said. “It’s unclear if we’ll be able to bring players into market and work them out as we would in the past. We’re, I guess, preparing that that’s not going to happen this year and trying to do the best we can. That would be the ‘worst case scenario’ and, if things change and we are able to bring guys in or there is a combine, that will just kind of be icing on top of the cake for us.”
Atlanta’s most immediate basketball focus, at least from the viewpoint of Schlenk and Pierce, is to secure some sort of plan to outline offseason activities. From there, however, the Hawks have a high-profile first-round pick to evaluate and, if the team makes the strides that many expect during the 2020-21 season, it might be the last time for a (long) while in which Atlanta is entering the draft cycle with a pick in the top half of the lottery.