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NBA Mock Draft roundup: Tyrese Haliburton serves as popular early fit with Atlanta Hawks

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The first projections are in.

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Iowa State v Auburn Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks officially own the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and there are a ton of avenues for Travis Schlenk and the front office to pursue in the coming days. However, mock draft season is now here in earnest and, in the hours after the lottery results came to light, a number of outlets released new projections to feed the content wheel.

First out of the gate was Jonathan Givony of ESPN, with the worldwide leader projecting USC big man Onyeka Okongwu to Atlanta.

Okongwu has the potential to be a switchable, bouncy rim protector who finishes everything, with outstanding touch and plenty of offensive upside. Considered by some to be the best defender in the draft, Okongwu has maturity and versatility that should appeal here. He brings an ability to play alongside either John Collins or Clint Capela, which would help him fill an important role for a team that has plenty of room to improve defensively.

Elsewhere, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports also favors the fit of Okongwu in Atlanta.

Onyeka Okongwu mostly operated off the national radar this past season because he played for an unranked team on the West Coast. But he was fantastic rather quickly — averaging 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 61.6% from the field. He’s the main reason USC won 16 of its first 20 games and would’ve been in the NCAA Tournament if the NCAA Tournament had been played. Is he an undersized big? Yes, probably. But he’s an undersized big who can play multiple positions. And, either way, the NBA is now littered with undersized bigs. So even though Okongwu wasn’t thought of this way coming out of high school, it’s now reasonable to call him the second-best big prospect in the draft, one who could play, no problem, in Atlanta alongside John Collins or Clint Capela.

Though Okongwu doesn’t necessarily fill a need for the Hawks, this would perhaps follow the “best player available” moniker that Schlenk relies on in his evaluation process. In addition, Dewayne Dedmon is under a guaranteed contract for only one more season, leaving room for Okongwu even with Collins and Capela already on board.

While Okongwu was (technically) the first player projected to the Hawks from a major outlet, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic was one of many to send Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton to Atlanta at No. 6 overall.

This fills two legitimate needs for the Hawks. First and foremost, they desperately need a long-term answer as a backup point guard next to Young. Haliburton can handle that role, something that significantly hindered the Hawks last year if you look at Young’s on/off numbers. Second, Haliburton would absolutely excel at playing with Young. He’s a terrific shooter off the catch, having hit 41.9 percent of his 3s this season. Defensively, he’s somewhat weak on-ball, but he’s a monstrous team defender who constantly lives in passing lanes and is exceptionally reactionary to what happens around him. That ability to play as a secondary ballhandler would help the uptempo play of the Hawks, while also allowing Young to move off the ball at times.

After laying out the case for Haliburton, he did point to some of the points of potential skepticism with the pick.

The weakness here is that I don’t think Haliburton is a starting caliber lead guard. Rather, he’s going to be more of a role player who really helps you win games due to his rapid decision-making, shooting off the catch, and team defense, but a role player nonetheless. Particularly, Haliburton struggles a bit as a shooter off the bounce, and has a tendency on pick-and-roll plays and drives to jump when passing and leave himself with little room for error. In college, it worked because he was bigger than everyone guarding him. But in the NBA, it’ll fly less often because of the length on the court. Still, his feel for the game is so high that I think Haliburton is worthy of a top-10 pick.

Keeping with the theme, Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report also projected Haliburton to the Hawks in his first post-lottery offering.

Tyrese Haliburton leapfrogged Cole Anthony and Nico Mannion on boards during the season, emerging as the most desirable NCAA point guard in this draft. Given Trae Young’s massive workload in Atlanta, the Hawks should be interested in adding a secondary playmaker like Haliburton.

He’d give Atlanta another elite-level passer to take pressure off Young and find teammates. After he shot 49.3 percent on spot-up jumpers, it’s easy to picture him working off the ball alongside Young. Maturity, IQ and shooting should also help Haliburton make a quick transition, another selling point for a team looking to start winning games.

Finally, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated describes Haliburton as a “strong aesthetic fit” and indicates that he “drives winning basketball as much as any player in this draft.”

Haliburton is seen as one of the safest bets in the draft to return value, with the type of preternatural feel and passing ability that should keep him in the NBA for a long time. The question is simply to what extent, and while he’s made strides as a lead guard, skeptics point to his lack of elite tools and unorthodox jump shot as limiting factors. That said, he offers enough away from the ball as a shooter and playmaker that it may not matter, and he’s smart and versatile enough to successfully pair with Young as part of what could be a high-powered offense in time.

Haliburton does check a number of boxes that would appeal to any team, ranging from his dead-eye shooting from three-point range to his basketball IQ and passing ability. There are justified questions with his on-ball defense, ability to create off the dribble and overall upside, but Haliburton does make logical sense on a number of fronts.

With many additional mock drafts in the offing, Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation also weighed in with a projection in the hours after the lottery, sending Deni Avdija to the Hawks.

Avdija is a 6’8 combo forward who offers a dribble-pass-shoot skill set that should transition nicely into the NBA. He solidified his case as a top-10 prospect during his run to MVP honors in the Israeli league with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Avdija is effective in transition with grab-and-go rebound ability, impressive passing vision, and the aggression to finish at the basket when he needs to. His fit into halfcourt NBA offenses will remain a bigger question. Avdija will have value as a passer and cutter, but he’ll need to continue to prove himself as a shooter even after showing a better outside stroke after the league returned from its pandemic hiatus.

Avdija got the call in ESPN’s final mock before the lottery, and that was at No. 4 overall. If anything, he might be gone by the time the Hawks make their first selection in the 2020 draft but, as noted by O’Donnell, he fits the “dribble-pass-shoot” moniker that Schlenk has valued in the past. In addition, Avdija is a potential two-way forward, which is an archetype that is incredibly valuable in the modern game.

In the coming days and weeks, mock drafts will shift and intel will come and go. Out of the gate, though, there are a few logical fits for Atlanta and, in the first collection, Haliburton is the most popular choice.

Stay tuned.