The Hawks had one of the more impressive showings at the Draft on Thursday, and they could be constructing the next powerhouse of the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta entered the night with picks at No. 8 and No. 10, but managed to move up and get one of its top targets in Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter at No. 4.
If this year’s crop of prospects develop as well as other recent picks have for the Hawks, they could very well be the team to beat very soon.
Here’s why Atlanta is poised to surge to the top:
Drafting for fit and talent
The Hawks have quietly been some of the best evaluators come draft time for the past few years, and they’re about to put the league on notice.
Atlanta has selected three All NBA-Rookie team members in the last two years — more than any other franchise. These prospects are John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, but adding Hunter and Cam Reddish could certainly build upon this success.
Collins was the Hawks’ first diamond in the rough, as he was selected with the 19th pick in 2017. While he was impressive in his rookie year, Collins blossomed in his sophomore season and averaged just a hair under 20 points and 10 rebounds while playing in just 61 games. Only nine qualified frontcourt players in the entire NBA averaged more points per contest in 2018-19 than Collins.
Then there’s Young, who many questioned after seeing the earlier performance of the Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic who was traded for Young on draft day in 2018. Nevertheless, the 6-2 guard found his way in the second half of last season and averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 assists post All-Star break. He finished the year fourth in assists per game and led the league in assists on dunks (191) — many of which were spoon-fed to Collins. Young is a minus on defense, but he has room to grow and Atlanta’s latest acquisitions should help with that.
It’s no secret that Hunter is one of the most highly coveted 3-and-D prospects in 2019. He will likely be able to guard up to four positions and is an asset on and off the ball. Converting 3-pointers at a 43.8 percent clip for the Cavaliers last season doesn’t hurt either.
And then there’s Reddish, who was widely considered to have one of the purest jump shots in college basketball. He struggled to score efficiently at Duke, but NBA spacing will surely help one of college basketball’s better off-ball defenders feel more comfortable. After all, he didn’t have a crafty floor general at his disposal that could stretch the floor by shooting 30-foot 3’s and dishing out pinpoint passes from length with either hand.
The Hawks are showing how to build through truly complimentary pieces, and their method seems eerily similar to the Warriors of old. The 2015 championship team that is.
Atlanta could get creative in the coming years.
The Hawks have the 28th lowest payroll in the NBA at the moment and just four players (Young, Huerter, Collins and Omari Spellman) are set to be under contract in 2020-21. While it might not be a desirable free-agent destination now, big names flock to where there’s fun basketball and youth.
Depending on how quickly Atlanta learns how to win consistently, it could put itself in a position to land an All-Star. A first-round exit in the playoffs bought the Nets conversations with players nobody thought would consider them. So it could only be a matter of time before Atlanta is in that discussion.
Constant power shifts
Who has control of the Eastern Conference? Nobody is really sure at the moment.
LeBron James led Cleveland to four straight NBA Finals appearances before leaving for Los Angeles last offseason. After that, the Celtics became the favorites.
But Boston fell short to the emerging Bucks and the all-powerful Giannis Antetokounmpo and will likely lose its best player in Kyrie Irving this summer. Kawhi Leonard had a historic postseason performance in 2019 and won his second Finals MVP, but even Toronto isn’t sure it’ll retain him.
If Leonard leaves for the West Coast like many expect, people will search for a new team to crown king in an unpredictable conference. Given recent trends, Atlanta has as good of a shot as anybody.