NBA Draft and Hawks: Most-ideal prospects for Atlanta to consider

Most of the conversation surrounding the Atlanta Hawks this offseason has been centered on the organization potentially making franchise-changing moves through trades. The Miami Heat made it clear in the first round of the playoffs that the Hawks need more high-level talent to compete in an improved Eastern Conference.

Whether it’s through trades, free agency or the draft, the Hawks have to address the lack of a consistent secondary scoring threat who can break opposing defenders down off the dribble, secondary creators who are good passers, more explosive/twitchy athletes on the wing who can hold up guarding at the point of attack and role players who are more defensive-oriented.

We’re a little more than a week away from the NBA Draft — the first point of the offseason when things start to pick up from a news perspective. Usually, transactions flow in on draft day and in the few days before commissioner Adam Silver takes the stage and announces that the Orlando Magic are on the clock.

For the Hawks, I think everything is on the table — staying put at No. 16, trading up or trading out and acquiring a proven commodity. Trading down from No. 16 to acquire more draft picks is, in my opinion, the least likely option.

I’ve received numerous comments with the same line of thinking from a lot of Hawks fans — why should we care about the draft if coach Nate McMillan isn’t going to play the rookies? I understand the question because Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper barely received meaningful NBA action this season, but both players were seen by the Hawks as long-term projects. I do think there were opportunities to play Johnson more than he played, especially with how often McMillan elected to play Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, but just because he and Cooper didn’t play often doesn’t mean the draft doesn’t matter.

The draft is still important because it’s an opportunity to select someone whose team rights can be controlled for almost a decade. Plus, finding players in the middle of the draft, where the Hawks are currently slotted, is a chance to find a decent rotation player on an affordable contract who could bloom into much more — like John Collins and Kevin Huerter, who were both selected 19th in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite targets (listed in alphabetical order) that the Hawks could select next week:

Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, G, Kansas, 22 years old

There are more players projected in the middle of the first round who have higher ceilings than Agbaji, but becoming a solid rotation player isn’t a bad outcome for your 16th pick. Teams are likely not drafting him thinking he’ll be a star or the second option, and that’s perfectly fine for what the Hawks need.

Agbaji made 40.7 percent on 3-pointers on nearly seven attempts per game this past season for the NCAA champions. He was also named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four.

Offensively, what makes his fit with the Hawks intriguing is how good he was off the ball, a must if he’s going to play with Trae Young. He finished in the 89th percentile for catching and shooting and in the 97th percentile in cutting.

Where I like Agbaji’s potential fit is what he showed on the defensive end of the floor. He’s a tough perimeter defender who excelled at the point of attack, and he’s quick enough to play in space and hang with faster guards.

The Hawks need more players who don’t take plays off defensively, and Agbaji has shown that he will give maximum effort on that side of the floor.

Kendall Brown, 6-8, F, Baylor, 19 years old

Another prospect who projects as a role player rather than a possible secondary option. The main difference between Brown and Agbaji is the latter’s offensive profile is quite encouraging whereas Brown’s is a bit concerning. He only shot 34.1 percent from 3 with just over 1.0 attempts per game; the lack of volume is a red flag at his size and NBA position. He also shot under 70 percent from the free-throw line, another indicator his shooting may end up not being good enough to ever project as a starter.

Brown is one of the more athletic players in the draft, which could bode well for his future because he has the prototypical size you’d want out of someone who will play on the wing. At Baylor, he showed more skill as an off-ball defender rather than at the point of attack, but he has the tools to be special on that end.

Dyson Daniels, 6-6, G, G League Ignite, 19 years old

Daniels is unlikely to be on the board at No. 16, but if the Hawks do trade up to potentially No. 7 in a deal with Portland (and discussions have occurred, according to sources), he should be Atlanta’s pick if he’s available. The Hawks need more perimeter defenders, and he’s arguably the best one in the draft. Additionally, Daniels’ ability to be a playmaker with a point guard’s handle should be intriguing to Atlanta.

Daniels isn’t the perfect prospect — he shot 25.5 percent on 3s and 73.7 percent on his free throws, and he isn’t too explosive of an athlete. The Hawks should be looking to find players who fit long term with Young, and there may not be a better option than Daniels. He’s long, a great passer and has positional versatility defensively. That’s what the Hawks need more of.

Tari Eason, 6-7, F, LSU, 21 years old

If you haven’t noticed a theme here, all of the prospects so far have the potential to be good to great defenders in the NBA. Eason is another one of these prospects. Daniels might be the best on-ball defender in the draft, and Eason is in the mix for the best off-ball defender. He played center at LSU, but he projects as more of a three/four in the NBA. Eason was highly disruptive on the defensive end of the floor, averaging 4.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per 100 possessions in SEC play.

Eason’s offensive fit is a bit of a question mark right now. He averaged 17 points per game and shot 37 percent from 3 but was out of control too often on that end of the floor. He’s a rough playmaker who has a poor handle and average two turnovers to every assist. The Hawks already have a non-passing forward with a poor handle in De’Andre Hunter, but Eason’s defense is too spectacular, and the Hawks should look past the offense.

Jaden Hardy, 6-4, G, G League Ignite, 19 years old

The prospects above all have good defensive instincts — we’re straying away from that with Hardy. He wasn’t a very willing defender for the Ignite and frequently was lost on that end of the floor. If he can figure out how to just be an effective communicator defensively with good instincts, drafting Hardy at No. 16 might turn out to be a steal. He’s one of the best bucket-getters in this draft, and the Hawks need more of those players who don’t have to rely solely on Young to spoon-feed quality looks.

Jeremy Sochan, 6-9, F, Baylor, 18 years old

Like Daniels, Sochan doesn’t project to be available when the Hawks pick at No. 16. If the Hawks do trade up and Daniels is off the board, Sochan wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. He’s shown an ability to guard all five positions, handle the ball like a guard, make high-level decisions as a passer and effectively finish at the rim. He didn’t shoot very well this past season, making just 29.6 percent of his 3s and shooting just 58.9 percent from the line. If you’re looking for a high-level defender with ballhandling skills though, Sochan is a great option.

Other players who I’m not as high on but wouldn’t be bad options: Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley, Ohio State guard Malaki Branham and forward EJ Liddell

Related reading

Kirschner: These trade targets could elevate Hawks to contender status
Kirschner & Jones: Evaluating Rudy Gobert’s possible fit in Atlanta

(Photo of Ochai Agbaji: Robert Deutsch / USA Today)


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