The 2017 NBA season has come to a close, and the Golden State Warriors are once again on top of the league after a historic playoff run. Kevin Durant proved his greatness on the biggest stage, winning Finals MVP and leading his team past LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers in five games. The conclusion of the playoffs, however, brings with it hope and excitement for every other organization striving to contend for that coveted trophy. The 2017 NBA Draft is just over a week away, and this year’s class has been touted as one of the strongest and deepest in recent years.
Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and several other prospects have been labeled as “elite” and “can’t miss”, but this draft goes much further than that. The Atlanta Hawks will be looking to capitalize on the deep nature of the class, owning picks No. 19, 31, and 60 overall. New general manager Travis Schlenk arrives from the Warriors front office that drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green on the way to constructing a historically incredible team. He will look to begin his era with the Hawks in a similar fashion, making sure every single draft pick is utilized properly.
Here are five players that the Hawks should consider when improving the squad for the future.
1. C - Justin Patton, Creighton
It is no secret that the Hawks will be thin in the frontcourt once free agency begins on July 1, with Paul Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, and Kris Humphries all hitting the market. Therefore, it makes a whole lot of sense to target a big man at pick No. 19 and Patton could be the perfect fit. The seven-foot tall center possesses elite physical tools for the position and runs the floor like a deer, important characteristics in the modern NBA. He has already shown tremendous offensive ability out of the pick-and-roll and doesn’t demand post touches to make an impact on that end of the floor. Even more intriguing are the flashes he showed from the perimeter, where he may be able to develop a consistent jump shot with the right coaching. The Hawks staff is notable for unlocking perimeter shooting for players like Millsap and Al Horford in the past.
Most of Patton’s question marks revolve around his toughness and consistency on the defensive end. He struggled to rebound due to his lack of strength and up-and-down mentality, but these are areas that can easily be improved upon at the next level. Defensively, his tools suggest that he should be a great rim protector, but he must become more mature and avoid foul trouble that plagued him at times last season. The Hawks wouldn’t need to rely on him right away, and they could allow him to develop under the guidance of “Hawks University” until Dwight Howard’s contract is up.
2. C - Jarrett Allen, Texas
Similarly to Patton, Allen could be exactly the high-upside big man the Hawks need to inject youth and potential into the frontcourt. Allen is arguably more impressive physically than Patton, boasting a wingspan of over 7’5” and a solid frame for a center. While his situation at Texas was not exactly helpful for his growth, he still showed several reasons why he has the talent to potentially go in the lottery. His abilities to run the floor and finish around the rim are impressive, and his length and agility give him an edge on most opposing big men. He is also very similar to Patton in that he has all the tools to dominate on the defensive end if he can become more consistent and bulk up.
The one main difference between the two freshmen is that Patton has shown slightly more potential with his jump shot. However, as previously mentioned, the Hawks have a unique ability to develop perimeter shooting so it cannot be fully counted out for Allen. He will also be a project and may require some time in the D-League, but that is not a problem for a Hawks team that is not close to contending at this point in time. Should Patton be gone at #19, Allen would be one solid consolation prize.
3. SF/PF - Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
The sophomore sharpshooter could be someone who is available at pick No. 31, but the Hawks could also do worse than him at No. 19 if their other options are exhausted. Lydon has the size of a power forward at 6’10” but the offensive abilities of a small forward. In a league where bigs that can space the floor are so emphasized, he would be a solid pickup for the Hawks who are likely to lose a player like that in Ilyasova. His shooting ability is his most NBA-ready skill, but he showed that he could score in a variety of ways despite his relative lack of athleticism. Additionally, he showed some defensive flashes, averaging 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game in his college career.
The biggest knock on Lydon’s profile is his physical stature, which will limit him defensively and on the glass against NBA athletes. He also struggled to create buckets for himself off the dribble and should rely more on his spot-up skills early in his NBA career. Despite the weaknesses, Lydon would fill a need and could grow under Hawks leadership. He would be a very solid selection in the second round and a passable one in the first.
4. PF - Jordan Bell, Oregon
Bell is a prospect who would make a whole lot of sense at No. 31 if the Hawks decide to double down on big men or go an entirely different route at No. 19. The junior forward screams “glue guy” and reminds many scouts of past second round steals like Draymond Green and Paul Millsap. While Bell does not have nearly the offensive abilities of these guys yet, his defense and energy is enough to make him worthy of an NBA rotation spot from the beginning. His motor allows him to dominate on the glass and block shots a large rate despite his below-average size. He has tremendous anticipation and a high basketball IQ, which are traits head coach Mike Budenholzer covets in his players.
As mentioned, Bell’s offensive game needs work but there were flashes in his junior season. His energy in transition allowed him to score more efficiently, but he still lacks a jumper of any kind. He also tends to rely on his athleticism a bit too much and will need to develop better technique in order to play big minutes at the NBA level. However, his stock has been steadily rising since the NCAA Tournament and every team could use a guy like him to come off the bench.
5. PG - Monte Morris, Iowa State
The senior point guard would be an exceptional selection at No. 60 should he fall there (DraftExpress has him going in the 50’s), as he possesses the talent and pedigree to go much earlier. He was a true floor general for the Iowa State Cyclones, making countless key passes and using his 6'3" height to see over the defense. His feel for the game was evident throughout college, and he did a great job of limiting turnovers despite being the primary ball handler. Defensively, he is able to checkpoint guards with success by utilizing his basketball IQ and putting himself in the right spots to earn steals.
Offensively, Morris will have to improve in order to become anything more than a solid backup. He struggled to finish at the rim largely because of his inability to play above the defense and absorb contact. His jump shot was also inconsistent at times, meaning his offense as a whole was inefficient. While his point guard skills will give him a role at the next level, scouts question just how much he can improve offensively seeing as he is already 22. The Hawks didn’t get much from their backup point guard Malcolm Delaney last season, and Jose Calderon could be heading elsewhere in free agency. Morris would be a stellar pick at No. 60 and, like Lydon, a decent one earlier than that.