Atlanta vs Everybody: An Ode to Schlenk as Thanos
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The Hawks had an interesting set of pathways ahead of this year's NBA Draft. Equipped with lottery picks #8 and #10, as well as pick #17 and a plethora of second round selections, Atlanta had a war chest of assets primed to be weaponized into reviving basketball in the Peach State. This is the most complete roster that the Hawks have had in over a decade. And I’ll make the case that the core is optimized in the best way: to fit around their Young star in Trae.
Before getting into the feverish Draft night minutia, the Hawks moved into the top 5 by trading the rights to their #8 and #17 picks to the Pelicans in exchange for the 4th overall pick, which was originally owned by the Los Angeles Lakers. With this move alone, the Hawks have accomplished two of the three goals that I and most fanatics see as a part of their long awaited rebuild:
1) Justify trading back in 2018* (Utilize each asset)
2) Reboot and reimagine their wing positions.
3) Build a more complete roster around Trae.
It wasn’t shocking to see Hawks GM Travis Schlenk make significant moves prior to Draft night. For weeks ahead of the Hawks selections, Atlanta’s front office was rumored to “covet big wings” that could play alongside Trae. In making a swing for his ideal core, Schlenk clearly prioritized shooting and athleticism across the board.
After trading away three-year small forward Tauren Prince for Allen Crabbe's massive contract and the #17 pick (which was later re-routed), the Hawks were slim at this department. Thus, he specifically hunted players at the wing positions that would maximize the ceiling of Trae Young. And as basketball trends towards a more and more positionless game, Atlanta rightfully sought out to load up at highest position of scarcity across the league.
This year's acquisition of both De’Andre Hunter from UVA and Cam Reddish from Duke solidified a clear need for Atlanta. By picking up two versatile athletic wings, Schlenk has pumped new life into their lively Young-Collins-Huerter core and provided his Hawks with top-tier perimeter talents that hold tremendous upside.
Pick #4: De’Andre Hunter SF/PF (UVA) - 6’8 (7’2 wingspan)
The 2018 Draft day move to surrender the ability to draft Luka Doncic and instead bring Ice Trae into Atlanta will only look masterful in the aggregate. And as optimistic as I am about Trae, it’s clear that Doncic has a higher floor. However, in judging the trade, we have to isolate the value of the overall package, of which De'Andre Hunter has just now entered as the ultimate black swan for Dallas.
Hunter is an rangy defensive weapon; not a pest or playmaker but a solid multi-positional stopper. Hailing from the land of the Wahoos in Tony Bennett’s structured Spurs-like system at UVA, Hunter is a groomed offensive player with clear malleability. He shot 42% from three-point land while anchoring the Wahoos’ front court en route to decisive DPOY status in the ACC. Hunter stands as the Swiss Army knife that Atlanta desperately needs.
Ceiling: Rudy Gay
Floor: Harrison Barnes
Pick #10: Cameron Reddish SG/SF (Duke) - 6’8 ( 7’1 wingspan)
365 days ago, if I told you that Cam Reddish would be the #1 pick in the NBA Draft, you might have not been shocked. This time last year, the #3 prospect in the 2018 class was Coach K’s lone commitment at Duke. And because of Reddish's shooting, size, and fluidity, there was a clear argument for him to be the top pick.
Fast-forward to present day, he is known as the underwhelming third wheel to Duke's 1-2 punch, who quietly shot 33% from deep, while Reddish made the fourth-most bombs in the ACC (89) amidst criticism and doubt. Though his vertical athleticism and perimeter shot-creation still remain a work in progress, the key for Reddish will be in developing as a playmaker around Trae. Yet, as polarizing as his game is, Cam’s ability to spot up and attack closeouts as a secondary wing option will easily justify his selection with the tenth pick.
Ceiling: Joe Johnson
Floor: Rodney Hood
During the later half of Draft night, as many of us were trading in our Draft party cocktails for Colgate and floss, the Hawks' war room was still burning the candle. Atlanta’s last goal was to fill out a complete roster around their young core, which demanded depth at the center position. Let’s welcome in Bruno Fernando, terror of the ACC. Bruno Who?
Pick #34: Bruno Fernando C (Maryland) - 6’11 (7’4 wingspan)
If you’re inclined to thinking “Why Bruno?”, I would implore you investigate into the Hawks' frontcourt depth and recognize that the answer is simple: he fills a need. Bruno has the archetype of an athletic roll man, with the physical presence and tenacity that Hawks fans will love.
Bruno led the ACC in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage and was also second in the league on offensive rebounding. Imagine him as the zig to Collin’s zag. While Collins floats around the high post, a big lineup will feature Bruno as the true center who can score down low, control the boards, and patrol the paint. And because Schlenk took a swing early in the Draft, filling a need during the latter half makes practical sense.
Ceiling: Steven Adams
Floor: Festus Ezeli
Conventional wisdom would suggest that having multiple bites at the apple is the best way for a young, rebuilding team to envision its roster growth. And normally I wouldn’t disagree. However, we have to see each pick in this year's Draft as individual steps. The 8th and 10th picks were fine assets, and on another staircase would raise the base level enough to reach the top floor. However, in this Draft there was a clear height disparity in the steps once you reached picks 4 or 5. Packaging two underwhelming steps propped up Schlenk enough for him to take Hunter. And by keeping their #10 pick out of the deal, they were able to grab two top-5 talents in a “flat Draft”.
The Hawks offense just added two weapons, yes, but not enough can be said about how this will affect their defense. Head coach Lloyd Pierce will now be able to cross-match by utilizing the size of Hunter and Reddish to provide Young with the perimeter coverage that he so desperately needed. Hunter is the 3-and-D wing with a defined floor while Reddish’s craft and finishing may give him a ceiling that rivals anyone in the Draft outside of Mt. Zion. Throw the size and grit of Bruno into the mix and you have an incredible lot of talent to add to Atlanta’s Three Amigos.
2019 Draft grade: A-
It has been years since we’ve seen a team change their trajectory in two years, but I believe that in drafting with confidence, conviction, and without fear of validating the analysts' Draft boards or trade graders, the Hawks will quickly see their long-term outlook soar to new levels with Hunter, Reddish, and Bruno, apart of their core.