Atlanta Hawks: 2019 NBA Draft should help on defense

Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images
Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images /

After two first round picks and two talented offensive players to build around from last year, the Atlanta Hawks should focus on adding defensive talent in the 2019 NBA Draft.

By failing to win the 2019 NBA Draft lottery, the Atlanta Hawks fall into a group of teams who have several options to choose from in next month’s NBA Draft.

With two first round picks this year, Atlanta will look to find players who could further assist in turning around the franchise. Over the last two seasons, the Hawks have successfully used four first round picks on talented players in John Collins, Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman.

Thanks to talented offensive players like Huerter, Collins, and Young being in place, Atlanta’s best bet would be looking for players who can assist on the defensive side of the ball.

The team’s offense wasn’t the problem. From Jan. 1 until the end of the season, Atlanta ranked 16th in the league in offensive efficiency — a good mark for a team with several young players in the rotation. Once Collins returned from injury and got fully acclimated to the system, the offense was fine.

That roster was led by Trae Young. The rookie star struggled in the first half of the season, but stepped up in the second half, averaging 24.7 points and 9.2 assists per game, and more importantly, shot 34 percent from 3-point range. Young’s vision and shooting will be huge for the offense for years to come.

The defensive side of the ball is the big question mark for Atlanta’s potential ascension among the Eastern Conference. The Hawks finished 28th in the league in defensive efficiency — again, not surprising when you consider their youth.

Both Young and Huerter possess elite shooting ability, but neither project to be good defensive players. That calls for a wing defender on the perimeter who can cover for them. As talented and athletic as Collins is, it’s his defensive ability — namely, his inability to defend the rim — that hurts his upside.

If the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors have shown us anything, it’s that the best teams in the league are filled with talented defenders, both physically, but also mentally. Guys like Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are elite defenders because they have the combination of the two.

The perimeter is key for Atlanta to address. The Hawks need someone who could switch his feet on defense and help switch and cover for Young. Huerter has a chance defensively because of his size, but Young’s stature and overall poor defensive play is a cause for concern in the future.

Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter makes a ton of sense with the eighth overall selection. At 6’7″, he has the size to be effective against smaller wings and smaller power forwards, similar to former Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll. Hunter isn’t quick in the passing lanes, but comes from a Virginia team that was top-five in defensive efficiency.

After being touted as a potential top-five pick, Hunter has settled into the bottom of the lottery, with Atlanta appearing to be an ideal spot.

Moving towards the basket, the Hawks could also use someone who can defend the rim. Having an elite rim protector allows you to build from the paint out (think Rudy Gobert). Dewayne Dedmon is reaching free agency and at 30 years old, could look to latch on with a contender, rather than chase another large contract.

Defending the rim would allow Atlanta to look at Texas’ Jaxson Hayes. A freshman big man from Texas, Hayes possesses everything you want from a rim defender — good mobility, great instincts, and excellent timing. Hayes’ 3.4 blocks per 40 minutes suggest an elite shot-blocker is there and Atlanta could look to add him with the 10th overall pick.

Other possibilities include Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke (a Pascal Siakam-like big who can defend on the perimeter and blocked a ton of shots), Oregon’s Bol Bol (A 7’2″ big who can alter shots at the rim) and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker (a smart wing with size on the perimeter).

The Atlanta Hawks have several talented offensive players in place with John Collins and Trae Young looking like true offensive pillars as they continue to develop. The outlook on the defensive side of the ball, however, is a question mark that could hamper their long-term ceiling.

Next. Post-combine 2019 NBA Mock Draft. dark

Thanks to a 2018 draft-day trade with the Dallas Mavericks, the Hawks have two chances to add some defensive talent to the roster. Based on the group of players expected to be there within the 8-10 range, they could find some special defensive talents waiting.