If 2009 was the Year of the Point Guard, 2014 is the Year of the ‘Tweener. A couple seasons back, Derrick Williams taught me the meaning of this term. I had Williams as the top player in his draft class (yes, above Kyrie Irving) and thought he was a star in the making as an NBA wing. Then I saw Williams get taken to the hole by Kobe Bryant, who is pushing 40, like he wasn’t even there. My mantra now is, “you are what you can guard.” This draft is packed with players who have wing skills on offense but no chance of being able to guard NBA wings.
Ever since Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged as key rotation players for the Spurs, I’ve been looking for the next 3-and-D wing to help the Hawks’ shaky perimeter defense. DeMarre Carroll proved to be a tremendous find by Danny Ferry, but the team still needs depth at small forward and improved defense and athleticism at shooting guard. Many have proclaimed this draft is packed with quality wings. I’ve concluded that is simply not the case, especially where the Hawks will be picking.
Since I haven’t found the wing prospect I’m looking for, I’ve rated players on this year’s depth chart based on the best combination of skills the Hawks need (shooting, ball movement, defense). I believe the Hawks should take the best player available regardless of position. For example, point guard Elfrid Payton has been rocketing up mock drafts based on his workouts. Even though point guard isn’t an obvious position of need for the Hawks, drafting future rotation players at any position increases a team’s talent level and adds trade assets.
As with last year’s depth chart, this is not a mock draft. These are the top 15 prospects, ranked in order of preference, I believe the Hawks should draft if available when Atlanta picks. That won’t necessarily be 15 given Ferry’s draft-day wheeling and dealing last year. I caution everyone to expect the unexpected from Trader Dan.
1. Andrew Wiggins
This is the guy the Hawks need, an athletic, true wing (not a ‘tweener) who will be able to guard NBA shooting guards and small forwards from Day 1. If he goes to the Cavs at #1 and gets to play for David Blatt (who played point guard at Princeton for Pete Carril, the originator of the “Princeton” offense) it will be the best possible situation for him.
Although Wiggins’ outside shot isn’t a strength at this point, it isn’t broken. Kansas had a structured offense and multiple offensive options but Wiggins still averaged over 17 PPG. I believe he’s receptive to coaching and willing to work within a defined role. He’ll never live up to his status as the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, but I don’t see how he can fail as an NBA player.
2. Joel Embiid
Embiid may slip due to injury concerns but he will never slip low enough for the Hawks to be in play. Since we’re dealing in hypotheticals here, Embiid, when healthy, is exactly what the Hawks need to compliment Al Horford. In an alternate universe where the Hawks were picking this high, Ferry would have access to the medical information to asses Embiid’s foot injury.
Once Embiid recovered from his back injury and resumed workouts, he blew NBA front offices away. But it may have been the sudden resumption of activity after extended downtime that resulted in the stress injury in his foot. I hope it’s not as bad as it sounds because Embiid seemed poised to join Anthony Davis as one of the exceptional big men of his generation.
3. Noah Vonleh
Nobody has Vonleh this high but I’m looking at the combination of rebounding, length, defense and outside shooting. There is duplication with Horford but I see a player similar to Gorgui Dieng, whom I liked in last year’s draft and who turned heads as a rookie. Vonleh is not as explosive as Dieng and NBA personnel speculate he may be overrated as a shooter. He did have one of the highest rebound rates in this draft class and, in addition to shooting, has the ball skills to play facing the basket.
4. Jabari Parker
He may go #1 overall but all I see is a more offensively-creative Derrick Williams. You can compare him to Carmelo Anthony all you want but he has no chance of staying in front of NBA wings. His reported weight issues and apathy in some workouts are extremely alarming. For the Hawks, you would gamble on a player with Parker’s offensive talents and trust Mike Budenholzer and his staff to get the most out of him.
5. Aaron Gordon
Gordon would seem like a poor fit for the Hawks given his deficiency as an outside shooter, but he’s projected to be able to guard four positions in the NBA. He’s kind of the anti-Josh Smith because, while neither can shoot, Gordon knows who he is and plays within himself. Shooting is also a teachable skill. If Gordon added an average outside shot to his otherwise versatile skillset, you’re looking at a star. The Hawks’ team defense was adequate in the playoffs while shot making prevented the team from advancing. However, multi-position defenders are extremely valuable since they allow a team to switch on defense without creating a mismatch.
6. Doug McDermott
Larry Bird was one of the most criminally-underrated athletes in history. Don’t believe me? Spend 10 minutes and watch this highlight reel of Bird’s famous duel with Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 of the 1987 Eastern Conference semifinals. This was the high water mark for the Atlanta Hawks franchise. Never since have the Hawks been this close to advancing to the conference finals. Wilkins, one of the most celebrated athletes in NBA history, was completely incapable of staying in front of Bird.
What does this have to do with McDermott? Not much, because McDermott is nowhere near the athlete Bird was. However, as the combine showed, McDermott has likewise been underrated as an athlete. I have him ranked this high because he combines the best shot-making in this draft with the ability to create for others. Many look at McDermott and think Jimmer Fredette or Adam Morrison, but Kyle Korver is the correct NBA comp. Like Korver, McDermott will figure out how to do enough within a team defensive concept.
7. Marcus Smart
A tremendously skilled guard with a questionable shot, Smart is considered by some a can’t-miss prospect and the best competitor in this draft class. I’d much rather take a chance on that than pick a player who skips workouts to do GQ interviews.
8. Elfrid Payton
Making a run on point guards here. Payton is universally considered a top-10 pick given how he has performed in workouts. With one of the best combinations of passing, ball skills, scoring and defense in the draft, he would be of great value to the Hawks, which could help him develop his outside touch.
9. Dante Exum
I’m hesitant to rate Exum this high given what scouts are saying about him. In an excellent piece by the Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes, he quoted an Eastern Conference scout saying this:
“When he wasn’t playing point [at last year’s Nike Hoop Summitt], because he was paired up with Dennis Schröder … Exum had no clue how to cut or move without the ball. He just literally stood in the corner.”
“I think he always has to have the ball in his hands to be effective.”
He also quoted a Western Conference scout who recalled watching Exum face Schröder in drills:
“Let me tell you, Dennis Schröder kicked the [expletive] out of him in every one-on-one drill,” the scout said. “It was sad, because here was this young, gangly kid, and Schröder was tying him into knots.”
Given his inability to play off the ball and questionable outside shot, this would be a long-term point guard project for the Hawks. Fortunately, he will be long gone by the time the Hawks pick.
10. Julius Randle
In addition to concerns about Randle’s previous foot injury and the prospect of needing surgery, there’s this:
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 24, 2014
Randle later clarified that he didn’t skip the workout due to the GQ interview but because he felt he had showed the Celtics “enough” in the first workout. Randle has top 5 talent but lack of ambition makes me hesitant to include him in my top 15.
11. Rodney Hood
Having analyzed the defensive deficiencies of Mike Scott, Hood’s defense is almost comical. So why is he on this list? As I said, I would pick a defensive wing if one was available in this draft after Wiggins. Since that player is not available, I’ll take Hood, who combines the 3rd-best pure point rating (which balances assist ratio against the negative value of turnovers) among small forwards in this draft with the skill that could have helped the Hawks win a playoff series this season: shooting. If the Hawks take Hood, they’re going to have to help him figure it out on defense.
12. Nick Stauskas
Stauskas is a similar prospect to Hood with the 2nd-highest true shooting percentage and 3rd-highest pure point rating among shooting guard prospects. As with Hood, Stauskas’ defense leaves a lot to be desired. He also ranks at the bottom among shooting guards in steals and pace-adjusted rebounds per 40 minutes. Nevertheless, his skills as a shooter and playmaker, combined with ideal height for the position, make him a good risk.
13. Mitch McGary
I smell a rat with regards to McGary’s decision to shut down workouts, given questions about his injury history and the red flag regarding his positive test for weed. Here’s what Chad Ford had to say:
I’m confident Mitch McGary has a promise in the 1st round. He’s done just 1 workout. He’s healthy. His camp has gone radio silent.
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 24, 2014
A likely candidate for the promise to McGary would seem to be the Thunder, which owns picks 21 and 29. It’s possible McGary shut down workouts because he got a promise in the late first round from a preferred destination, i.e. a contender such as OKC. If I’m Ferry and I suspect that Sam Presti, the draft prestidigitator, has his eyes on a prospect, I try to get there first. People forget that McGary was dominant in Michigan’s run to the NCAA title game two seasons ago. If Ford says he’s healthy, I’m in. McGary can score, pass, get to the basket and his shot isn’t broken. He also had the best rebound rate among power forwards in this draft.
14. Jusuf Nurkic
It’s tough when you get down to the bottom of these things and you already have a list of players you’ve excluded. I’ll be honest, Nurkic doesn’t impress me at all. The best comparison I can find is Nikola Pekovic, a bruising rebounder and offensive force who doesn’t make an impact on defense. How many playoff appearances have the Timberwolves made lately? Since I missed on Mason Plumlee last year (as did about 15 NBA GMs), I’ll cut the kid some slack and put him down here as a draft-and-stash prospect.
15. T.J. Warren
‘Tweener. Would not be included on this list if I wasn’t out of guys. Warren can’t guard wings, doesn’t distribute the ball, has trouble scoring against NBA length and is an ordinary rebounder. He also has a PER that is second only to McDermott among small forward prospects and the most steals per 40 minutes (steals are often a predictor of NBA success). Despite his obvious shortcomings, Warren is such a high-level scorer that I think you take the chance on Bud’s staff fixing his shot.
Sirs Not Appearing in this Film
K.J. McDaniels has been the darling of the AJC.com Hawks blog community, but he’s projected in the second round by both DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net. Projected as a small forward, he’s only 6-4. Touted as an elite athlete, he barely had a higher vertical than McDermott. And dude’s shot is broken. Pass.
Adreian Payne: Love his game, love his measurables but the lung condition scares the hell out of me. Dario Saric: It’s fun watching his passing and elite feel for the game against Adriatic League competition, but he’s not an athlete and his shot is his downfall. Cleanthony Early: ‘Tweener. Pass.
Gary Harris is a jack of all trades as a shooting guard. Good defender, not a bad shooter, not near the bottom in any category. But he’s only 6-2. Pass. Zach LaVine is another prospect people are drooling over, but I watched UCLA during tournament season and he barely saw the floor. Anybody who thinks he compares to Russell Westbrook, just stop. Yes, he has bounce, but he’s not strong and he can barely hold onto the basketball. Anyone who thinks he’s a point guard prospect, I’d like some of what you’re smoking. James Young: Doesn’t get steals or blocks, not a great rebounder, PER 2nd-worst among the top 50 prospects in this draft (only LaVine was worse), has one of the worst assist percentages among guards.
And finally, Kyle Anderson. To those of you comparing him to Boris Diaw, please cut it out. A big part of why the Spurs won the title this year is because Leonard, Green and Diaw can all switch onto LeBron. None of them can shut him down, but none of them are an automatic bucket for him. If you are what you can guard, Anderson doesn’t have an NBA position. He has as much chance of guarding NBA small forwards as he has of guarding power forwards: none.
I wanted to like Anderson. He has the best pure point rating in the entire draft, and this may be the strongest point guard draft since 2009. He reminds me of Otto Porter from last year, a player with prototypical height and great length but no bounce. Below-the-rim players rarely make it at the next level unless they have the size to move people around (i.e. Diaw). Porter and Anderson are both rail-thin.
So here’s my conspiracy theory of the week. The AJC’s Chris Vivlamore reported that Ferry “just smiled” when he asked him about Anderson as a prospect and declined to comment. The Hawks, which have once again employed CIA levels of secrecy regarding their evaluation process, have made a big show of having Anderson in for two workouts. I call shenanigans. This isn’t who Ferry is after.