Hawks 2021 Pre-Draft Preview

The Hawks could go in a number of directions with the 20th overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

by KL Chouinard @KLChouinard   

Travis Schlenk has a good history with the #19 overall pick. In the 2017 NBA Draft, Schlenk's first with Atlanta, he used it to select John Collins. In 2018, he drafted Kevin Huerter in the same spot. This season, he hopes to go one better as he goes one later.

The Atlanta Hawks could go in a lot of directions with the 20th overall pick of Thursday's NBA Draft.

The Hawks landed in the #20 spot by virtue of finishing last season with a 41-31 record and losing a pre-draft tiebreaker with the Knicks, who also finished 41-31. The subsequent playoff series win over the Knicks, while quite satisfying, bore no impact on the draft order. One thing that the playoffs did reveal, however, is that the Hawks are a deep team without a pressing need at any one specific position. They have Trae Young running the show alongside a number of talented wing players and a cadre of frontcourt players with a wide range of skill sets. 

As Schlenk has reiterated on more than one occasion, he likes to use the draft to build the talent base and free agency to fill specific positional needs. As such, the Hawks certainly don't need to feel compelled to draft a player at a certain position. They can afford to take the "best player available".  

In fact, the stability and depth of the roster really affords the Hawks the opportunity to hone in on a single player or two who they feel is right for them. They could easily send out an asset to move up – or absorb one to move back – in order to match up with the player that they feel is right for them.

If the Hawks do stand pat at #20, who will they pick Thursday night? As always, a lot will depend on who gets picked above them and who falls through.

One possibility is Jared Butler, a 6-foot-3 guard from Baylor. If the Hawks selected Butler, it would echo their acquisition of De'Andre Hunter two drafts ago: an NCAA champion whose most notable trait is an all-around game with precious few holes to nitpick. Butler can run a pick-and-roll, shoot well from long distance, finish at the rim and defend at the point of attack. He averaged 16.7 points and 4.8 assists for Butler in their championship season while also shooting 41.6 percent from three. He is a super talented player who could step into a role in Atlanta while eventually growing into a bigger one down the line. 

Speaking of Hunter, the Hawks could be intrigued by another wing from the University of Virginia: Trey Murphy.  A 6-foot-9 wing with a 7-foot wingspan, Murphy gave the Cavaliers a 50-40-90 season by shooting 50.3 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from three and 92.7 percent from the free-throw line. Murphy has the athletic profile to thrive as a 3-and-D player in the NBA while also being able to finish at the rim. It is straightforward to visualize Murphy thriving at the next level.

Murphy, who is 21 years old, is one of the older players projected to be drafted in the first round Thursday. At 24 years old, Chris Duarte will likely be the oldest.

In recent NBA history, teams have prized youth in the draft. Players who are 18, 19 or 20 years old stand to grow the most in their first few seasons. The flip side of that coin is that older players tend to be readier in their first season. As the Hawks try to cement their contender status, it may be in their best interests to get a polished player like Duarte who can contribute right away. Playing last season for the University of Oregon, Duarte gave the Ducks 17.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game on solid shooting splits, while winning the 2021 Jerry West Award as the country's top collegiate shooting guard. Duarte has a knack for jumping passing lanes, too. He is a polished two-way player.

If the Hawks do want to go younger, someone like Usman Garuba could fit the bill. Garuba is a power forward playing overseas for Real Madrid, where he showed tremendous flashes as a defender who can guard bigs, wings and guards. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Garuba causes all sorts of problems for opposing offenses, and by playing significant minutes in Euroleague, he has already played a noteworthy amount of high-level basketball at just 19 years of age. The Hawks could certainly make room for another player who can defend big, powerful ballhanders.

It is also not difficult to picture Florida's Tre Mann running pick-and-rolls off the bench for the Hawks next season, or Texas' Kai Jones rolling down the lane for lobs. The Hawks have so many directions that they could go with the 20th pick – they brought in over 90 players for pre-draft workouts – and so much of it depends on who gets picked in spots 1-19.

The Hawks also hold the rights to a pick in the second round, number 48 overall. Thursday promises to be an exciting night as the Hawks try to complement a roster that already took them deep into last season's playoffs. Let the fun begin!

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