I have a problem. No, make that an issue. When there is a weakness in life, the goal is to improve upon said weakness, correct? If that is the case, why didn’t coach Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks improve their one glaring weakness last Thursday in the NBA Draft?
Atlanta held picks No. 15, 50 and 59. Three opportunities to add a big man. By the end of the night, it was three strikes and you’re out. The Hawks decided to trade the draft rights of Kelly Oubre Jr. whom they selected at No. 15 to the Wizards for pick No. 19 and two future second-rounders. Perfect I thought. Bobby Portis, who fit Atlanta’s most dire need of being a lively body inside, was still on the board. The Hawks add two more picks and get the guy they need, a win-win situation. Nope. Instead Atlanta selected Jerian Grant, a guard and dealt him to New York for Tim Hardaway Jr. The 15th pick in the draft eventually turns into a role player coming from the most dysfunctional team in the league just like that. Poof.
Hardaway averaged 11.5 points with the Knicks last season and saw his shooting averages plummet across the board, shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three. Hardaway at least gets after it defensively, right? Nope. He ranked 94th out of 100 qualified shooting guards in defensive plus-minus. Strike one on Bud and Assistant General Manager Wes Wilcox.
The Hawks proceeded to draft two Euros that will never step foot on American soil for a NBA game. Marcus Eriksson, a Swedish shooting guard recovering from an ACL and meniscus tear and Dimitrios Agravanis, a Greek big man who likely makes Mike Muscala look like a perennial All-NBAer. Strike two and strike three.
Why draft players you know you have no chance of grooming instead of proven commodities from the states? Cliff Alexander out of Kansas was a top prospect coming out of high school just a year ago. He had his ups and downs at Kansas and had to go pro early due to a chance he wouldn’t be eligible next season. The former McDonald’s All-American went undrafted and is a cautionary tale of one-and-dones, but still would have been interesting to take a flier on late in the second round.
Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot center from Washington, also went undrafted. He led the nation in blocked shots this past season at 4.5 per game and would have been an excellent buy-low option for Atlanta to mold. Much like Alexander, Upshaw has off court issues and was kicked off the Huskies halfway through the season. If he would have kept his nose clean, many thought he could be a first round selection. Once again, why not roll the dice on a player like this with the 59th pick?
If you don’t like head cases, how about Darion Atkins? A 6-foot-8 forward with springs and a defense-first mindset. Atkins anchored Virginia’s packline defense and was named Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player or the Year and helped hold third overall pick Jahlil Okafor to just 10 points and five turnovers.
With Pero Antic announcing he is leaving the Hawks to return overseas, the mistakes made in the draft put even more pressure on the front office to make something happen this offseason. Atlanta is left with Al Horford and Mike Muscala as their only true big men. Is Atlanta banking on convincing a serviceable big man to sign during free agency? They will have enough trouble bringing back both Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Are they putting their eggs all in one basket with last year’s second rounder, 7-foot-3 Walter “Edy” Tavares?
The clock is ticking after a great regular season. Cleveland exposed Atlanta in the conference finals and pounded them into submission on the glass. If Atlanta is unable to land a few big men or swing a trade, I’m not sure I like their chances as a real contender. Hopefully Bud and Wilcox are confident that they can add the right guys, if not, the ghost of Danny Ferry might haunt them.