Hawks assistant GM Dave Pendergraft watched dozens of college prospects throughout the season. When it ended, he was “excited” about the possibilities for the team’s No. 24 overall draft pick, figuring the Hawks would have several good prospects to choose from during the June 24 draft.
But then Pendergraft scrutinized Synergy Sports video and data, evaluated prospects’ workouts and interviews and took note of their physical measurements.
“Now, as things start to dwindle down, I’m really not so sure about that,” Pendergraft said today.
Pendergraft was fresh back from pre-draft workouts for 42 less-heralded prospects in Minneapolis this week. Of those players, Pendergraft said “a handful” were first-round material. With the Hawks picking near the bottom of the first round, those workouts plus the 23 prospects they plan to bring in between now and the draft are more important than the Chicago camp for top prospects (which have become less useful, anyway, with most players opting not to work out).
Pendergraft ranks the top five prospects, in order, as Kentucky’s John Wall, Ohio State’s Evan Turner, Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors and Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson. He said one or two of those players will face a steep learning curve but that all should be good players by the end of the season.
After those five, he said the draft becomes “very, very hard to predict” but he thinks teams can find rotation players as low as No. 20 in the order, depending on their needs. “If that player is a worker, by the All-Star break they will be giving you some minutes,” he said.
The talent drops off after those top 15 or 20. So unless the Hawks move up in the order, Pendergraft doesn’t expect this draft to be deep enough for the Hawks to find a player who’s ready to contribute now.
“I think we will get a piece,” he said. “I don’t think we will necessarily get a rotational piece. We can get a player who after some seasoning can stay in the NBA for a while, that can make a career out of it. If we can keep our roster intact I don’t see a lot of playing time. It will be a situation where we take advantage of our D-League affiliate.”
The Hawks have rarely used the D-League: Othello Hunter and Thomas Gardner played a couple games there in 2008-09 but that’s the only time in four years the Hawks sent their young players down to get burn.
Because of the low expectations for the 24th pick, Pendergraft said Joe Johnson’s future has no bearing on the Hawks’ draft preparations. They aren’t going to draft a wing player who can come in and play, anyway, so if Johnson leaves they’ll need to find a veteran to fill that role.
The Hawks were in the market for a shooter at the trade deadline and later had interest in signing free agent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Now they’d like to find a shooter or big man in the draft.
Word out of Chicago and Minneapolis was that the center group’s measurements were disappointing as a whole. “I think that happens every year,” Pendergraft said. “They never measure as tall as you want them to measure.”
At least one mock draft predicts the Hawks will select center Kevin Seraphin, who measured 6-9 without shoes and has a 7-3 wingspan.
“Unfortunately, the big bodies that fall to us will be more in the project range,” Pendergraft said. “You have to look at NBA free agents [at center] and say they probably are a better way to go. But if we are going to pick a skill, a need, we need one more shooter.”
Is this draft deep with shooters?
“No,” Pendergraft said. “That’s the [freakin'] problem. There are bunch of guards but not a lot of shooters. There are some good players but they can’t make shots. And the better shooters can’t play a lick of defense.”
The next important evaluation period for the Hawks is another pre-draft camp in New Jersey June 9-11. The Hawks will start bringing in prospects for workouts on Jan. 13 and continue to do so up until June 22.
“Coming into this thing I thought there would be maybe six or seven guys there at [No. 24],” Pendergraft said. “Now that’s shrunk a little bit to maybe three or four. But you never know. The good thing is it’s not going to make or break us because we’ve got good players coming back.”