The 19th player taken in the 2008 NBA draft was J.J. Hickson. If you’ve heard of him, it’s doubtless because he played at Wheeler High in Marietta and spent a season at North Carolina State. It isn’t because he did much of anything as a professional rookie.
Hickson was the 11th man on the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won more regular-season games than any other. Come the playoffs, Hickson got to sit and cheer as LeBron James and the other nine guys did their work. This isn’t to derogate Hickson, who’s 20 and who could yet develop into a fine pro. This is to offer a sobering glimpse of NBA reality.
The Hawks hold the 19th pick in Round 1, and if they find someone capable of offering immediate assistance that late they’ll consider themselves outrageously fortunate. The 19th player drafted in 2007 was Javaris Crittenton of Georgia Tech, who’s already on his third NBA team and who has started a total of 10 games. The 19th player taken in 2006 was the legendary Quincy Douby, who hasn’t yet graced a starting lineup.
Being a pragmatist, Rick Sund knows all this. Being curious, the Hawks’ general manager went back over the past six drafts to see if the guys drafted 18th, 19th and 20th had made much of a splash. What he found: In that 18-man sample, only one — J.R. Smith, drafted by the Hornets in 2004 — was a double-figure scorer as a rookie. (And then only just, at 10.3.)
“You’re going to get a good player [at 19 or thereabouts],” Sund said Monday, but you have to be patient. The post-lottery guys aren’t brand names, aren’t LeBrons or the D-Wades. They’re the slow growers. If you’re lucky, they’re the Hakim Warricks.
Examples: David West [No. 18 to New Orleans in 2003] is now an All-Star, but he averaged 3.9 points as a rookie. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson [No. 20 in 2004] just made the All-Star team, and he averaged 8.7 points as a rookie.
If the Hawks’ No. 1 pick cracks the eight-man rotation next season, that will be a victory. If he winds up starting, that will mean Sund has failed on the second half of his summer mission — to hold together a core that includes four free agents among its top eight.
“If [the draftee] makes the rotation, that will mean he’s really good,” Sund said. “He’ll have beaten out someone on a 47-win club … or it will mean we didn’t get all our free agents.
You’ll be shocked to learn Sund, who hasn’t yet made a pick as Hawks GM, won’t declare a target, or even a targeted position. He says they’re looking at guards, yes, but also at forwards and centers. “Let’s say Zaza [Pachulia] doesn’t re-sign with us and Al Horford gets hurt next year,” Sund said. “In hindsight, I’ll be wishing I’d drafted a center.”
The guess here is that the Hawks will take a point guard — Eric Maynor of VCU or Ty Lawson of North Carolina — but in no way should the 19th pick be viewed as a savior. Acie Law was picked 11th in 2007, and whatever happened to him?
This first-round pick is a key to the Hawks’ future, but not the immediate future. “You have to look at it as short term against long term,” Sund said. Long term, Maynor or Lawson might look mighty nice in red, white and blue. Short term, let’s just hope for somebody who can play.
For further reading: Here was the Monday morning all-NBA draft edition of Bradley’s Buzz. You should know NBAdraft.net has since updated its mock again and has Jeff Teague of Wake Forest going to the Hawks at No. 19. For those keeping score, that’s three different guards — Wayne Ellington of North Carolina, Jrue Holiday of UCLA and now Teague — in 24 hours.