It’s usually the biggest night of the NBA offseason, but for the Hawks this isn’t the usual offseason. They have to hire a coach, and they have to try and keep their leading scorer from leaving. And they have only the draft’s 24th pick, which is five spots lower than they took Jeff Teague, who hardly played as a rookie.
That said, the draft can never be ignored. And it is possible to find a pretty fair player that late. Here we offer examples, all taken this decade with the 24th pick or afterward of their respective draft: Gerald Wallace, Samuel Dalembert, Jamaal Tinsley (taken by the Hawks’ Pete Babcock and traded to Indiana in 2001), Tony Parker, John Salmons, Kendrick Perkins, Josh Howard (on whom Billy Knight passed in 2004 to take Boris Diaw), Delonte West, Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih, David Lee (30th pick in 2005 — major Knick coup), Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Aaron Brooks, George Hill and Taj Gibson.
You’ll notice that most are guards or small forwards. Most, but not all. Perkins and Dalembert are centers; Lee and Gibson are power forwards. We keep hearing the Hawks lack heft. Might heft be forthcoming June 24th?
Not according to NBAdraft.net. Its latest mock has the Hawks taking Terrico White, a combo guard from Ole Miss. But if we turn to Chad Ford of ESPN.com’s Insiders, heft becomes a possibility.
In Ford’s latest mock (link requires registration), he has the Hawks taking Hassan Whiteside, a 7-footer who played one season at Marshall. By way of contrast, NBAdraft.net has Whiteside going 15 spots earlier. And there, as Ford notes, is the tangle: NBA watchers aren’t sure what to make of the Marshall man. He writes:
How can a guy who just measured with a freakish 7-foot-7 wingspan slip this far? The word out of Chicago was that the interviews didn’t go so well … I had the chance to sit down with Whiteside and I can understand why.
Whiteside isn’t a bad kid, but he’s very naive at this point, in a way that reminded me a bit of Tyrus Thomas [taken No. 4 overall by Chicago in 2006 and traded to Charlotte this year]. Eventually some team will decide the talent is too much to pass on. But I think he did some damage to his stock last week. He can certainly make up for that in workouts … but he’s just created a bigger mountain to climb.
So what, you’re asking, did Whiteside say to hoist a red flag? Ford describes it thusly:
He projected a confidence that bordered on naïve arrogance. He compared himself to everyone from Dwight Howard to Hakeem Olajuwon (with whom he spent a week training), complained about where I had him on my mock draft (No. 14 to the Rockets) and was insulted that our scouting report didn’t have more on his 3-point shooting ability.
Now, do I really see Whiteside slipping to 24th because he’s cocky? No, and Ford indicated above that he really doesn’t, either. Ford himself rates Whiteside as the 14th-best player available, and it’s hard to imagine any 7-footer of such promise talking his way into the lower third of Round 1. But all is not yet lost, at least theoretically.
According to Ford’s mock, these first-round talents will also be available when the Hawks pick: Larry Sanders, a 6-11 forward from VCU; Craig Brackins, a 6-10 forward from Iowa State; Keith (Tiny) Gallon, a 6-10 forward from Oklahoma, and Jarvis Varnardo, the 6-10 shot-blocker from Mississippi State. (Plus Gani Lawal of Georgia Tech, whom Ford doesn’t rate as a Round 1 pick.)
(For comparative purposes, we should note that NBAdraft.net doesn’t list Brackins, Gallon or Varnardo as a first-rounder. It has Lawal being taken with the final selection of Round 1. It has Sanders going seven picks before the Hawks draft.)
So, if you’re among those who insist the Hawks need a dominant center above all else, you probably won’t be pleased with this draft. (No dominant centers are taken 24th overall.) But if you’re in the market for another 6-10 or 6-11 type, there’s hope. But there’s also this to consider:
The Hawks could well lose Joe Johnson in July. (That’s the backward nature of the NBA: The draft comes before free agency, so a team really isn’t sure what its immediate needs will be.) If that seems a real possibility come June 24th, wouldn’t the Hawks want to take a swingman just to serve as cover? Someone like, say, Damion James of Texas?