Atlanta Hawks: Skylar Mays could be up before Sharife Cooper

Atlanta Hawks Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks conclude their Summer League schedule on Monday. They’ll face the New York Knicks whom they eliminated from the playoffs last season in the first round. It’s the second time they’ll face a 2021 playoffs opponent in Summer League, having just defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday to bring their record to 2-2.

Throughout the summer, we’ve discussed the young players showing off their high skill levels. 2021 draft picks Jalen Johnson (20th) and Sharife Cooper (48th) along with 2020 second-rounder Skylar Mays (50th) have all been impressive.

While Johnson is a lock to make the Hawks roster, Cooper and Mays will likely spend the majority of the season with the College Park Skyhawks.

The Atlanta Hawks could wind up needing Skylar Mays before Sharife Cooper

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As it stands, the final roster spot figures to go to recent free-agent signee big man Johnny Hamilton. The seven-footer figures to be the third center, pickup up the scraps behind Clint Capela and Gorgui Dieng until Onyeka Okongwu returns sometime in January or February.

But as we saw last season, injuries can strike and really decimate a team’s depth. The Hawks boast some of the best depth in the NBA, particularly from positions 1-3.

The Hawks were one of the most injured teams in the NBA last season and never saw their projected starting lineup see the floor together.

If that were to happen again, Mays could find himself getting the call-up before his dynamic rookie teammate.

That’s not meant to be profound or a knock on Cooper. He’d been the Hawks leading scorer averaging 17.7 points and still leads Summer League with 9.0 assists per game. He sat out the last game going through health and safety protocols.

Mays took full advantage, going off for 26 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. He also had two steals and went 10-for-10 at the free-throw line. But Mays has shown a very diverse skillset during the entirety of Summer League. It was his first time at the Vegas games as they were wiped out by COVID last season.

The experience he gained last season is proving invaluable as Mays has appeared comfortable in various roles, first operating off the ball next to Cooper and Johnson who started fast.

Now we see him not only operate as the primary facilitator, getting Johnson going for 25 points. He even became a closer of sorts for the Hawks, scoring 18 of his 26 points in the second and fourth quarters.

His size — Mays stands 6-foot-4 — and ability to pester opposing ball handlers could give him an additional edge over the 6-foot-1 Cooper, aside from having been there before. He averaged 3.8/1.1/0.9 in 8.2 minutes across 33 games. Mays also go some mop-up duty during the Hawks extended playoff run.

Cooper is dynamic on offense but just can’t offer what Mays can defensively.

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Not to mention, the Hawks added Delon Wright in the offseason via trade and brought back Lou Williams making them deeper in the “creator” department than at any time since Trae Young (who averaged over 33 minutes per game last season) has been in the NBA. In the end, despite Cooper likely having the higher overall ceiling, Mays provides better value at the moment.