The Atlanta Hawks have an interesting draft history filled with a bunch of B-/C+ picks.
Atlanta’s traditional regular-season success means they have rarely had a top draft pick (with one notable exception that we’ll get to shortly). Every draft class varies year by year, but outside of the top four or five players, there are seldom can’t-miss prospects available in the late lottery/high teens. The Hawks have generally gotten something from those positions, which is more than many teams can say, but they’ve never found a game-changing talent there, either.
To borrow from a different sport, the Hawks have rarely struck out completely in the draft, but they’ve also rarely hit a home run. We’re here to fix that.
Let’s go back in time and imagine if the Hawks had absolutely nailed every draft pick with the benefit of hindsight. Of course, the butterfly effects of changing any one of these picks are enormous; we wouldn’t expect a Nikola Jokic-led Hawks team to be picking at the top of the draft a few years down the road, right?
But in the dog days of summer, it’s fun to think about what the Hawks might’ve looked like if they could’ve been a little bit luckier (or better).
2014: Pick #15. Actual Pick: Adreian Payne. Should’ve Been: Nikola Jokic
All credit goes to the Nuggets, who found Jokic when 29 other teams passed on him (some more than once; at least he was selected 41st, two spots before the Hawks’ second-round choice).
Nobody at the time was even sure Jokic would have an NBA career, much less turn into one of the greatest players ever. But Jokic in Torch Red and Legacy Yellow would’ve been [insert fire emoji, fire emoji, fire emoji].
Could Atlanta be the NBA’s champs with Jokic in the middle? Impossible to know, but the sweet-shooting, pure-passing, barely-jumping big man would’ve definitely become an instant fan favorite. He erases teammates’ weaknesses and elevates strengths, and it’s not hard to imagine him anchoring some deep Hawks playoff runs.
Nearly everyone missed on Jokic, but there were other solid players drafted after Payne that could have helped the team, too. Future Hawk Clint Capela went 25th, sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic went 27th, and newly-minted $160-million man Jerami Grant went 39th. All of those would’ve been excellent choices.