Hawks must use NBA draft lottery luck to change course of franchise

The Atlanta Hawks have a rare opportunity that will go a long way toward determining the franchise's future for years to come.
Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields
Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have a rare opportunity on their hands.

Landing the No. 1 overall pick is rare even with teams routinely losing as many games as possible for the chance at coming away in the draft’s pole position.

Four teams have landed the No. 1 pick more times than the Hawks, who have gotten it four times -- two of which happened before they moved to Atlanta. Those teams have one championship between them in the lottery era, though.

Just 10 of the last 39 No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win championships.

The most recent is Andrew Wiggins (2014), though he was a fourth option on the Golden State Warriors before proving vital to their championship in 2021-22.

That extends beyond Wiggins, though, with only three of the championship-winning former No. 1 picks doing so as the unquestioned top option on their team at the time. That trend is as telling as any as the Hawks weigh their decisions on what to do with the No. 1 pick.

Alexandre Sarr? Zaccharie Risacher? Donovan Clingan? Maybe a trade is in order.

Three of the next four most recent champion top picks all won their titles alongside the sixth-most-recent No. 1 pick to win it all, LeBron James.

The other was center Andrew Bogut. He won his championship similarly to Wiggins – as a key supporting cast member for the Warriors stars. That speaks to the larger point about team building in all of this.

Nothing else matters unless and until you have a superstar to put you over the top.

The Hawks have been a playoff staple for decades. But they have not won a title since 1958 when the franchise was in St. Louis. They have not been back to the NBA Finals since 1961, most recently coming two games short in 2020-21.

To make matters worse, the Hawks have regressed in each season since, failing to make the playoffs for the first time this year, the first time since 2019-20.

Perhaps that is all setting up for a major comeback next season.

Hawks need star power to win an NBA title

It only gets more complicated for the Hawks as they potentially debate the future of their star backcourt duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Even as reports have come out about Murray being the favored target by teams – including the Hawks – Young’s ceiling is admittedly higher.

By all accounts, Young’s often heliocentric playing style teases the promise of greater heights even as Murray’s game might be easier to build around on both ends of the floor.

Both players are ready to win sooner rather than later.

That has historically been difficult to accomplish with young players, as the decade-long gap in draft classes between No. 1 picks becoming champions. That is not to say the right rookie cannot contribute to a championship contender.

Dallas Mavericks rookie center Dereck Lively II has been a vital part of the run to the Finals and was helping them stay in Game 1 only to be undermined by foul trouble.

Lively had five fouls in 14 minutes which proved to be a turning point in the contest.

Some of his fouls showcased the kind of youth and inexperience that are glaring weaknesses at this point of the season. Of course, the overall list of rookies to win championships is far less exclusive.

But that speaks even more to the need for star power with James, Curry & Co., Nikola Jokic, or Giannis Antetokounmpo the driving force on those teams going back to 2007-08.

It could be wiser to flip the pick and whatever else necessary to build the roster or find that star.