Hawks projected to select defensive 'difference-maker' with No. 1 pick

Early projections have the Atlanta Hawks taking a big-bodied plus-defender with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2024 NBA Draft.
Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder
Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder / Paras Griffin/GettyImages

"With the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks select…"

Barring a trade, NBA Commissioner Adam Silverman will utter those words (or something to that effect) on June 26 when the draft opens. So which name will punctuate that sentence as the Hawks’ selection for the No. 1 pick?

French big man Alexandre Sarr has emerged as the odds-on favorite to be the pick, so let’s take a look at some of the outside opinions, including a mock draft that has him going to the Hawks.

“Sarr is a difference-maker on defense who covers a ton of ground with his arms and quick feet, similar to bigs such as Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton,” The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie wrote on May 12 (subscription required).  “The other end is the question.

“He’s best served playing next to a floor-spacing five, or he’d need to become a dangerous perimeter shooter himself.”

Sarr averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks for the Perth Wildcats last season

But the concerning part of that evaluation of Sarr is that it’s very close to what was said about him early on last season through the end of the campaign.

Projected No. 1 pick comes with question marks Hawks must address

“Sarr is an exceptionally mobile big man who covers ground fluidly, is quick off his feet for dunks and blocks, and shows intriguing versatility guarding on the perimeter and creating his own offense with sharp footwork,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote in early September 2023. “His thin frame … makes it difficult for him to hold his ground inside the paint at times on both ends of the floor and be the type of defensive rebounding presence scouts might hope from a 7-footer.”

Givony’s colleague, Jeremy Woo was of a similar line of thinking at season’s end.

“His length, mobility and defensive instincts give him a chance to be one of the most impactful defensive players in this draft, and give him some baseline value out of the gate,” Woo wrote in early December. 

“Questions persist surrounding his toughness and offensive feel while his jumper is a work in progress -- elements scouts will continue to nitpick as the season goes on. Sarr's upside keeps him near the top of our draft board, but he'll likely need to show more growth in key areas to make himself a truly convincing option at No. 1.”

That leaves the Hawks in a precarious spot, with the NBA Draft Combine – running from May 12-19 in Chicago – their first chance to get a hands-on look at the 7-footer.

He has shown improvement, though.

“Sarr … commanded the attention of NBA scouts and executives in the fall during a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas against the G League Ignite,” Yahoo Sports’ Krysten Peek wrote on May 12. “He showcased a much improved motor and elite rim protection, and solidified himself as a potential top pick after dominating the paint against other projected lottery talent in Matas Buzelis and Ron Holland.”

With just over six weeks to make their decision, the Hawks are officially on the clock in the 2024 NBA Draft. General Manager Landry Fields acknowledged the tremendous opportunity facing his organization.

What Fields was less clear on was what the Hawks would ultimately do with the pick, with taking Sarr, another prospect, or trading the pick altogether all feasible paths forward.