The Atlanta Hawks finished with the NBA’s second-best record. They hold the 15th pick — the first after the lottery — in Round 1. A team that good doesn’t often draft that high. That’s a nice thing.
Less clear is what the Hawks should do with Pick No. 15. On Tuesday, GM-in-waiting Wes Wilcox held a conference call with a few members of the Atlanta media, and he said flat-out: “It’s going to be hard for any young player to play on our team next year.”
We saw as much last year. The Hawks had the 15th pick in that draft, too. (That was on numerical merit. They were coming off a 38-44 season.) They took Adreian Payne of Michigan State, a big man who could shoot. They traded him to Minnesota in February for a lottery-protected Round 1 pick. Payne had played 19 minutes for the Hawks.
Said Wilcox: “We were so deep on our front line there wasn’t going to be much opportunity for him to play.”
So deep? In the playoffs, both Mike Scott and Pero Antic had games where they weren’t deployed. Elton Brand was used only to foul somebody intentionally. The “deep” front line had been reduced to the three starters — Horford, Millsap and Carroll, all of whom had some manner of late-season injury — and Mike Muscala, who spent much of the season shuttling between Philips Arena and the Hawks’ D-league team in Fort Wayne.
Come the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks were outrebounded 208-157 in four games. Cleveland more than doubled them in offensive rebounds (55 to 27). This was shocking to see but no real shock: Over the regular season, the Hawks were 27th in a 30-team league in rebound differential.
“It’s certainly an area we’re going to try to improve,” Wilcox said. Then this: “I don’t know that the improvement is going to come from something we don’t have on this roster.” (This would apply only if Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll are re-signed, we can assume.)
That could mean more Muscala or more Austin Daye, a 27-year-old who’s on his fifth organization but whom the Hawks liked enough to sign to a two-year contract in April. (Daye, who didn’t play a postseason minute, is 6-foot-11 but skinny.) What it seems to mean is that anyone expecting the Hawks to get well rebounding-wise in Thursday’s draft should curb that enthusiasm.