Update: The Atlanta Hawks have traded Jeff Teague to Indiana in a deal that is expected to bring the Utah Jazz’s No. 1 pick — the 12th overall — here. So that stuff about the No. 21 pick below is null and void. And I’m still not sure the Hawks can use the Nos. 12 and 21 picks to move into the top 10, which is where they’d need to be to draft Buddy Hield and/or Jamal Murray. But still: It’s a bold upward move that needed to be made. More in a bit.
As threatened, here’s the more: Trading Teague gives the Hawks a chance to retool.
The Atlanta Hawks hold the 21st pick in this NBA draft. It’s possible to find a real player there. Over the past 10 years, I count two very good players taken at No. 21 and two not-bads. The list:
2006: Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
2007: Daequan Cook, Ohio State
2008: Ryan Anderson, Cal
2009: Darren Collison, UCLA
2010: Craig Brackins, Iowa State
2011: Nolan Smith, Duke
2012: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
2013: Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
2014: Mitch McGary, Michigan
2015: Justin Anderson, Virginia
The good ones are Rondo and R. Anderson. The not-bads are Sullinger and Dieng. (Cook was OK for a bit.) It should be noted that Rondo slipped to No. 21 because it was believed he’d clashed with Kentucky coach Tubby Smith and that Sullinger was available because of back issues. For a real talent to be available that late, there has to be a reason.
We also note that the 21st player taken in 2003 went to the Hawks. Three years later, he would be named the NBA’s most improved player. Alas, he was no longer playing for the Hawks. He’d been shipped to Phoenix in the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade. His name: Boris Diaw.
The point being: You can hope to find a contributing player at No. 21, but you might not. A year ago, these Hawks held the No. 15 pick and valued it so highly they traded it to New York for Tim Hardaway Jr., who hadn’t been starting for the 17-65 Knickerbockers. (He wouldn’t start for the Hawks, either.)
The Hawks enter this draft knowing they need to change – they just slipped from 60 wins to 48 – but can substantive change come via Pick No. 21? They’re not apt to find a difference-maker there, and it’s unlikely they could parlay that pick and Jeff Teague into a top five selection. (Into Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray, say.) Which isn’t to say they won’t trade Teague on Thursday. I’m guessing it’s 65-35 they will.
It’s time to see if Dennis Schroder can run this team, and Teague’s value will only diminish from here. (He’ll become a free agent next summer.) It has long been rumored that Philadelphia wants to trade one of its many young big men for Teague: Nerlens Noel was the first name floated, but later reports hold that Jahlil Okafor is more likely to go.
The two are very different. Noel can defend but isn’t much of a scorer or passer; Okafor can score but isn’t much of a defender. Noel’s skills wouldn’t fit Mike Budenholzer’s pace-and-space offense. Okafor is a low-post presence, which is never a bad thing, but his addition could force the Hawks to move parts they’d rather not move. Al Horford’s efficiency diminished slightly last season because – by his own admission – he played too much on the perimeter, and nobody sees Paul Millsap as a wing.
With Kyle Korver in decline and Teague on the way out, the best thing about the Hawks is the 4-5 tandem of Millsap and Horford. If they try to make that a 3-4 pairing, it won’t work half as well. Having Noel/Okafor would add to their talent base – and they need to add to that talent base – without necessarily making them a better team. (It’s also worth noting that Millsap and Horford will be on the high side of 30 when training camp commences.)
The Hawks have to re-sign Horford next month for any of this to be applicable. I believe they will. But keeping Horford wouldn’t add a major talent; it would only keep the Hawks from losing one. The best chance of finding such a player this offseason is by trading Teague, either by moving into the draft’s top 10 (possible but not probable) or by hooking a big-time veteran in return (a greater possibility).
It would be a surprise if the Hawks don’t make noise Thursday night: By trading Teague, by trading up, by trading down, by doing something. They’re not coming off 60 wins and the East’s No. 1 seed this time around. They can’t make do with tweaks anymore. They have to start changing their core. Shedding Teague and promoting Schroder would be the first step. Getting a talented player or two in exchange for Teague would be the best step.
Super fun reading: