If the night didn’t yield the windfall Atlanta Hawks fans had hoped, neither was it the calamity they’ve come to fear. The Hawks didn’t move up and land either Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray, but they did find two wings who could prove useful.
Taking Taurean Prince of Baylor with the 12th overall pick might seem a reach, but if you’ve seen him in person – and I have – you can spot a resemblance to DeMarre Carroll. (And not just the distinctive hair.) Prince is tough and strong and can make a jump shot. He has the makings of a 3-and-D guy, as the NBA argot has it, and he provides cover should Kent Bazemore price himself out of town.
DeAndre Bembry of Saint Joseph’s was an excellent college player whose selection at No. 21 frankly surprised me. The Hawks want all their players to be able to shoot. The thing Bembry does worst is shoot. Prince should fit Mike Budenholzer’s pace-and-space system; Bembry might not. But that’s OK, too.
Under Billy Knight, the Hawks were longer on talent – meaning the ability to run fast and jump high – than skill. Under Danny Ferry/Budenholzer/Wes Wilcox, the Hawks have become more skilled than talented. Shooting and passing are grand assets, but a team needs guys who can run fast and jump high as well.
Once Carroll left for Toronto as a free agent, the Hawks’ starters at 2 and 3 were Kyle Korver, who turned 35 in the spring, and Bazemore, who’s 6-foot-5. Korver’s best days are behind him. Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent. There’s a real chance the Hawks will need new starters at both positions come autumn. We can’t yet know if Prince or Bembry is ready for such an assignment that soon if ever, but at least the Hawks have given themselves options.
If you’re critical of these picks – and I imagine some among you will be; the Hawks have conditioned us to be skeptical – I’d ask this: Would you rather Budenholzer/Wilcox had drafted a raw big man on the order of Skal Labissiere, who was overmatched in his one season at Kentucky and who might well be on the final year of his first contract before he’s ready to give an NBA team even 10 minutes a night?
Drafting for need gets a bad rap, but really: Isn’t every pick of every draft made for a need of some sort? No matter what some national voices suggested after the Jeff Teague trade, the Hawks are not embarking on a tear-down. Far from it. They hope to re-sign Al Horford and build on what they have. (And in Dennis Schroder, they have a younger, cheaper and more talented point guard than Teague.) It would be a shock if Prince or Bembry become anything more than complementary players, but both are a darn sight closer to playing serious NBA minutes than some teenage 7-footer.
The Prince pick reminds me of what the Falcons did by drafting Keanu Neal: It’s a system pick, and not every team plays the same system or values the same type of player. Bembry’s selection is a pick against type: He’s not more of what the Hawks already have; he’s the kind of talent they lack. I have no issue with either choice.
I don’t think this draft makes them the new favorite to win the Eastern Conference. (There were no players in this draft, not even Ben Simmons, who’d have done that.) But they’ve fleshed out a roster that needed fleshing out, and they’ve steeled themselves against contingencies. If they didn’t get well with these two picks, maybe they got better. That’s kind of the idea, is it not?