Since the day Hawks GM Travis Schlenk notoriously decided to trade away Luka Doncic for Trae Young and a top-five protected 2019 draft pick, the writing has been on the wall that May 14th, 2019 could be among the most memorable days in franchise history. That notion only became more evident as the season unfolded. Flattened out lottery odds gave the Hawks a sliver of hope at landing the first overall pick, and a poor season by the Mavericks left Atlanta with an opportunity of picking two times in the top ten.
The way this lottery will be done is much different than it has been in the past. The NBA took a much more aggressive approach at stopping tanking by greatly diminishing the odds of winning the #1 pick for the teams with the worst records. In 2018, the Phoenix Suns, who finished last in all of basketball, had a 25% chance of winning the lottery. This year, the abysmal New York Knicks only have a 14.0% of picking first; which are the same odds as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns – owners of the second and third worst records in the league. Even teams picking later in the lottery – like the Pelicans, Mavericks, and Grizzlies – have a prayer’s chance of winning at 6%.
Also, what is different about this year’s lottery: Only the first four spots are chosen by ping pong balls. After that, the teams are sorted from the worst record to the best record, meaning the latest the Hawks can select is ninth.
Atlanta finished with the fifth-worst record, leaving them with a 10.5% chance of landing Zion Williamson (or the #1 overall pick) and a 42.1% chance of selecting in the top four. The Mavericks finished tied for seventh, giving them a 6.0% shot at winning the lottery and a 26.3% at finishing in the top-four. If Dallas does not land in the top- four, their pick will go to Atlanta. That would give the Hawks a 46.4% chance at the ninth pick, 24.3% at the tenth, 2.9% at 11th, and 0.1% at the 12th. There’s over a 70% chance the Hawks will have two top ten selections in this summer’s draft; which is particularly tantalizing when gazing over Travis Schlenk’s track record.
Before taking over the Hawks general manager position, Schlenk was a crucial cog in the development of the Warriors dynasty. One of his extraordinary abilities: evaluating talent. In his two years with Atlanta, he’s shown that his experience as a scout, Director of Player Development, and Assistant General manager under Bob Meyers has allowed him to pick out high-quality basketball players up and down the draft as good as anyone in the league – even in such a small sample size.
Schlenk’s first draft was a slam dunk, literally. With the 19th pick, he selected John Collins out of Wake Forrest, who nearly averaged 20 points and ten rebounds in his first season as a full-time starter. He’s a walking double-double and a perfect fit for who Schlenk took with his first pick the next year.
That would be Trae Young, who wins rookie of the year in almost any other draft class that doesn’t have Luka Doncic in it. Think about this: Even after a slow start, Young had more point AND assists as a rookie than Chris Paul, Magic Johnson, and Steph Curry. This is a generational talent that was finding his stride as the year ended. Young’s going to become the ideal floor general every top-of-the-line NBA team needs – always keeping his teammates engaged with the rare ability to score in bunches.
Atlanta’s 2018 draft didn’t stop with Trae Young, though. I’ve already mentioned the protected first-round pick they received for Dallas in exchange for Luka Doncic. They also had the 19th overall pick in the draft again along with the 30th pick. And just like in 2017, Schlenk waved his magic wand and landed another starter. This time it was Kevin Huerter, the sophomore shooting guard out of Maryland.
Even coach Pierce had his doubts about Huerter early on, commenting that he believed Huerter would be a G-League player for most of the year. A couple of months later, The Red Velvet was not only a starter for the Hawks but an efficient one as well.
With the 30th pick, Atlanta took Omari Spellman. The 6’9″ Power Forward didn’t have quite the success as the other three. However, when he wasn’t battling weight issues and injuries, he showcased a unique skill set that will likely find himself a niche in this league.
The combined success of the last two drafts has forced the organization to start thinking farther ahead much earlier than they thought they might. By next year, many are expecting this team to be a playoff contender in the East regardless of how the ping pong balls land. But if they fall in the Hawks favor, it could go down as the most fabulous day in franchise history. Schlenk has already proven he doesn’t need the number one overall pick to eye out supreme talent. Give him two top-ten picks, and the ceiling for this team can become as high as any teams in the NBA, or higher.
Plus, it may force Atlanta to take a slightly different outlook on how to approach free agency. Travis Schlenk recently said he doesn’t expect the Hawks to be major players in the free agent market just yet. The team can create enough space to add a max player, but there aren’t too many guys out their truly worth a max contract nowadays, and Schlenk’s motto has always been “maintain financial flexibility.”
That is something Hawks have always been egregious at. Schlenk is finally doing it the correct way, but it won’t be easy to hold back his aggression if a player like Zion Williamson falls in Atlanta’s laps.
I genuinely believe the Hawks are on the path to doing something extraordinary under their new management. So far, all the right cards have been pulled. But even with the best minds in the game, every fantastic NBA basketball team needs a little good fortune; which hasn’t happened too often in Atlanta sports. You have a right to be ecstatic, nervous, and hopeful all that might change on Tuesday night.