Popular Hawks draft prospect compared to All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year

NBA: JAN 08 Grizzlies at Clippers

With the NBA Draft later this month, the Hawks, armed with the No. 1 overall pick, are at the forefront of conversations around the league.

Unlike a lot of cycles, there isn’t a consensus top prospect like Victor Wembanyama was last offseason. That doesn’t mean there aren’t stars to be drafted. Hell, just look to the 2018 NBA Draft.

There are plenty of stars that came from that year, including Atlanta’s own Trae Young. Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all went in that first round, but none of those players were the top pick. They weren’t even the second pick.

The Suns took Deandre Ayton first and the Kings to Marvin Bagley with the following selection, both of which no longer play in those cities. My point is there will surely be a couple of stars that come out of the 2024 NBA Draft.

The most popular prospect linked to the Hawks to this point is Alex Sarr — a 7-foot Frenchman who resembles the next generation of big men in a lot of ways. Ironically, it’s a member of that 2018 NBA Draft class that ESPN has compared Sarr to,¬†Jaren Jackson on the high end and Nic Claxton on the low end.

The blueprint for Sarr’s role at the next level is something like Jackson, who gives Memphis high-quality spacing and elite paint protection while toggling between power forward and center. Sarr has a long way to go as a shooter to get to Jackson’s level, but that ceiling is within reach for him, with a huge, mobile frame at 7-foot-1 that makes him an excellent long-term prospect.

Jaren Jackson is an elite defender, capable of guarding multiple positions on the perimeter and in the paint. However, the Grizzlies big man has become one of the better players in the league because of his ability to space the floor.

He’s a career 34.5% three-point shooter, peaking at 39.4% on 6.5 attempts in 2019-20. Jackson is coming off a career-high 22.5 points per game campaign, which followed a 2022-23 season where he earned All-Defensive Team honors for the second time, his first All-Star bid, and a Defensive Player of the Year title.

If that’s who Alex Sarr can be for the Atlanta Hawks, sign me up. However, on the low end, spending a No. 1 overall pick on Nic Claxton wouldn’t be ideal.

If he doesn’t develop at that rate, Sarr could still be a solid contributor along the lines of Claxton, who has fashioned himself into a useful defensive-minded role after five seasons with the Nets but hasn’t taken a major leap on the offensive end.

The Hawks find themselves in a difficult situation where they must balance a prospect’s floor and ceiling. Trae Young isn’t getting more patient. Assuming the Hawks choose to build around him; they’ll need to put a contender around him. However, the No. 1 overall pick must have a ceiling high enough to warrant that lofty draft status.

It’s a difficult dynamic to navigate.

Photographer: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire
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