Atlanta Hawks Draft Lottery Position in Peril

Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Hawks currently hold the number five position in the NBA Draft Lottery. That position is not solidified with nine games left in the season,as four teams are within striking distance of the number five position, with nine games left to play.

The Atlanta Hawks have sat solidly in the number five draft lottery slot, for most of the 2018-19 NBA season. Should the Hawks remain in that position, they will have a 10.5 percent chance to draw the number one pick in the 2019 draft lottery. The revealing of the draft lottery results, will take place on Tuesday May 14, during halftime of an NBA playoff matchup. However the New Orleans Pelicans, the Washington Wizards, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Dallas Mavericks are all within striking distance of the Hawks’ lottery position as the 2018-19 NBA season comes down the stretch.

The Atlanta Hawks have 48 losses on the season. This certainly isn’t indicative of how well the team has played, as the Hawks have dropped a multitude of close games. The New Orleans Pelicans have 43 losses with eight games remaining. Anthony Davis seems more interested in staying healthy, than dominating basketball games at this point in the year. The Pelicans have been in a tailspin, dropping seven of the last 10 games. However point guard Elfrid Peyton has played very well. He recently produced triple doubles in four straight games, a rare feat. Even if they were to lose the remaining eight games, which seems unlikely, It is still a good chance that the Hawks would finish with more losses than the 51 that New Orleans would have in this scenario.

The Washington Wizards have been fairly solid in their last 10 games. They prevailed in four of those contests, led by All Star shooting guard Bradley Beal. Washington however has lost four in a row after a 4-2 stretch. This gives them 43 losses on the season placing them five short of the Atlanta Hawks. With nine games remaining, should the Wizards lose out, they would have 52 losses. I highly doubt this will happen, unless the team shuts down veterans Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, and Jeff Green.

The Memphis Grizzlies also sit at 43 losses. They have played well recently, winning half of their last 10 games despite adversity. Rookie fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr., has missed the past 11 games with a quad injury. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN wrote this story of his injury. The team also traded All Star center Marc Gasol to Toronto. His replacement Jonas Valanciunas along with veteran point guard Mike Conley, have spearheaded the solid month of March for the Grizzlies. Should the Grizzlies lose their last 10 games, that would give them 53 defeats for the 2018-19 campaign. This probably won’t happen, yet the Grizzlies could lose a high percentage of their remaining games, should they decide to sit Conley and Valanciunas. The team did in fact rest Mike Conley in a Friday loss to Orlando. He was replaced in the lineup by former Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey.

The Dallas Mavericks are the most likely threat to the Atlanta Hawks number five draft lottery position. They are 1-9 in their last 10 contests. They traded Dennis Smith Jr. and others to the Knicks in exchange for forward Kristaps Porzingis, who is out for the remainder of the season. They also moved small forward Harrison Barnes to the Sacramento Kings. Recently the team announced that guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who was acquired in the trade with New York, will miss the rest of the season with a tibia injury.

Dallas is clearly tanking, despite the NBA’s efforts to curtail the tactic. They have dropped three games in a row and have only won two of their last 16 games. Besides future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic, Trae Young’s top competition for Rookie of the Year, the Mavericks’ lineup typically consists of players that would be recognizable by only the hard-core NBA fan. They feature former college standouts like Jalen Brunson of Villanova and Justin Jackson from North Carolina.

It is entirely conceivable that the Mavericks could lose all 10 of their games remaining. They have four match-ups against non playoff teams. This includes two games against the Memphis Grizzlies, one against the Sacramento Kings and one versus the NBA’s worse team, the Phoenix Suns. The other six contests are all against playoff teams. Even if the Mavericks don’t finish winless, a repeat of the 1-9 record over their previous ten games seems highly possible.

The real reason this is a major concern for the Atlanta Hawks, is that Dallas owes Atlanta their first round pick, if it falls outside of the top five. Dallas bypassing Atlanta for draft lottery position, would highly increase their odds of keeping their first round draft pick this offseason. Armed with Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingus and a 2019 top five rookie, the goal would be for Dallas to make the playoffs next year, leaving the Hawks with a non lottery pick to complete the Luka Doncic for Trae Young trade.

Here are the current draft lottery odds:

  1. New York Knicks 14%

  2. Phoenix Suns 14%

  3. Cleveland Cavaliers 14%

  4. Chicago Bulls 12.5%

  5. Atlanta Hawks 10.5%

  6. Dallas Mavericks 9.5%

  7. Memphis Grizzlies 7.5%

  8. Washington Wizards 6%

  9. New Orleans Pelicans 4.5%

  10. Los Angeles Lakers 3%

Should Dallas finish the season with 54 losses, the Atlanta Hawks would have to finish 2-7 or worse in their final 12 games, in order to stay in the top five as pertaining to draft lottery odds. Atlanta is 4-6 in its last 10 games, and 6-9 since the All Star break. The win against the Utah Jazz, is the only win Atlanta has against a playoff team in that stretch. Of the Hawks nine remaining games, seven are against teams that are currently in playoff position. Matchups against the Orlando Magic who are fighting for a playoff spot and the New Orleans Pelicans who are jockeying for lottery position, are the only exceptions. Four of the games that Atlanta has left, are against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, two of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Despite the tough competition, it is entirely possible that the Atlanta Hawks could win 4 of their last five games. Should they drop to the six spot in the lottery, Atlanta will go from having 105 chances to win, to only 90. Should the Mavericks land a top five pick, the Hawks could end up picking around number six or seven, with that being their lone first round pick. The worse case scenario is the Hawks falling behind all four teams mentioned and having only 45 chances to win the lottery.

The best case scenario of course would be for the Atlanta Hawks to stay in the top five, win the lottery and Dallas to remain in the number six position. This would give Atlanta a choice between forward Zion Williamson and wing R.J. Barrett, both of Duke University at pick number one. They would also have their choice of the best centers this year’s draft has to offer, the team’s biggest position of need going forward. Should this scenario come to fruition, Atlanta could soon find themselves stacked full of talent like the Oklahoma City Thunder teams of earlier this decade. OKC reached the NBA Finals in 2012, before having so much talent that they had to make tough decisions on who to keep. They ultimately made a mistake by choosing Surge Ibaka over James Harden. Having too much talent, is the best possible problem for a rebuilding team to have though.

General manager Travis Schlenk has an interesting decision to make, if he wants to intervene and help the Atlanta Hawks keep their draft position. He certainly won’t and should not shut down Trae Young or John Collins, as long as they are completely healthy. They are both continuing to grow and develop into young superstars. Young who is making a hard push for rookie of the year, has averaged 22.5 points, eight assists and four rebounds over the past week. As each game goes by, Trae Young continues to break and set new rookie franchise records in many categories. He has even set the Atlanta Hawks overall record, for most games with 20 points and ten assists in a season with 14.

Kevin Huerter and Taurean Prince are two other players that the Atlanta Hawks should let play. Huerter broke out of a recent shooting slump and scored 14 points on 50 percent shooting against the Utah Jazz, including a contested three-point shot over 7’1 Rudy Gobert. Taurean Prince has found his stride as of late, after being banged up much of this season. He has shot 50 percent or better in seven of the team’s last nine contests, attempting at least four threes in all but one game. He has also scored in double figures in all but two of those games, ending with nine points twice. Taurean Prince has averaged 13.6 points over that nine game span and needs to continue to form chemistry with his younger teammates.

The Hawks could certainly rest veteran players like Dewayne Dedmon and Vince Carter, who definitely give the team a better chance to win when on the floor. Kent Bazemore is another veteran who sees a lot of playing time, however sitting the inconsistent Bazemore might actually help the Hawks win more games, even if it’s in favor of Justin Anderson or ten-day contract signee B.J. Johnson. Even though sitting Kent may lead to more winning, it’s a move the Hawks should make in order to give Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter and Deandre’ Bembry more minutes together for the sake of chemistry.

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Other than sitting the three aforementioned veterans, the Atlanta Hawks should stay the course and only sit their young prospects if they are injured. Their growth and development is just as important as a potential top five draft pick. While getting two picks in the top seven would definitely be great, Trae Young should be given every opportunity to win Rookie of the Year. The best case scenario is that the Hawks remain competitive in every game, while still losing enough to maintain a top five lottery spot. The bright side is that even if Atlanta does not win the lottery, general manager Travis Schlenk has shown the ability to find talent from any spot in the draft. Most importantly even if the Hawks fail to land Zion Williamson or R.j. Barrett, they have a budding superstar already. They finally have the superstar this city for many years has pined for. His name is Trae Young.