In 2013, while writing for ESPN TrueHoop Network, I started a tradition of creating an NBA Draft Depth Chart for the Hawks. The idea is to list in order of preference a number of first round prospects equal to the Hawks' draft position in the first round. That year the Hawks had two first round picks and the depth chart consisted of 18 players since 18th was the last of Atlanta's two picks. The highest-rated player still available when the Hawks pick then becomes the player recommended for the Hawks to draft.
This system has allowed me to have a lot of fun playing armchair GM. It has also proven to be a huge success. In three drafts since I started publishing the depth chart, my first round picks for the Hawks were Lucas Nogueira, Gorgui Dieng, Rodney Hood and Sam Dekker. The players the Hawks actually selected were Nogueira, Dennis Schroder, Adreian Payne and Jerian Grant, who was traded to the Knicks for Tim Hardaway, Jr.
To take the comparison further, I'm going to cheat a little and back up to the 2012 draft. I hadn't decided to do a draft depth chart at that point but I'd had some success in identifying sleepers in previous drafts such as Ty Lawson and Eric Bledsoe. In the comments of the AJC Hawks blog for that draft, I had identified three players I was targeting: Evan Fournier, Festus Ezeli and Marquis Teague. Fournier was a wing with a nice shooting stroke and some point guard abilities. Ezeli had dominated top overall pick Anthony Davis in the SEC championship game. Teague had my interest because I believed the Hawks might seek a backup point guard in the draft.
By the time the Hawks picked John Jenkins with the 23rd pick, Fournier was already off the board, going to the Nuggets with the 20th pick. The Jenkins pick was met with disbelief by the AJC Hawks blog community, since no service had projected him as a first rounder. I immediately declared it the latest in a seemingly-unending litany of Hawks draft blunders. But in May of this year, we found out just how horrible Danny Ferry's first pick as Hawks GM was.
In an interview with Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, Draymond Green was offered a printout of every selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. Green waived it away and proceeded to rattle off from memory every player that was selected ahead of him in 2012, when he went to the Warriors with the fifth pick of the second round. Wilner wrote that, "Atlanta had expressed strong interest, but three days before the draft, the Hawks announced general manager Rick Sund's contract would not be extended."
With Danny Ferry hired as Hawks GM just hours before the 2012 NBA Draft, rather than select the player (Green) who was already targeted by the organization, Ferry went in his own direction and drafted Jenkins. Thus, in comparing my draft record for the Hawks to Ferry's, I've successfully identified three rotation players in five picks in the first round (Ezeli, Dieng and Hood) while the Hawks have only drafted one (Schroder) while trading for Hardaway, who has yet to prove that he can maintain a spot in the top eight of Atlanta's rotation.
People get especially mad at me for schooling the Hawks organization with the Hood pick. I had him rated higher than any mainstream draft service. His defense at Duke was comically bad but he was the best shot maker in the draft and combined that with the ability to create shots for himself and others. The ability to create your own shot is an extremely valuable commodity. To be able to do that without dominating the ball and while still getting your teammates involved is extremely rare. Hood wasn't a poor defender because of any athletic deficiencies. I didn't see how he could possibly fail at the NBA level, given his rare combination of skills.
Kyle Korver has shown us the value of floor spacing. By the 2014 draft, shot making had risen to the top of my list of skills I was seeking in a draftee. Ferry selected Payne, who had some success from the 3-point line at Michigan State. Last year only one former first round pick was a worse rim protector in the D-League among front court players (minimum 20 FGA) than Payne: Anthony Bennett.
And now, having completely destroyed the Atlanta Hawks' seven-figure-salaried front office in the draft four years running, I'd like to tell you my dirty little secret: I don't watch college basketball. This year I watched less than an hour of college basketball for the season and less than 10 minutes of the NCAA Tournament. Most of my draft evaluation comes from voraciously consuming and cataloging the observations of others, combined with watching prospect videos at DraftExpress.com. Unfortunately this year real life intervened and I wasn't able to do my normal draft preparation. Fortunately, I've found someone to write this year's depth chart who is a vastly-better NBA talent evaluator than myself.
Jim Gaylor retired after a 30-year career as a head basketball coach at the high school and NCAA level. The NBA Draft has become a year-round hobby for Gaylor, who watches every YouTube video of prospects he can find. Gaylor specialized as a shooting coach and can break down every aspect of a player's mechanics. More importantly, Gaylor's track record is better than mine.
In 2011, Gaylor identified Kawhi Leonard as a player the Hawks should trade up to draft. More than a year before the Hawks drafted him in 2013, Gaylor identified Schroder as a future NBA starter. During the buildup to that same draft, I consulted with Gaylor on my depth chart. I couldn't find common ground with him on C.J. McCollum, whom Gaylor stated he had as much confidence in as an NBA prospect as he'd had in Leonard. I didn't see it. I saw a 'tweener who couldn't defend either guard position. As McCollum emerged to help lead Portland to a surprise playoff run after losing four starters, humble pie became a staple of my diet.
With the Hawks selecting 12th and 21st in tonight's NBA Draft, I've asked Gaylor to list his top 21 prospects below. I've added editor's notes after some selections. As always, the depth chart is not a mock draft. I've asked Gaylor to evaluate these prospects purely on their value as potential additions to the Atlanta Hawks. There is no consideration for the needs or intentions of any other organization.
Jim asked me to emphasize to readers that he disputes the notion that this is a bad or shallow draft. While lacking a bit of star power at the top of the draft, Jim believes it is deep with potential rotation NBA players. He also asked me to emphasize that DeAndre Bembry is the player he is targeting for the Hawks.
1. Marquese Chriss (Washington)
Chriss is the best athlete in the draft. He's only 18 years old (6-10, 240 lbs.) and has only played organized basketball for four years. He can run and jump with the best, is highly intelligent and is becoming a really good shooter with range. He needs experience but probably has the most raw potential of any player in the draft.
[I'm hesitant to question Jim's judgement, especially given all the huge calls he's gotten right in the past, but I can't rank Chriss this high. He fouled out of 15 games this season and in the DraftExpress workout video, you can see him frequently look down at the ball to execute a crossover dribble. There's no questioning Chriss' shot mechanics or ability to attack the rim, but this is a long-term project. Gaylor likes the fact that he didn't grow up in AAU ball, which for him means there are fewer bad habits to un-learn. - BG]
2. Brandon Ingram (Duke)
This 18-year-old stands 6-10 with a 7-3.5 wingspan. He's smooth, polished and well-coached with a keen basketball intellect. He's not Kevin Durant but he is ready to contribute on a contender. Ingram can really shoot but is also is really skinny. He's maybe the most sure thing in the draft. Ingram is intensely competitive, which helps compensate for his rail-thin frame. He improved steadily as the season continued at Duke and should function best in a culture with a defined system.
[I have Ben Simmons and Ingram 1-2 like most mock drafts. I understand the reasoning behind why Simmons has fallen on Gaylor's depth chart but I don't agree with it. Here I agree with Jim that Ingram is the safest of the high lottery picks. - BG]
3. Jaylen Brown (California)
Brown (19 years old, 6-7, 225 lbs.) is a big, strong wing defender. Jaylen's combination of strength, athleticism and length, plus his desire and work ethic, will enable him to become an elite defender in the NBA. For that reason, I`m pretty sure Thibs (Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau) would like him at #5.
[From watching highlights of Brown, I love him. He has a rare ability to change the angle of his drives and explode to the basket for dunks even when tightly guarded. However, I'm extremely concerned that Brown has the fourth-worst pure point rating among DraftExpress' top 100 prospects. Pure point rating is akin to assist-to-turnover ratio but more precisely measures the value of created assists against the opportunity cost of turnovers. I'd love for the Hawks to somehow end up with Brown, who seems like he would be an interesting interview given his intellectual interests outside of basketball. But while Hood had the second-highest pure point rating among small forward prospects in the DraftExpress top 100, Brown is ranked dead last in the current draft. - BG]
4. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
This 22-year-old senior is a pure shooter/shot maker. At 6-5 with a nice wingspan, he shot 47% from three while averaging 25 points per game. He showed solid leadership, great intangibles and an ebullient personality while leading Oklahoma to the Final Four this past season.
Hield was at his best in catch and shoot situations, where is 1.5 points per possession led the nation. He will benefit immensely from playing in an NBA offense. Most often, Oklahoma’s offensive movement was stagnant, simply playing iso. At the next level, BH should be able to run off screens away from the ball and run the pick and roll to help him attack downhill.
[I wanted my namesake Buddy to come out in last year's draft when the Hawks might have had an opportunity to draft him. I have serious concerns about Hield's ability to guard at the NBA level but there's no questioning his shot making ability. Although something of a late bloomer, it's hard to doubt that he will be able to put points up in the NBA. - BG]
5. Jamal Murray (Kentucky)
Born in Ontario, Canada, this freshman averaged 20 points per game. At 6-5 and 205 lbs., the combo guard is a pure shooter/shot maker and perhaps the best shooter in the nation last season on 41% from three. He has a strong skill set and an excellent feel for the game. At this stage in his development, with his skill set and intangibles, he has just about everything you could ask for in a prospect his age.
[In the same way that I targeted Hood for his high-level shot making ability, the Hawks should be targeting players like Hield and Jamal Murray who help stretch the floor. I have fewer concerns about Murray's game translating to the NBA than Hield's. - BG]
6. Ben Simmons (LSU)
The Australian can`t shoot but can do most everything else, especially rebound. He's a good passer, although he sometimes overpasses inside. Simmons shows poor intangibles & leadership. If he matures, he could become a star. He can score even though he struggles with his shot. What I like most of all is his rebounding. His NBA comparison might be Blake Griffin pre-2016 while his floor is likely 2016 Blake Griffin.
[Here I believe Jim overreacts to Simmons' poor performance in the dog and pony show that is the NCAA. Anyone who is old enough to get drafted and serve their country has a right to make a living at their chosen profession. Does anyone prevent white soccer, hockey, baseball and tennis players from going pro as teenagers? Why do we only do this to predominately-black basketball and football players? I'm not going to judge Simmons based on what he did while the NCAA and NBA forced him into a year of indentured servitude before allowing him to get a job and support his family. - BG]
7. Skal Labissiere (Kentucky)
The 7-0 Hatian is skinny and played limited minutes at Kentucky. He has potential as a rim defender/shot blocker and is an excellent shooter with near-perfect form. He's raw and inexperienced but runs the floor well and has high upside.
There are some health concerns as he was pinned under rubble for hours after an earthquake before being rescued. After his rescue, his legs went numb and could not walk for three weeks. Coach Cal was hard on the young freshman as well; yet he will not utter even one negative word about his experience at in Lexington.
[If Labissiere slips in the draft, I could see the Hawks trading up to snag him. Last year at this time, the raging debate was over the value of Jahlil Okafor versus Kristaps Porzingis. Was Okafor's refined post game more valuable to an NBA team than Porzingis' outside shooting? More attention should have been paid to how Okafor's slow foot speed would impact his ability to guard the pick and roll. Simultaneously, few realized Porzingis' potential as a defender. While Okafor ranked dead last out of 77 NBA centers in defensive real plus minus last season, Porzingis ranked 10th out of 100 power forwards. If Labissiere can protect the rim at the NBA level, he might be as underrated as Porzingis. - BG]
8. DeAndre Bembry (St. Joseph's)
This 21-year-old (6-6, 208) averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists. He earned Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team honors in 2016 and led his team to the NCAA tourney. He's smooth, smart, confident, poised and athletic. He has been described as a "Swiss Army Knife" brand of player. At St. Joseph's, Bembry was able to contribute in a variety of ways, including defense, facilitating, working the offensive glass, post-ups and driving to the hoop. His facilitating might be his best skill, as he has great court vision and can use his 6-6 frame to see over the court and make the key pass. He played sort of a point-forward role on St. Joe's.
Some say his shot is broken. DeAndre himself says, emphatically, it`s not. I say he`s right. How does his game translate to the NBA? While his developing jumper may hold him back on a team that is reliant on perimeter jumpers, I think he can fit into a role similar to that of Shaun Livingston, working as a point forward that can help facilitate and create a lot of havoc for the opposing defense.
While he was confident shooting from the perimeter and definitely showcased NBA range, poor shooting from three during his senior season means he has a lot of work ahead of him. A lot of those issues can be fixed with a solid shooting coach, as his footwork is inconsistent. DeAndre has been working at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas since he declared for the draft. the same basketball skill development training facility where Kawhi Leonard went to prepare for the draft.
I watched D.B. shoot hundreds of jumpers, stopping and freezing the video, rewinding, going frame by frame and studying his shot as closely as possible. His shot has improved undeniably. Back during the season, he tended to fall away when shooting. Also his shot was out and not up, plus his elbow was not framed properly. All those issues were fixable and the crew at Impact did a nice job.
The other thing I noticed about his workouts - he is a diligent worker, quietly going about his job -- steady and unassuming. Bembry is a chameleon in how he seems to be comfortable working in an up-tempo system or in straight half-court sets. His mobility and fluidity has allowed him to be great in transition while his facilitating and solid handles lets him do work in half-court sets.
[I share Jim's love for Bembry. Although he's undersized for an NBA small forward, he has the second best pure point rating among small forwards in Draft Express' top 100 prospects. Hood's pure point rating was a big factor in convincing me to rate him high despite his comically-bad defense at Duke. Many refer to Simmons as a point forward but Bembry might blow him away in this role. - BG]
9. Kriss Dunn (Providence)
The 6-4 point guard averaged 16 points, five rebounds and six assists. Most say he`s the best point guard in the draft. He's an excellent defender and shot 37% from beyond the arc. Being able to knock down the three point shot enables him to keep the defense honest in the pick and roll. Plus K. Dunn seems to have the intangible ability or skill to make his teammates better.
[It's hard to imagine Dunn getting past the Kings at eight and the Celtics are making noise about taking him at three. With excellent size and defense for a point guard and a shot that isn't broken, a lot of teams are going to take a hard look at Dunn. NBADraft.net has him going third to the Celtics. - BG]
10. Henry Ellenson (Marquette)
He is not a three point shot maker at this time. I have been watching his workouts and his shooting form is just fine. He shot and made three pointers in high school. But, if he`s a mid-range jump shooter, that's okay. Let him be an Al Horford (automatic at the mid-range) before Horford started trying to stretch his range out to three and his mid-range game started to suffer. Ellenson is a uniquely-skilled seven footer, one that I have begun to see as a center rather than a stretch four.
[Ellenson checks zero boxes for me. He'll be just as bad switching on the pick and roll as Okafor. He's not an instinctive passer and hasn't proven anything as a shooter. The one notable skill he has is an excellent handle, which allowed him to bring the ball up in college. He won't get away with that at the NBA level where almost everyone will be so much faster than him. Ellenson has massive bust potential. With over 10% body fat, weight concerns he has battled in the past could plague him during his NBA career. - BG]
11. Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey)
This athletic guard shot 42% from three and has the best name in the draft. He's a good shooter and a better shot maker with a quick release. He reminds me of Pete Maravich for some odd reason although he's not nearly as good as the Pistol. His jumper is quick -- he gets it off in a hurry. He`s also quick off the floor and bouncy. Another thing I like about Korkmaz -- he`s a little bit goofy in a good way. I think he has one of those personalities that fans will latch onto, becoming a favorite.
12. Wade Baldwin (Vanderbilt)
Baldwin had a great Combine, measuring a 6-11.25 wingspan and recording a 38 inch vertical leap. He shot 40% from three and 80% from the free throw line. He was particularly adept at the mid-range jump-shot. His length gives him the tools to defend the point of attack.
I don`t generally like players from Vandy but Wade had one skill I found intriguing -- his mid-range jumper is money. Sure he can shoot & make threes, but I like point guards that can penetrate, pull up and knock down the 14 to 16 footers when the defender is back on his heels. Klay Thompson is as good a long range shooter as there is, but when Klay gets the ball at or around the free throw line it's a lay-up. Perhaps W.B. himself has that as a weapon.
13. Dragan Bender (Bosnia)
At 7-1 and only 18 years old with a 9-3 standing reach, Bender does not have an NBA body yet, weighing only 216. Will he be a draft and stash? Is he Porzingis or Darko Milicic?
[Bender was often used as a perimeter defender due to his excellent foot speed but tendency to get pushed around in the post. He's not NBA ready but I'm willing to gamble that he will grow into his body. If he can stretch the floor and switch in the pick and roll, he could be extremely valuable once fully developed. - BG]
14. Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Poeltl only has an 8-9.5 standing reach. How can you be 7-1 and only have an 8-9 standing reach? He shot 64% from the floor (no threes). I reckon he won`t be a stretch big. I fell asleep watching film on this young man. He's solid but not above average, especially at his size. I think he's overrated, although I have him going to the Bulls. I think he would be a nice fit in Chicago.
[As with Hield, this was a player I hoped would stay in last year's draft where the Haws could snatch him. I agree with Jim that Poeltl is a throwback big man in a league that no longer embraces them. Nonetheless, I think he's an NBA talent who will find a role. - BG]
15. Timothe Luwawu (France)
The 21-years-old guard (6-7, 205) can also defend the three. He averaged 14 points on 37% shooting from three with a 6-11 wingspan. He's a good defender, runs the floor and is a good ball handler on the pick & roll.
He will win an NBA dunk contest one day. Some scouts label T.L. as a 3-and-D player. I think that's selling him short. He's fearless going to the rim, more so in the open court. He has terrific range, beyond the NBA stripe (more range than a simple corner three). Plus on the pick and roll he can handle or can be the screener/dive man with his length and bounce.
16. Ante Zizic (Croatia)
This 19-year-old (6-11, 250) has a 7-2.5 wingspan and an exceptional 9-3 standing reach. He shot 64% from the floor and 70% from the free throw line while getting to the line at a high rate (almost seven times per game). The best statistical part of his game is that he averages close to 16 rebounds per 48 min.
Ante is a natural born rebounder. He also has a PER of 25.7, which is extremely High for a player his age. A.Z. is the younger brother (by 17 years) of Andrija, an important player in Europe for many years; has been Ante's mentor. Words I've seen used to describe him include energy, intensity, motor, competitiveness, relentlessness and toughness.
He runs the floor well. Not only is he not afraid of contact, but he actually goes looking for it on both ends of the floor. He may be the best rebounder of his generation in Europe. He has a great feel of positioning. I just made up a new term for him -- he has a high rebounding IQ.
A right hand jump hook is his go-to move. He can turn to both shoulders when he plays with his back to the basket. He moves well without the ball and can play in the pick and roll. He always dives hard to the basket. After he slips the screen, he has soft hands and can catch it in traffic. His shooting mechanics are solid and he has potential with his jump shot out to mid range.
Zizic is decent as a pick and roll defender. Length and timing allow him to defend the rim. He has been coached that it is essential to jump vertical when defending to prevent fouling. He's rugged and tough on both ends of the floor, which allows him to be a stout competitor defending the post. I suppose the last player like that the Hawks had was Kevin Willis.
17. Malik Beasley (Florida State)
The combo guard is another Georgia lad (Alpharetta) and averaged 15 points on 39% from three and 81% from the free throw line for coach Leonard Hamilton. He's a pure shooter with a great pre-shot set up. He bounces into his shot. I had M.B. much higher until I started hearing about foot surgery. Not having access to medical records makes it very difficult to place a guy high on one's list with injury concerns.
Prior to those concerns, I had Beasley down as being a near perfect match for the Hawks. I`m certain, the staff will have checked him over thoroughly and will have already decided based on facts.
18. Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
This lefty shot 61% from the field with 12 rebounds per game. That's good stuff from Arvydas' son. He can`t jump a lick but is an intelligent player with all the requisite post moves. His footwork akin to Luis Scola. However he does not stretch the floor and will have difficulty getting his shot off inside. Think Kevin Love without the three point range.
19. Cheick Diallo (Kansas)
Diallo (19 years old, 6-9) was born in Mali West Africa and has only been playing basketball for six years. He has a 7-4.5 wingspan, plays the four and can defend the three. He's not a center but has a high motor, runs the floor hard and beats everyone down the floor.
The former McDonalds All-America MVP was declared ineligible by NCAA for the first five games of the college season and did not play much afterwards. However, he kept a good attitude. Kansas personnel -- including quality control, player development, secretaries, grad assistants, strength and conditioning staff, academic support staff, video crew and trainers --, all said he was the best kid who played basketball at Kansas, with regard to attitude and personality, in the last 15 years.
At the Combine, Diallo knocked it out of the park in the scrimmages. He proved that the Kansas coaches may have blown it, as he easily competed with the best talent at the Combine, ranking as possibly the most impressive player of all during the live 5 on 5 scrimmages. Diallo had a particularly strong showing in Chicago considering his raw skill-level.
At 219 pounds, he was extremely productive in almost every minute he was on the floor. His energy-level was outstanding as he runs the floor and covers ground incredibly well. He is seemingly always around the ball looking to make plays and get his team extra possessions.
His strengths include defense, rebounding, intangibles, attitude and an abundance of energy and intelligence. Weaknesses include shooting, no discernible post moves, youth and inexperience. He does make around 76% of his shots when he gets near the rim.
Diallo’s high motor and physical traits, specifically his 7-4 wingspan, make him more likely to have an impact on the defensive end. Diallo has collected 25 percent of available defensive rebounds when he’s been on the floor.
His length and athleticism make it possible for him to retrieve rebounds even against taller opponents. Those characteristics also make him a powerful rim protector with a block rate of 9.5 percent.
He also has a good feel for where the ball is going on drives, which allows him to be an effective help defender, and down the road potentially a lockdown one-on-one defender. The very 1st time I watched C.D. on tape I thought, "this is my guy." I think with daily vitamins our coaches would be able to easily teach him basic post moves. Also I believe they would give him a base to build a mid-range jumper. I strongly believe he will shoot between 55 to 60% from two point range in the NBA. Also, I doubt he ever attempts an NBA three-pointer. I envision Cheick to be a lock down defender for power forwards, bigger small forwards and small-ball centers in the modern Golden State tradition.
20. Juancho Hernangomez (Spain)
I rarely post stats with Euro guys because they play so few games with limited minutes. Also the International players were unable to participate during the Combine this year, so beyond basic height, weight, etc. there are not a lot available such as wingspans, vertical leap, standing reach and such. Juancho has been productive playing at the highest level of European basketball.
He is a fluid athlete who plays above the rim with ease, is very light on his feet, and runs the floor well. Offensively, Hernangomez can score in a variety of ways, be it as a spot-up shooter, as a cutter, pick and roll finisher, crashing the offensive glass or running the floor in transition. He's versatile and can play both the  & the  on offense while defending both positions as well. He's improved his perimeter shooting this season, especially from three.
With consistent mechanics and a high release point, Hernangomez also shows a nice first step and is capable of attacking closeout by going both left or right. He's an aggressive player who regularly makes hard cuts, can get his own shot, will finish strong at the basket, along with his ability to run the floor. He also gets to the line at a good rate. Juan`s athleticism, length, toughness and intensity are all reflected in the way he competes for rebounds on both ends of the floor.
He plays with a edge. His motor and ability to do the “the little things” is a strong suit. He was described by one scout as being competitive, engaged, fiery and hyper-active. He consistently plays against older, bigger (grown men) in the very physical ACB League. For the aforementioned reason, he will be one of the most prepared draftees who have their name called and should be ready to step into a rotation immediately.
His brother Willy, was drafted by Philadelphia last year and traded to the Knicks, and played this past season for Real Madrid.
21. Pat McCaw (UNLV)
This 6-7 combo Guard is lightning quick but skinny. He's more a point guard than a two. I reckon his perfect NBA match would be the way Shaun Livingston plays now. McCaw is a superb defender. He`s another whom I spent time watching his pre-draft workouts and his shooting in particular. His shot, pre-shot set up and release are all good except for one thing. His release time is very slow.
As a coach, we used to teach, "it's not how fast you shoot, but how fast you get ready to shoot." Pat doesn`t get in much of a hurry when he shoots, nor when he`s getting ready. For a young man who is very, very quick barreling down the court on a fast break, he certainly takes his time when it comes to shootin` the ball.