The NBA Draft Lottery Gods may or may not have finally given the Atlanta Hawks a break a few weeks ago when the team landed the No. 3 selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. No. 3 isn’t No. 1, but it’s also where the Boston Celtics selected a better iteration of Paul Pierce in Jayson Tatum last summer. The year before that, Danny Ainge surprised everybody again by taking former Wheeler High School phenom Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick. Then there was Jahlil Okafor who could been Kristaps Porzingis and before that Joel Embiid -- it’s early, but I think the Sixers got pretty good value with the Shirley Temple Superfan at No. 3 -- and before that, the Wizards got Otto Porter and Bradley Beal in back-to-back drafts to fill out their devastating starting five of John Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. Outside of Okafor, all of these picks look to have panned out, some in bigger ways than others, but with Tatum, Embiid, and Beal, those three teams got three franchise players with the No. 3 pick. They’re also all realistic Eastern Conference contenders as of this writing. It’s hard to get excited about picking third in the draft, I get it, but those recent returns should at least give you hope about Sir Foster being able to play more upbeat music at Phillips without it feeling like a gag. (Seriously, even Ernie Grunfeld stumbled onto a superstar and a high-quality role player with those No. 3 picks. The guy who signed Jodie Meeks last summer!)
But I can’t get over the Okafor pick in 2015, and I can’t get over the Hawks and general manager Travis Schlenk being enamored with the idea of taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 3. It’s not fair, it’s probably even lazy, to immediately connect Bagley III to Okafor just because they were one-and-done guys at Duke, have questionable defensive upside, and you’re not totally sure they can become a consistent 3-point threat in the NBA. The Ringer’s NBA Draft site -- a must-read for any NBA junkies -- lists Amar’e Stoudemire, (thin) Zach Randolph and Michael Beasley as his three NBA comparisons.
Give me Otto Porter 2.0 in Michael Porter Jr. at No. 3, give me potentially Myles Turner-lite in Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 3, you can even give me Trae Young at No. 3 over somebody who smart basketball minds are comparing to Randolph or Beasley every single time. That doesn’t mean I’d be thrilled about the possibility of using the No. 3 pick on a role player like Porter Jr. and Jackson Jr. -- OK, how many times am I going to have to write abbreviate “junior” in this piece, seriously? -- but it’s Friday, May 25, 2018, and I’m totally fine with putting my name to the I’d Rather Take Jackson Jr. Or Porter Jr. At No. 3 Than Bagley III take. (You could probably even talk me into Mo Bamba at No. 3 over Bagley, but I’ll redact this parenthetical information before this goes live, for sure.)
The Hawks also finally have a new head coach, Lloyd Pierce, who was given complete control to run the third-best defense in the NBA under Brett Brown in Philadelphia -- just behind the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics, two rosters littered with long, switch-ready defenders and a center who can protect the rim when those stingy defenders funnel guys into their vicinity -- so why would Schlenk take Bagley III? Pierce, who has made it clear this team’s identity will be predicated on defense, learned under one of the best defensive coaches of the last decade in Lionel Hollins. There isn’t anything Grit N’ Grind-y, or, exciting, really, about building around John Collins -- the future plus/minus behemoth and Marvin Bagley III. It’s just head-scratching.
But then you have the Luka Doncic drama, which only figures to get more interesting and crazy and entertaining as the possibility of the Slovenian star getting sentenced to a five-plus year sentence to Sacramento grows more by the day. If the Suns take Doncic, Kings general manager is taking DeAndre Ayton, and, hopefully, we NBA League Pass psychos will get the opportunity to see the Kings try and function with Ayton and Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor for 30-plus minutes a night. If the Suns don’t take Doncic, are we sure the Kings don’t just take Bagley III? Joerger, another Memphis Grizzlies Grit N’ Grind era alum, already has Randolph on the roster -- would he pass and Divac pass at the opportunity to develop a better version of Zach Randolph with the No. 2 pick in the draft? I wouldn’t rule it out. If Scenario No. 2 plays out, this past season of misery will have been worth it because Doncic is a 6’8” guard who can shoot 3s, get to the rim and draw fouls whenever Luka Doncic pleases, and has Maybe Better Version Of 2018 NBA MVP Favorite James Harden upside. Passing on Doncic, as ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported that was centered around the opinions from other general managers, in favor of Bagley III or Jackson Jr. or Bamba would be Billy Knight Taking Marvin Williams Or Shelden Williams level bad. You just take the guard who is drawing James freaking Harden comparisons and figure the rest out later.
But it’s still early in the process, Schlenk just pried Pierce away from the Sixers, and the team still has huge decisions to make on the futures of Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore. If Schlenk deals the former, which seems pretty likely if Instagram habits are any indication, the Hawks’ backcourt would be down to Bazemore, Isaiah Taylor, Malcolm Delaney, Tyler Dorsey, and whoever else would like to get some playing time from the G-League on a team not trying to be good for a very long time. (Josh Maggette, 36-plus minutes a night at the 1, let’s go!) Not only is Schroder likely on the move this summer, Bazemore doesn’t seem all that interested in being around for the upcoming, painful rebuild in Atlanta, so what if Schlenk flips him to Denver for Malik Beasley and Kenneth Faried and a pick? That’s a backcourt that’s more desolate than Tatooine. On a good day.
The NBA is a guard-driven league now and Doncic looks like the best guard in the 2018 NBA Draft. If he’s there at No. 3, the Hawks should take him. If he’s not, take Porter Jr., or Jackson Jr., or Bamba, or any other guy, who, at the very least, figures to be, at worst, a solid rotation guy down the road. Just don’t give the new head coach Lloyd Pierce the Duke big. Please.