Even with No.1 overall pick, mediocre Atlanta Hawks still at a crossroads | Bill Shanks

There is no Lebron James, no Anthony Edwards. No prospect rivals Victor Wembanyama, last year’s top overall pick, or Zion Williamson, considered all-world just five years ago.

Usually, it’s exciting for a team to have the first pick in the NBA draft. That’s when there is more of a slam dunk star who is available. And, of course, the Atlanta Hawks win the NBA Draft Lottery when the discussion of who the best talent is will likely go on forever.

May 12, 2024; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields (right) and Mark Tatum
Deputy commissioner of the NBA after the Hawks get the number one pick in the 2024 NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place West. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2024; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields (right) and Mark Tatum Deputy commissioner of the NBA after the Hawks get the number one pick in the 2024 NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place West. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

No prospect this year is a perfect prospect, or one who is considered a no-brainer. Instead, the debate about which player has the highest ceiling and which player may be the best fit for the Hawks will likely not even end after the pick is selected next Wednesday.

The Hawks are, once again, at a crossroads. If you’ve followed this franchise for any length of time, this is a recurring theme. This team exudes mediocrity, even historically. And that breeds franchise-changing decisions that can have a team headed toward the playoffs, or if it’s not the right call, headed toward another rebuild.

Three summers ago, the Hawks were the talk of the NBA. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and who knows, if not for Trae Young stepping on a referee’s foot, maybe they would have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks and played for a NBA title for the first time ever.

Since that magical run, however, the Hawks have settled back into who they are — mediocrity. They have a 120-126 regular season record. They have finished ninth, eighth, and tenth in the Eastern Conference. Instead of having a bump from going deeper into the playoffs than ever before, they have, you guessed it, settled into their normal range of purgatory.

So, now what? They have their supposed best star player since Dominique Wilkins in Young, but there is uncertainty if they even want him or if he wants them for the long-term. They have a failed experiment when they acquired another guard in Dejounte Murray to compliment Young, leading to the expectation one will be traded this summer.

The perception of ownership is that it is cheap, even though Tony Ressler is one of the seven richest owners in the NBA. The attendance, which should be better with a star player, was sixth-worst in the league last year. And the buzz that was generated all over the state of Georgia by the playoff run three years ago has fizzled out.

The truth is, the Braves are playing, people are on vacation, and sports fans in Georgia are already counting down to the start of football season. The Hawks are not relevant.

That could change, however, if they hit a home run on this first overall draft pick. If this player can become a star, maybe people will again take notice.

The Hawks do have some good players. Once they figure out which guard to keep, Young or Murray, that player will also have Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jalen Johnson and De’Andre Hunter around. Bogdanovic is a solid veteran who can shoot. Johnson is a rising star who might be the best player on the team in another season, and Hunter is also a solid player who may have found a niche coming off the bench late last season.

Solid players, but not a star. That’s what the Hawks need to get with this pick. Do they go for the player with the best potential, or the player who might fit the current roster the best?

Debates continue on who has the best potential in this draft. Many believe 19-year-old French forward Zaccharie Risacher may fit that bill. He’s an athletic, smart wing who can play defense and many believe can get better as he matures. Would Risacher and Johnson create a solid duo at forward for the Hawks?

The next two players are both big men, who could fill a need with incumbent Clint Capela likely on the way out. Alexandre Sarr, also from France and also 19, has great defensive skills but some are split on his offensive potential. Then there’s UConn center Donavan Clingan, who just turned 20 but has played on two national championship teams and is getting more attention lately with his defensive skills and presence in the middle.

Some wonder if Young remains, could he find a pick-and-roll partner in Sarr or Clingan. Rumors have Young intrigued with Clingan for that possibility. And the potential to improve Atlanta’s defense has to be considered, since the Hawks have basically been in shootouts the past two years with a poor overall defense. While Capela has been a decent player, there’s just no fear in opponents to go to the basket. Sarr or Clingan could possibly change that.

So, will I lobby for a particular player, and say the Hawks must choose this guy or that guy or they’ll regret it for decades? No, way. I wish I knew which of these three will be the star they so desperately need. And therein lies the dilemma for this franchise. There is no clear-cut perfect choice, but those who root for the Hawks just have to hope this front office gets it right.

If not, the road of mediocrity will go on forever, with Harry the Hawk driving the bus.

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 pm ET on TheSuperStations.com and on 104.3 FM in Savannah. You can email Bill at TheBillShanksShow@yahoo.com.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Atlanta Hawks still at crossroads with number 1 overall pick

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