Utah Jazz Selecting the 20th pick for the Atlanta Hawks is Tom Cunningham.  Tom selects:

Matt Harpring, SF, 6-7, Georgia Tech


Last season was an up and down season for the Atlanta Hawks. At 50-32 and the 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, they were underachievers. Injuries to key players like Mookie Blaylock, Steve Smith, Christian Laettner, and Alan Henderson haunted them all season. Splitting games between the Georgia Dome and Georgia Tech while their new stadium was under construction did not help either. There were bright spots, such as Dikembe Mutumbo's Defensive Player of the Year Award and Alan Henderson's Most Improved Player Award.

The Hawks started the season on fire, winning 15 of their first 19 and 19 of their first 25. At times they seemed like one of the elite teams in the league, beating the Bulls at Chicago, and with wins over Indiana, Seattle, New York, San Antonio, and Charlotte. At other times, they did not perform up to their billing. They racked up losses to Boston, Philadelphia, and the Clippers.

II. Position Analysis

A. Center

Dikembe Mutumbo does everything you could ask on the defensive end of the court. He averages a double-double a game (points and rebounds), routinely is in the league leaders in blocks, and alters a great deal of shots with his 7'2" presence. He will turn 32 this June, and has shown little signs that he is slowing down. Dikembe was the one starting Hawk who avoided the injury bug. He played in all 82 games last season.

On the offensive end, Dikembe has improved a great deal since his days with the Nuggets. Dikembe has extended his range, developed a hook shot, and has improved his field goal percentage. As his low assist numbers indicate (82 in 82 games last year), he is not a threat to pass. His Free Throw Percentage declined last year from 70.5% to 67.0%. He is no threat to shoot a three pointer, as he has never scored one in his career, and has attempted only two. Dikembe remains one of the league's best offensive rebounders.

Greg Anderson, Christian Laettner, and Alan Henderson all have enough height to spell Mutumbo at Center. Anderson is a 9 year veteran who turns 34 in June. Anthony Miller's 6'9" 255 lb frame suggests that he could steal a few minutes at Center also, though he only played in 37 games last year.

Analysis: The center spot is the Hawk's strength. Dikembe will start all or the majority of the Hawk's games at Center and will put in stellar defensive performances. There will be no need for the Hawks to draft a player at the Center position in either the first or second rounds.

B. Power Forward

Christian Laettner followed up a brilliant All-Star year in 1997 with a subpar performance in 1998 that was hampered by injury. Laettner still managed to put up good numbers, with 13.8 PPG, 6.6. RPG, 2.6 APG, and a block and a steal per contest. Though many remember Laettner for his long miracle shot against Kentucky, Laettner is not a threat from the NBA 3 point line. He shot 22.2% from beyond the arc in 1998.

Laettner was hampered by injuries in 1997-1998, missing 14 games and was benched for stretches, starting only 49 of the 74 games that he played in. Laetnerr will be a free agent in 1998.

Alan Henderson started most of the games in which Laetnerr was injured or benched. Henderson had a breakthrough year in 1998, averaging 14.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. Henderson is also a free agent. His recovery from career-threatening injuries has been nothing short of phenomenal. Like Laetnerr, Henderson is not a threat from long range, going 3-6 for the season.

Analysis: Laetnerr is still the better player. His defense is better than Henderson's, averaging twice as many blocks and steals as Henderson did in 1997-1998. Henderson is the better rebounder, grabbing 2.9 offensive boards to Laetnerr's 1.9. Henderson's 65.4% FT shooting is the worst on the team. Laetnerr's 86.4% is outstanding.

Look for the Hawks to resign both of these guys.

C. Small Forward

Tyrone Corbin grows older and older. He's a 12 veteran who will turn 37 during the 1998-1999 campaign. Corbin played in 79 of the Hawks' games and started every game he played in. He averaged 10.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 2.2 APG. Corbin does not block shots (7 BK all season), but racked up 105 steals, which is pretty impressive for a player of his age.

Chucky Brown started 8 of the 77 games he played in. In limited playing time (15.6 MPG), Brown was a solid rebounder (2.4 RPG), scored a bit (5.0 PPG), and provided some defense. Brown signed for the league minimum last season and is a free agent.

The Hawks may field a three guard line-up for stretches. Steve Smith, Eldridge Recasner, Mookie Blaylock, and Ed Gray will all vie for playing time at the guard spots.

Analysis: Corbin will be there for veteran leadership. He's a free agent, but look for the Hawks to resign him for lack of anyone better to play at the SF slot. Look for the Hawks to go after a free agent SF, but also look for them to draft at this position. Joe Smith has been mentioned again and again and would be an excellent fit - providing young legs for a veteran team. This year's draft has many excellent SF's. Look for the Hawks to draft a SF who can possibly fill in at PF also, and can score.

D. Shooting Guard

Steve Smith will be the starter. Smith is signed until 2003 and put in another All-Star worthy campaign, averaging 20.1 PPG, grabbing 4.2 RPG, and dishing out 4.0 APG. Smith is one othe league's bigger threats beyond the arc, hitting 97 three pointers at a 35.1% clip. His defense is adequate, with 75 steals and 29 blocks on the season. He shoots well from the free throw line - 85.5%.

Eldridge Recasner and Ed Gray provided back up off the bench and started during the stretch that Smith missed due to injury. Recasner really came on during the late season and playoffs, but put in a solid campaign, averaging 9.3 PPG. His 93.7% FT percentage would be among the leagues best - if he had enough attempts per game. Ed Gray rebounded from injury only to get injured again, but provided a solid rookie campaign.

Analysis: Smith, Smith, Smith. Smith will start. No reason to draft a SG. The Hawks' pick of Ed Gray last year was a bit surprising considering Tyrone Corbin turned 36. Do not look for the Hawks to repeat the surprise.

E. Point Guard

Mookie Blaylock was injured for stretches last year, and started off cold. His 39.2% FG percentage was disappointing, but Mookie came around towards the end of the year, putting in solid performances in the later part of the season and the playoffs. Mookie is signed until 2002.

Mookie is one of the better defensive point guards in the league. He isn't flashy, but he plays great man-to-man defense and racks up steals. He isn't a threat from long range, but he is an amazing passer. Look for him to be among the league's leaders in assists and steals again next season.

Mookie does turn 32 during the 1997-1998 campaign which may worry some. His tireless hustle makes him vulnerable to injury. Luckily, Eldridge Recasner and Ed Gray can both fill in at PG if Mookie is out. Drew Barry also may fill in at points. As every Barry brother before and after him, Drew is a great passer and has amazing court vision. However, Drew doesn't have the athletic prowess of his brother Brent.

Analysis: Mookie Blaylock will start. Though Recasner and Barry are free agents, trust that the Hawks will be smart enough to resign Recasner after his great end of the season play. After drafting Gray last year, look for the Hawks to go big and select someone within the 6'6-6'7" range.

III. Team Needs

Look for the Hawks to draft a frontcourt player. Tyrone Corbin's age and defense make him somewhat of a liability, even though he was one of the Hawks' most consistent players last year. The free agent situation at PF (both Laettner and Henderson) is also a bit scary, so look for the Hawks to draft someone who can fill in a bit at PF. Even though the Hawks may go after someone in the FA market to fill the SF slot, the Usenet draft is about filling team needs, not predicting future moves.

Secondly, look for the Hawks to draft someone who can score. Dikembe Mutumbo's range is quite limited, so the Hawks rely on the PF and SF slot for their scoring inside. Steve Smith is the Hawk's sole outside shooter, so an added bonus would be if the draft pick had a bit of range and could step outside from time to time.

The "Will History Repeat itself?" section

Past first round picks of Lenny Wilkens coached teams (Cleveland / Hawks) :

  • Ed Gray (1997)
  • Priest Lauderdale (1996)
  • Alan Henderson (1995)
  • Doug Edwards (1993)
  • Terrell Brandon (1991)
  • John Morton (1989) (passed up Vlade Divac)
  • Randolph Keys (1988)
  • Kevin Johnson (1987)
  • Brad Daugherty (1986)

What do these picks tell us? Mainly, they show the type of player that Wilkens (or the GM's that have worked with Wilkens) likes. These picks do indicate a pattern - Lenny Wilkens is not afraid of going after a player with injury problems in their past. Ed Gray sat out the NCAA tournament his final year with a severe injury. Alan Henderson was injury prone throughout his college career.

What else do these picks tell us? With the exception of the huge bust (Priest Lauderdale) and a guy in the second round who no one had or still has ever heard of (Alein Digbeau), none of these picks or foreign players. I'm not suggesting that Lenny Wilkens is xenophobic or anything - just that I don't think the Hawks will select a guy named Predrag with their first pick. Most of these picks are also four year college players and solid citizens (Terrell Brandon, Kevin Johnson, and Brad Daugherty all won community service awards). Don't look for the Hawks to go after a big headcase/question mark like Jelani McCoy.

IV. My Selection

Player Selected : Matt Harpring.

I'm a little disappointed with this pick. Pat Garrity was my realistic choice, however he was taken early. My second choice for this pick was Lee Nailon, who I think offers a great deal of athleticism and has tremendous scoring potential. I foresaw Nailon switching between SF and PF, spending a lot of time down low, blocking some shots, and rebounding. Unfortunately, scouting reports say that Nailon may be returning to school after a poor Chicago pre-draft camp. As of the moment, Nailon is still eligible for the draft, but I'd rather not jeopardize my pick by putting myself in a Voshon Lenard situation.

Harpring brings a lot of tools which can help the Hawks. The Hawks aren't a great three point shooting team. Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock are good three point shooters, but Laettner, Henderson, and the bench lack long distance range. Harpring has demonstrated good range over his college career and will help the Hawks by being able to play inside and outside of the arc.

Harpring is a good rebounder, a scrappy defender, and solid on the post. While I doubt Harpring can come in right away and steal the starting job from Tyrone Corbin or whoever the Hawks sign in the off-season, he'll provide some good minutes off the bench. His fire and hustle are the spark that any coach would like to see coming off of the bench. He's a solid rebounder (9.4 his senior year), and a solid free throw shooter. Add to that the fact that Harpring played his college ball at Georgia Tech, which may make him even more of a local favorite. While he's quite emotional on the court, Harpring seems solid off the court, which fits the persona of the type of player that Lenny Wilkens is looks for.

V. Others Considered

Long Shots :

Antawn Jamison: Though I doubt that Jamison will be left anywhere in the vicinity of the Hawks' first round draft pick, he would be the perfect fit for this team. His size and game are comparable to a younger, more talented, faster Tyrone Corbin. Jamison's rebounding would help the Hawks immensely. Though Jamison doesn't have the sort of range I desire in a first round pick for the Hawks, he is a solid citizen and the fact that his draft stock is slipping makes me foolishly optimistic enough to list him here.

Robert Traylor: Again, he won't be around when the Hawks step up to the podium, but Traylor would be another good fit. He's got a little bit of range, a soft touch, he's a solid citizen, and is a great rebounder. If he can control his weight he'll have an impressive rookie campaign.

Al Harrington: The one player I would bend my "no HS players" rule for. At 6'11", Harrington has all the skills to be an NBA SF/PF now. He's got decent range, he's young, and he's got room to improve, which is scary.

Paul Pierce: He's got range, he's got speed, he can rebound, he can pass. He's the complete player. I'd love to be able to draft him, but I can't see him falling outside of the lottery.

Reality Time:

Pat Garrity: As much as I hate to say this (I'm the world's biggest Garrity detractor), Garrity would be a good fit for the Hawks. He did it all at Notre Dame, except for win. He's a good rebounder, he scores tons of points a game, and he's got the range the Hawks need in. Additionally his size and weight suggest that he can play both the SF and PF position in the NBA. I kind of like to think of Garrity as a "poor man's Austin Croshere", but Pat does have the skill set that the Hawks are looking for.

Korleone Young: I listed him only because I think he will be drafted somewhere between picks 15-30 and he plays the position I am looking for. I think Korleone would be a horrible pick for the Hawks. His performances at predraft camps have draft experts scratching their heads as to why he would skip college, and his 6'6" height (when combined with his relative inexperience) really leaves a lot of question marks. I don't like taking chances on high school players so I think we'll pass here.

Lee Nailon: If he falls this low, he'd be a great fit for the Hawks. He can score a lot of points, he's got a bit of range, he can rebound, and he can play both the SF and PF position. Additionally, he played on a team that won games - Garrity's Notre Dame teams were sub-500. I'd rather pick a winner than a loser, though I think Garrity has the more complete set of skills.

Roshown McLeod: He's a solid player in every aspect of the game, but he's not outstanding at any one thing. He has everything the Hawks are looking for - a bit of size, the ability to shoot from the outside, and his handle isn't bad either.

Matt Harpring: I'd like to copy what I said about Garrity's skills and insert it here. Harpring and Garrity are almost the same player. Harpring rebounds, he shoots well and he has some range. Additionally, Harpring is a hustler. I believe that Harpring has better range than Garrity, but Garrity is a better scorer and a better rebounder.

Brian Skinner: A player I don't know too much about. He played Center in college for Baylor and draft experts project him to play PF in the pros. He's listed around the area where the Hawks will pick, but I'd rather go after a SF/PF than a PF/C. Tyrone Corbin needs a back-up much more than Dikembe Mutumbo does.

Felipe Lopez: I've watched Felipe at least 40 times in the last 4 years. He is easily the laziest player I have ever seen. He has incredible natural ability - amazing speed, incredible hops, good court vision. Unfortunately, he doesn't just want the game to come to him - he waits for it to be served to him on a silver platter. Felipe has the tendency to utterly disappear during games. I'm listing him because his size (6-6) suggests he may be able to sub at SF, however his frail 190 pounds will prohibit it. Steve Smith is an All-Star guard.

Jelani McCoy - He's a PF/C - not what I need. Headcase / question mark. Don't want anything to do with him.

DeMarco Johnson: Great rebounder, will be a good pro player. His 6-8" 245 pound frame is ready right now to muscle up against NBA PF's. I have a feeling that DeMarco is going to be a sleeper that everybody forgets about. I'd love a chance to draft him, but I don't think I can do it in good conscience until the second round, or unless Nailon and Garrity are gone before my turn to pick. Does not have the outside shooting range, but he'll find ways of scoring.

Clayton Shields: He's got a great NBA body, and I'm shocked that draft experts aren't rating him higher than guys like Felipe or Jelani McCoy. He's a great shooter with good outside range and the height I'm looking for. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the rebounding skills that other players (like Harpring, Garrity, and Nailon) all have. Another great second round pick.

Michael Dickerson: I project him as a shooting guard. He tends to disappear and go cold, but he does have the ability to shoot from outside, slash to the basket, and put the ball on the floor. Not enough rebounding for my tastes.

VI.  Who the team will probably take

My guess is that if the Hawks keep the #20 pick, they will take either Pat Garrity or Matt Harpring - Garrity if he is available. Harpring if Garrity has been drafted. Garrity is the superior player, but Harpring would have overwhelming local appeal because of his career at Georgia Tech. I don't see Pat Garrity going as early as he has in the Usenet draft - I see a lot of the international picks and other high school picks slipping into the mid-teens, and possible a couple of surprises that we haven't seen in the Usenet draft like Brian Skinner of Baylor.

I've heard that the Hawks might trade with the Lakers down to 26th pick. This would make sense because the Hawks do have some cap money to burn and probably could grab a much better Free Agent SF than they could with the #20 pick. This would change their draft strategy from trying to fill a starting role to finding a player that can come off the bench and play a role. The biggest hole is at SF and I still believe that even at 26, the Hawks will seek a SF in the draft. I've suggested that Matt Harpring would be a good choice because of his range, rebounding, and tremendous hustle. Harpring may be around at #26.

If Harpring is picked before #26, the scenario changes. Players like Roshown McLeod or Demarco Johnson are a more realistic guess as to what the Hawks might do in reality. Johnson does not have the outside game of a Harpring or a McLeod but may be a legitimate starting PF in the NBA in the future. McLeod is smaller, quicker, and more agile than Harpring, but there are questions whether he is strong enough and tall enough to play with NBA forwards.

VI.  Who the team will probably take

A) Resign the Power Forwards and Eldridge Recasner : Atlanta must resign Christian Laettner, Alan Henderson, and Eldridge Recasner. These three are vital to the Hawks lineup and give the Hawks quite a deep bench if they can add a SF through the draft or through free agency.

B) Sign a Free Agent Small Forward : The market for SF's is deep this year in the free agent pool. Scottie Pippen, Tom Gugliotta, Joe Smith, Cedric Ceballos, Laphonso Ellis, and Rick Fox could be potential Hawks.

All of these guys are veteran NBA players and have proved that they can play and succeed at the professional level. I doubt the Hawks will go after Ceballos because of his problems in the past, but Smith, Gugliotta, or Laphonso Ellis all would be prototypical Lenny Wilkens players - solid players on the court, good guys off the court.

The draft has a bit of talent at SF (Al Harrington, Pat Garrity, Matt Harpring, Antawn Jamison, Roshown McLeod, Korleone Young), but with the exception of Jamison and possibly Garrity, none of these guys will start for their NBA teams next year. This means that the Hawks would have to start another player (Tyrone Corbin?) on their roster or a sign a free agent to play SF. Of the SF's mentioned in the draft, Harrington and Jamison will most likely be selected before the Hawks, and possibly Garrity. If Garrity is selected before 20, the Hawks should definitely trade down to 25 or lower. Harpring, McLeod, Demarco Johnson, and Clayton Shields will all be available at that point and the Hawks might possibly be able to get something of value, like a backup C or PG.


Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner

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