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SB Nation Atlanta NBA Draft Preview

Join us as we take a look at who the Hawks might draft in Thursday's NBA draft.

Of course, by the time you're seeing this, it barely qualifies as a preview, since we're not launching until draft day.  Butat least it's here so that there's proof that I actually did one, so that next year I can remind you of how brilliant I was, or you can remind me that I'm an utter disgrace who shouldn't ever have anything to say about the draft.

This isn't going to be an extensive preview-that would be quite beyond my expertise.  If you're looking for someone who's done a much better job with most of the top prospects within the Hawk community, I'll refer you to the excellent work that Bret LaGree has done over at Hoopinion (seriously, he makes the rest of us look bad).  I'm just going to hit a few highlights, offer some general observations, and then discuss the Hawks' selection.

Strength of this Draft:  NBA sized big men.  Seriously, all the talk about drafts in a long time has been about the dearth of true centers.  There are three true 7 footers who could go in the first round this year, and a host of others 6'10 and bigger who are listed as centers.  They're all over the draft board-in the top 5, at the tail end of the first round, and into the mid second.  This is almost certainly the deepest center class in the last 5 years.  If Hasheem Thabeet were in this class, last year's second overall pick, you can make a case that he wouldn't be a lottery selection.

Weakness of this Draft:  Point Guards.  After Jon Wall, it's hard to find another true point who will be drafted.  They apparently all came out last year.  John Wall's teammate, Eric Bledsoe, might be the only other who is drafted in the first round, and he played almost no PG at all last year.  Even the guys who'll be drafted at PG this year are more hybrids, like Bledsoe.  Guys like Avery Bradley, Terrico White, Greivis Vazquez, and Armon Johnson are first round possibles, but they're hybrids at best (and Bradley is almost certainly more 2-guard than 1).

Biggest Bust Potential: Demarcus Cousins.  He has impressive size, strength, and can finish around the basket.  He can be dominant on the boards, using his strength on the block and taking up plenty of space, and he's willing to fight for the ball-one of my enduring memories of him is tipping in a last-second tip -in (Josh Smith style) to send the SEC tournament finale into overtime against my Mississippi State Bulldogs.  He can block and alter shots, and he's skilled enough to create shots for himself in post.  There's plenty of reasons for him to be at or near the top of every NBA draft board.

However, at the collegiate level he relied on his size and body frame to bully around guys who couldn't quite stack up, and he won't have that advantage on the next level.  He's not the most athletic, with a relatively high percentage of body fat and an unimpressive vertical leap.  He doesn't run the floor especially well.  All of these together might not comprise a big deal if it weren't 't for concerns about his mental toughness and commitment.  Sometimes his effort level on defense is flagging, and there have been questions about how hard he's playing at times. Having an attitude problem and a series of mental lapses paired up athleticism that isn't too impressive makes me a bit skeptical.

Probably Underrated:  I'm going to go with Terrico White.  I'm not purposely focusing on just SEC players here, so let me make my case.  He's got impressive physical tools-good speed, good quickness, and he can handle the ball.  He's also what I'd describe as the "good" type of hybrid.  The bad kind of hybrid is something like Daniel Gibson-a shooter/scorer in a PG's body.  White, at 6'5 with a 6'9 winspan, has a good body for an NBA 2 guard, and he's got really good quickness to mix in.  He's not a bad passer, but his assist numbers are depressed because he has a pure scorer's mentality.

The issue with him is that he's not aggressive in traffic.  He doesn't get to the rim as much as his tools suggest (and with a true 40 inch vertical and good speed, he's got tools a-plenty) and he doesn't shoot well with a hand in his face.  I think this is correctable, even though you'd much rather have a player that's too aggressive rather than one who needs to improve his aggressiveness.  He's got the ability to be a good defender, and with his length he can bother penetration and get into passing lanes, but he hasn't done as much of that as you would hope, either.  Still, he's got loads of talent, and following a fairly disappointing season, there's the potential for him to come out of the draft as a late steal.

Best Player in Five Years:  John Wall.  Too easy, right?  But I'll make my case anyway.  He doesn't have a single glaring weakness.  He's inconsistent with his jumpshot, but it's already much more developed than Derrick Rose, and he's bigger and stronger than Rose is, even though he's not quite as fast (but still very fast).  He has no issues creating his own shot, off the dribble, and he's great at creating for his teammates.  His ability to finish at the basket makes defending him on the perimeter an exhausting task, and he runs the pick and roll as well as any collegiate point guard you'll see.

In addition, he's got a great mentality.  It's great to find an elite talent who doesn't have any off-the-court baggage and who seldom, if ever, dogs it on the court.  He's a great teammate because he'll give you great effort on both ends of the floor and he doesn't let up.  You want that kind of effort from your point guard, to set the pace for the rest of your team.  It helps that he's a great defender; having watched the Hawks this year, having watched the Hawks this year makes me appreciate the value of a guard who can limit penetration by staying in front of his man and remaining in solid position.

Who Will the Hawks Draft?:  Obviously this is the big question for Hawks fans.  They've worked out a ton of guys this year, more than I can ever remember them having worked out in the past.  It's a far cry from 2006, where stopped giving work outs after Shelden Williams.  However, oddly enough, they're not taking a hard look at some of the guys higher on the mock draft boards.  There's a tier of players: Eric Bledsoe, Hassan Whiteside, Damion James, James Anderson, and Avery Bradley who probably won't, but conceivably could, reach the Hawks at 24th pick, and these haven't been worked out.  From that group, I think my favorite is Damion James-the Hawks need to realize that they don't actually have a back-up SF on the roster, just Mo Evans, who is a 2 guard.  Click here for Hawks' workout schedule.

Obviously, the overall shape of the Hawks' roster will be greatly affected by whether or not Joe Johnson returns.  That said, even if you assume Joe Johnson is leaving, with the 24th pick they're not going to find someone who can step in and take over JJ's role as the starting 2-guard and the central focus of the offense.  They need to focus on the taking the most valuable player they can acquire, rather than looking at any specific need.  This is probably the first draft in several  years where the Hawks aren't clearly looking for anything specific out of the draft.

The Hawks are said to be focusing in on 5 guys. I can't tell you for sure who those 5 guys are, and since this bit of information has been floating around for a while, it probably doesn't include any of the players they worked out today.  I don't even know for sure that this includes a player that they've worked out, but I'm amusing that it does.  My best guess is that the 5 come from among the following players: Terrico White (mentioned above), Dominique Jones, Jordan Crawford, Gani Lawal, Jarvis Varnado, Quincy Pondexter Stanley Robinson, and Craig Brackins.

And now, a list of who the mock drafters say the Hawks are taking:

Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated: Jordan Crawford
Mike McGraw, Yahoo! Sports:  Quincy Pondexter
Sean Deveney, SportingNews:  Jordan Crawford
NBA  Craig Brackins  Dominique Jones.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.