With Howard gone and Millsap maybe next, Hawks go big in draft

Wake Forest power forward John Collins was drafted by the Hawks 19th overall in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft. (AP photo)

The advantage to a team needing everything going into a draft is that nobody can complain that the general manager failed to fill a need. So consider this a modest little step forward for the Hawks.

Two nights after trading Dwight Howard and possibly on the verge of saying goodbye to Paul Millsap, the Hawks added a big man, taking Wake Forest power forward John Collins with the 19th pick in the NBA draft.

When a team is starting over, as the Hawks are under general manager Travis Schlenk, the focus is on building and potential. In that respect, Collins checks all the boxes. He has size (6-foot-10, 235 pounds), is athletic and can rebound. His inside offensive game is strong, outside notsomuch. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds this past season as a sophomore.

 

If his skills translate at the next level, he should blend nicely with Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. (Speculating on the roster beyond that could be hazardous.)

Collins’ biggest weakness: defense. But, hey, you can’t get perfection with the 19th pick in a draft considered thin on potential superstars.

“We love his athleticism, we love his ability to score, his rebounding,” Schlenk said. “We’re looking forward to getting him down here.”

Schlenk’s pre-draft work with two different organizations enabled him to decipher a consensus top 11 picks. Sure enough, after 11 selections, all of those players were off the board. But it’s worth noting that the Hawks actually had Collins ranked 11th on their draft board, so they were happy when he fell to them. (Schlenk earlier made an attempt to move up for another player, but was unable to.)

“When we got to pick 14, 15, that’s when we said, ‘OK, we have four or five picks to go,” he said. “We realized around pick 16 that we were going to get him.”

Collins finished second to Jackson in ACC Player of the Year voting and won Most Improved Player honors.  He had one of his best games in Wake Forest’s lone NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, making 9 of 13 shots and finishing with 26 points and eight rebounds.

He wasn’t high on any team’s radar after his freshman season and acknowledges he wasn’t even thinking about the NBA. But, “As the year progressed and my play elevated to the level it did, it starts creeping in your mind.”

This was just one step in what will be an active offseason for Schlenk. He traded Howard to get his salary off the books and his attitude out of the locker room. One can’t build a culture until you eliminate a problem.

Now he must turn his attention to Millsap (who’s expected to leave for a more lucrative offer in free agency) and Kent Bazemore (who also may be traded because he has a starter’s contract but a backup’s resume).

After the Hawks’ made their 60th overall pick late Thursday night, Schlenk said, “I told the (staff) a little while ago they can have the weekend off. We’ll get in there Monday, and we’ll start planning out for July. We have a lot of stuff to figure out.”

And a lot of stuff to fix.

Click here for more on the Hawks as they shift into rebuild mode (an Atlanta sports tradition).

I’ll have a full recap of the Hawks’ draft and more comments from Schlenk posted later.

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