With three picks in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday, the Atlanta Hawks had every opportunity to pour the foundation of a title-contending franchise for many years to come. The current model of burn it down and rebuild with draft picks — like the 76ers, Lakers and Celtics have employed — is all the rage right now in the NBA.
After finishing last in the Eastern Conference last season, the Hawks couldn’t get any worse.
And in Atlanta, building through the draft has worked with amazing accuracy, both for the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons — at different times. And, unlike football and baseball, NBA prospects are expected to step up and contribute right away.
This isn’t the first time the Hawks had three first-round picks in the first round. In 1999, Atlanta had four first rounders, but only Jason Terry went on to a successful career. That underachieving draft class led right into an eight-year span where the Hawks failed to make the postseason.
The Hawks cranked things up in the first round of the 2018 draft when they acquired Oklahoma’s Trae Young — the nation’s leading scorer at 27 points per game this year — from Dallas and a future first round pick, in exchange for European star Luka Doncic. Later in the first round, the Hawks picked up Maryland guard Kevin Heurter (No. 19) and Villanova power forward Omari Spellman (No. 30).
Atlanta has many holes to fill, looking to complement point guard Dennis Schroder and power forward John Collins after winning just 24 games in 2017-18.
Fans don’t have to journey past Atlanta to find drafting success.
The Braves’ dynasty, which began in tatters in the 1990s under general manager John Schuerholz and went on to win 14 consecutive division championships, was grounded in four important pieces of the worst-to-first 1991 NL West champions who were being cultivated in the team’s own farm system: Tom Glavine, David Justice, Ron Gant and Steve Avery. The top overall draft pick in 1990, Chipper Jones, had his first year as a starter for the World Series champions in 1995 and joined the Hall of Fame in 2018.
The current crop of the NL East-leading Braves are also built through the farm system with Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka and others still playing in Triple-A Gwinnett who are all products of the team’s own farm system.
As for the Atlanta Falcons, they’ve had a fair share of misses under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, but they built the foundation of the 2017 Super Bowl squad with Matt Ryan (No. 3 overall draft pick in 2008) and Julio Jones (No. 6, 2011). In more recent years, the Falcons bolstered the defense by drafting Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley, to name a few.
Drafting well is the catalyst of building a great pro organization. We’ll find out soon enough if the Hawks did it right.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.