The Atlanta Hawks could lean on their first round picks immediately

Mar 5, 2016; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears forward Taurean Prince (21) celebrates after scoring against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the second half at Ferrell Center. The Mountaineers won 69-58. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears forward Taurean Prince (21) celebrates after scoring against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the second half at Ferrell Center. The Mountaineers won 69-58. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks have been excellent in the draft over the past few seasons. Since 2012, the Hawks have made a habit of improving their depth through the draft, selecting Mike Scott, Edy Tavares, and Dennis Schroder. In 2013 they traded for Mike Muscala and last year they flipped their first round pick, in a three-team deal, to land Tim Hardaway Jr. Their roster going into training camp will feature seven players who began their careers in Atlanta, and outside of Schroder, who will become their starting point guard, the rest will be relied on to provide depth.

It should be no surprise that the Hawks, who found themselves with two 1st round picks after trading Jeff Teague to Indiana, selected two players in the 2016 NBA Draft who project to be role players. With the 12th pick, the Hawks landed Taurean Prince of Baylor, a 6-foot-8 small forward who took 299 threes in his last two college seasons. Then, with the 21st pick, the Hawks went back to the role-playing wing department, grabbing the intriguing DeAndre Bembry from St. Joseph’s.

It appears clear that the Hawks aren’t looking at Prince and Bembry like typical long-term investments. Prince was a four-year player for the Bears, and Bembry comes to the NBA after a three-year career where he topped 3,600 minutes. the expectation for both players is that they are on the more “NBA-ready” side of the development curve.

The Hawks’ roster construction supports this idea. Free agency was spent revamping the point guard and center positions, with no focus on the wing. Atlanta promoted Schroder to replace Teague, and then filled out their depth behind him with Jarrett Jack and Russian league superstar Malcolm Delaney. At the five, Al Horford left for Boston, so the Hawks responded by making the minor move of inking Dwight Howard to a four-year deal.

Meanwhile, the wing rotation remained the same with Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore as the projected starters and Thabo Sefolosha and Hardaway coming off the bench. Prince and Bembry appear to be competing for the spots previously commanded by Kirk Hinrich and Lamar Patterson. The depth changed, but there weren’t upgrades attempted at the top of the depth chart for 2016-17.

The larger picture, however, shows why Prince and Bembry could be playing larger roles earlier than many of their fellow 2016 draftees. While Korver, Bazemore, Sefolosha, and Hardaway appear to be entrenched for now, that could begin to change as the season unfolds. Korver is the best of the bunch, but coming off of surgery to repair a high ankle sprain and to remove loose bodies in his elbow, Korver was a shell of his 2014-15 All-Star self, averaging just 9.2 points per game and shooting a poor (for him) 39.8 percent from three. There’s legitimate concern as he heads into this season that at 35, he will continue to regress, so much that the Hawks could consider having him come off the bench. Both Korver and Sefolosha are unrestricted free agents next summer as well, and that further complicates things for the future of the franchise.

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Bazemore appears set to start at two-guard for the next few years after re-signing, but Hardaway is a bit of a question mark as well. After three seasons in the NBA, he’s struggled to prove that he can hit outside shots consistently, and he hasn’t developed as a defender like some thought he might coming out of Michigan. With Hardaway a restricted free agent in 2017, the Hawks don’t have a clear future on the wing outside of Bazemore past this season.

The hope has to be that Prince and Bembry can immediately step in. Between the two of them, the Hawks hope that at least one hits the ground running in the NBA, and can progress to take some load from Korver or Sefolosha as early as this season. That’s certainly possible, as both have NBA-ready skills that should translate after their adjustment period.

For Prince, that means using his athleticism and three-point shooting to carve out a niche as an off-ball scorer, similar to how they used DeMarre Carroll two years ago. Prince shot 37.6 percent from three over his Baylor career, operated best spotting up around the perimeter, and he’s a good athlete who can slash and finish in transition. Bembry, meanwhile, offers a unique combination of off-ball cutting, secondary ball-handling, strong perimeter defense and shot-blocking that should allow him to develop into a flexible energy player. Both players have their warts — Prince’s defensive fundamentals, Bembry’s shooting and quickness — but those are both solvable over time.

Atlanta should look to integrate Bembry and Prince from the start this season, as both could help fill gaps on the wing. If Korver or Sefolosha miss significant time, either may be called on to fill significant small forward minutes in their place, offering some interesting wrinkles around the Schroder/Howard pick-and-roll. The other major benefit of adding these two is that Prince’s size and Bembry’s style of play will help against bigger, quick forwards, who gave the Hawks significant problems over the last two years. Even if they aren’t fully developed, being able to throw Prince’s frame against LeBron James would be an improvement, as Atlanta has run into issues defending guys like James and Rudy Gay with their combination of Korver, Sefolosha and Bazemore.

The Hawks have a clear goal in mind for their two 1st round wings, and that very well could mean cracking the rotation this season. With no D-League team, the Hawks should have both on roster from October on, and the combination of skills between the two means that either could get a solid shot at playing time, depending on what’s needed. The Hawks have relied on what they’ve done in the draft to translate to depth behind a solid starting five, and it appears that with Bembry and Prince, they’re going to need to rely on that to a new degree.

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