How would Luka Doncic fit with the Hawks

WIZINK CENTER, MADRID, SPAIN - 2018/06/05: Luka Doncic during Real Madrid victory over Herbalife Gran Canaria (92-83) in Liga Endesa playoff semifinals (game 2) celebrated at Wizink Center in Madrid. (Photo by Jorge Sanz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
WIZINK CENTER, MADRID, SPAIN - 2018/06/05: Luka Doncic during Real Madrid victory over Herbalife Gran Canaria (92-83) in Liga Endesa playoff semifinals (game 2) celebrated at Wizink Center in Madrid. (Photo by Jorge Sanz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

It’s hard to look at the Hawks having the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft and not realize how quickly they’ve fallen from the 60-win team they were only three seasons ago. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Demare Carroll, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford gave opposing defenses whiplash with their ball movement and got all the way to the 2015 Conference Finals where they were swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers — a strong reminder that without a go-to star it’s impossible to win a championship.

The Hawks were never able to replicate their 60-win season. They won 48 games and 43 games in the next two, and never made it back to the Conference Finals. Members of the team fell one by one and adequate replacements never came in to fill the void. Atlanta lost 58 games this season, which served as the last straw for the last man standing: head coach Mike Budenholzer who left for the Milwaukee Bucks.

His replacement is Lloyd Pierce, who served as an assistant with multiple NBA teams for a decade before landing the Hawks job. Pierce is known for player development, a vital attribute for the coach of a team who’s rebuilding. The Hawks hold a vital asset for a rebuilding team as well: the third pick in a loaded draft class, giving them a chance to land a potential star, the piece they were always missing in their recent past. (The Hawks also hold two more first round draft picks, No. 19 and No. 30, from the Timberwolves and Rockets respectively. As well as pick No. 34 in the second round.)

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The Hawks will have plenty of options to choose from with the third pick. Deandre Ayton will be off the board by then, and with how poorly assembled the Kings roster is they could truly draft anyone. This could open the door for Luka Doncic to become a Hawk.

Doncic’s fit with the Hawks is arguably the toughest to assess out of the top-five picks. Atlanta has two players you can confidently say will be playing for them next season: Taurean Prince and John Collins. It’s likely that Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon and others could be playing but Atlanta looks like they’re trying to make moves this offseason and everyone other than Prince and Collins could potentially be involved.

They also project to have about $28.6 million in cap space this summer, per RealGM. Odds are slim-to-none that they have a roster talented enough to attract some of the big name free agents on the market. Which would lead to plan b where they probably overpay one or two talented players on one-year deals to make sure they’re spending the money available to them, giving their young players a group they can work with, and leaving themselves cap space for the following summer(s).

However, we’re not going to spend time guessing who the Hawks will sign to hypothetically play with Doncic. Instead, we’re going to discuss how Doncic will fit with Collins and Prince, the clear beginning of the Hawks young core. It’s also worth looking at how he could fit with Bazemore and Schroder on the roster since it will be tough for the Hawks to move either of those contracts and get a return they like.

The Doncic-Collins pairing would be the most exciting aspect of the Hawks landing the Slovenian. In Collins’ rookie season, he averaged 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 34 percent from deep on limited attempts. These numbers don’t jump out at you like Tatum’s, Simmons, and Mitchell’s rookie numbers but all those guys were in much better environments. Collins was playing well with Schroder as his primary set-up man (which no big in this league wants) and Prince and Bazemore as the other two scoring threats. Neither of those players demand a second defender, which made it difficult for Collins to find space to operate in.

Doncic, on the other hand, is an elite set-up man who has never played with a roll partner as explosive as Collins. Throughout his career he has shown the ability to throw lob passes, but hasn’t always had teammates to throw them too. (Side note, this is an example of why context matters so much for every prospect and you have to watch them as much as possible. If you had only watched a portion of Doncic’s games you may have never seen him throw a lob pass which might make you think he can’t even though he can. It’s just his setting preventing him from showing off the skill.) Doncic has had one teammate — with Real Madrid and Slovenia — who is athletic enough for Doncic to regularly seek out lob passes for him, Anthony Randolph.

We see Doncic run a pick-and-roll with Randolph against Zaragoza in Liga ACB action in this clip. The two of them link-up for an alley-oop and do it rather easily because Randolph’s defender tries to fall back into ICE coverage but he can’t backpedal quick enough to stay with Randolph. Doncic picks this up on his first dribble after the ball screen and knows he’s got an easy toss to Randolph for two points.

Sadly, Doncic didn’t get to throw this pass to Randolph as much as he should have. For as athletic and gifted as Randolph is, he is still the same player he was in the NBA. He has the ability to make plays that blow your mind on one possession, and then he’ll make plays that make you lose your mind on the next three possessions. Randolph would fumble passes, decided he’d rather pick-and-pop, or on some days he would simply look like he didn’t want to play.

Doncic wouldn’t have these concerns with Collins. Instead, he could throw lob passes until defenses make the adjustments to stop him, like this one that Bazemore throws to Collins.

The Doncic-Collins pairing goes beyond throwing lobs. The two of them would form the most intimidating young pick-and-roll pairing in the league. Collins’ athleticism, youth, and ability to run the pick-and-pop with Doncic as well might make him the best partner for the Slovenian youngster in this draft.

The final reason Doncic and Collins could work so well together is because of Doncic’s ability to draw multiple defenders on his drives due to his size and strength, making it very difficult for any one defender to stop him once he gets going, and Collins’ skill as an offensive rebounder and put-back dunker.

We see the defensive attention Doncic’s drives draw in this clip and the offensive rebounding opportunities it creates even though he scores. Going up against one of the best defenses in Europe in Olympiacos, Doncic is guarded by former Houston Rocket Kostas Papanikolaou and calls for a ball screen from Edy Tavares who is guarded by Spurs stash Nikola Milutinov. Papanikolaou jumps out before Tavares can set the screen and cuts it off, forcing Doncic right and towards Milutinov who’s fallen back into ICE coverage. Doncic gets around this by snaking between the two of them and into the lane. This puts Papanikolaou on his back and Milutinov in front of him but with a little bump and fade on the Serbian big Doncic gets the space for his shot and knocks it down. Even if he missed it though, Tavares still rolled after his screen attempt got cut off and was in prime rebounding position up against the undersized Papanikolaou.

Doncic will be able to put Collins in these positions for easy buckets too, where he can do what he does best.

Collins was better than 63 percent of the league as a putback dunker last season per With Doncic as his teammate that number will surely rise.

The other young piece the Hawks are would continue to be invested in alongside Doncic is Prince. Prince started all 82 games for the Hawks last season and was their second leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game. He also shot 39 percent from deep on 5.6 attempts per game, with a true-shooting percentage of 55. These were all considerable jumps for Prince leading to him having arguably the greatest improvement from his rookie season to his sophomore season among players in his class.

Prince, similar to Collins, projects to fit very well alongside Doncic on the offensive end. The former Baylor University wing is a versatile player, who operated as a jack-of-all trades but master of none type for the Hawks last season. That being said, his best skill was his accuracy in catch-and-shoot situations whether he was spotting-up or coming off of screens.

In this clip we see Prince knocking down a 3 after spotting up on the wing during a Hawks pick-and-roll set. Malcolm Delaney throws the skip pass over the top of the pick-and-roll to Prince. Doncic loves throwing this pass, we’ve discussed his fondness of it in previous pieces. With Doncic as his teammate, Prince will get this shot so many times that he could make it in his sleep.

Here we see Prince make a 3 after coming off of a screen. With Doncic distributing, the Hawks will look to do this more. When a shooter is coming off of screens passers just need to make sure they hit them in the chest so they can get off a quick release. This may sound simple, but a lot of NBA players mess it up because they get careless with the basketball. One of the aspects of passing that separates LeBron James, Chris Paul and the other elite passers from the rest of the league is their attention to detail. They always make sure they hit their shooters exactly where they want it. Doncic is no different.

Here’s a great example of how pinpoint Doncic is with his passes. He’s running the pick-and-roll against Greece in Eurobasket and has teammate Edo Muric wide open in the corner due to the weak side defender helping on the roll man in the middle. Doncic recognizes he’s open and rises to throw the pass over the top of the defense. Now, if Doncic wanted to he could just throw the pass in the general area of Muric; He would have enough time to get the shot off before a defender gets over. But Doncic make sure the pass is right in Muric’s pocket to give him the maximum amount of time to line up the shot. This was also in the final three minutes of a tie ball game, an easy spot for a youngster to have a lapse in concentration and rush the pass. Doncic doesn’t, and that’s just one of the reasons why he’s so good.

As previously stated, Prince is more than just a shooter he operated in many roles for the Hawks. They would have him run pick-and-roll’s take guys off the dribble in iso’s, and finish lobs.

These skills are a huge plus alongside Doncic, who will probably have to take on a lot of the creative burden on the offensive end if he ends up with the Hawks. If he has to take on too much he might get injured due to how long it has been since he’s had a considerable amount of rest as well as the step up in physicality in the NBA. Prince being able to give him a few possessions off and allowing him to rest as a floor spacer could go a long way towards Doncic’s durability for his career. (Oh, and Doncic likes throwing lobs to his wing teammates too.)

Another player who could take the ball out of Doncic’s hands as a Hawk is Schroder. Now, there’s no guarantee’s he’s a Hawk next season. They’re interested in trading him, potentially for another point guard. Or the Hawks could trade him for another position and then sign or draft a point guard. Essentially, the Hawks have plenty of options to make sure they avoid running Doncic into the ground which should be a priority for whatever team ends up with him.

While Doncic, Prince, Collins and the whoever else the Hawks have come tip-off early season will certainly be an appealing project for coach Pierce and his staff on offense, they could potentially be a tiring group on the defensive end at least for their first couple of seasons together.

The Hawks posted the ninth-worst defensive rating in the league last season, 108.2. The addition of Doncic isn’t one you would expect to change that. Prince and Collins were both solid defenders given the circumstance they played under last season, mainly Collins, especially for a rookie. His athleticism helps him as a rim protector and gives him the ability to switch out onto smaller players on the perimeter. Basically everything you want from a modern day center on the defensive end. Prince was good too. He was very active and with Collins anchoring behind him he can maximize his athleticism and be aggressive on the perimeter knowing he has a shot blocker to bail him out every now and then.

Prince and Collins would certainly help Doncic on the defensive end. Prince would allow him to match-up with the easier wing on opposing teams and Collins will have his back when he gets burnt. But a lot of Doncic’s defensive fit depends on who else the Hawks add.

If Schroder is still the Hawks starting point guard one could only imagine the headaches coach Pierce would get when he watches opponents put Schroder and Doncic in the pick-and-roll together. It would cause two mismatches at once. Doncic would end up with a quick guard who can take advantage of his slow feet, and Schroder would end up on a considerably taller player who can go at him if Doncic is able to stay in front of his new matchup.

This would put a lot of pressure on Prince, Collins, and whoever the third player on the floor is. NBA teams are usually able to wreak havoc by causing one mismatch on a possession. With two mismatches to exploit, who knows what damage they could cause. This will make the fifth player on the court for the Hawks in crucial moments the make or break player of the season. If it’s still Bazemore, for example; then they have a plus defender who gives coach Pierce a chance to scheme so he can hide Schroder and Doncic. This would also allow Doncic to move onto four’s more often. Players less likely to expose his lack of lateral movement.

But say the Hawks trade Bazemore to clear his salary, and then in July they decide to overpay Tyreke Evans on a one-year deal. Adding a third questionable defender to the mix would lead to a lot of breakdowns and cost the Hawks a lot of games. While this wouldn’t look too bad for the Hawks since no one is expecting them to make the playoffs anyway next season, it could lead to Doncic developing some bad habits which could be hard to break whenever the franchise does turn it around and start playing playoff basketball. Then, those defensive woe’s won’t be increasing their lottery odd’s anymore, they’ll be costing the Hawks their season.

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A big summer is on the horizon for the Hawks. If they get this summer right, their rebuild could be over sooner rather than later. Step one to getting it right is making the right selection with the third pick, where Doncic could potentially be the best choice. After that, coach Pierce would have a few seasons to do what he does best: develop young players. Prince, Doncic, and Collins could lay the foundation for the Hawks to become a 60-win team again, one day in the future. The three of them will have to develop well and become a core that top free agents want to sign with before they sign their first big contracts. If the Hawks can pull that off, then maybe they’ll get back to the conference finals. This time, they’ll have some star power, and thus the ability to win a championship.