Hawks general manger Travis Schlenk made the most consequential transaction of his tenure Thursday night when he acquired Oklahoma point guard Trae Young in the NBA draft.
The Hawks traded the No. 3 overall draft pick to the Mavericks in exchange for the No. 5 pick in the 2018 draft plus a first-round pick in a future draft. The Hawks selected Real Madrid swingman Luka Doncic with the third pick for the Mavericks, and the trade was consummated once the Mavericks took Young at No. 5 after the Grizzlies picked Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
“I’m super excited,” Young said via conference call from New York. “This has always been a dream . . . to play in the NBA. To have an opportunity to play with such a great organization and be around a lot of great people with the Atlanta Hawks, it’s great for me.”
The future draft pick the Hawks acquired from the Mavericks is top-five protected in 2019 and 2020 and top-three protected in 2021 and 2022. The pick is unprotected in 2023.
With their second pick in the first round, No. 19 overall, the Hawks selected Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter. He was among the best three-point shooters in the Big Ten over the past two seasons with 39.4 percent accuracy on 350 attempts.
The Hawks used their third pick in the first round (No. 30 overall) to select Villanova forward Omari Spellman. He was a good three-point shooter for the Wildcats (43.3 percent accuracy on 130 attempts) and also had good production as a shot blocker and rebounder.
Young, 19, was one of the best players in college basketball during his one season at Oklahoma. He became the first freshman to lead NCAA Division I in scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.7).
Young was a staple of highlights because of his three-point shooting from well behind the line and his play-making.
“We love his ability to pass the ball, to make other players better with his court vision,” Schlenk said. “Obviously he gets a lot of notoriety for his long-range shooting but I think his ability to pass the ball is what we really liked about him. We were able to slide back a couple spots and still get him and pick up a future draft asset as well.”
Young has drawn comparisons to NBA star Steph Curry because of his shooting range, ability to make 3-pointers off the dribble and relatively slight frame — he measured 6-foot-1.75 and 178 pounds at the scouting combine last month.
The Warriors selected Curry with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Hawks hope that Young eventually will blossom into the kind of star player worthy of selection near the top of the draft.
“In today’s NBA obviously the three-point shot is important,” Schlenk said. “What really separates him with his shooting is his ability to shoot off the dribble. You don’t see that in a lot of guys.”
To be a good NBA player Young likely will have to overcome some weaknesses, including his size. Young regressed later in Oklahoma’s season, raising questions about how he will hold up physically in the NBA.
Young’s scoring efficiency decreased as he became the focus of game plans for opponents. His 3-point shooting accuracy declined, though he still ended up making 36 percent of 328 attempts for the season.
After his workout with the Hawks two weeks ago, Young said he’d gained 11 pounds since his last game.
“Being a smaller guard, you’ve got to be able to stand out in different areas,” Young said then. “Be really able to shoot the ball, be really able to pass the ball, be really scrappy and be a tougher player. I think I get criticized a lot about not being as tough, but I’m an extremely tough-minded player.”
In addition to his size, potential weaknesses for Young include his defense and ability to finish at the rim. Both areas could be challenging for him in the NBA because he’s not a particularly explosive athlete.
There are smaller guards in the NBA who have become stars, including Curry, Chris Paul and Kemba Walker. Those players improved once they learned how to score around the basket against the length of NBA shot blockers.
“I think a lot of it will be predicated on adding strength: lower body, core, upper body,” Hawks assistant general manager Jeff Peterson said prior to the draft. “He will get beat up going inside a little bit, so he’s going to have to figure out how to take the hit and still get a shot off and make a shot. That’s what these NBA guys do. But his touch is pretty good with both hands, so I think he will be able to adapt in that area.”
Young is the highest pick for Schlenk in his two Hawks drafts— he selected John Collins with the No. 19 overall pick in 2017. The Hawks won the third pick in the draft lottery after they finished with the second-worst (24-58) record since the franchise moved to Atlanta before the 1968-69 season.
The Hawks also selected Maryland shooting guard Kevin Huerter with the No. 19 pick. They also have picks at No. 30 and 34 in Thursday’s draft. They acquired the No. 19 and 30 picks via trades last year with the Timberwolves and Rockets, respectively.
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