Just a few short seasons ago, the Golden State Warriors missed the playoffs, with an offensive attack highlighted by Nate Robinson and Monta Ellis. They were stuck in the bottom half of the NBA’s unfavorable tier of mediocre teams and their future didn’t appear to be very inspiring. However, all this losing paid off and, through brilliant draft selections and through flexibility created by wise front office decisions, the Warriors were able to construct what is now undoubtedly one of the greatest teams ever assembled. This same process also led other teams, like the Washington Wizards, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Philadelphia 76ers, to becoming playoff contenders today. Simply put, talent wins in the NBA, and the best, most reliable source of both current and future talent is the NBA Draft.
For years, Atlanta Hawks fans watched as their team consistently won 40-50 games (except for the glorious 2015 season) and then bowed out in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. While it is nice to have a team that can consistently put together winning seasons, it is also discouraging when fans know that year in and year out, the team will never truly be able to compete for championships. It took the Hawks far too long to realize that a change was needed, but finally a visionary was brought into the front office who knew that the only way the Hawks could ultimately go up was to temporarily go down. That visionary is former Warriors’ assistant GM Travis Schlenk.
In the Bay Area, Schlenk witnessed firsthand how an ingenious combination of scouting, drafting, and player development led the Warriors to begin a dynasty. Of course, no one could have predicted how later draft choices like Draymond Green could ultimately become the stars they are today. However, if anyone can scout out the talent hidden within the lower half of the draft, it is Schlenk. While it is rare to hear Schlenk use the word “tank,” it is obvious from the ideas he refers to, such as flexible contracts and high draft choices, that he knows Atlanta has to endure one or two losing seasons at minimum in order to eventually begin to compete.
Thus far, the plan has been working to perfection. Atlanta has one of the worst records in the league at 20-45, and they have managed to get rid of some veterans such as Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in order to fuel the new youth-led movement. Prized rookie John Collins has proven to be a great playmaker in the paint, and although Taurean Prince has dealt with a bit of a sophomore slump at times, he is still coming right along in his development as an NBA wing.
The rebuilding process is especially appealing for the Hawks this particular season because of how loaded the upcoming draft class appears to be. Players like Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, and even the international superstar Luka Doncic have made this upcoming class look like one of the most talented in years. It would be a shame if the Hawks won so many games over the last month of the season that they were not able to bring in one of these potential franchise cornerstones in June.
Every sports fan knows that watching your favorite team lose over and over again is painful, but Hawks fans can be assured that it all has a purpose in the long run. Mediocrity simply was no longer an option, and tanking was the only way that the team could ultimately compete. After all, if Travis Schlenk’s previous GM experience is any indication, the Hawks appear to be going down the right path in order to ultimately bring some hardware to the championship-starved city of Atlanta.