Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tanking Hawks could get well soon: The 2018 draft looks loaded

It's still baseball season, and it's about to be football season. My calendar works just fine, thanks for asking. But two major bits of basketball news -- so major that they're more blobs than bits -- have occurred, and they'll have a direct effect on the next 10 months for Atlanta's NBA franchise.

Marvin Bagley III, who was supposed to be the best high school player in the class of 2018, reclassified -- that's a fancy term for skipping senior year and graduating early -- and enrolled at Duke. His presence in Durham renders Wendell Carter Jr. of Pace Academy the second-best freshman on that campus. It also means the 2018 NBA draft should feature two players who could carry NBA franchises.

The other is Michael Porter Jr., previously rated the best player in the class of 2017. He's at Missouri, where he'll play, albeit briefly, for Cuonzo Martin. If you're a tanking NBA team, which the Hawks are, you won't  have to win the lottery to get a guy on the order of Karl-Anthony Towns or Ben Simmons. Both Porter and Bagley -- the former is a small forward, the latter a power forward -- have that sort of potential.

As it stands, the Hawks have an excellent chance to rank among the NBA's worst teams . (Good work by Travis Schlenk, and I mean that sincerely.) Here, however, is where our other significant development matters: The Cleveland Cavaliers, who will not be among the league's bottom-feeders, could land Porter or Bagley.

The Cavs shipped Kyrie Irving, who was unhappy at having to play in the NBA finals every year without being seen as his team's bell cow, to Boston on Tuesday. The Cavs got much the better of the deal, receiving the smallish point guard Isaiah Thomas and the brawny Jae Crowder -- former quarterback at Villa Rica High, FYI -- in return. They also banked the No. 1 pick that once belonged to the Nets but was sent to the Celtics in the all-time-awful Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade.

If we go by ESPN's summer hoops forecast, the three worst teams in 2017-2018 will be, in descending (and also alphabetical, as it happens) order: the Hawks, Brooklyn and Chicago. No, there's no guarantee the ping-pong balls will fall that way, but ESPN's mock draft shows the Hawks picking third overall and winding up with ...

DeAndre Ayton of Arizona.

Which wouldn't be terrible. He's a center. He'll be a one-and-done. (Anybody who's any good always is.) He's the No. 3 player in this freshman class according to ESPN Recruiting, two spots ahead of Carter. The 2018 draft always figured to be a deep one, and Bagley's presence could make it one of the best ever.

The point being: If you're going to tank, this is the year. As it stands, the Hawks have one of the worst-looking rosters anybody has ever seen. That stands to change next June.

(The other thing to watch: It's widely expected that LeBron James will opt out of his contract next summer, whereupon many observers believe he'll leave for the Lakers. If the Cavs get either Porter or Bagley, that'd be a mighty inducement to stay put. As we know, the draft comes before free agency.)

(Oh, and this, too: Duke should win the 2018 national championship. Then again, it should have won the 2017 national championship.)


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.