There were enough whirlwinds leading up to draft night to make Hawks fans sick yesterday, as it was believe by many that Cam Reddish was on his way out of town so that Travis Schlenk could move up from pick 20. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, as the Hawks stayed put with their two picks, selecting Duke’s Jalen Johnson 20th overall and Sharife Cooper out of Auburn with their 48th pick.
Travis Schlenk acknowledged some of the noise in his press conference after the draft, stating that the team did explore moving up the draft board, but he also said they talked to some teams about moving back.
Schlenk admitted he did explore moving up and back in the draft, but nothing came to fruition
— SportsTalkATL Chase (@IrleChase) July 30, 2021
At the end of the day, nothing came to fruition, and the Hawks got two ultra-talented guys that could blossom into impact players at the next level.
Johnson is a former five-star recruit that chose to take his talents to Duke. Before the start of the season, many thought he was a lock to go in the lottery, but after leaving the team to focus on his game prior to the draft, some questions arose about his character. This could be why he fell to the Hawks. However, while he was at Duke, he showed why he was so highly regarded out of high school.
At 6’9″, Johnson has the dribbling ability to potentially play a point forward role, but at the very least, he can lead breaks in transition where his athleticism can be utilized the best. He will instantly become one of the Hawks most athletic players, with the ability to finish above the rim in style. In college, Johnson also showed he can knock down shots from the perimeter, making 44.4% of his threes. Now, I wouldn’t expect him to continue to hit shots from deep at that rate; he only shot 18 threes over his 13 collegiate games, but it’s an area that can improve as he develops into an NBA player. Defensively, his size and athleticism should allow him to guard positions one through five, but he’s far from a polished product on that end.
“He (Johnson) has the defensive versatility to be a combo forward”
— SportsTalkATL Jake (@cantguardjake) July 30, 2021
Johnson has a lot of room to grow, but that should only excite Hawks fans. This a player many, including people inside the Hawks building, thought wouldn’t make it outside of the top ten — just another example of Travis Schlenk taking the best player available despite position, and you can say the same thing about the Hawks second round selection.
Atlanta native Sharife Cooper was selected with the 48th pick. After leading McEachern High School to a Georgia State Championship, Cooper took his talents a couple of hours down the road to Auburn, where he average 20.2 points and 8.1 assists. The last freshman to do that, and the only other one to accomplish it over the last 25 years? You guessed it, Trae Young.
Atlanta Hawks got themselves a STEAL at No. 48 with auburn point guard Sharife Cooper!
Cooper & new teammate Trae Young are the only D-1 freshmen over the last 25 seasons to average 20+ PPG & 8+ APG!
This PG duo! pic.twitter.com/PaW4Eptv2H
— NBA Buzz (@OfficialNBABuzz) July 30, 2021
Cooper couldn’t have entered a better situation. There is opportunity for him to earn early minutes, but most importantly, he gets to learn behind someone who has a similar skill set and has faced the same challenges. Young should be a perfect mentor for Cooper, who possesses enough traits to thrive at the top level.
Much like Young, Cooper was a volume scorer in college. The biggest questions about his game are his jump shot — he shot just 22.8% from deep as a freshman — and obviously, his defense due to his frame. There aren’t many guards in this league that succeed who are 6’1″ and cannot shoot. If Cooper wants to thrive in the NBA, he’ll have to improve his jump shot. However, the sky is the limit for him offensively if he does that, because he might be the most skilled passer in this draft.
I expect the Hawks to bring in a veteran point guard to backup Trae Young this season, easing Cooper into the swing of things, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cooper impressed a lot of people early on. My jaw dropped when he fell to the Hawks at pick 48; many had him going as high as the top ten. Travis Schlenk acknowledged he was much higher than 48 on the Hawks board, so they were very happy when he fell.
Schlenk says Hawks had Sharife Cooper much higher on their boards
— SportsTalkATL Chase (@IrleChase) July 30, 2021
Overall, I would say the draft was once again a very successful night for the Hawks. They didn’t end up trading Cam Reddish, and they stuck to the gameplan — best player available — with both of their picks. Of course, we won’t be able to grade these picks for a couple of years, but it looks like the Hawks already dazzling young core just got a whole lot stronger.