No Big Whoop

Yesterday afternoon, in the teeth of what is becoming an increasingly competitive and unpredictable NBA playoff conference semifinals, the league gave those that had gone fishing a month ago a chance to get back into the limelight via their annual morphing into a 70s game show set, aka the NBA Draft Lottery. For the first time in recent memory, and because these days platform supercedes time slot, it was held on a Sunday afternoon via an ABC broadcast audience.

Given that the anticipation and the rewards this time around are nowhere near what it was a year ago, when the transformational Victor Wembanyama was the likely grand prize, one can’t help the NBA for trying to stack the deck as strongly as possible in the pious hope enough of an audience anticipating the Knicks and Pacers lead-out would tune in (my educated prediction is NFW).

But at least if you were as invested and/or nuts enough to actually bet who’d win this competition, you were rewarded if you somehow had a hunch based on anything other than blind fandom.  Per USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt:

The Atlanta Hawks won Sunday’s NBA draft lottery against the odds; They had a 3% chance of winning the No. 1 pick and the ping pong balls came up with their numbers.  A 3% chance is not Mega Millions odds, but it’s still unlikely. Heck, the Hawks had just a 13.88% to get a top-four pick and just four teams have won the draft lottery with worse odds than Atlanta. Now, the Hawks have the No. 1 pick for the first time since 1975 when they selected David Thompson.

And that last sentence pretty much sums up the entire history of the Atlanta Hawks, who have been in Georgia since 1968 and have not even an NBA finals appearance to show for their 56 seasons of almost perpetual mediocrity.   Even its unlikely 2021 run that thanks to COVID delays extended into the July 4th weekend, that saw the only two victories in a conference finals in its Atlanta history, was tainted by the asterisk of an unlikely win against the Ben Simmons yips that plagued the Philadelphia 76ers in a winner-take-all conference semifinal that handed the Hawks the series on a silver platter.

Oh, that Thompson pick?  Do recall ’75 was the last time the ABA presented a viable alternative and the North Carolina State star that Atlanta hoped would create a legitimate fan base from ACC fans from the Mason-Dixon line and below (remember there’s no Charlotte team at this point).  Thompson chose to take his talents to the Denver Nuggets and never played a game for the Hawks in his career.

So one can forgive the look of surprise and confusion that was on the face of panelist Landry Fields, the Hawks’ inexperienced general manager, when its announcement was made that his team won this go-round.  There is a tall talented French center at the head of this class, but his name is Alex Sarr, and you probably haven’t heard or soon as much of him as you may have seen Wembayama by this time a year ago.  UBJ’s Sourabh Singh attempted to educate those of us who weren’t quite as up on, say, Australian league games:

Sarr possesses a rare combination of size, athleticism, and versatility that make him an intriguing prospect for any team in need of frontcourt talent.  The Hawks, who are in the midst of a rebuilding phase, could greatly benefit from adding a player of Sarr’s caliber to their roster. With his ability to score in the paint, protect the rim, and stretch the floor with his shooting range, Sarr has the potential to become a cornerstone player for the Hawks as they look to build a competitive team for the future.  USA TODAY’s Greg Rosenstein adds the context that Sarr is a forward/center for the Perth Wildcats who stands at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-4½-inch wingspan and 9-foot-2½-inch standing reach. 

But the Australian pro league that Sarr was competitive with at age 19 is nowhere near as competitive as the French league which Wemby conquered at ages 17 and 18.  And the Hawks, unlike the San Antonio Spurs that where Wembanyama landed, haven’t hit rock bottom, instead languishing on the fringes of competitiveness with the likes of one-dimensional ballhawks like Trae Young and Dejounte Murray controlling a team that, as Rosenstein further reminds, finished 36-46 last season, making the play-in tournament but failing to advance in the postseason. They ranked fifth in the league in points per game (118.3) but struggled mightily on the defensive end. Atlanta allowed 120.6 points a contest, the NBA’s second-worst mark.  Young is currently occupying a significant chunk of Atlanta’s hardly limitless budget, in the midst of a $207 million deal that has given little more to the Hawks than the equivalence of running on a treadmill, and is reportedly being linked to a Laker trade via his Clutch Sports representation that would (they hope) convince their number one client, LeBron James, to return to Los Angeles. 

And Murray, ironically, was already cast aside by the Spurs, who came out of this lottery in arguably far better shape than did the Hawks. They wound up with both the #4 and #8 picks and can choose from a wide array of potential “very goods” available to compliment Wemby and potentially improve from their weak 22-60 record from this past season.  CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone underscores how well the potential for a true renaissance in the Alamo City looms:

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on the ABC broadcast that San Antonio may look to add at the point guard position – either via in the draft this year or next year or in free agency this summer – and the huge wins in the lottery seem to make that all the more possible. There’s a good chance Nikola Topic, Reed Sheppard or Rob Dillingham could be available at one or both of those positions when they land on the clock, which could further bolster the franchise’s chances of rebooting – and quickly – around Wemby.  

So here’s to the winners of yesterday.  And, as warranted, condolences as well.

Courage…

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