ATLANTA (AP) — After dumping Dwight Howard and facing the possible loss of Paul Millsap, the Atlanta Hawks needed to bulk up the front court.
John Collins was the obvious choice in the NBA draft.
The rebuilding Hawks landed the Wake Forest power forward with the No. 19 pick on Thursday night, scooping up the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player .
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-10 Collins averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
“He’s a guy we had pegged higher up on the draft boards than the 19th spot,” said Travis Schlenk, the Hawks’ new general manager. “We love his athleticism, his ability to score, his rebounding.”
Collins worked mainly on the inside with the Demon Deacons. He will need to improve his shooting range to really thrive in the NBA, and there are also questions about his defense.
But Schlenk said the Hawks were thrilled to land a player they had ranked among the top 15 prospects . After failing to move up to land a higher-ranked player, and listening to a few offers to move down, the rookie GM decided to stand pat when it became obvious that Collins would still be around in Atlanta’s spot.
“He was at the top of our list,” Schlenk said. “Some of the other guys we had lower went, and we realized probably about pick 16 that we were going to get him.”
The Hawks could have a dramatically different look up front next season.
After one disappointing year with his hometown team, Howard was stunningly traded to Charlotte on Tuesday in a deal that mainly provided some salary cap relief.
Schlenk said he wants to bring back Millsap, a four-time All-Star, but that would require a huge financial commitment from a team that slumped badly the last two seasons after reaching the Eastern Conference final in 2015.
Meeting with the media shortly before the start of the draft, Schlenk insisted the trade of Howard was not a sign that Atlanta was planning the sort of total overhaul that would send the team tumbling to the bottom of the East standings.
“Our goal is still to be competitive,” said Schlenk, who came to Atlanta from the champion Golden State Warriors . “Being competitive and increasing our flexibility, that’s still where we are. But we’re not in a rebuild.”
Howard failed to adapt to coach Mike Budenholzer’s free-flowing offense and was essentially a non-factor by the playoffs, making clear he’s no longer one of the league’s most dominant players.
“When I first got the job, one of the first things you do is you start making phone calls to other teams to see what kind of value your players have to other teams around the league,” Schlenk said. “Dwight’s name came up in some of those…