Atlanta Hawks build up depth in NBA Draft

Former Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin poses for a picture after he was taken to be 15th overall by Atlanta. // Photo courtesy of Atlanta Hawks

Coming into the 2023 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks needed to capitalize on depth, but they didn’t have a shot at the premium picks.

Victor Wembanyama, former Metropolitans-92 center, an absurd 7’5 blend of unstoppable offense and rim protection who dominated French basketball, went to the San Antonio Spurs with the 1st overall pick. Nothing besides a Trae Young trade could have put the Hawks in position to take the wildly athletic G-League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson or sharp-shooting Alabama forward Brandon Miller at picks 2 or 3.

Instead, the Hawks had the 15th and 46th picks in a class lauded for the depth of skill available across its two rounds. Viable rotation players were expected to be available deep into the draft and that’s exactly what Atlanta needed. Greater depth might have helped the Hawks advance past a Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2023 playoffs as team shooting and defense trailed off in the clutch. This draft class presented a major opportunity for Atlanta to add the necessary pieces for a return to the Eastern Conference finals.

On paper, the Hawks added a perfect complement to an already strong guard rotation with the 15th overall pick: Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin.

After last year’s selection of Duke guard AJ Griffin and a blockbuster trade for Hawks guard Dejounte Murray, some fans might have seen Bufkin as redundant since he is likely going to be the fourth guard on the roster. Given the Hawks’ needs for bigger defenders and options at the forward spot, it is an understandable concern; however, the 6’4, 190lb guard’s scoring and defensive skill fit perfectly with Griffin, Murray and Young.

Bufkin uses his 6’8 wing-span very well as a persistent defender. The Hawks perimeter defense really struggled last year, and Bufkin was an effective on-ball stopper in college, averaging 1.3 steals per game. This bodes well for his fit with the defensively-limited Young and takes some of the defensive pressure off Murray. Murray didn’t live up to his All-Defense status in 2021-2022, and it will be easier for him to return to form playing alongside Bufkin.

Offensively, there isn’t much Bufkin can not do. In college, he averaged 14 points on 48/36/85% shooting, taking 4 threes a game. Shooting a respectable 36% from three-point range and 85% on free throws, Bufkin will do well for a Hawks team that ranked 20th in three- point percentage and 25th in attempts last season. As a rookie, he will likely have his shooting struggles, but there is reason to expect solid performance. He is also a good playmaker and works particularly well in the pick-and-roll offense, which fits with center Clint Capela.

Young and Murray are likely going to dominate touches, so it will be critical for Bufkin to move without the ball and convert his looks on the assists he receives. However, in situations where Hawks coach Quin Snyder wants to play more defensively, Bufkin could temporarily step in for Young and run the offense without struggling defensively.

The only concern is Bufkin’s light frame. At 190lbs, he needs to add more mass to hold up against NBA players. Fortunately, he’s only 19 years old and has plenty of untapped athletic upside.

After adding Bufkin’s shooting and defensive upside, Atlanta acquired the 39th overall pick in a trade with the Celtics and selected Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye.

Hailing from Senegal, the 6’11, 210lb man brings a lot of upside. He is an offensive rebounding machine and solid passer for his size. Furthermore, he has shown an improved mid-range and free throw shot. Even if his offensive game is not fully developed yet, the foundation is certainly there. However, Gueye’s defense is further behind. He profiles well as a good rim protector, but he has not shown it yet and will need time to grow into his upside. It is unlikely that he can play over starting center Clint Capela or backup center Onyeka Okongwu, but might get more minutes given the trade of longtime starting forward John Collins.

With their last and final selection at pick 46, the Hawks selected wing Seth Lundy from Penn State to add more shooting. Lundy played all four years at Penn State and showed a NBA-quality three point shot, sinking 40% of his shots from the arc on six attempts a game.

Currently, he is not much of a playmaker or athletic finisher, but Lundy competes hard on defense and puts himself in the right positions. He is going to have to show his defensive and 3-point skill early to stick on the roster, but he could be a viable role player for the Hawks with some development.

In his first draft, Hawks general manager Landry Fields selected three players that occupy clear roles on the roster and make sense for the team’s needs. It is interesting that he elected not to take a gamble on the highly rated Villanova forward Cam Whitmore. At only 18 years old, Whitmore’s 6’7 frame, incredible defensive potential, tantalizing shooting and incredible rim finishing ability would have been an exciting part of Atlanta’s rotation. However, his questionable medicals and reportedly poor interviews could have removed him from Atlanta’s consideration. The Hawks are currently looking to make noise in the playoffs and might not have the time to properly develop Whitmore.

Given their second-round selections, it is unlikely that Gueye or Lundy will see much run in their first season. Bufkin should see immediate minutes as a sixth or seventh man filling in for Young or Murray. While he will need time to adjust to the NBA, it would be a major benefit if Bufkin ends the 2023- 2024 season as a rotation fixture displaying defensive upside and respectable three-point ability.

Hawks fans will get a chance to see these new additions to the squad in the NBA Summer League, starting on July 7th in Las Vegas.