Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — The last time the Atlanta Hawks chose first overall in the NBA draft, they selected a future Hall of Famer who never played for the franchise.

Atlanta hopes its fortunes will play out better this time around as the Hawks won the 2024 draft lottery on Sunday. The team’s GM, Landry Fields, had the same reaction as most hard-core NBA followers when his team won.

“It was a shock,” Fields told reporters.

The Hawks finished 36-46, good for 10th-best in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Although they lost their final six regular season games and were easily bumped by the Chicago Bulls, 131-116, in the first round of the So-Fi play-in tournament, Atlanta does not fit the profile of a usual lottery winner.

In fact, Atlanta only had a 3% chance to win the lottery. According to ESPN, that was the fifth-lowest odds by a team to win the No. 1 pick since the lottery debuted in 1985. The Hawks will choose first, followed by Washington, Houston, San Antonio, and the Detroit Pistons, who have not won the lottery despite having the NBA’s worst record each of the past two seasons.

This will be the first time the Hawks have drafted first overall since 1975, when they selected North Carolina State standout David Thompson. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the five-time All-Star and NBA Hall of Famer never suited up for the team, deciding instead to sign with the Denver Nuggets of the now-defunct ABA. The only other times the Hawks selected first were during the 1950s.

And that is the Atlanta Hawks in a nutshell, isn’t it? The franchise has won just one NBA championship in its existence, and that was back in 1958 when the St. Louis Hawks, led by Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, defeated the Boston Celtics in six games.

The team has been in Atlanta since 1968 and never made the NBA Finals during that time. They’ve reached the conference finals twice in the past decade but were not a real threat to advance either time.

Heck, they even had “The Human Highlight Film,” nine-time All-Star Dominique Wilkins, for 12 seasons between 1983-1994, and never got past the conference semifinals during that time.

For that matter, outside the Braves and 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC, the city has not experienced a multitude title-winning success at the professional level.

The NFL’s Falcons are best known now for their 28-3 collapse against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51. And two separate NHL franchises, the Flames and the Thrashers, have bolted for Canada. The most successful team in the state actually resides 90 minutes away from Atlanta in Athens, where the Georgia Bulldogs have won two the last three NCAA football championships.

Until something drastic changes, the Hawks are an also-ran franchise that just doesn’t make front page NBA news all that often. And when they do, it’s because of swirling trade rumors, like right now, when the team’s top two players, guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, have uncertain futures with the club.

That makes next month’s draft all the more enticing for a Hawks fanbase that assumed the team would be selecting somewhere in the 10-to-14 range.

Do the Hawks go with 7-foot, 19-year-old French center Alex Sarr, who is trying to duplicate countryman Victor Wembanyama by being named first overall? His name is the one most often bandied about for the top selection, and his long build and rangy game are similar to Wembanyama, who was recently named the NBA’s 2023-24 Rookie of the Year with the San Antonio Spurs.

However, Atlanta has several paths it can take. Atlanta could go with G League standouts Matas Buzelis or Ron Holland, Donovan Clingan or Stephon Castle from NCAA champion Connecticut, or even Sarr’s French countryman Zaccharie Risacher, a versatile 6-foot-8 forward.

There may be no Wembanyama in this year’s draft, but Atlanta still has the chance to select a quality cornerstone for the next decade-plus.

If they choose wisely.

Follow Sports News Highlights on Facebook and X platform to get our headlines in your social feeds.

Copyright 2024 Sports News Highlights. All rights reserved.