2004 NBA Draft Selections:
The Hawks’ reclamation project in essence began in 2004, when former GM Billy Knight had four picks in the draft total. We all know how this turned out. But, just to remind you, Childress was taken 6th, J. Smith 17th, Donta Smith 34th, and Royal Ivey 37th. Looking back on it, this might have been Knight’s best draft. While the Hawks are not still enjoying the fruits of Childress’ skill set, Childress was arguably the second or third best sixth man in the league last year. Smith has turned into a peripheral All-Star (although his numbers this year have in no way merited his huge offseason contract). Donta Smith was utterly useless in the NBA while Ivey – to many execs’ surprise – has still managed to earn his paycheck through his sheer effort and defensive skill set.
The 2004 Draft produced one clear cut superstar (Dwight Howard), two fringe superstars (Al Jefferson and Kevin Martin) and one budding All-Star (Devin Harris). Outside of those four, everyone else’s place among the hierarchy is arguable. Okafor, Gordon, Childress, Deng, and Iguodala are all above-average players, the majority of whom got overpaid last off-season for limited skill sets. Okafor was hyped up prior to leaving UConn, but he’s been anything but a go to scorer. Gordon, on the other hand, is nothing but a scorer. He doesn’t really defend nor contribute in other areas of the game, such as passing and rebounding. Deng would make a nice complementary scorer on a good team, but instead he’s a go to scorer on a bad team. The decision to make him the go to guy may put GM John Paxson out of a job. Iguodala re-upped to a massive deal in hopes of combining with Elton Brand to join the East’s upper echelon. That just hasn’t happened. As for Childress, well he’s playing in Greece and loving it (although I have a hunch he’ll be back in the NBA next year, perhaps even in a Hawks uniform). Childress never justified his status as the sixth pick in the draft. Not even close. But on the flip side, he was far from a bust. Childress was a very average scorer, but he was a great energizer on a young team, and he had an uncanny ability to be around the rim at all the right times. Even though the Hawks are 18-10 and have dramatically improved from last season, don’t underestimate the loss of Childress. It still hurts.
Between Harris and the aforementioned group led by Okafor are three players who we still aren’t sure of. They don’t qualify as All-Stars just yet, but their talent level indicates at least consideration of such a possibility. That group includes Andris Biedrins, Smith, and Jameer Nelson. Biedrins’ numbers have been limited because of Don Nelson’s propensity to use a “small-ball” line-up in Golden State, but even with this hindrance the 7 footer is posting a ridiculous 21.15 PER. Smith has been somewhat of a disappointment this season, seeing a significant drop in his scoring output and shooting percentage. In his defense, he was sidelined with an ankle injury for over ten games and has yet to fully figure out his role in the offense. Smith’s 15.78 PER is being held up by his blocked shots and rebounding, but his offense has proved “un-seasoned” at best. Still, Smith was a steal at No. 17 in the draft and his potential to grow as a player is still there. Finally, we’re left with Nelson, the former St. Joseph Hawk who really had nothing left to prove after leaving college. Despite his collegiate accomplishments, Nelson still dropped to 20th in the draft. While Nelson was an average point guard since starting in the league, he has exploded this year. Nelson is shooting 53% from the field and dropping 43+% from three point range, good for 17 points/game. Throw in the fact that he’s contributing 5 assists/game, nearly 4 rebounds/game and only playing 32 minutes per contest, and you have the makings of a very above average point guard.
As for busts, look no further than Shaun Livingston, who was picked at No. 4 by the Clippers. You really can’t blame the Clips for this pick, as Livingston was a terrific high school prospect who many compared to Magic Johnson. Livingston, unfortunately, has been sidelined by a number of injuries, the last being a horrific knee injury where the young point guard dislocated his kneecap. Araujo, Jackson, Swift, Telfair, Humphries, Snyder, Wright, Podkozin, Khryapa and Monia were all busts. Of that group, only Telfair (Timberwolves) and Humphries (Toronto) get any significant run, but that run is limited for the both of them.
So back to the Hawks. Was it a good draft? Yes and no. I like Childress and I’m clearly biased given my affinity for his skill set and what he brought to the Hawks last season. But Deng, Biedrins and Jefferson would not only have made more sense than Childress, but would have been better for the team as well. Deng is a better scorer and all around player. Biedrins would have given them a center they still lack today. Jefferson is a very solid low post scorer whose offensive skill set at this point in time outrivals that of Al Horford.
As for the Smith pick, that one is impossible to discount. I distinctly remember watching this draft and listening to ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas say “Josh Smith has the biggest chance of being THE bust in this draft.” I think its fair to say Jay was wrong. Very wrong. And while Smith may prove turnover prone and “lost” on offense at times, he provides the necessary element of shotblocking to a Hawks team which has a tough time protecting the rim without him. While one could make an argument that Nelson or Kevin Martin would have made more sense, Hawks fans have to be satisfied with the Smith selection.
Hawks’ 2004 NBA Draft Grade: B+