BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Late Thursday night, Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk was asked how much time needs to pass before the blockbuster trade he consummated a few hours earlier — sending Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and a top-five protected pick in 2019 — can be properly judged.
Schlenk didn’t miss a beat.
“That’ll happen by tomorrow morning,” Schlenk told The Washington Post, followed by a laugh.
“That doesn’t take long.”
He certainly is right about that.
It would have been easy for Schlenk to hang onto Doncic, the dynamic European talent with the glittering resume that many thought was the top talent in this year’s draft. That would’ve been the safe move.
But Schlenk didn’t play it safe. Instead, he took a deep breath and swung for the fences with Young, perhaps the most divisive player in this year’s draft — and one who has been compared many times during his meteoric rise over the past year to Stephen Curry. Then, with the No. 19 pick, Schlenk took Maryland guard Kevin Huerter — a 6-foot-7 sharpshooting guard that one league executive with another team, watching him play at the combine in Chicago, said reminded him of Klay Thompson.
Few people spent more time watching the development of Curry and Thompson than Schlenk, who spent more than a decade with the Golden State Warriors before taking control of the Hawks last summer. Now, thanks to his moves Thursday night, Schlenk is banking on Young and Huerter becoming the foundation of their own winning formula in Atlanta — Splash Brothers East, if you will.
“The big thing is, and I’ve said it to people here,” Schlenk said, “we are going to look for skilled guys who can shoot the ball and pass the ball.
“Those guys can do both of those things.”
Young, understandably, will get the most scrutiny. And while Schlenk made it clear he would’ve been happy with either player, and that the thing that made the trade was the top-five protected first in next year’s draft, betting on Young over Doncic will be remembered no matter what happens.
That is due in part to Doncic’s unique resume. But plenty of people are skeptical of Young’s lone collegiate season at Oklahoma — where he led the nation in both points and assists per game — and with good reason. Young is slight, leading some to wonder whether he can handle the rigors of the NBA and whether he’ll be attacked defensively. Others wonder whether he will hold up against NBA athleticism as other high-usage scoring guards in the past (Jimmer Fredette, for example) have.
Schlenk, obviously, has other ideas. And he was far from alone — Young wasn’t going lower than sixth Thursday night, a clear indication of his value. In praising Young, and explaining his thought process, Schlenk pointed to two specific skills that excite him about Young’s game: his ability to shoot off the dribble, and his passing.
He also made clear the Hawks will let Young do those things that made him a lottery pick.
“Listen, it’s our job as an organization to bring him along,” Schlenk said. “Obviously he’s going to get an opportunity to play, and go through this process with [Coach Lloyd] Pierce … you have to give him the ball and let him be himself.
“One of the things that really stands out about Trae, and people probably don’t realize, is shooting threes off the dribble. I think that’s why he gets the [Curry] comparisons, both that and the depth from which he shoots [threes], but we also really like his playmaking ability.
“He has an unbelievable ability to pass with either hand, as well as off the dribble. We think that with the way the game is going, and the way it is played, his game fits that.”
Huerter cemented his status as a first-round pick after that impressive showing at the combine. But in addition to the size and shooting, both of which earned him those nods toward Thompson as a potential archetype, Schlenk pointed out Huerter’s ability to handle the ball and create for others — for which Thompson has never been known.
“He can put the ball on the floor and create for others,” Schlenk said. “He can make shots, but also dribble and pass, which makes you harder to defend, and what we’re trying to build.”
Since arriving in Atlanta, Schlenk has made it clear that he wants to build this team through the draft, and with a vision of how he wants the team to play. It was clear by his moves Thursday — including the final pick of the first round, Villanova forward Omari Spellman, another plus-shooter at his position — that finding shooting all over the court is a critical component of that vision.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Schlenk had a front-row seat as Golden State emerged as the league’s newest superpower and saw the impact of Curry and Thompson’s shooting, in particular. Thursday night, he leaned into his vision by grabbing a pair of players that can’t help but make someone think of his former backcourt.
Now it will be up to Young and Huerter to prove Schlenk right.
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