Hawks GM Travis Schlenk Q-and-A Part 2: ‘Excited’ about 2018 draft class

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk at his intro presser in June.
(HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

Here is Part 2 of the Q-and-A with Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. Part 1 is here.

Q. You’ve been a coach and video guy. How do you think those experiences being with teams in that role have influenced you as an executive?

A. I think the biggest thing that it does is it gave me my base for chemistry and character of players. When you are a coach you are around the team all the time and if you have guys that are negative it he locker room or negative on the court, it just kind of deflates the whole group. I’m sure you’ve been around teams like that where there’s a guy who brings the whole group down every day. And these guys end up being around each other more than they are around their families. So it really kind of drove home the point we need positive guys, good guys. Guy when you come to work you don’t walk into the building and think, ‘Aw, man, I’ve got to deal with this guy again.’ The season is too long to deal with that.

Q. You’ve mentioned that the focus for the team is developing young guys and that you might take it on the chin. I think ‘rebuilding’ has taken on a negative connotation with some NBA teams because they see teams that seem to be in perpetual rebuild mode. I know you don’t want to go through years and years of losing. At what point do you think this team can become what you think it can be?

A. That’s why when you look at the veterans we have signed, guys to good contracts that are positive individuals, high-character guys that are going to show up and play hard every night. . . . To give it an exact (timeframe) is hard to do. But if you get—like in this year’s draft, getting John (Collins) at (No.) 19, he’s a guy that we thought that would be gone in the lottery and he was available at 19. So there’s some luck involved in it. There has to be players available when you are picking, whether you are picking 19th like we did this year or seventh. Every draft when you go back and look at it in past years, there have been some where every guy in the top five were all All-Stars: The (2003) Lebron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), D-Wade (Dwyane Wade). And then there is some drafts when you look at the guys taken in the first four or five picks and none of them panned out. Or maybe there are guys in the middle of the rounds. So it’s really having the opportunities or, like I say, swings of the bat with picks. We have four picks in this year’s draft, three in the first round and one in the second. Having those four swings and hopefully getting three of them right. Like I mentioned, in Golden State we got Draymond (Green) at 35. Does it make it easier to get a player that can help your franchise at the top? Sure, you have a better chance but it’s not a guarantee for success.

Q. Part of that draft luck is having the right picks in the right year. Without mentioning specific prospects, what is your early impression of the 2018 draft at the top?

A. Obviously, there has been a couple guys reclassify here late that really gave the class a boost. We are excited about it. We’ve got a staff that is already planning out their schedule of all the games they are going to be at. We are going to have four or five guys out there going around to all of the practices around the country. With the three first-round draft picks, for our front office that’s a big thing for us.

Q. You’ve said how important player development was in Golden State. What goes into player development? What are some of the most important aspects?

A. One of the first things, in my opinion, in the NBA is that the player has to be mentally driven, internally driven. If you don’t have that desire to get better, to achieve your goals whatever those may be—whether it’s All-Star, MVP, whatever your ceiling is going to allow you to get—you have to want to reach your ceiling. What we are fortunate enough to have here is a coaching staff that puts in the time with the guys. We had all of our young guys stay here this summer. After our press conference for the rookies, 30 minutes after they are on the practice floor working getting ready for summer league. Coach (Mike Budenholzer) and his staff have done a great job establishing a player development program here.

Q. Is Collins purely a four in your mind? Can he be a small-ball five?

A.  I think he’s got the ability with his athleticism to be a small ball five as well as a four. We are working on stretching his range out as a shooter. Obviously with his athleticism he can finish in the lane. He’s got a nice, soft touch. Certainly he can guard fours switching out on the perimeter, which you obviously have to be able to do in today’s NBA. But against some of your more finesse fives, he certainly is going to be able to play some.

Q. You’ve said Bud is on board with this transition, and he does have a track record of developing young players. But he’s been a playoff coach for four years. The team has been a playoff team for 10 years. That’s what people are used to around here. It’s going to be different. What do you think that will be like? How do you get through those growing pains?

A. That’s part of my job, right? Part of my job in this seat is to keep everyone on an even keel. One of the first things I learned in the NBA as an intern, Chuck Daly used to always say, ‘You are never as good as you think you are, you are never as bad as you think you are.’ You’ve been around for a long time so you know the emotions, you can get wrapped up in that. You win four or five games and you are like, ‘Life is great.’ On the converse side, if you lose three or four games it’s like you are never going to win again. Last year In Golden State we lost four games in a row for the first time in three or four years and I remember having to go on the radio and the hosts and fans were like, ‘What’s wrong?’ This is reality. For the last three years you’ve lived in never-never land. There’s ups and downs to a season and a big part of my job, with the staff and Bud and the players—is to keep everybody on an even keel. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s going to be some ups and downs. It’s just trying to keep everybody leveled out and working every day and try to get better.

Q. You said you think this will be a scrappy team. Bud has had good defensive teams since he’s been here. Going through the roster, I think you have a foundation to be a pretty good defensive team. Is that a fair assessment?

A. I think we will. One of the things this team struggled with last year was with their shooting. We made a conscious effort to be able to go out and improve that. Acquiring Marco (Belinelli) in the Dwight (Howard) trade, got a shooter there. Drafting (Tyler) Dorsey, got a shooter there. (Nicolas) Brussino and (Quinn) Cook, those are both guys that can knock down shots.

Q. Last year was Dennis Schroder’s first as a starter and he pretty much proved himself to be solid. Is there more for him?

A. I think so. He’s only 24-years old. I don’t know how close you watched Eurobasket but he really played well over there. I haven’t had a chance to spend a ton of time with him but everyone I’ve talked to (says) his growth not only on the court but as a person has really been great. One of the things people forget, he didn’t grow up in the United States. There’s a cultural change between growing up in Germany and growing up in Atlanta. That takes some time.

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