July 15, 2024

2024 NBA Draft: Drama heats up as late contender emerges in race for Atlanta Hawks’ No. 1 pick

Getty Images

We’ve entered smokescreen season with the NBA Draft just one week away, but there is a sliver of a sightline emerging for the No. 1 pick. And as has been the case several times in recent years, there’s a final twist as we enter the homestretch. 

For weeks it has seemed like Alex Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher were battling to be taken by the Atlanta Hawks at the No. 1 spot. However, 7-footer Donovan Clingan may be elbowing his way into the discussion to make it a three-man race. ESPN reported Wednesday that Clingan appears to be Risacher’s main rival at No. 1, citing his solid workout with the Hawks. The franchise hasn’t yet been able to bring Sarr in for a private evaluation. Risacher remains the favorite at No. 1 — as has been the case for over a week after leaping Sarr in my latest mock — but this decision is far from made for Atlanta.

There also remains the possibility of Atlanta trading down to net further assets, which would add an interesting wrinkle.

For now, it’s safe to say three options are most likely to be called No. 1 on draft night by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. I have listed them below from my most likely to least. (Betting odds are based on current DraftKings lines and subject to change.)

1. Zaccharie Risacher

  • No. 1 pick odds: +150 
  • The case: Risacher shot 35.2% from 3-point range this season with JL Bourg in Pro A competition. He rated in the 92nd percentile in transition and 81st percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy data. He’s a developmental prospect, but the frame and production profile are tantalizing, and safe, in a draft that has a lot of unknowns.

Risacher appears to be in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 spot should Atlanta choose to stay at the top of the board. Team decision-makers have done their due diligence on the French forward and even made the trip overseas to scout him up close as he finished his season with JL Bourg on a high note this month. His combination of size, defensive versatility and an improved jumper make him an easy fit at the NBA level, though his ceiling remains up for debate. 

2. Donovan Clingan

  • No. 1 pick odds: +500
  • The case: It is simple: Clingan might be the top big — and best overall player — in the class. His block rate of 14.4% as a freshman would have been the best in college hoops had he qualified with enough games. He is coming off a dominant sophomore campaign where he served as a destructive interior force for the title-winning Huskies, consistently shutting down opposing offenses with blocks, deflections and his presence. 

If Clingan does not go No. 1, he could slip out of the top three. Washington is likely to select either Risacher or Sarr at No. 2 and Houston is eyeing Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard at No. 3. Clingan has a real case to be the No. 1 pick, though. We’ve been banging the drum on this since the Final Four, due to his dominant defensive skills and potential to develop into a more dynamic offensive weapon. He has an incredibly high floor as a future defensive anchor and starting center.

3. Alex Sarr

  • No. 1 pick odds: -130
  • The case: Sarr boasts a frame, moves like a gazelle, covers a ton of ground on defense and has guard-like skills on the perimeter. The risk of Sarr busting might be higher than Risacher and Clingan, but the chance he booms could launch him into All-Star air if things go right for him.

Sarr remains the betting favorite, but I’d handicap him as third-most likely to go No. 1. That could change in the coming week — again, it’s smokescreen season — but he’ll be mocked No. 2 to Washington in my Friday projections unless something changes. He has worked out for Washington, but not Atlanta yet. Based on scuttlebutt around the league, the Wizards have been enamored with both Sarr and Risacher since the lottery.