Hawks’ draft need for size, shooting may lead to Payne at No. 15

As a senior, Michigan State big man Adreian Payne (16.4 points, 7.3 boards, 0.9 blocks, 42 percent from 3-point line) tallied seven double-doubles and notched a career-high in scoring (41 points against Delaware in the NCAA tourney).

ATLANTA — In his first two drafts as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, Danny Ferry focused on the franchise’s long-term future.

With the exception of 2012 second-round pick Mike Scott, few of Ferry’s draftees have made an immediate impact on the roster.

The first-rounders, John Jenkins, Dennis Schroder and Lucas Nogueira, were taken with the understanding the Hawks would give each player time to develop.

(In Jenkins’ situation, a back injury has delayed his progress.)

Combined, the trio has logged 1,701 NBA minutes, or roughly the equivalent of 35 full games.

As Ferry enters Thursday’s NBA draft, Mght he have a short-term focus for the first time?

In particular, the Hawks must prepare for All-Star Paul Millsap’s impending free agency (unrestricted) after the 2015 season. Citing the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Ferry recently said the Hawks are not allowed to renegotiate with Millsap until he hits the open market.

While it’s entirely possible Millsap could re-sign or the Hawks could find a replacement for the versatile forward next July in free agency, it’s also possible Atlanta could draft and develop his eventual successor this week.

Michigan State’s Adreian Payne might fill the Hawks’ frontcourt needs on Thurday. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Payne has many positive traits — good size, strong rebounding and shot-blocking skills. But the Hawks might be most intrigued with Payne’s shooting prowess, specifically from long range.

The Hawks continue to stress they want to play in a system-based way — where every player can stretch the floor with his shooting acumen. Payne shot 42.3 percent from three-point range as a senior (104 attempts). He also averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his final collegiate season.

According to NBA.com’s consensus mock draft, Payne will go to the Phoenix Suns at No. 14 overall, one spot ahead of the Hawks in Round 1 (15th overall).

Assistant general manager Wes Wilcox, in a video posted on the team Web site, spoke of how the Hawks prepare for the entire draft, not just for the prospects at their prescribed slot. That way, the Hawks can move up and down and are ready to find the players who best fit their needs.

Leading up to the draft, Wilcox and other members of the front office spend a lot of time talking to agents and other teams, getting a better sense of how things might shake out.

"It’s really being prepared to execute your strategy," he said.

Wilcox said of the Hawks’ approach: "We’re trying to dig in and figure out who makes sense for us."

If the Hawks and Suns are interested in Payne, it might not take a lot of trade assets to leapfrog Phoenix in the draft.

"You always want to pick higher," Wilcox said. "I think that’s just kind of the nature of the draft. At the same time … we’re genuinely focused on identifying the guys who fit within our culture and our system and, therefore, style of play and then ultimately that’s making a decision at 15.

"But we’re not preparing at 15. We’re preparing for the draft, in whole. There may be an opportunity to move up in the draft, there may be an opportunity to move back in the draft and pick up some additional asset to do so. So, I think we’re preparing for the scope of it.

Wilcox then added: "It’s clearly trying to identify the best competitors, the most skilled players, the players with a high basketball intelligence, players with a high level of unselfishness — these are the things you hear, whether it’s Coach (Mike Budenholzer) or Danny talk about, this is what we’re trying to identify."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in a separate video on the Hawks’ Web site, said Payne "can really shoot the ball. He’s a big guy that I think will have no trouble with the NBA three."

Atlanta may be similarly drawn to Payne’s character. Ferry has spoken of how the Hawks want self-motivated players, a point Wilcox alluded to.

Izzo said "character might be (Payne’s) biggest strength" and called him a "high-character guy."

Unlike Jenkins (who came out after his junior season and needed to work on his defense), Schroder (fourth-youngest player in the league last season) and the raw Nogueira (played overseas last season), the 23-year-old Payne could be NBA-ready.

There is also the added plus that Payne didn’t start playing basketball until he was in middle school and, because of injuries during college, the "upside is tremendous" for Payne as an NBA player.

Even if the Hawks don’t go in Payne’s direction, look for the club to find a player who can shoot and has strong character.

It also wouldn’t hurt if they could find one who could play right away.