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Hawks win NBA lottery in year where there’s no clear choice for No. 1 pick

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks came in facing slim odds. They walked away with their biggest victory in years.

The Hawks won the NBA draft lottery on Sunday, landing the No. 1 pick and a potential cornerstone player in a year where there’s no clear-cut choice.

“At least I can go home and tell my wife on Mother’s Day, ‘Hey, at least we won the lottery,’” general manager Landry Fields said. “That’s her present. Yeah, there we go.”

The Hawks hit the jackpot despite just 3% odds after finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference at 36-46. They dropped their final six regular-season games and lost to the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the play-in tournament.

“It was a shock,” said Fields, who grinned ear to ear when deputy commissioner Mark Tatum announced the Hawks as the winners. “When I first saw that it wasn’t us between 10 and 12, that launched us into the top four. I was like, all right, we’ve got a real shot at this thing. A bit of surprise, but a lot of excitement.”

The Hawks haven’t won a postseason series since a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2021. They got knocked out in the first round in 2022 and 2023.

Atlanta has some big decisions to make this offseason, including whether to break up its backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Fields can build with the No. 1 pick — assuming he keeps it — though it’s not clear who will be taken first after Victor Wembanyama was the obvious choice for San Antonio last year.

“Our group has been fantastic,” Fields said. “There’s a whole lot of trust. They’ve put in the work. We’ll kind of lean into our process and take it from there.”

Washington, Houston, San Antonio and Detroit rounded out the top five. The draft is June 26-27 in Brooklyn.

Houston coach Ime Udoka was thrilled to get the third pick after the Rockets went 41-41 and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

“Pleasant surprise when you move up the way that we did,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of qualified candidates out there.”

Washington and Detroit had the best chances to land the top pick at 14%. Only four teams have won the lottery with slimmer odds than Atlanta, with the biggest longshot being Orlando at 1.52% in 1993. The Magic orchestrated a blockbuster draft night trade with Golden State, sending the rights to Chris Webber to the Warriors for the rights to Penny Hardaway along with three future first-round picks.

San Antonio landed a generational player last year in Wembanyama. The franchise that previously took David Robinson and Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick got its next great big man, and all the Frenchman did was turn in one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history.

Fields disputed the idea that this year’s class is a weak one, saying there are future All-Stars.

“Every draft class has great players in it,” he said.

The No. 1 pick could once again come from France, whether it’s center Alex Sarr or sharp-shooting forward Zaccharie Risacher, but that’s far from a certainty. UConn guard Stephon Castle and Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham are both expected to be off the board within the first few selections.

The 7-foot-1, 224-pound Sarr has the size and mobility that teams crave and can defend the perimeter when he’s not blocking shots down low. The 19-year-old from Toulouse is known for his explosiveness around the rim, though he could use some more muscle. It would help, too, if he developed into a more reliable 3-point shooter.

Sarr, whose brother Olivier plays for the Oklahoma City, spent this past season in Australia’s National Basketball League.

Risacher, who was born in Spain and grew up in France, is known as a dynamic, albeit streaky shooter for JL Bourg, whether he’s popping off screens or pulling up for 3-pointers. He often guards the other team’s best player.

Castle joined Andre Drummond in 2012 as UConn’s only one-and-done players when he declared for the draft in April after the Huskies’ latest NCAA championship run. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 11.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists while often drawing the defensive assignment to shut down the opposition’s top perimeter player.

Sheppard and Dillingham both came off the bench in their lone college seasons.

Sheppard, who was voted the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman by coaches, was one of the league’s best playmakers and perimeter shooters. He was Kentucky’s No. 3 scorer at 12.5 points per contest and averaged an SEC-best 2.5 steals that ranked eighth nationally, despite starting just five of 33 games.

Dillingham was voted the SEC’s top sixth man after averaging 15.2 and 3.9 assists. Kentucky tied for second in the conference and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, only to get knocked out by Oakland in the round of 64. Coach John Calipari then left after 15 years for Arkansas.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer

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