NBA

Hawks draft Risacher with top pick, Wizards take fellow Frenchman Sarr at No. 2

By Sports Desk June 26, 2024

The Atlanta Hawks are turning to a 19-year-old French phenom with the hopes he can revive their scuffling franchise.

Ditto for the Washington Wizards.

The Hawks selected Zaccharie Risacher with the first overall pick of Wednesday’s NBA draft, and the Wizards followed by taking fellow Frenchman Alexandre Sarr with the No. 2 pick.

Risacher, Sarr and two-time defending American collegiate national champion Donovan Clingan were all mentioned as possibilities to be picked first, but ultimately the Hawks settled on Risacher.

 

The decision had been somewhat speculated for days after Sarr had recently worked out and met with the Wizards while declining an invitation from the Hawks, but Atlanta was keeping all options open.

Risacher worked out for Atlanta last week, and ownership evidently liked what it saw from the 6-foot-8 wing, making him the franchise's first No. 1 pick since 1975, when it selected David Thompson.

After another Frenchman, Victor Wembanyama, was picked first overall last year by the San Antonio Spurs, this marks the first time in NBA history consecutive No. 1 picks didn’t play collegiately in the United States.

Considered to have the biggest upside of anyone in this draft class, Risacher is not only a catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist, but also an exceptional defender, thanks to his length.

Not even on the draft radar a year ago, Risacher first started appearing on a lot of mock drafts with his sensational start to the LNB Pro A season in France. He then entered the conversation as a potential top pick with his stellar play at the EuroCup.

He now joins a Hawks team that is in search of a spark after being stuck in mediocrity the past few seasons.

After reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2021, it totalled three play-off wins in being ousted in the first round in 2022 and ’23 and missed the post-season entirely this past season after finishing 10th in the East.

With Atlanta, Risacher will have an opportunity to hone his game and add some weight to his lanky frame as he makes the transition to the NBA.

Atlanta’s offence revolves around the guard play of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, so Risacher won’t be asked to do too much too soon.

Risacher is far from being a finished product, but the Hawks believe he has the tools to develop into being a core member of the team for years to come.

Atlanta’s decision to draft Risacher, made Washington’s choice at No. 2 a no-brainer, especially after Sarr decided not to meet with the Hawks.

Sarr reportedly viewed Washington as a favourable landing spot over Atlanta, and the Wizards didn’t hesitate in snatching up someone who for a long time was considered the top prospect in the draft class.

The French-born Sarr, who spent the last season playing for Perth in the Australian Basketball League, is an athletic two-way player. He is effective as a finisher near the hoop off the pick-and-roll and is an elite rim protector on the defensive end.

With a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Sarr gives the Wizards interior length and should provide an upgrade on the defensive end considering Washington allowed a league-worst 123 points per game last season.

The Wizards are coming off their worst season in franchise history, going 15-67, and have missed the play-offs each of the last three seasons with only one play-off appearance in the last six.

Sarr is now the centrepiece of Washington’s rebuild.

At 6-foot-11, he has the size of a centre, but possesses the ball-handling ability of a wing, able to dribble through traffic or deliver an accurate pass to an open team-mate.

Sarr needs to add bulk – and a mid-range and 3-point shot – but has enough strengths to his game that he should be able to step right in and help the Wizards on both ends of the court.

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