Hawks take Duke's Williams in first round

Wednesday, June 28th 2006, 2:40 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ On a night of uncertainty in the early picks of the NBA draft, there was one certainty: The Atlanta Hawks knew they would select Duke's Shelden Williams.

The Hawks made Williams, who formerly played at Midwest City High School in Oklahoma, the fifth pick overall and the first college senior to be taken so high since Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin was the first overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in 2000.

``He was our guy from the very beginning,'' said Hawks coach Mike Woodson.

Williams, who will turn 23 in October, will fit right in as the Hawks, with an average age of 23, were the NBA's youngest team last season.

At 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, Williams was drafted to provide the Hawks a much-needed defensive presence around the basket.

Woodson acknowledged the team still needs help at point guard, but he said the lack of inside depth was the team's biggest weakness.

``This was a huge pickup for us,'' Woodson said.

``He was our first guy from the very start because he fills a need. I think this guy is going to be a great rebounder in this league and he will block shots for us.''

Williams averaged 18.7 points per game as a senior and 13.8 points in his four years as a starter at Duke. The Hawks were more interested in his 418 career blocked shots and his status as the Blue Devils' all-time leader with 1,249 rebounds.

``We're not asking him to come in and score 20 points per game,'' Woodson said. ``But we are asking him to come in and rebound and play defense.''

The Hawks also were thought to be looking first for a point guard or inside player in last year's draft, but the team instead picked Marvin Williams, who spent most of his rookie season as a perimeter player. General manager Billy Knight explained that he believed Marvin Williams was the best available player.

On Wednesday night, the team's glaring need for an inside player to join center Zaza Pachulia was Knight's top priority, and Shelden Williams was the player Knight wanted.

``We were next to last in defensive rebounding as a team in the NBA and we were last in points scored against us in the paint,'' Knight said. ``We wanted to improve those areas and certainly Shelden Williams is a guy who can help us in those areas.''

Veteran forward Al Harrington could leave as an unrestricted free agent, creating the possibility Shelden Williams could start as a rookie.

``We feel like he'll be able to help us next year, certainly,'' Knight said. ``We feel he has established himself in the college ranks and we feel his strength and power and maturity level will help him contribute right away.''

Woodson said the NBA's trend toward ``playing small'' could lead the Hawks to consider a lineup with Josh Smith, Shelden Williams and Marvin Williams on the front line.

With Joe Johnson a fixture at shooting guard, the remaining question is who will start at point guard. The Hawks like Tyronn Lue as a backup point guard. Second-year guard Salim Stoudamire will play point guard on the Hawks' summer league team, and the team could add a point guard through free agency.

``We have a lot of needs but we just had one pick,'' said Knight of the team's options in the first round.

``This is considered a weaker free agency class than (the 2005) class. We have some guys that we like in free agency. We have some cap space to go out and get some of those players. You never know how it's going to go but we'll go out and start talking to some people.''