ESPN’s Mike Schmitz put his list together of three players taken in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft whom he thinks can be breakout candidates in their second seasons (Note: the full Insider story is behind a paywall). Denver’s Jamal Murray and Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert join Taurean Prince on the list.
After a promising rookie season in which he started all six of the Hawks’ playoff games, big things are expected of Prince this year. He’ll be the full-time starter at the small forward position to open the season and remains the team’s only consistent player at that spot. Prince has the physical tools of the coveted 3-and-D wing that every team in the league is chasing and while his rookie year wasn’t especially fantastic in either aspect, his ceiling is certainly enticing and his floor is relatively high even if he can’t quite become the best version of himself.
Schmitz points out that Prince is one of only ten players in the league last season to average at least one steal, one block, one 3-point make, and two assists per 40 minutes last season, showing the young forward’s versatility both offensively and defensively. All of those numbers should tick up this season as he gets a larger role within a more pass-heavy offense and as he steps forward on the defensive end. If anything, head coach Mike Budenholzer may have to rein Prince in a bit—there have been a few questionable off-the-dribble shots from him in each of the Hawks’ preseason games.
Dennis Schröder is clearly the team’s best player and the organization is excited about what John Collins might be able to bring to the table in a few years, but Prince will play his role over the next few years for Atlanta. He doesn’t have the ceiling of a guy like Collins or whomever the Hawks select at the top of the 2018 draft, but carving out his niche as a solid 3-and-D role player will keep him in and around the starting lineup for his entire career.