The opportunities for Hawks rookie Taurean Prince to see consistent minutes early in the season were frequently cut short as several times he would play just a couple of minutes in his first rotation only to be quickly pulled from the game. Often, this was related to mistakes that Prince would make in the transition game, usually on the defensive end. In some of those instances Prince would never see the floor again unless that game apart from garbage time.
As the Hawks have been playing without key players due to injury, Prince has started the last three games and has played 34 minutes or more in each of those games. He has been productive across this stretch (41 points, 16 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 blocks) even if not super efficient. But Coach Mike Budenholzer is trusting Prince with workload and responsibility that was not even under consideration earlier in the season. And a lot of this has to do with how Prince has improved in his transition game.
Let’s take a look at a few examples from this past week of play.
This looks like a fairly simple example, but earlier in the season Prince had trouble especially when he was the first man back in the transition defensive set. In those cases he seemed to be able to track either the ball or the first offensive player up the court. Here you can see how effectively Prince does both on this play. He has improved to the point where not only is he not messing up the play, but he has enough confidence that he has his responsibility covered that he is able to bait T.J. McConnell into pass that Prince easily tracks down and steals.
Now let’s take a look at a few examples of Prince in offensive transition.
Prince’s size, length and mobility equips him to be a player that can create problems for opponents in transition. Here Prince does an excellent job running out and lining himself up on the same sideline as Schroder who is advancing the ball with the dribble. Although Prince misses this shot, it is an excellent shot. The open corner 3 is statistically maybe the most valuable shot a team can get so long as an average or better shooter is taking the shot. This plays representing excellent awareness and movement off the ball such that he creates a simple pass for Schroder that results in a great shot opportunity.
This play against the Phoenix Suns is very similar. Prince runs out and aligns himself with Schroder again on the left sideline. This time he receives the ball as he nears the 3-point break and notices that a slow-footed Jared Dudley is the only player between him and the rim. He attacks with the dribble penetration and gets an easy bucket as Dudley is able to offer little resistance. Dudley does try to bait the rookie into an offensive foul, but Prince has the body control to avoid that and get the largely uncontested score.
On this play Prince is almost on the baseline when Schroder comes up with the steal at the defensive free throw line. Notice how effortlessly Prince cover the 90 feet or so basically outrunning everyone else on the court. This time the ball is in the middle of the court and Prince fills the passing lane perfectly creating excellent spacing; as Jeremy Lin commits to Schroder it creates a simple pass, catch, and lay up for the easy score.
As the Hawks continue to struggle on offense, especially in the half court. Any opportunities that can be created in the transition game for high percentage shots have immense value. Prince’s ability and willingness to work for and convert these opportunities is a very encouraging development in his overall game.