Taurean Prince was technically drafted with the 12th pick in last year’s NBA draft by the Utah Jazz; but he was selected by the Atlanta Hawks. As part of a three-team trade that sent Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers and George Hill to the Utah Jazz, the Hawks acquired the draft pick that would ultimately be Prince. The former Baylor standout became the first lottery selection by Atlanta since they selected Al Horford with the third overall draft pick in the 2007 draft.
The Hawks would select DeAndre’ Bembry with their own pick (21st overall) and, in sort of a strange way, when a team selects two players in the first round separated by just a handful of spots, it seems to change the way that the players are viewed. I recall many observers stating that Prince was not good enough to be drafted with a lottery pick but that Bembry was a solid selection. But apart from the immediate aftermath of the draft, the players became almost inseparable in terms of how they were talked about, analyzed, projected, etc. This was especially the case for Prince and Bembry because of the fact that they both play at the wing position.
But as summer league, which was shortened for Prince because of the time the trade took to get league approval, camp and preseason transpired, it became increasingly clear that Prince was a little more NBA ready than was Bembry. To start with, Prince showed up on day one with an NBA body; also, Prince looked like he might be just enough of a shooter to potentially handle some rotation minutes at some point in the season.
NBA Ready Body
Here is where I will try, probably unsuccessfully, to put some kind of an end to the never ending comparisons that get raised when speculating about Prince’s future. DeMarre Carroll 2.0, Kawhi Leonard-lite, it never stops. I’ve even had a little fun with this at times, for example when Prince would put up a Kahwi 0.1 type of performance in a playoff game. But the Hawks rookie has the frame that Carroll will never possess, having entered the league at over 220 lbs. In regards to the other comparison, Leonard has something that Prince will never have, an incredible 7’3 wingspan (Prince has a 6’11 1⁄2 wingspan).
In taking a quick look across the league at active players that are the closest match in terms of height, weight and length, four players standout as being the closest physical comps: Harrison Barnes, Al-Farouq Aminu, Paul George and Andre Iguodala. So if one insists on continuing to play the comp game with Prince, there are at least some other names from which to choose.
The Rookie Season
22 rookies played more minutes than did Prince during the 2016-2017 season, 15 of which played on teams that would end the season with a losing record. Prior to the All-Star break, Prince would appear in just 33 of 56 games with the Hawks (he played 5 games in the D-League) and would log 10 minutes or more in just 12 of those games. But as the season progressed, the continual improvement and increasing confidence would be evident in Prince’s play and his production.
Heading into the season there was some concern regarding Prince’s ability to play in the Hawks defensive scheme; he played in an unconventional zone defense at Baylor. But the Hawks rookie more than answered those questions. He finished the season among Hawks rotation players with a team best individual defensive rating of 98.4. He was a studious back up to veteran Thabo Sefolosha for most of the season. He would start the Hawks final 10 regular season games and all 6 of their playoff games. And he would finish 6th best at the small forward position (1 spot ahead of his mentor) in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus (DRPM).
Prince would also play impressively in the Hawks first round playoff match up with the Washington Wizards. The Hawks shortage of shot makers would ultimately undo them in what was a mostly competitive series. Among the 16 playoff teams the Hawks finished 11th or worse in Offensive Rating, eFG% and TS%. And this is more concerning when you consider that they were facing, in the Wizards, the 20th ranked defensive team in the league.
If the Hawks are going to improve they need return to valuing players that can simply make shots. From this perspective Prince’s play in the postseason was encouraging; he lead the Hawks with an eFG% of 59.6%. His play in the Hawks two wins at home was especially impressive; he compiled 27 points on just 17 shooting possessions and (coincidentally) the Hawks were 27 points better than the Wizards in these games when Prince was on the floor.
How Bright is His Future?
Prince has the physical tools to play regularly in the league and has demonstrated encouraging development in the skill areas. In the NBA, what often separates the good players from the really good or great players, is the ability to play with force. Also the ability to develop one skill set to maximize one’s height, width and length. While Prince was one of the older rookies in last year’s draft class, there is still time for him to develop into a good player if not more.
It has been confirmed that Prince is expected to play in this year’s summer league. The way that the coaching staff asks him to play might offer great insight into the player the organization hope that he can become.
For example, how much will he have the ball in hands? Will they give him the opportunity to play with his back to the basket on offense? Will he be handling the ball in pick and roll action? Will they give him the opportunity to attack in isolation in the half court offense against smaller or slower defenders?
Prince undoubtedly showed consistent improvement across his first season. And the Hawks organization has consistently praised his work ethic and his mental approach to the game. Given his age, the development he is able to accomplish prior to the start of his second season in the league will factor significantly into just how good of a player he can become.