DeAndre’ Bembry was, at least in some ways, the forgotten man for the Atlanta Hawks during the 2016-2017 season. The No. 21 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft failed to crack the rotation for the majority of his rookie campaign and, frankly, that wasn’t a shock given that the team was focused on making the playoffs with veterans like Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Korver and Tim Hardaway Jr. slotted ahead of Bembry in the pecking order.
However, the emergence of fellow 2016 first-round selection Taurean Prince down the stretch and into the playoffs pushed Bembry aside further in the minds of many observers. Prince’s skill set is certainly different than that of Bembry, as he is bigger, more physical and more capable of holding up defensively against the league’s premier small forwards. With that said, Bembry was considered “NBA-ready” when arriving out of St. Joseph’s and the log jam that preceded him did not allow for a full-fledged breakout in year one.
Now, though, Bembry looks to be ready to go and the current path of Atlanta’s roster aligns with that potential emergence. The Hawks appear to be headed in a rebuilding direction, as the decks have been cleared during the summer with a focus on youth, flexibility and versatility.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that Bembry is rooting for chaos on the roster but he also isn’t shying away from the challenge that could arrive should he be presented with more playing time. “I would love for the older guys to stay,” Bembry said after Atlanta’s opener in the Las Vegas Summer League. “But I would also love to be out there. I feel like that’s where the team is heading, more toward younger guys.”
Bembry turned 23 years old this week after spending three years at St. Joseph’s and, while he is certainly young, it isn’t as if the former Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is too raw to contribute. His skill set is a rare one in that Bembry isn’t a dominant scoring prospect but a young player that is more than willing to get his teammates involved via high-level passing vision and basketball IQ.
“I feel very comfortable with the ball in DeAndre’s hands,” Hawks assistant and Summer League head coach Charles Lee indicated after the opener. “He did a great job of making decisions. He plays with such a great pace off of the pick-and-roll. It’s a like quarterback. He sees his check-downs, he looks for the pocket pass, it’s not there, now all of a sudden maybe he’s getting to our floater, maybe he’s kicking it to the high quadrant... he has done a great job evolving his game and becoming a lot more comfortable in pick-and-roll situations.”
Because the Hawks have been starved for secondary play-making in support of Dennis Schröder in the recent past, it makes a great deal of sense that Bembry would step into that role during his sophomore campaign. There will be bumps along the way, simply because he didn’t have the opportunity to learn “on the fly” as much as many rookies, but Bembry clearly sees the game in advanced terms and that aids in his projection.
The young perimeter player spoke about the growth that took place over the course of his first season with basketball as a full-time occupation. “Just being in the NBA for a full year,” Bembry said. “You learn so much. We had so many vets on the team last year, and I got bits and pieces from each person. Then just learning from Taurean, who was starting during the playoffs, I got to see a rookie go out and do things that we knew we could do. I’m just coming out here this year trying to slow it down, be more patient, make the right plays and take the right shots.”
Bembry’s development on the mental side is certainly worth monitoring but that was clearly an area in which the Hawks placed real faith in the former St. Joseph’s star during the draft process. The selection of Bembry, along with that of Prince, was seen as a “safe” investment given the way that he projected in the modern NBA but it did come with a giant question mark.
Can DeAndre’ Bembry shoot at this level?
Bembry struggled from the perimeter at times during his college run, shooting just 31.2 percent (including 26.6 percent in his final season) from beyond the arc over his career at St. Joe’s. As a rookie in the NBA, much was made of Bembry’s rough performance from three-point range (1 of 18 in total) and that certainly did not quell the worries that perimeter shooting would become a hindrance to his overall growth.
As you would expect, Bembry is fully aware of the skepticism and need for improvement, lending him to place real focus on his jump shot over the brief time period between the end of the 2016-2017 season and the start of Summer League in July.
When prompted about his shooting, Bembry said, “That’s the biggest thing I’ve been working on all summer. I took a week off after the season and I was probably the first one back in the gym. Just working with Ben Sullivan and our assistant coaches. I’ve been in the gym all summer working on my jump shot. And also other things but mainly my jump shot.”
The Summer League opener did not provide a revealing window into that development but it was clear that Bembry believes he will unlock quite a bit should his jumper improve in the near term. “I feel like if I get the jump shot down,” Bembry said. “I feel like I’m a real hard guard. As you can see today, I got to the rim whenever I wanted to but I feel like, if I can knock that shot down, I’ll be a tough guard.”
There is little question about Bembry’s play-making and vision and, as a defender, there were positive signs during his rookie campaign. The 23-year-old will need to add strength to emerge as a plus player defensively but, as he notes, the jump shot is the pivot point for Bembry’s career path.
DeAndre’ Bembry may be something of an unknown at this stage but, in a few months, it appears likely that he will given the opportunity to display his skills on a broader level. He’s ready to do so and it will be intriguing to see what he can do in a bigger role for 2017-2018 and beyond.