Luke Babbitt is the newest member of the Atlanta Hawks roster and he arrives with little fanfare in the grand scheme of things. Still, the reviews of the move have largely been positive and, for more context, we’ve reached out to Wes Goldberg of Locked on Heat for background and insight into Babbitt’s game.
Goldberg also covers the Heat for FanSided’s All U Can Heat blog and general NBA for FanSided’s The Step Back, among other places. We thank Wes for his time and his answers can be found below.
Q: When the Hawks signed Babbitt, I called him an "elite" shooter and got some push-back locally. How would you describe Babbitt's shooting?
I used to say last season that the only evidence I have that Luke Babbitt is an elite shooter are his stats.
What I mean by that is, there are games when his shot looks atrocious, and there are games when he can't miss. Babbitt isn't an elite shooter like Klay Thompson, but he's streaky. When he's streaking, his ceiling is an high as almost anyone in the league. He gets hot enough to be a factor, and that's why his averages are so high.
Consider another reason why his three-point shooting stats are deceiving: Because he doesn't do anything else very well, he only (typically) plays when his shot is falling. So he takes and makes more shots in those instances, increasing his average.
Babbitt is a career 40 percent three-point shooter. He might not be that good, but as a stretch-forward he can make a difference in the geometry of the offense--which is mostly how he was used in Miami last season.
Q: Obviously, Babbitt's primary value stems from his ability to stretch opposing defenses but what other positives have you seen from his offensive game?
Not much, man. You'd hope someone like Babbitt could develop enough of a handle to take opponents off the bounce when they close out aggressively, but that's been a disaster for him. You never want Babbitt to put the ball on the ground. He'll do it every so often, and he looks lost when he does. Like, he'll take a couple of dribbles and doesn't know what to do next.
He's an okay passer, but you want him shooting or moving the ball. He's not the best screener, so the pick-and-pop isn't a great option. Maybe Bud can figure out more creative ways to use him, but mostly he's a floor spacer and that's about it.
Q: The defensive metrics actually treat Babbitt quite kindly from his time in Miami and not so kindly before that. Did your eye test back that up and how did you think his defense played with the Heat?
Babbitt got better defensively last season. I have a theory that every player gets 20-30 percent better defensively after being coached by Erik Spoelstra and his staff.
At the 4, Babbitt was able to body up opposing power forwards and hold up as well as you'd hope. He's not the best team defender, but he's not the worst either.
As the season progressed, he got better, which is what you look for. He definitely benefited from playing next to Hassan Whiteside for most of his minutes though.
Q: Do you think Babbitt is better suited as a 3 or a 4 in today's NBA?
Babbitt is a 4. He's got the size at 6-foot-9 and his above average three-point shooting becomes more valuable at a position where that skill is more scarce. I could see how he'd help Atlanta's spacing in lineups next to Dewayne Dedmon or Whatever Plumlee they have.
Also, at power forward, Babbitt won't be forced to guard quicker, perimeter-oriented opponents. You don't want that. He'll fare much better against slower 4s.
Q: When the one-year, vet minimum contract came over the wire, what was your immediate reaction?
Good for him? At the start of the summer, I thought he'd end up back in Miami because (a) they had his Bird Rights and (b) they could renounce those rights and still sign him at the minimum. Miami, however, went in a younger direction.
They signed Kelly Olynyk, so they didn't have a need for Babbitt, and may still use one of their regular-season roster spots on rookie sharpshooter Matt Williams. Teams can always use more shooting, but it's unclear where Babbitt would have fit in on Miami's roster.
Still, he's a good team player. He'll hit some shots and earn his keep. He won't be the reason the Hawks lose, but probably won't be the reason they'll win. Babbitt has stayed in the league this long for a reason, Atlanta could have done a lot worse.