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Atlanta Hawks: The second-year leap

Can Prince, Bembry and Delaney make the second-year leap?

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Heading in the 2017-18 season, the Atlanta Hawks have three second-year players who are expected to be key rotation contributors. Two of them, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry, are expected to have expanded roles while it is hoped the third, Malcolm Delaney, is a more consistent contributor in the backup point guard role than he was a season ago. The Hawks need all three players to take a strong step forward this season.

First, let’s take a quick look at these three players. Then, we can glance back at some of the best second-year leaps in Atlanta Hawks history.

Taurean Prince

Playing in 59 games with 10 starts, Prince averaged 16.6 minutes and 5.7 points per game. Early in the season his playing time was sparse, but as the season progressed his role grew. He started the last 10 games of the regular season and all 6 playoff games versus the Wizards.

In his 10 regular season starts, he averaged 31.0 minutes and 11.4 points per game. His playoff stats were almost identical. The Hawks should be a very balanced scoring team this season but will need Prince to deliver more scoring and more consistent shooting than he did in the games he started last year.

Though his offensive game is competent and growing, his defensive game is his strength. He is a tough, physical defender on the wing and can play up to the 4-spot in certain match-ups.

Prince is expected to be a starter this season. When paired with Kent Bazemore, the Hawks will have a very strong set of wing defenders on the floor. At 6-8, Prince’s size will prevent Bazemore from being assigned bigger, stronger wings that sometimes present a challenge for the 6-5 Bazemore.

DeAndre’ Bembry

Bembry played in just 38 games last season with one start, sitting deep on the depth chart behind a group of veteran wings and fellow rookie Taurean Prince. Like Prince, Bembry entered the league with a more polished skill set on the defensive end and an offensive game that can thrive if his shooting improves.

During his three years of college basketball, Bembry was a solid offensive player but with a game that does not naturally translate to the NBA immediately. Playing for St. Joseph’s, Bembry was an offensive facilitator playing a point forward type of role. In his third season, he scored 17.4 points per game, led his team in rebounding and assists and was named conference player of the year in the Atlantic 10.

In more of a pure guard role, Bembry could be a complimentary backcourt mate on the floor with either Dennis Schroeder or Malcolm Delaney. Bembry would be able to handle a defensive assignment against bigger guards and could use his facilitation skills to allow the point guard on the floor with him to focus more on scoring and less on distributing the basketball.

The start to Bembry’s 2017-18 season is at risk as he deals with a triceps injury. He will likely miss the entire preseason and may not be available for the season opener on October 18.

Malcolm Delaney

At age 27, Malcolm Delaney was not your typical NBA rookie. After building a terrific European basketball career, Delaney was signed by the Hawks to back up point guard Dennis Schroeder. In 73 games, he averaged 17.1 minutes and 5.4 points per game while shooting 37.4% from the field and 23.6% from the 3-point line.

Joining the team with a reputation as a solid shooter and scorer from the point guard position, Delaney struggled to find consistency in his shooting stroke. Late in the season, the Hawks added veteran point guard Jose Calderon to help with the push towards the playoffs. As a result, Delaney saw less consistent playing time down the stretch.

Delaney did show flashes of the player he can be at the NBA level. Now having one season under his belt to adjust to the NBA game and a role coming off the bench, the Hawks are hopeful he can deliver more consistently.

His defense is strong enough to keep him on the floor against opposing first units. This is a plus as many NBA coaches have to be very selective with whom they allow their back up point guards to match up against.

Now, let’s take a look at the players in Atlanta Hawks history who made the best sophomore strides. It can be relevant when we think about expectations for Prince, Bembry and Delaney. To keep it interesting, we will list and rank the top 10.

10. Dwight Jones, C (1974-75 season)

The Hawks selected the 6-10 center, Dwight Jones, 9th overall out of the University of Houston in the 1973 draft. He played well his rookie season (19.6 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) but delivered a stronger second season (27.8 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg). After three seasons with the Hawks, he was traded to his hometown Houston Rockets and went on to have a ten-year NBA career.

9. Marvin Williams, F (2006-07 season)

Marvin Williams will always be known to Hawks fans as the player they selected ahead of Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA draft with the 2nd overall pick behind Andrew Bogut. As a 19-year-old rookie out of UNC, Williams was a productive bench contributor (24.7 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) for a young team that won just 26 games.

In his second year, Williams moved into a starting role and elevated his game (34.0 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg). While he never came close to achieving the lofty expectations that came with where he was drafted, he was a steady contributor for the Hawks for 7 seasons before moving on to the Utah Jazz and then Charlotte Hornets.

8. Kevin Willis, F/C (1985-86 season)

Kevin Willis was the 11th overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft out of Michigan State. As a rookie (21.8 mpg, 9.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg), he started just 19 games but was a contributor from the bench playing behind Tree Rollins and Cliff Levingston.

The following season, he played a more integral role (28.0 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg) for a team that won 50 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. He played 10 seasons for the Hawks in a career that spanned 22 years. Willis ranks third in franchise history in rebounds.

7. John Drew, F (1975-76 season)

In 1974, the Hawks drafted John Drew with the second round, 25th overall pick, out of Gardner Webb. The small college product exploded during his rookie season (29.3 mpg, 18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg) but his second season was even better (30.5 mpg, 21.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) when he was named to the All-Star team.

Drew played 8 of his 11 NBA seasons with the Hawks but is perhaps best known as the player traded to Utah (with Freeman Williams) for Dominique Wilkins just prior to Dominique’s rookie season.

6. Rory Sparrow, G (1981-82 season)

The Hawks acquired Rory Sparrow via trade after his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets. In his rookie season (14.1 minutes, 3.7 ppg, 2.1 apg) his role was limited. But in his second season (31.8 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 5.2 apg), he started all 82 games as the point guard for a Hawks team that would win 42 games and reach the playoffs under first-year coach Kevin Loughery.

5. Dennis Schroder, PG (2014-15 season)

Schroder was the 17th pick in the 2013 NBA draft out of Germany. In his rookie season (13.1 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 1.9 apg) at age 20, he split duties with Shelvin Mack as the backup point guard behind starter Jeff Teague. The following season, he showed flashes of the talent the Hawks saw in him when they drafted him.

As a second year player, in still somewhat limited minutes playing behind Teague, he posted solid numbers (19.7 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 4.1 apg). One season later, the Hawks would trade Teague for a draft pick they used to select Taurean Prince also paving the way for Schroder to become the starter.

4. Doc Rivers, PG (1984-85 season)

As a rookie out of Marquette, Doc Rivers had a nice rookie season (23.9 mpg 9.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) sharing the point guard duties with veteran Johnny Davis. In his second season (30.8 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 5.9 apg), he and fellow second-year player Randy Wittman shared time in a 3-guard rotation with veteran, two-time All-Star Eddie Johnson. While the Hawks finished with a disappointing 34 wins, the season set the stage for 4-straight 50-win seasons that began the following season.

3. Eddie Johnson, G (1978-79 season)

In his second season with the Hawks, Eddie Johnson helped Jon Drew, fellow second-year player Tree Rollins and newly acquired Dan Roundfield lead the Hawks to their first winning season and playoff appearance in 5 years under Coach Hubie Brown. His rookie season (23.7 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 3.0 apg) was followed by a strong second season (30.9 mpg, 16.0 ppg, 4.6 apg) which set the stage for his being named to the All-Star team in his 3rd and 4th seasons. Johnson played 8.5 of his 10 NBA seasons for the Hawks and is the 9th leading scorer in franchise history.

2. Dominique Wilkins, SF (1983-84 season)

After being selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft (behind James Worthy and Terry Cummings), the Utah Jazz traded Dominique to the Hawks before his rookie season. Dominique was dynamic during his rookie season (32.9 mpg, 17.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and was named to the NBA first-team All-Rookie team.

In his second season, playing under new coach Mike Fratello, Dominique soared (36.6 mpg, 21.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) setting the stage for a 9-time All-Star and Hall of Fame career. He still ranks as the Hawks’ franchise leader in points, games played and many other categories. His career mark of 24.8 points per game still ranks as 13th best all-time in NBA history.

1. Jason Terry, PG (2000-01 season)

After years of poor or, at best, mixed results in making draft selections, the Hawks landed Jason Terry out of Arizona with 10th selection of the 1999 NBA draft. As a rookie (23.3 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 4.3 apg), he played most of the season off the bench behind starter Bimbo Coles on a team that failed miserably to live up to expectations winning just 28 games.

In his second season (37.7 mpg, 19.7 ppg, 4.9 apg), he took the helm, led the team in scoring and was a lone bright spot on a 25-win team. He played 5 seasons with the Hawks launching an 18-year-career that is still active although Terry is not yet signed for the upcoming season. He ranks third in NBA history with 2,242 three point field goals and won an NBA championship in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks.