Part 1 of this series can be found here.
In part 2, we will focus on the Hawks’ second year starting small forward Taurean Prince and how he operates in transition and creates shots for others.
Taurean Prince is 13th among the members of his draft class (as shared in part 1) and is 13th in the league among small forwards in assists per game. You would like to see his assist to turnover ratio start moving from nearly 1:1 to closer to 2:1 as he continues to get used to being entrusted with more offensive creation responsibilities. But it is helpful to understand that even future Hall of Fame forward Kevin Durant did not have more assists than turnovers in a season until his 6th year in the league, which was his age 24 season.The Hawks will have just 11 games remaining in this season when Prince turns 24.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Prince will ever play on the level of a perennial all-star. I’m just sharing that as reference point as to what reasonable expectations of Prince should probably be.
Let’s take a look.
On this play, Prince receives the hit ahead pass from Kent Bazemore and drives aggressively but under control straight to the rim despite the resistance of Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson. On this play, you can see the way in which Prince is putting together use of his length, strength and ball skills to finish at the rim against a very good but smaller defender.
The best two-way wings in the league demonstrate an ability to make a strong play on defense and then immediately switch ends of the floor to create an easy bucket for himself or a teammate.
On this play, Prince uses his instincts to abandon the player he is defending, Jayson Tatum, as to help push Terry Rozier straight into the rim protection of Dewayne Dedmond. After collecting the loose ball, he pushes into transition and is able to hit Malcolm Delaney perfectly in stride for the uncontested lay up.
Here, Prince is the player sprinting ahead in an effort to create a transition opportunity. He anticipates the way that his teammates will create floor balance and races to the corner on the side of the where the ball can be delivered to him with just three dribbles and two passes up the sideline. The result is one of the most valuable shots in the NBA, the open corner three point look.
He has been very good this season shooting from the right corner.
Prince’s good instincts are on display on this play as well. The double team on Kristaps Porzingis results in a turnover and another transition possession. He sees the 3-on-2 opportunity, reads the play effectively and is able to use touch to deliver a pass to Kent Bazemore in the right corner. The pass is initiated before Bazemore even reaches the three-point break.
Here we see Prince operating in a high pick and roll with Ersan Ilyasova. It is clear that he sees this play the entire way. He knows that Knicks guard Ron Baker has the responsibility of “tagging the roll man” should Ilyasova get all the way to the rim. He very patiently let’s the play unfold and hits Marco Belinelli on the back door cut for the uncontested lay up.
On this play in the pick and roll with Luke Babbitt, Prince is able to breakdown the Knicks half-court defense with dribble penetration. Frank Ntilikina uses an effective “dig” to force him to pick up his dribble. But once Prince sees the weak side defensive help from Porzingis he knows exactly where to move the ball, to the left corner where Ilyasova is open for the uncontested three point attempt.
In this instance, we see Prince operating in a pick and roll in an less than ideal spot in the half court. The Cavaliers defense pushes this action toward the corner where traps can often be effective. But Prince is aware that former teammate Jose Calderon has been switched on to Tyler Cavanaugh on the left baseline. He knows if he can squeeze this pass through to Miles Plumlee that Calderon will have no shot of keeping the Hawks center off of the rim.
He doesn’t even take a single dribble and hits the perfect bounce pass to lead Plumlee to the front of the basket for the easy score.
Here we see an opportunity for Prince to work in the pick and roll with Ilyasova. It looks like a very weak defensive effort from the Pistons on this play. Reggie Jackson technically “tags the roller”, but the objective of the tag is to eliminate the roller from being able to receive the ball at the rim. Also Andre Drummond should absolutely be able to meet Ilyasova at the rim with Plumlee sitting in the “dunker” spot.
But notice this play is one of the Hawks first half court possessions in this game. Prince makes the pass from near the half-court logo with excellent precision. The body language from the Detroit players to me looks more like “we didn’t know he could do that” than “we don’t want to play defense.”
The Pistons are slightly less than average at limiting the roll man on pick and roll plays. But they are better than is represented on this specific play.
This play is the textbook definition of contributing as a secondary playmaker in the half-court offense. The action starts on the right side with Dennis Schroder and John Collins exploring a pick and roll. The Clippers defensive coverage forces the ball to the weak side and into the hands of Prince. He catches as a legitimate threat as a shooter and he uses a pump fake to get Lou Williams into the air.
He then demonstrates excellent patience again as he delivers a timely bounce pass to Cavanaugh on the baseline for the uncontested lay up.
This play is not an example of offensive creation in the traditional sense. But his good instincts are on display again. While Micheal Beasley is not the strongest interior defender in the league, Prince anticipates a potential miss from Plumlee on his attempted put back.
Notice how all of the other players on the court are spectating while Prince senses an opportunity to get an easy put back score for himself. This is important as he continues to develop and make the most of his fairly unique blend of size, strength and athleticism.
Last season Prince was almost always the fifth option on offense and did little more than spot up in the weak side corner. This season he is growing as a secondary playmaker which is increasing his value to his team as a two-way player.
Prince’s offensive play in Friday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets and Monday’s win over the Spurs have probably been his two least impressive performances on the season. But it would not surprise me if he is moving up on opposing team’s scouting reports as a defensive priority. If so, he is going to have to adjust to dealing with more defensive attention as to work toward his next level of development as he continues his sophomore NBA campaign.