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Improved finishing at the rim will be critical to DeAndre’ Bembry increasing his offensive value

This is going to be vital.

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

DeAndre’ Bembry entered this season having logged just 826 minutes in his NBA career after being selected with the No. 21 overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2016 NBA Draft. His lack of playing time during his rookie season was mostly the result of him not being in the rotation on a team that was trying to win as many games as they could. This was reasonable, especially given that Atlanta had reached at least the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the previous two seasons.

During the 2017-18 season, he missed significant time due to injury, which was a disappointment given that the Hawks won just 24 games. The development of their young players was not the highest priority at the beginning of the season. But as the season progressed, Bembry certainly missed an opportunity to log perhaps as many as another 1,000 minutes, if not more.

The Hawks were long out of the playoff picture when the trade deadline arrived. And they moved on from three veteran players at the trade deadline (Luke Babbitt) and during the traditional buy out period (Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli). There would have been ample minutes for Bembry had he been healthy.

In the big picture, what that means is that the former St. Joseph’s standout simply doesn’t have the number repetitions you’d hope a prospect of his caliber would have at this point, whether that be as a shooter, a ball handler, a player ideally defending at the point of attack in the half court. As such, if a grade were to be offered as to the progress Bembry has made to this point, the most fair evaluation would probably be an incomplete.

He entered the league primarily profiling as a good defensive prospect needing to develop an area or two of his offensive game as grow into being a no-doubt rotation player on a decent NBA team. Bembry never shot the ball impressively in three collegiate seasons but, at the same time, he was a very good play-maker for a non-point guard.

If Bembry ever becomes an average perimeter shooter in his NBA career, that would broadly be considered a very positive outcome. In fact, he would then have some fairly unique value as a secondary play-maker, or even as a player that can run a second unit offense, if he could cut down on his turnovers a bit.

As such, his ability to use his plus athleticism to finish at the rim, which has not yet been able to do, probably holds the most hopeful path to him building enough offensive value to undoubtedly be worth having under contract beyond his rookie scale deal, which will end after the 2019-20 NBA season.

Bembry is finishing at a rate of 55.1 percent at the rim so far this season. That’s up from 51.6 percent last season, representing tangible improvement. He is probably going to need to find a way to improve that closer to around 65 percent at some point by the middle of next season, for example, for his offensive value to be at a point that he could be projected to be in the rotation on the next good Hawks team.

When evaluating whether that is a realistic possibility or not, one has to identify what is holding Bembry back from doing so at this juncture. Does he not have the physical tools to accomplish it? (I think he does.) If so, the current issues is likely fall into the area of decision making. (I think it does.)

There are a few philosophical items to cover before taking a look at how he is doing.

  • Driving all the way to the rim does not always results in the highest probability shot. Last season, Taurean Prince improved his shooting efficiency in the final third of his season or so by recognizing when defenders would meet him at the rim and instead used his length to generate quality attempts in the 5-10 foot range.
  • Attacking from the baseline will always results in a tougher shot (apart from open, straight line drives) than when attacking from almost any other area in the offensive half court. “North-south” dribble penetration will almost always result in a better look than “east-west” movement with dribble.
  • Missed shots at the rim that are a result of drawing the opposing team’s rim protector away from an opportunity to secure a defensive rebound should not be viewed in the same light as other misses as they increase the likelihood of an easy put back by a teammate.
  • Only the league’s very best finishers can convert enough reverse attempts to view those as desirable shots apart from at the end of a shot clock.
  • Good finishers don’t make a shot any more difficult than it otherwise needs to be. If a straight line path is available to the rim is there, just take it. Style points don’t show up on the scoreboard.

I reviewed every Bembry shot at the rim taken this season in preparing for this article. The below is a good faith effort to share a fair, representative sample of his decision making in this area of play to this point.

Some poor finishes are simply the result of a bad read or poor decision. On this play, Bembry has no leverage on the defense and drives straight into multiple defenders.

This is another simple example. Bembry is operating in the pick and roll and has the attention of both defenders that were put into the action. That’s never going to deliver a high percentage shot.

This possession offers an example of an excellent read of the play. Kelly Olynyk is not in the league because of his ability to protect the rim. Also, Bembry gets leverage from John Collins rolling to the front of the rim. He attacks and gets to the backboard for the solid finish.

Another very good read on this play. The ball is reversed to Bembry on the weak side. Two Heat defenders close out to Vince Carter at the top of the key, which takes them both out of the play. And Alex Len is in place to seal the rim protector, Bam Adebayo (Len is good at this).

The attack is immediate and the finish at the rim is strong.

At times, Bembry will simply drive straight into a rim protector as he does on this play.

And on this play.

Here, he is not helped when Taurean Prince walks right into the spot where Dewayne Dedmon is trying to set up. Aaron Baynes has abandoned Dedmon to deny Bembry at the rim. One wonders if Dedmon is by himself in the left corner if Bembry would have made the right read and the delivered the ball to him.

The decision making is excellent here. Bembry realizes that he is able to dribble past the rim protector and finishes with a highlight dunk.

Again on this play, he is able to dribble past the rim protector as Javele McGee has to chase him off of the three-point line. Bembry finishes strong through contact for the and-one opportunity.

Sometimes, the solid read is that there is no real rim protector on the floor, as on this play. Bembry attacks the defense and gets the easy shot at the rim.

This is another example. No rim protection... attack aggressively.

This play is an example of how attacking “east-west” instead of “north-south” often results in a tough shot. Here Bembry is trying to attack from the left baseline with a defender completely attached to him.

This play is an example of when it’s OK to attack “east-west”. This is after an offensive rebound, the defense is scrambled and there is an unimpeded path to the rim.

Attacking ‘north-south” often results in more consistent good looks, especially when a small defender is assigned to you.

Young players can sometimes simply make a finish tougher than it has to be. Here, Bembry uses an unnecessary twisting, contorting approach to the rim and comes up short.

Keeping it simple and finishing strong will provide consistently better results. And when possible, attack the front of the rim, as Bembry does on this play.

Bembry has the physical tools to become a stronger finisher at the rim. He simply needs to improve his reads and decision-making. With that said, he deserves more repetitions than he has been able to get thus far in his career as to do so. Here’s to hoping for a healthy stretch of play for those reps to be available to him.