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Tyler Dorsey’s development is key to his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks

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Known as a shooter, how are Dorsey’s other skills coming along?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

January was kind to Tyler Dorsey, who has found his way into the rotation for the Atlanta Hawks after ten weeks bouncing back and forth between Erie and Atlanta and mostly riding the bench for the big club when he was with them. He was drafted as a gunner and secondary ball handler when he was taken in the second round last June, but head coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for his mistrust of rookies, especially those who don’t defend at a high level. Dorsey’s defense has never been his calling card, but whether he picked up the scheme well in practice or this is a decision from the front office to give him a shot in the rotation, he’s making the most of it for Atlanta.

Since the turn of the calendar, Dorsey’s been firmly in the rotation, culminating in his first 30-minute outing against Detroit just before the All-Star Break. He hasn’t been individually fantastic, but Atlanta’s numbers when he’s on the floor speak for themselves: the Hawks are 7.1 points per possession better when he’s on the floor versus when he’s on the bench (or in Erie). Both sides of the ball improve significantly and while it would be irresponsible to give all the credit to Dorsey, he’s certainly made a positive impact on the team.

At Oregon, he was known as a shooter—40+ percent from deep in consecutive years will earn a player that reputation. He had some other skills offensively but it was his marksmanship that pushed him up into the second round, where the Hawks drafted him with the 41st pick. At the professional level, the shot has mostly translated: he’s made 36 percent of his threes in the NBA and 43 percent in 10 games with the Bayhawks in the G League. Those numbers should continue to improve as he gets more comfortable at the NBA line and learns more of the nuances of positioning within the Hawks’ offense, but the primary skill for which he was drafted already looks to be at an NBA level.

As expected, Dorsey’s role as a secondary ball handler has had hit and miss results. He’s got a decent handle and can get his own shot at the NBA level, but his passing is still at an elementary level. It takes him an extra dribble to find the open man, which wastes precious time but does cut down on his turnovers—he’s committed just three turnovers in 64 pick-and-roll possessions this season, per Synergy.

Recognizing passes earlier in in the action will be a big part of Dorsey’s improvement in his role as a ball handler. Atlanta’s management and coaching staff have mentioned on multiple occasions that they see Dorsey as the type of player who can not only catch fire from deep, but can create shots for himself and others as well. He’s a work-in-progress in this area, but there are signs that he’ll get there in the near future.

Defensively, things are less rosy, at least before the shot goes up. He can be caught out of position or rotating incorrectly once or twice a game and isn’t able to make up for these mental lapses with preternatural quickness or length. Standing 6-foot-5 with an identical wingspan, it seems unlikely that Dorsey will develop into a stopper on that end of the floor, but he’ll continue to develop the mental side and get to be at least an average defender, as most wings do in Hawks University, or he’ll find himself outside the rotation once again.

Once the ball is in the air, Dorsey does better than you’d expect: he’s a very good rebounder for his position and actively boxes out when he’s in the paint. A good share of his offense is in transition, but he doesn’t neglect his rebounding duties in order to get out and score on the break.

Given that the second round of the draft is almost entirely a crapshoot, Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk seems to have unearthed a prospect worthy of his spot in the Hawks’ rotation. There are still holes in his game, but every indication is that Dorsey is a hard worker willing to put the time in with the coaching staff to iron out those details and turn himself into the all-around offensive off-guard the next great Hawks team will need.