Coming off a successful rookie campaign that saw him take a starting spot by the playoffs, expectations were high for Taurean Prince’s development with the Atlanta Hawks this season. The team’s planned step backwards in the standings would open up opportunities for him to have the ball in his hands more often and assume a larger role in the team on both sides of the ball. Instead, things haven’t quite gone as planned for the wing out of Baylor. Whether he’s worse than he was last year is open for debate, but for a second-year player, the expected improvements across the board just haven’t been there for Prince.
Prince’s decision-making and distribution were big questions coming out of college and they continue to haunt him whenever he has the ball as a secondary or tertiary ball handler. We’ve seen other wings who have taken multiple years to develop this skill, so the jury’s not out yet on Prince’s ability to find his way as a ball handler, but the early returns have been decidedly poor. The Hawks have scored just 190 points on 226 pick-and-roll possessions he’s run this season, ranking him in the 28th percentile league-wide, per Synergy.
After a hot shooting start to the season, he’s back down to about average and has been abysmal since January 1st. He shot 43 percent in the first two and a half months of the season but is down to 29 percent since the turn of the calendar. Neither of these numbers is indicative of his skill as a shooter, but the 37 percent average probably is. Offense was never supposed to be Prince’s calling card—if he topped out as an average three-point shooter who gives you basically nothing else on that end of the floor, that would be just fine. However, it’s the defense that’s truly worrisome for Prince.
As a defensive prospect, Prince seems to have everything you need in a modern wing. Standing 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, he was heralded as one of the better defensive prospects on the wing coming out of Baylor, and while he showed a bit of that in his rookie year, he’s declined on that end this season. On the ball, he should be able to use his length, quickness, and strength to harass opposing wings, but all too often he just sidesteps out of the way as they drive right past him. Watch below how Jonathon Simmons blows right past him to the rim:
This is a consistent theme with his one-on-one defense—he’s not physical enough on the ball to deter his opponent from getting wherever he wants to go. In the above example, Prince correctly forces Simmons to his weaker hand and away from the middle of the floor, but once he begins to dribble in that direction, there’s no resistance on his way to the rim.
Prince was touted as a strong off-ball defender due to his time playing zone in college. The results here are mixed—he’ll rotate over for a quick steal just as often as he’ll fall asleep and give up a backdoor layup. Watch how he fails to recognize the screen for Reggie Bullock until far too late:
Or here, where he absolutely loses Bojan Boganovic on a cut to the rim:
These are problematic lapses in mental focus but are fixable with more repetitions and time spent with coaches watching film and in practice. What isn’t as easily fixable is his attitude toward playing hard at all times, even in the doldrums of a losing season. There are far too many plays like this, where Prince put up just about the same amount of defensive fortitude as I would have:
This is a class horns screen-the-screener set from the Wizards, in which Prince’s man, Kelly Oubre, runs the baseline to set a flex screen for Jodie Meeks in the opposite corner. The cut from Meeks is mostly used as a decoy, as Oubre wheels around a screen from Ian Mahinmi, receives the pass, and then proceeds to dunk on the entire city of Atlanta.
Prince does just about nothing right here: he doesn’t help on Meeks’ cut, he doesn’t give any resistance to Oubre going around the screen, and he runs right into the screen and is taken completely out of the play. This doesn’t strike me as a mental lapse or a failure of his physical tools—this sort of performance reeks of lack of effort.
After a promising beginning to his career, Prince hasn’t made the strides one would think a second-year player would make, especially given the low expectations the Hawks have this season. Whether the losing has gotten to him or he’s dealing with off-court stuff in his personal life, his lack of development across multiple areas has to have the Hawks concerned about his future as the lead wing they’ll need to compete in the Eastern Conference in a few years.
Guys with Prince’s physical tools don’t grow on trees, but all the physicality in the world won’t be enough if he’s not mentally engaged or able to put the technical skills together to play at a high level on both ends of the floor.