The 2017-18 season held so much promise for Atlanta Hawks second-year swingman DeAndre’ Bembry.
Having seen significantly fewer minutes as a rookie compared to fellow rookie Taurean Prince — who featured in the starting lineup in the Hawks’ playoff series against the Washington Wizards — the summer presented Bembry with all sorts of opportunities heading into the new season as the Hawks prioritised youth over experience and winning.
And he knew it.
“...( I was) definitely was sad to see them (the veterans) leave but I was happy because it opens a lot more time for me and also some of the younger guys to get out there and play,” said Bembry on media day.
However, long before a ball had been tipped and the games declared a-go, things did not start well for Bembry as he suffered a tricep injury in September, the team announcing on September 13th that Bembry would miss 4-6 weeks.
But by the time media day rolled around on Sept. 25, Bembry was more than on the mend, and that the original timeline of 4-to-6 weeks was exaggerated somewhat to allow time just in case problems arose during rehabilitation.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” said Bembry on media day. “I’ve actually been better way faster (recovering) than I thought I was going to be, so, definitely looking forward to being back before the season actually starts — the regular season at least.
“(There was) some extra time in there (added onto the original injury timeline) for sure, just in case because we didn’t know how fast I would recover but the past week or two it’s got a lot better. Definitely feeling a lot better about it.”
Bembry did indeed return to the court before the start of the regular season and showed some flashes of being an above average defender in the preseason, particularly against the Memphis Grizzlies, both on the ball:
And in the team scheme, showing defensive awareness/IQ:
It was a promising beginning to a season that looked like it would see Bembry come to the fore and show why there were people who rated him highly, given his ball-handling potential at his size and position, and now seemingly possessing a defensive edge to him.
Certainly, he had caught the attention of Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer after that game.
“I talked about defense in the opening. I thought it was really good individually,” said Budenholzer on Bembry’s defense after that Grizzlies game. “On the other end, he drives and kicks to Ersan for a three, gets to the paint and finds other guys, gets to the free throw line. When you’re getting stops on one end, it’s creating running opportunities. When you play against a defense that’s not set, it’s a lot easier to play offense. His defense leads to us being able to play well on both ends...”
The fanbase was pretty excited about the prospect of Bembry heading into his second season and in the opening game of the Hawks’ regular season in Dallas, Bembry continued to show his defensive potential in a Hawks win.
But it was all to be short-lived as Bembry was ruled out of the Hawks’ second game of the season against the Charlotte Hornets with a right wrist fracture that he — unknowingly during the game — suffered against the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m feeling like I can’t get a break right now. It’s always something,” Bembry said after learning the news of the injury via the AJC. “What happened last year going through that with my family (his brother’s death prior to the 2016 draft). Then my summer with the torn muscle. And now it’s this. I feel like that strongest soldiers get the strongest battle. Luckily it’s nothing too serious. Take a few weeks off, however long it is, and try to get back.”
On Oct. 24, Bembry underwent surgery on his wrist and was ruled out for the next 4-to-6 weeks.
Bembry made his return to the court on Nov. 18 — after an absence of 14 games — against the Boston Celtics but featured for just one minute in the first quarter. While Bembry’s minutes increased over the course of the next few games, he really struggled to get back into the groove — shooting 4-of-18 from the field in the first five games after that Celtics game.
Bembry did eventually assemble some decent games, scoring 12 and 13 points respectively in two straight games against the Brooklyn Nets (as part of a home-and-home sled) while continuing to show playmaking potential:
And his defensive potential:
But in general (despite some OK games), Bembry struggled during his first real stretch of his second season, and as December progressed his level of play really dipped, summed up by a really poor game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 22: zero points on 0-of-3 shooting and two turnovers in seven minutes.
It was a game where nothing went right for him, throwing this lob astray:
And blowing two layups at the rim:
After this, Bembry would go on to see a DNP-CD in the following game against the Wizards and was assigned to the Hawks’ G League affiliate, Erie Bayhawks on December 27th — a move that had been brewing for a few games as Bembry hit an awful run of form on the court.
Whilst on G League duty, Bembry suffered another blow as he picked up a groin injury and was recalled by the Hawks on January 5th.
Initially, the news regarding the injury wasn’t great as it was reported in mid January that Bembry ‘wasn’t close to returning’ but Bembry was assigned to the G League on Jan. 18 and played in the Bayhawks’ Jan. 19 game against the Canton Charge. Bembry did not feature in the Bayhawks’ next game and was recalled to the Hawks on Jan. 21, in what some assumed was the final part of his rehab from this latest injury before returning to the court.
This wasn’t to be as Bembry underwent an MRI and was subsequently diagnosed with a Grade 1 adductor strain and ruled out for 1-to-3 weeks, continuing his miserable, injury-riddled season.
During his rehabilitation, Bembry found himself in legal trouble as he was arrested for reckless driving on the morning of Feb. 9, reportedly driving at 128 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone.
Shortly after that, Bembry was placed back amongst the list of active players and looked set to finally make his NBA return, looking to finish the final few months on a strong note. To do that, he needed to stay healthy.
No doubt staying healthy would be a huge part of it,” said Mike Budenholzer via the AJC on Feb. 12. “It seems it’s the most fundamental thing. I think he’s got to take care of himself and find a way to stay healthy.”
Budenholzer also added that Bembry had lots of improvements that he needed to make but was excited to see him back on the court.
He’s got to continue to work and grow as a shooter and let it fly,” Budenholzer said of Bembry. “Decision-maker: when to drive, when not to drive, seeing things. Defensively, I think he can be a really unique defender but there’s an effort and a focus and attention to detail that all young players — and DeAndre is not any different — they’ve got to improve in those areas.
“He’s still very, very young in his career. It’s a good thing that he’s got a lot of things to improve on. I don’t want to say it in a negative way. It will be exciting when he is healthy and can get back on the court.”
Bembry made his return on February 13th against the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring two points on 1-of-2 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes and also played in the Hawks’ final game before the All-Star break against the Detroit Pistons the following day.
Bembry played in the Hawks’ first game after the break against the Indiana Pacers and played 26 minutes, but was placed back on the Hawks’ injury list with an abdominal strain for the Hawks’ following game against the Lakers.
The Hawks elected not to give Bembry a timetable of return, treating his injury on a day-to-day basis. Bembry would go on to miss not only the remainder of February but also the entirety of March.
Hope for Bembry returning to the court this season faded as the month of March progressed, but as April came around Bembry made a surprise return with seven games remaining in the Hawks’ season.
Bembry missed one of those final seven games due to rest but played fairly well in the other six games, averaging 6.6 points per game on 48% shooting from the field, 50% from three, 3.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists an 1.6 steals in 18 minutes per game, starting the final three games at the point guard position.
For the season, Bembry averaged 5.2 points per game on 41% shooting from the field, 36% from three (on 1.2 attempts per game), 57% from the free throw line, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game in 17 minutes a game.
All in all it was a very disappointing season for Bembry who was riddled with injuries and when he did play he struggled for success shooting the ball in all aspects of the field and holding an effective field goal percentage of 45.7% and a true shooting percentage of 47.7%. — both are very bad.
However, he did end the season pretty well and those final six games meant a lot to him in terms of just being out on the floor in what was a season to forget.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Bembry on playing in those final games. “A very frustrating year for myself dealing with so many injuries — I’ve never dealt with injuries before in my career. It was nice to be out there ... I played pretty well, I would say. Definitely helped me mentally. Excited to play all year, so definitely a sign of relief for myself seeing I could out there and be healthy and play well.”
In a season without many positives in a limited 26-game sample, one positive for Bembry this season was that his defensive potential shone through when he did play (more so at the beginning and the end of the season) — something that the Hawks challenged him with.
“It’s great to see DeAndre’ just out there playing, he’s such a smart player,” said Budenholzer on Bembry on Apr. 10. “We’ve kind of challenged him to lock in and be good defensively, put on some tough assignment-type situations. I think he’s been really good defensively. When he’s played and played a lot, more often than not he’s good defensively...”
After finishing the season on a strong note, things fell back to earth as Bembry was diagnosed with a fractured right wrist (the same wrist that he fractured on the Hawks’ opening night in Dallas) — reportedly suffering the injury during the Hawks’ penultimate game against the Boston Celtics — just a few days after the end of the Hawks’ season and was ruled out for 4-6 weeks.
Bembry should be good to go for Summer League but it’s worth mentioning that this will be a hugely important stretch for Bembry. His future with the Hawks is not guaranteed by any means but a strong Summer League would go a long way to at least ensuring the Hawks pick up his fourth year option (which I think they will regardless).
Year two was effectively a write-off for DeAndre’ Bembry... Can he find a way to stay healthy and develop into the promising player that many see?
Time will tell.