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DeAndre’ Bembry needs a strong start to the season to remain with the Hawks

As his fourth-year option decision looms, the pressure is on for Bembry.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks recently completed their offseason work with the official signings of Daniel Hamilton and Vince Carter, bringing them to 15 guaranteed contracts for next season (with Thomas Robinson on a non-guaranteed deal), but that’s not the end of things as we move closer to training camp and the beginning of the season in mid-October. One of those decisions involves the team option on DeAndre’ Bembry’s 2019-20 season, which is due by the end of October, just two weeks into the 2018-19 season. Bembry’s fourth-year option would pay him $2.6 million in 2019-20.

Through two years with the Hawks, Bembry’s spent more time on the training table than the court, playing just 64 games. A variety of injuries have zapped any chance he had at establishing himself as a key member of the rotation and his inconsistent play when he was available hasn’t inspired confidence that he will ever get there.

Coming into the league, Bembry had a fascinating combination of playmaking and defense from the wing position, but without an uptick in his shooting numbers from beyond the arc (he’s just 12-for-48 in those 64 games from three), it’s tough to see how he’ll earn minutes on a regular basis. His percentage from outside wasn’t awful last season, but his relative reluctance to shoot stalls the offense and has rightly earned him the reputation as a non-shooter, leading defenses to leave him alone and help on his teammates.

In an era dominated by outside shooting, especially among perimeter players, it’s not necessarily a death knell if a player doesn’t have that particular skill. However, if Bembry doesn’t have it in him to be a consistent and willing three-point shooter, then he has to be otherworldly at the other aspects of offensive basketball.

Being merely a secondary playmaker won’t be enough – he has to be able to essentially play point forward on a regular basis in order to make it work. Being a well below-average finisher at the rim won’t be enough – he has to be able to slash and finish or find his teammates when the defense collapses on him. And if he’s going to turn into a playmaking slasher on the wing, he’ll probably need to hit more than 55 percent of his free throws. All told, the path to Bembry being a useful offensive player is going to require either a massive leap in three-point usage and efficiency or an almost equally massive leap in every other area of his game.

On the other end of the floor, he’s already at a high enough level to make him worth keeping around. Exemplary steal, block, and rebound rates underline his effectiveness defensively; he’s got enough athleticism to pair with a strong basketball IQ. He executes well in a team scheme and can consistently defend on the wing against bigger players. Unlike his offensive game, if Bembry never takes another step forward defensively, he’ll still be an above-average player in that area.

Atlanta will be able to see Bembry in camp and through the first two weeks of the season before their decision is due, but if he’s not clearly better than he has been the past two seasons, then it seems likely that they’ll cut ties with him after the 2018-19 season and find another use for his roster spot. While extreme, it’s even possible that the Hawks would cut bait with him sooner than that, if Robinson or one of their other camp invitees pops and is more deserving of that final spot than Bembry. It’s exceedingly unlikely that he’ll be cut before the season begins, but if the Hawks need a roster spot, he’s on top of Travis Schlenk’s shortlist to make room for a new player.

The next two months will be imperative for Bembry to show what he can do. With a host of wings pushing for his minutes this season, the Hawks would have very little reason to continue to develop his game if they decline his option. Losing out on that option year wouldn’t be the end of his career – another team would likely take a chance on him at the minimum next summer – but it would be another blow to a young player who came in with a lot of promise but hasn’t lived up to most of it.