In advance of the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Peachtree Hoops crew will preview each player on the current roster. The thirteenth edition takes a glance at veteran big man Dewayne Dedmon.
Serious conversations surrounding where the Atlanta Hawks are and where they might be going over the next few years often comes down to one word: development. “Development” might be the word we hear most from general manager Travis Schlenk over the next few years as the team continues through its current downswing.
The team’s four first-round picks over the last two years, not to mention the multiple first-rounders coming to the team over the next two, will be the focus of those conversations, but the young guys aren’t the only ones adding to their skill sets and expanding their games. Veteran wing Kent Bazemore took significant strides last year as a secondary playmaker without taking anything off the table with regards to his outside shooting and perimeter defense, but there was perhaps no player who made a bigger leap than center Dewayne Dedmon, who came to Atlanta after four years split across as many teams.
Ever since breaking out with the Orlando Magic in 2014-15, Dedmon has long been an immensely efficient reserve big man, but the ability to play big minutes and be a larger part of his teams’ offenses was consistently lacking. The prototypical in-the-paint center, his teams used him sparingly and almost exclusively as a traditional low-usage center in dump-offs, pick-and-rolls, and on the offensive glass.
After moving from Orlando to San Antonio in 2016, it was more of the same for Dedmon, where he often clashed with head coach Gregg Popovich and played just 97 minutes in the Spurs’ 16-game playoff run. After he opted out of his deal with San Antonio and signed up in Atlanta, which was run by Popovich’s closest mentee, there was considerable thought throughout the league that it could very well end up being a poor move for the fourth-year center out of USC.
Instead, Dedmon blossomed with the Hawks in every way imaginable. He set career highs in every standard box score statistic, including starts and minutes, and was one of the team’s best players in what was a down season for the franchise, to the point that he earned every dollar of his $900 thousand escalating bonus.
Plenty of players get an opportunity to pad their stats on a losing team, but it was the way in which Dedmon played the shocked the world. Look no further than his three-point prowess – Dedmon had taken a single three-point attempt in his four years with Golden State, Philadelphia, Orlando, and San Antonio before coming to Atlanta, where he shot 50-for-141 on the season for a very respectable 35 percent. There was no indication at any point throughout his career that he would be a capable three-point shooter on more than two attempts per game, but there he was showing off a beautiful outside stroke that looked like it belonged with some of the best outside-shooting big men in the league.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Dedmon’s surprise outside shooting expertise was how difficult some of his attempts were. Plenty of players can hit unguarded, stand-still jumpers, but once it was clear that he was a significant threat from beyond the arc, Budenholzer’s Hawks used Dedmon in a role unimaginable before the season started: they were actually running plays for him to come off screens and fire away from deep. There weren’t a ton of them, by any means, but the mere fact that Budenholzer felt comfortable calling specific actions to get Dedmon a shot coming off a screen goes to show just how much he trusted his new signing to get the job done.
Outside shooting wasn’t the only area in which Dedmon improved significantly over previous years. While he’s never been leaned on to create offense for himself and his teammates, he made strides as a playmaker last season. His increased assist rate and above average assist-to-usage ration weren’t earned through the Hawks throwing him the ball in the post and him finding his teammates when the double-team arrived, as it does with a lot of centers. Rather, Dedmon proved himself to be a useful “ball progressor” on the perimeter, a term not normally used in basketball contexts but perfectly describes his support role in the Atlanta offense last season.
Some of Budenholzer’s favorite set plays began with point guard Dennis Schröder entering the ball to Dedmon at the elbow, then having the rest of the team screen and cut for one another, relying on Dedmon’s vision and passing ability to make the right read. Make no mistake, he’s no Nikola Jokic, but he was able to make the correct pass more often than not last season and will continue to be a focal point in that way for Lloyd Pierce’s team in 2018-19.
Defensively, Dedmon matches his newfound offensive philosophy. Quicker than most centers in the league, he’s able to harass guards on the perimeter and scramble back to his man when necessary. All the work he does further from the basket didn’t impact his rebounding either, as he continues to be elite on the glass regardless of team or system around him. That lateral quickness comes with some trade-offs, as he’s not the best interior defender and can sometimes struggle in rim protection.
Dedmon slots in as the starting center for the Hawks going into the 2018-19 season, where he’ll man the middle defensively and space the floor on the other end of the floor in a way unfathomable to those who watched his career develop before making the move to Atlanta in 2017. He and rising sophomore John Collins form a formidable duo at the big man spots for the Hawks, as the pair complement each other about as perfectly as possible – Collins is a hyper-athletic inside presence in pick-and-roll and a terror on the offensive glass but lacks the fundamentals and experience to play center full time on the other end of the floor. Dedmon’s outside shooting spaces the floor for Collins’ rim runs in pick-and-roll and can take the center burden defensively, allowing his frontcourt partner to roam for weakside blocks and generally wreak havoc as only John Collins can do.