With plenty of focus on Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter (among others) at the outset of the 2018-2019 season, it would be easy to overlook Taurean Prince. If not for a late-season breakout in the scoring department during his second season, in fact, it is possible that Prince’s national recognition would be considerably lower at the moment
However, Prince did put together an incredibly productive run at the end of the 2017-2018 campaign and, as a result of that and his overall profile, the former Baylor standout made an appearance on an intriguing list. James Herbert of CBS Sports highlighted 10 players for an “all-breakout” team across the league and Prince made the cut.
I never thought Prince would crack 30 points in an NBA game, but he did it four times in the second half of last season, including two 38-point games in mid-March. Of course, the Hawks were thoroughly tanking at that time, and it is unclear what to make of those outbursts when combined with Prince’s general inconsistency and the regression he showed on defense. Theoretically, though, there is now a clear path toward the 24-year-old turning himself into more than a 3-and-D guy. If he can clean up his handle, maintain his 38.5-percent mark from 3-point range and play the sort of defense he did as a rookie, he will earn himself a lot of money.
There is no question that Prince has the requisite talent to become a quality two-player in the future. As Herbert notes, it was surprising to see Prince’s offense zoom beyond his defense (by a wide margin) in year two but the signs are very good that his offensive flourish was real in the shooting department and that can cure a lot of ills.
As far as situation, though, there are some questions about how much usage he will command and Herbert addressed what will likely be a transition back to a role as a “secondary creator,” rather than a primary one.
Atlanta is not talented enough to restrict Prince to a small, supporting role. It is also not desperate enough to allow him to maintain the usage rate he had at the end of last season. Trae Young and Jeremy Lin should be the lead playmakers here, and Prince should get a chance to operate as a secondary creator. His breakout might not involve averaging way more than the 14.1 points he did last season -- it is more about him proving that he is a winning player with a well-rounded game.
Prince could certainly exceed his raw point total from his second season and, honestly, it is probably safe to project that. What he isn’t likely to do is match his numbers from March and April but, in the same breath, Prince doesn’t need to be that kind of volume scorer to provide a ton of value to the Hawks.
In the coming days, the Hawks will exercise Prince’s fourth-year option and, at this point, that is an absolute no-brainer. However, it will be interesting to see what kind of season Prince puts together in year three, both when it comes to Atlanta’s overall organizational future and what could become highly intriguing contract extension talks in the future.