In advance of the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Peachtree Hoops crew will preview each player on the current roster. The second profile focuses on two-way forward Alex Poythress.
One of the many things that plagued the 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks was a lack of true small forwards. While there were a handful of smaller players who masqueraded as small forwards throughout the year, only Taurean Prince had the combination of size and athleticism necessary to compete with some of the biggest wings in the league.
One of the myriad of goals for general manager Travis Schlenk this offseason was to remedy the dependence on Prince, who started all 82 games and tallied nearly 2500 minutes in his sophomore season. While the wing out of Baylor hasn’t shown any knocks to his durability so far, if he were to have been hurt for any period of time last season, the team would have missed him dearly.
Schlenk responded in kind, drafting the 6’7 Kevin Huerter, trading for the 6’6 Justin Anderson, and signing the 6’7 Daniel Hamilton to a one-year contract. With a handful of decent options to back up Prince, the team will no longer be left in a lurch at small forward should he be sidelined for any length of time.
A fifth small forward emerged at the end of July, when the Hawks picked up Alex Poythress on a two-way contract for the 2018-19 season. On the deal, he’s only allowed to join the team for 45 days during the regular season, though teams can get a bit more out of their two-way players by having them on the roster before and after the G League season, as those days don’t count toward their 45-day count.
Poythress hasn’t had a real shot to show what he can do at the NBA level in stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers, but he’s shined in the G League and Summer League. Clearly the best prospect the Hawks have ever had on a two-way contract, he’ll have to make the most of his 45 days with the team to impress in practice and on the floor to have a shot at being converted to a standard contract when his time is up.
Already 25, conventional wisdom would indicate that Poythress is nearing the end of his rope as a developmental prospect and inching closer toward being the fully-realized pro he’ll remain for his career. Four years at Kentucky, a year in the G League, and a year on the bench in Indiana haven’t carved out the holes in his game from a mental perspective, where he struggles to maintain consistency with his effort and concentration.
A strong athlete who could boast a strong defensive profile and the potential to play power forward as a result, he doesn’t quite have the level of extreme athleticism to make up for some of the lapses in concentration that occur with far too much frequency on that end of the floor. The tantalizing potential of a 6’7 wing who can guard all five positions keeps his NBA hopes alive, but at some point, he actually has to realize some of that potential to stick in the league.
That athleticism shows up on the offensive end, where Poythress is a strong finisher and gets out in transition with good frequency. Mostly a cutter and spotty shooter at Kentucky, he’s got a bit more of a dribble-drive game than he did in school, but he’s not at a high enough level to be a ball handler in pick-and-roll or orchestrate an offense.
The three-point shot is as advertised – it’s all over the place and rarely goes in with enough consistency to make him a valuable offensive player. With not much of a three-point shot and a very limited ability to create for himself or others off the dribble (mostly driving past defenders who don’t follow the “let him shoot” scouting report), Poythress’s path to becoming an above-average offensive player is a lot more dubious than on the defensive end.
The Hawks could burn through Poythress’s 45 days early in the season, likely before the calendar flips to 2019. At that point, they would have to make a decision between keeping him for the rest of the year and either stashing him in the G League or letting him walk in favor of another player in that two-way slot.
Poythress has some experience with new head coach Lloyd Pierce, but the partnership between player and club didn’t go well enough in the past for the 76ers to keep him around when his contract was up in 2017. He’ll have to show some serious growth over the next few months to cash in on what could be his final chance at the NBA level, but the foundation of a rotation contributor is there, it’s just up to Poythress and the coaching staff to make sure it shows up on a consistent basis.