The Atlanta Hawks are now 13-29 for the season and currently No. 12 in the Eastern Conference. As compared to the rest of the league, the Hawks are still firmly in the basement, but this year isn’t about the wins and losses that can be shown in the standings. Rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter are starting to figure out how to be serviceable NBA players. Sophomore John Collins has taken an enormous leap from his rookie season and is averaging close to a 20-point double-double.
Despite their overall record, they’ve found ways to be somewhat competitive and win contests here and there recently. It’s safe to say that the Hawks rebuild is trending in the right direction at the moment. However, one piece of the Hawk’s young core, Taurean Prince, has missed half the season due to a left ankle injury. The good news is that Prince has now been officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The question is how will Prince fit in with a Hawks team that has thrived in his absence when he does make his return to the court?
As of right now, the Hawks are a team that live and die by the three-pointer. They rank towards the bottom of the league in three-point shooting percentage, knocking down only 33.5 percent of their shots from that distance. They’re also at the top of the list in the league in three-point attempts per game. If Atlanta wants to truly embrace high-volume long-range shooting as their identity offensively, Taurean Prince can surely help them achieve that goal. Before Prince’s injury, he shot 36.7 percent from outside the arc on 6.6 attempts per game. The difference is that Prince played alongside Kent Bazemore and Alex Len in the starting lineup through the first several weeks of the season.
Since, then, much has changed with Atlanta’s starting unit — now he’ll likely be playing with more reliable three-point threats in Kevin Huerter and Dewayne Dedmon. Young hasn’t exactly emerged as an efficient shooter just yet, but defenders have respected him, knowing what he did at the college level. John Collins shoots 35.6 percent from 3, which is decent for a guy at his position, but is much more valuable as a rim runner and offensive rebounder at this point in his career. Long story short, a lineup of Young, Huerter, Prince, Collins, and Dedmon should potentially cause some trouble for opposing defenses if they execute sets correctly and cut down on turnovers, which have plagued the team all year.
The problem with that last statement is that Taurean Prince didn’t exactly take care of the basketball like he should have for a player mostly known for knocking down spot-up three-pointers and not being the primary ball handler. Prince’s individual turnover rate has been awful throughout his career and has dipped to a career-worse 17.1 percent this season. As a team, the Hawks are even worse, coughing up the ball on a league-worst 18.2 percent of their possessions.
As he continues to grow, Prince will have to cut down on the turnovers in order to add more offensive value to his already sub-elite three-point shooting. From a defensive standpoint, the Hawks will need Prince to give 100 percent effort on that end, something that the club hasn’t seen from him since the end of his rookie year. Atlanta does not have a defense that stands out with a defensive rating of 112.7. With Kent Bazemore out with an injury of his own, they could use Prince to make up for what Bazemore would usually give the Hawks on that end of the ball. Prince is one of those guys who can play multiple positions and has the same potential to guard multiple positions with his athleticism. It’s on him whether he wants to put that effort in defensively.
It would be an easy argument to make the blanket statement that every player the Atlanta Hawks considers a rebuilding piece has either lived up or surpassed their expectations this season. Going into the season, many thought Prince would be the focal point of the offense; at the end of the 2017-2018 NBA season he showed flashes of a playmaker in addition to his hot shooting from deep. The Hawks are now looking to see if Prince can come back and play a similar role to the one he played late last season and be a shot creator in an offense known for heavy three-point shooting and dunks in the paint from Collins. If Prince does return as someone who can put up points without having to be set up, it would put less stress on the Hawks organization to find that guy in the draft this year.
It’ll be interesting to see how Prince can incorporate himself in the Hawks offense and if he’s learned some things from sitting on the sideline and observing the game as a spectator. Coach Lloyd Pierce was known for player development and coaching players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid while they suffered with injuries on the bench with the Philadelphia 76ers organization. Maybe that same magic could work for Taurean Prince as he makes his way back into the lineup.