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Cam Reddish demonstrating improved finishing at the rim

The No. 10 pick is making strides.

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Cam Reddish came to the Atlanta Hawks by way of the No. 10 overall pick, acquired from the Dallas Mavericks, in the 2019 NBA draft. Reddish was widely considered one of the top players in his recruiting class, but his status as a prospect became a bit murky after a mostly underwhelming freshman season at Duke.

Offensively, his first five weeks or so of play in the NBA did not put any questions to rest about his play on that end. As was the case during his only collegiate season, he was statistically bad, actually very bad, from an efficiency standpoint.

It must be remembered, though, that Reddish will play his entire rookie season at the age of 20. In addition, he possesses a rare combination of length, fluidity and coordination that should help greatly in his transition to the professional game.

The perimeter shot, in time, will come along or it won’t. Given the fact that Reddish was able to put in little work this past summer as he was recovering from surgery, it might be wise to not make too much of those results, particularly from the three-point line, this season.

The same could be said of his ability to finish at the rim. After all, he is, this season, encountering players of significantly more size and athleticism in the paint than he did at any other level.

But, while early results were as concerning as they could have been, Reddish’s past few weeks of performance on drives to the basket have been encouraging when compared to the previous sample. It will take time to see if he can sustain the improvement, but the changes he has demonstrated in technique — if he can maintain and continue to build upon them — could be a reason to be optimistic about his growth in that area of play even this early in his professional career.

The play above is from a mid-November game against the L.A. Clippers. Reddish is attempting to drive on second-year guard Jerome Robinson, a player not feared for his defensive reputation.

As he did on so many drives early in the season, Reddish makes the play easy for the defender. Here, he puts the ball squarely in front of Robinson who works for the strip and gets awarded with the call for a jump ball, one of the better outcomes NBA defenses hope for when defending dribble penetration with a single defender.

He makes a similar mistake in a game in mid-December against the Miami Heat. He has a two-on-one transition opportunity with fellow rookie De’Andre Hunter. Duncan Robinson is making an effort to defend the transition possession.

Reddish aggressively sets up looking to dunk the basketball and an aggressive play is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. However, he ends up putting the ball, basically, right in the face of Robinson who gets the block that allows his team to set its defense for a baseline inbound play by Atlanta.

To compare, observe the ball craft Reddish demonstrates on this play in a game last week against the Brooklyn Nets as he drives in transition against Spencer Dinwiddie.

Reddish uses his exceptional length to manipulate the basketball clear of the reach of the defender which allows him to measure his approach toward the rim with little distraction.

A similar approach can be seen on this drive versus the Heat when Tyler Herro is defending the play. Reddish uses a dribble and gather with his left hand to protect the ball from the defender.

On this play, he also uses a subtle bump after he gets Herro on his hip as to create space for the shot attempt. This is technique that was mostly, if not completely, absent earlier in the season.

Going back to the game against the Clippers, we can see another drive by Reddish in which he demonstrates less than useful technique.

Rookie big man Mfiondu Kabengele is defending in the lane as Reddish looks to get downhill. Although he is more secure with the ball on this play, instead of putting the basketball right in front of the defender he drives his body square into his torso. The result is that Reddish sacrifices his length and athleticism by allowing the defender to absorb much of that potential force.

A similar decision can be seen here where Robert Covington, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, is defending the paint in transition. By driving square into the frame of his defender, Reddish sacrifices what would otherwise be an opportunity to use his length to generate extension in his shot attempt. Not surprisingly, the attempt ends up short.

Contrast that with what Reddish displays on this drive against Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen after receiving the ball in dribble handoff (DHO) action from Trae Young.

It is noteworthy that the rookie slows down enough to allow him to read the defender. Reddish uses a brief hesitation near the top of the key to set himself up for the play. He threatens with a dribble with his left hand which elicits a drop step from Allen with his right foot.

Instead of moving into Allen’s frame, Reddish uses a crossover dribble to get leverage on the play as he gets level with the defender. He proactively creates a manageable amount of contact on the play after getting Allen on his hip and finds the space to create and convert the shot.

On this play against Minnesota, Reddish commits to going toward the baseline very early in the play. This offers the defender, rookie Jarrett Culver, a full read of the path he is taking to the basket. From there, his lack of assertiveness allows Culver to dictate when and where the contact will occur, an advantage to the defense.

He is unable to connect on the fadeaway shot attempt.

A similar approach and result can be seen this example. Although Reddish is working toward the lane instead of the baseline, Reddish commits to attacking to his left very early in the play and ends up missing on another shot fading away from the rim.

Reddish is significantly more solid on this transition opportunity against Brooklyn. He doesn’t commit to a direction where in many other cases from this spot on the floor he would often just attack toward the baseline.

He gathers the basketball as he plants his left foot (just below the depth of the free throw line) toward the outer third of Iman Shumpert’s frame. He uses his leverage to move back towards the center of the lane, prepares to launch from his right foot and uses his length to finish on the other side of the rim with his right hand for the and one opportunity. This is a demonstration of a rare combination of fluidity, body control and craft.

Improved technique can be seen here as well, although on the surface, this can look a bit like the sub-optimal fade away shot attempts from other examples.

The difference is that Reddish is not fading away from the body of a defender in between him and the rim. His momentum is carrying him away from the rim, but the shot release is from nearest orientation to the basket. He also uses the rim, here, to protect his shot from the threat of a Bam Adebayo rejection.

Even as Reddish flashes improvement in his dribble penetration, there is inconsistency as should be expected of any player barely into his second full month of play in the NBA. But, as player development continues to be a primary focus for the Hawks this season, even occasional demonstrations of growth from their talented young players can be sound reason for optimism.