Amid all the losing the Atlanta Hawks have done over the past two seasons, it would be easy to miss the 7-footer who’s completely renovated his game and emerged as one of the league’s best two-way centers. Dewayne Dedmon gets precious little national attention, but the production has been there in both seasons with the Hawks, and now it’s time for Dedmon to test the waters in free agency and see just how much the rest of the league is paying attention to what he’s done with the first consistent role of his career.
2017-18 was a revelation for Dedmon, who had bounced around the league for four years with four different teams. Mike Budenholzer had the realization that maybe Dedmon could expand his game beyond the paint, which paid dividends immediately; Dedmon launched 141 three-pointers last year after taking just one in the four years before arriving in Atlanta.
In 2018-19, it was more of the same improvement for Dedmon; he got up 217 in his second year with the Hawks and made a very, very good 38.2 percent of them. He can hit them from anywhere, knocking down 36 percent of his attempts from above the break and a fantastic 45 percent from the corners. Atlanta can even run him off screens in certain set plays, where he’s a good shooter on the move with footwork that would make you swear that you’re watching someone who’s been shooting those shots his whole life.
His combination of three-point shooting and overall efficiency is nearly unprecedented in NBA history. For a center to take more than 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and post 60 percent true shooting (an elite mark league-wide) is something that’s only happened thrice in league history before Dedmon did it this year, by Miami’s Kelly Olynyk the last two years and Cleveland’s Channing Frye in 2016-17.
To say Dedmon is the best defender among that group is a woeful understatement. Frye’s never been particularly focused on the defensive end and Olynyk has his moments on that end of the floor, but neither guy is in Dedmon’s class as a defensive player. Some of his individual numbers pop off the page; his is just the 11th player season in the last five years to post his block and steal rates while playing at least 1,500 minutes.
Everybody else on that list was either a max player at the time (DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond), would be a max player (Anthony Davis), or received strong offers shortly after posting numbers similar to Dedmon’s (Gorgui Dieng, Derrick Favors, Nerlens Noel). Of that group, only Noel wasn’t able to make at least $50 million after dropping elite steal and block rates in the same season, but he had a four-year offer for $70 million on the table that he rejected.
In a time in league history that has seen the replacement value at center as high as it’s ever been, giving out a large contract to a free agent center who will be 30 before the start of the 2019-20 season may seem foreign, but Dedmon’s combination of three-point shooting and high-level defense should be enough to cash in on a substantial payday this summer. The catch-all defensive metrics don’t see him in the same light, which may give some teams pause when discussing whether to bring him in, but there’s very little to which one can point on an individual level that he hasn’t done to be a very strong 3-and-D center. “3-and-D” is usually reserved for wings and forwards, but a center who knocks down 38 percent of his threes on good volume and is a positive defensively deserves the same recognition as one of the most valuable wing archetypes in the league.
In talking with the media after the season, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce recognized Dedmon’s contributions to what the team was able to do this season.
“Dewayne is a guy who helped us create an identity,” Pierce said. “When you have a five man who shoots threes at 39 percent, 38 percent, he just opened up a whole new world for us.”
He will be older than most players who cash in on the best season of their career, but that’s a consistent theme across Dedmon’s career – a very late bloomer, he’s played more years in the NBA than he has elsewhere, a rarity in the modern age of kids specializing in a certain sport early in their lives. Dedmon played three years of high school ball and two years at the University of Southern California before going undrafted in 2013 and moving all over the place before finding a home in Atlanta over the last two years.
“It definitely means a lot considering I started a lot later than a lot of other guys in the locker room,” Dedmon said during his exit interviews with the media. “I’ve played more years in the NBA than I have before that, ever, which is crazy because you got kids coming in playing AAU, playing when they were young. It’s just a blessing to be in this position.”
It’s always sexy to talk about young guys and the immense potential those players possess, but NBA players never stop growing and learning, as Dedmon showed at age 28 and 29 the last two years. Age-29 Dedmon bears almost no resemblance to Age-27 Dedmon and while some athletic decline has to be expected over the next few years, his three-point shooting isn’t going anywhere and he’ll always have the length to be a presence at the rim defensively.
For now, he’s able to move well on the perimeter and play in multiple defensive systems, which is an attribute coveted by championship-contending teams who need to be versatile in the later rounds of the playoffs on that end of the floor, though injuries have cut short both years in Atlanta. Add in the free agent money that should be available this summer and the spots teams will have to fill and things are lining up for Dedmon to get the big check he deserves.