ATLANTA — Dewayne Dedmon has been the life of the party in the Atlanta Hawks locker for the past two seasons.
He’s the seven-footer whose shooting hand converts into a mobile phone in a matter of moments after dialing up one from long distance. He’s the one who recites Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” like “Drip too hard, some some some some, some some some” despite the fact the Billboard hit played at least twice every home game this season. He’s the one that was on the lookout for spies when admitting to Hawks.com’s KL Chouinard that one of Atlanta’s biggest offensive tendencies this past season was a play that he couldn’t surrender the name of.
In a franchise that has for the greater part of the last decade housed lower-profiled and more reserved NBA players, Dedmon has been a breath of fresh air to the Hawks’ locker room.
“He’s the only guy on the court that I ignore talking to,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said after cracking a smile. “I think he’s got a great sense of humor. He loves to talk, he loves to be loud, but it’s all in the right spirit. You try to yell at him on the court ‘Dewayne, I need you to roll!’ ‘You need me to pop?’ He’s got a sarcastic way about him, but you want to be able to play free, have a free spirit, free mind and not wound up. He’s never wound up, and I like that about him a lot.”
Dedmon is due for the biggest payday of his life after enjoying two career years with the Hawks. The six-year NBA veteran’s journey in the game has come a long way over the last decade.
“I started a lot later than a lot of the guys in the locker room so every year is special,” Dedmon said. “I talk to my family, I talk to my friends all the time. The thing about it is that I’ve played more years in the NBA than I have before that ever.”
Dedmon started playing basketball shortly after he turned 18-years-old. The 29-year-old grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness household, and his mother wouldn’t allow him to play basketball because under the religion, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard wrote in 2011, “allegiance to anything but Jehovah is forbidden.” In addition to basketball potentially resulting in more allegiance than Jehovah, the lifestyle also filled Dedmon’s schedule with Bible studies, meetings and Saturday solicitations on a weekly basis.
When Dedmon was given the chance to play, he barely saw the floor as a senior at Lancaster High School. Dedmon went to the gym at Antelope Valley College, and told men’s basketball coach Dieter Horton that he wanted to play basketball.
After working out with Horton the next week, Dedmon was given a new pair of shoes, a uniform and warm-ups. After only one semester at AVC, he put on muscle from consistently eating and lifting weights in addition to growing two more inches.
It took Dedmon a couple of games to find his footing and gained attention with his shot-blocking ability and energy that he brought to the game. Scouts from different D-I programs attended the California community college’s games to see the seven-foot diamond in the rough for themselves. Dedmon ultimately decided to stay in-state and committed to USC.
Dedmon redshirted for the second half of the 2010-11 season at USC, when he’d be matched up against Nikola Vucevic in practice, with whom he still keeps in contact on a regular basis.
“I talked to him, not the last time we played Orlando, but the time before,” Dedmon said at this year’s exit interviews. “I just let him know, ‘y’all have to make the playoffs. Y’all deserve it. You guys have been grinding at it for a while, you’ve got the talent, you just made the All-Star team, so you’ve got to get it done.’ They got it done so I’m very happy for them.”
Dedmon’s size, effort and blocking ability were once again the attractions to his game as a Trojan, but he still went undrafted in 2013.
He was then called up to the Golden State Warriors, only to be waived in December. He then signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he worked out with, as first cited by Chouinard, then-assistant coach Lloyd Pierce. He then signed two 10-day contracts with the Orlando Magic before signing on for another season and a half, remaining with his ex-USC teammate Vucevic.
Dedmon had established himself as an NBA veteran once he signed with the San Antonio Spurs in 2016. In the first season of the post-Tim Duncan era, Dedmon found himself in Gregg Popovich’s rotation.
He was officially in.
But that didn’t stop the hardworking teenager that worked his way into a community college’s starting lineup only seven years prior, to settle.
“He’s expanded his game,” Pierce said after a practice this past season. “I don’t take credit for that. The last coaching staff really gave him the confidence to shoot the three here. That was something, even as he’s left San Antonio, that he’s been able to implement into his game. I think in this season, he’s backed it up very well and has shown that the last two years, last year specifically, wasn’t a fluke. He’s shooting four to five threes a game, he’s shooting over 35 percent and it’s probably his biggest weapon now.”
Dedmon’s ability to stretch the floor opened up the opportunity for Atlanta to run one of its more popular sets to get the offense going, which are staggered screens. Dedmon has grown to become a legitimate option in whatever role he plays in the series of the double screens, whether he’s rolling to the basket or popping out to look for another opportunity to dial one from long distance to his teammates on the sideline.
“It’s great,” Hawks point guard Trae Young said. “It’s perfect. When you have bigs like that who can shoot the ball, finish at the rim, go up and catch lobs. It’s a blessing to have bigs like that.”
The big men’s ability to remain versatile offensively is also one of the reasons that Pierce was able to realize one of his preseason goals of being the team with the fastest pace in the league this past season.
“This is coming from a guy who came into the league in Philly and Orlando, that wasn’t a part of his game, he was run-and-rebound,” Pierce said of Dedmon. “Now, his biggest asset is that he can stretch the floor. That part, to me, is why we’re going to be hard to guard because Dewayne has kind of given us a blueprint of if you put a stretch-five out there, you’ve got John [Collins] who’s out there shooting threes, it’s hard to guard. It’s hard to crowd the paint when everyone can shoot threes, and it starts with Dewayne being a five-man that shows he can do that.”
Off the court, Dedmon has been able to give back to the people of Atlanta as well. This past Thanksgiving, he hosted a Turkey Drive at a local YMCA. The community service opportunities hold a lot of weight for the man who entered a community college gym in worn-down clothes asking for an opportunity to play as a teenager.
“Coming from where I come from, Lancaster’s not really a big city,” he said. “There’s not really a lot going on, didn’t really have much coming up. Anytime that I feel like I can give back to somebody and give them something I didn’t have is something that I try to do. Something that I try to hang my hat on.”
Now, Dedmon’s time in Atlanta is now in limbo, and the new father who’s played for five different teams in six seasons could be on the move again this summer.
“I’d definitely love to be here,” Dedmon said. “The young corps that we have is a special group of guys. The jump that John made from last year to this year was special. I’m expecting Kevin, Trae and Big O [Omari Spellman] to make a little jump next year as well, so to be here for that would be something special. I love the city of Atlanta. Whatever happens, happens. [I’ll] be ready for that.”