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Cam Reddish primed to find his ceiling in Atlanta

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A deeper look at the 19-year-old phenom.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks-Press Conference Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Reddish remains one of the more divisive prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft pool. Some experts had him in or close to their top-five, due to his length (6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan), smooth outside stroke and the defensive instinct/ability he put on display as a freshman at Duke, while others had him as low as the 20’s due to his lack of efficiency in college. The Atlanta Hawks famously grabbed him with haste with the No. 10 overall selection, and very well could have taken him with the No. 8 pick if they had not executed a trade of multiple picks to New Orleans to grab De’Andre Hunter with the No. 4 overall pick.

The struggles Reddish endured at Duke are well documented at this point, but it seems important to look at how, and why, he struggled. The general lack of spacing and shooting from a personnel standpoint was very real, and likely hurt his percentages close the basket, as teams often attempted to pack the paint vs. the Blue Devils due to the immense presence of Zion Williamson, the driving/bully ball ability also employed by No. 3 overall pick R.J. Barrett and the general lack of shooting across the roster.

Reddish was the third option on his own team despite being the best pure shooter and, when he did get the ball, there was little space to operate with if he didn’t have a good look at a catch-and-shoot jumper. The lack of space on the court isn’t a full excuse for Reddish’s inefficiency, as Williamson and Barrett found ways to score and play their game, but it feels like a safe bet that Reddish will have an easier time finishing at the rim with the spacing employed at the highest level, specifically by the Hawks, who often try to run out lineups that feature zero non-shooters.

It is worth noting, however, that the Hawks may have a tougher time finding shooting-heavy lineups in 2019-20, depending on the personnel head coach Lloyd Pierce chooses to deploy. The absence of Dewayne Dedmon, Vince Carter and Taurean Prince could constrict things a bit, particularly with floor-spacing questions surrounding Evan Turner, Jabari Parker, DeAndre’ Bembry and newcomers at center in Damian Jones and Bruno Fernando. There are still plenty of shooters on the roster — headlined by Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and newcomer Allen Crabbe — and spacing should be far less of a problem in Atlanta.

Other factors to keep in mind when examining Reddish’s collegiate statistics are the sample size is small, and he battled some injuries throughout the season. Putting a ton of stock in what someone six months removed from high school did statistically in a 36-game season with a brand new team (with three other high profile freshman) isn’t exactly ideal, but with little else to evaluate, Reddish seemingly fell out of the top-10 on most boards within actual league circles. However, Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk is on record about how he viewed Reddish as a prospect going back multiple years, so the lack of success at Duke did not deter them from bringing Reddish into the fold, to the point that they were reportedly ecstatic when he fell past the No. 9 slot, when the Washington Wizards drafted Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga.

“What we’re intrigued by with Cam is his his skill set and his ability to play at this level,” said Pierce. “His size, his length...his passing and his shooting. Some of that is hard at the collegiate level. If you’re a guy that attacks and there’s four guys sitting in the paint...you aren’t going to attack very well...they have to leave the paint at the NBA level. The lane opens up, fours and fives at our level can shoot. We’re intrigued by when we give him proper spacing, he has the ability to beat his guy off the dribble...to play in the pick-and-roll, and now he’s got spacing. Those numbers will change.”

It is important to be fully aware of how much Reddish struggled from a statistical standpoint when trying to understand why he slipped a little bit in the draft. He ranked 64th in points per possession (PPP) in his own draft class in spot-up situations. The lack of spacing within the offense at Duke this past season most certainly contributed to that, but the numbers are still not ideal no matter what prism they are viewed through.

Despite the numbers, Reddish still profiles as a candidate to be an elite shooter on the wing in the NBA due to his fluid release and ability to rhythm dribble into a smooth shot when it’s not there initially off of the catch. While he struggled in spot-up situations largely as a freshman, when he was given room to operate he looks like a lottery pick.

Reddish ranked 54th in PPP on all jumpers, another stat that is obviously sub-optimal but also influenced by the lack of space he had to operate with much of the time. Diving into more specific areas, Reddish ranked 55th in the 2019 class in PPP on three-pointers and 67th at the rim. To say he struggled with his efficiency puts it lightly. Reddish failed to rank in the top-45 of the class in PPP from any individual area on the court. When he did have room to finish, he showed off his instincts and timing, often leaving defenders looking for answers.

Mike Schmitz of ESPN highlights Reddish’s ability to finish in space starting at the 1:23 mark below.

Not to make excuses for Reddish, but the lack of spacing at Duke that is repeatedly being referred to truly cannot be stressed enough. He was legitimately the only shooter on the floor in large stretches. Many teams (hopelessly, for the most part) attempted to pack the paint in an effort to stop Williamson and Barrett from bullying their way to easy buckets/free throws while working inside, so opponents would typically stick one guy out on Reddish and collapse the rest of the defense, bracing for onslaught that ensued most nights between the pair of top-3 picks featured by the Blue Devils. This culmination resulted in fewer touches for Reddish who, in turn, likely felt pressured to score when he actually did get the ball.

In the event that the defense did a good job closing out on him, he was left with little room to operate given the rest of the roster’s inability to stretch the floor. Schmitz highlighted his ability to knockdown transition threes as well in the same breakdown from above, a skill that will definitely translate given the frantic pace Lloyd Pierce employed in his first season as head coach of the Hawks.

Despite the shooting struggles from a statistical point-of-view, Reddish still (obviously) did enough things right to keep NBA front offices interested in his prospects. One of the more underrated parts of his game is his creating prowess with the ball in his hands. While the sample size is small due to the presences of Barrett and Williamson, he showed an ability to be a secondary facilitator, and an efficient one at that. He ranked 7th in the 2019 class in PPP when operating as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, generating 49 points for the Blue Devils on 44 possessions when shooting off pick-and-roll action.

The freshman also ranked 24th in PPP when passing out of the pick-and-roll while also ranking 24th in dribble hand off (DHO) possessions. Reddish showed high level basketball IQ on the offensive end when used properly, so the notion that he’s an awful offensive player based on his struggles from the field is a reckless one. In a better individual situation, Reddish could have gotten similar praise to what Jarrett Culver received for being a secondary initiator at Texas Tech. While the sample size is not vast, it’s large enough to see that there is definitely something to work with in the shot creation/court vision department.

Perhaps the part of Reddish’s game with the highest floor is his defense. Adjusting to the NBA game is tough, but his length and ability profile him as a potential impact weapon to unleash defensively on the wing. He’s already displayed a knack for being in the right place within the team system, and the combination of quickness with his 7’1 wingspan allows him to ball hawk in the passing lanes. The freshman also showed off his ability to lock down opposing players on-ball on the wing as well. He has the length to give his man nightmares when he stays in front, and can usually get back in the play if he does get beat off the dribble.

The full breakdown from Schmitz is definitely worth a watch, or two. The second half of the video focuses on his weaknesses, which included finishing in traffic, lack of physical play on the defensive end, and a tendency to sometimes be a little loose with his ball-handling. These things seem extremely correctable for a 19-year-old with as much talent as Reddish, while they are worth being aware of at this point as well. No prospect is perfect, and considering how low some were on this draft class, the fact that Atlanta got a prospect with as much upside as Reddish with the No. 10 pick seems somewhat like a miracle in a way.

Reddish appears to be an ideal fit with the pieces the Hawks have in place, with no clear block at his position. Trae Young will be the best passer he’s ever played with, and he will be in a system that operates at a faster pace than he’s likely ever been asked to play, which should result in more opportunities for transition threes and finishing in space. Pierce and his staff will be tasked with the challenge of figuring out the best way to use him.

It’s tough to project where Reddish will be at the start of the season due to the lack of repetition he’s been able to get so far this summer with the minor injury he carries into his rookie season, but by all accounts, he will be ready to go when games start this fall. It can be tricky to project exactly how quickly any rookie figures it out, as the Hawks have seen over the past couple years with Young, Kevin Huerter in 2018-19 and John Collins the year before. Young struggled for two months then erupted into seemingly a future star after the calendar turned over to January, while Collins appears to have made his big leap in the Summer of 2018, coming into his second season a much more well-rounded player than when he entered the league.

Regardless of how long it takes Reddish to figure himself out in the NBA, he landed in a great spot for a young talented player, and has a core to grow alongside for the future. There will almost certainly be bumps and bruises along the way, but he has an opportunity to play for a team that is committed to his success.

In short, there are certainly worse situations than being asked to figure out things on the fly with one of the best passers in the NBA in Young (just ask Collins), and in one of the more modern offenses in regards to space and pace. This all feels like a recipe to blossom, and while it’s important to manage initial expectations and keep patience with any young player, the Hawks are certainly expecting big things from Cam Reddish.