In advance of the 2019-2020 season, the Peachtree Hoops staff will take a glance at each member of the roster in “player preview” fashion. This edition evaluates fourth-year wing DeAndre’ Bembry.
“I’m feeling like I can’t get a break right now. It’s always something...”
These were the words spoken by DeAndre’ Bembry during his second season, a season in which the former St. Joe’s swingman appeared in just 26 regular season games in what was an injury-plagued season.
Having initially been looking forward to his second season — expressing excitement of the opportunity in front of him after the departure of some of the veterans in the summer of 2017 — Bembry’s 2017-18 season was an unfortunate setback in his development and placed quite a bit of pressure on him ahead of his third season.
Indeed, the challenge Bembry’s 2018-19 season was unofficially outlined in a quote from former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer in February of Bembry’s second season.
“It seems it’s the most fundamental thing,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s got to take care of himself and find a way to stay healthy.”
And that he did.
Under Lloyd Pierce’s first season in Atlanta, Bembry assembled a full 82 game season in what was a breakout year of sorts after having played just 64 games in his first two seasons in the NBA. Part of the reason for his limited playing time in his rookie season was due to the fact the Hawks were a playoff team and Bembry saw his time split with fellow rookie wing Taurean Prince, but Bembry had his healthy struggles during his rookie campaign as well.
The 2018-19 season was also the first season for Executive Director of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine Chelsea Lane, as well as Vince Carter, who brought significant stability to the Hawks’ locker room and practices.
I’m no doctor, but I would imagine the correlation between Bembry amassing a full 82 game season with Lane coming into the fold is quite strong.
Carter’s influence on Bembry was something mentioned by Lloyd Pierce ahead of his first training camp with the Hawks, saying that the first person he pointed Carter towards was Bembry.
“...DeAndre’ has been here for [two] years and has only played 64 games whereas Vince has played 1405 games,” said Pierce. “So there’s a lot of conversations both of those guys can have in terms of the game experience, what it means to be a pro and what it means to extend your career and what it takes.”
While the impact wasn’t as big as the one Lane would’ve made, Carter deserves a bit of credit for the upturn in Bembry’s bounce-back season, his experience I’m sure aiding Bembry is some way, shape or form.
It’s hard to say what Bembry’s Atlanta, nay, his NBA future would’ve looked like had he suffered another season like his second season but can now look in front of him in regards to his NBA rather than in the rear-view.
“I needed this season, to be honest, to put myself out there,” said Bembry during his exit interview. “I haven’t really done anything, to be honest, since I’ve been here. Rookie year, didn’t play at all. Last year, was hurt with so many injuries. This year, with the new coaching staff coming in, new trainers, everything, I just felt like it was a fresh start for me...”
But all of that is in the past now and his healthy third season would amount to little if he can’t stay stay healthy this season.
Bembry is entering his fourth year and, unless an extension is agreed upon, will hit the restricted free agency market next summer. Despite stabilizing his ship, so to speak, last season with a healthy season, Bembry’s Atlanta future is still a little murky.
While Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore are no longer a part of the wing rotation after their respective trades during the summer, the Hawks added a bunch of wings this summer such as Allen Crabbe, technically Evan Turner (though Turner will assume backup point guard roles), Chandler Parsons, Jabari Parker, and drafted rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.
While Crabbe and Parsons don’t figure to be a part of the long term future (with Parsons and Parker more than likely being utilized as forwards anyways, rather than the SG/SF spots that Bembry will be playing), Hunter and Reddish more than likely will be.
In one sense, Bembry’s level of play this season will be important but in another sense it might not be.
If Hunter and Reddish emerge to have strong rookie seasons (and they would have to be very strong rookie seasons), it may make Bembry expendable heading into restricted free agency, especially if Bembry has a stronger-than-expected season and raises the price to a point the Hawks may not want to match. The Hawks are set to have a ton of cap space open to them next summer anyways, so re-signing Bembry wouldn’t set them back too far in that department.
But the more than likely outcome is that Bembry will be (much) better than Hunter and Reddish in their rookie seasons, especially to begin the season.
Bembry’s role was one of the questions posed to the Peachtree Hoops staff recently, and the answers varied on what his role should be and what it may look like, especially with the additions (and development) of Hunter and Reddish.
While it’s unclear right now what Bembry’s role will be ahead of this season amongst all of the new faces that have joined, he was certainly a dependable option for Pierce last season, both in his availability and his defensive ability as he arguably emerged as the team’s best perimeter defender last season, and this will stand in his favor heading into this season.
With the rookies perhaps being brought along slowly to begin (more so Reddish than Hunter, who may be inserted into the starting lineup from the start), it highlights the importance of the start of the season for Bembry with both parties I’m sure wanting to see growth in Bembry’s fourth season ahead of his restricted free agency, as well as showing the Hawks the importance of Bembry before Hunter and Reddish eventually force themselves further into the fold (again, more so Reddish than Hunter).
However, there is an issue when it comes to matters on the court.
Bembry’s best skills at this stage of his career now are his defensive abilities and his ability to create plays at 6’6. While his defensive will be valuable (he still figures to be the best defensive wing on the team), his lack of shooting (29 percent from three last season) is going to be a real problem, especially if he’s coming off of the bench.
If he’s starting, there is at least shooting in, well, all four other starters (Young, Huerter, Collins, Len) — Bembry would be the only non-shooter in the starting lineup. And that’s an issue, it might allow defenses to load up on possibly Young, Collins or Huerter.
But Bembry coming off of the bench has its problems too.
Backup point guard Turner is not a shooter, Bembry isn’t at this stage either which leaves a concerning lack of offense in that potential backup backcourt pairing. It’s a real problem. Suddenly, an Turner-Crabbe backcourt makes a lot more sense for a second unit backcourt when it comes to offense, which the Hawks would be considerably better hanging their hat on rather than defense where they just don’t have the personnel right now to become an above defensive squad.
I’m not saying Bembry shouldn’t play, but you can see where there might be issues.
The other issue is that Bembry’s other skill — his playmaking ability — has never been less important to the Hawks than it is heading into this season. The Hawks already have Trae Young to do most of the handling (no further explanation needed here), Turner doesn’t have a ton of other offensive uses other than ball-handling/playmaking so you’re going to want the ball in his hands when you can when the second unit is on the floor, and the Hawks I’m sure are going to want to tap further into Kevin Huerter’s ability to make plays, as well as Cam Reddish when the time comes.
Not to say the Hawks won’t utilize Bembry’s playmaking, but they don’t really need it as they once did.
Again, it’s important to highlight that the start of the season is going to be very important for Bembry, as later in the season you would imagine there’ll be more openings for Reddish and, again, possibly Hunter to develop — will that mean Bembry’s minutes will be cut, or perhaps some other wing, like Crabbe?
It goes without saying that Bembry needs to develop a functional and consistent jump-shot, it’s more important to his Hawks future now more than ever. If he were to become a consistent jump-shooter, suddenly the rest of Bembry’s skill-set becomes a lot more useful. But if he can’t contribute to the offense, it makes fitting him into different lineups a bit more difficult with his lack of shooting.
It’s a big season ahead for DeAndre’ Bembry, will it prove to be his last in Atlanta?
Time will tell...