The Atlanta Hawks have liked Cam Reddish for a long time. In fact, it was a (very) poorly kept secret that Travis Schlenk and company were interested in selecting the former Duke forward in the 2019 NBA Draft and, while the Hawks were active in shuffling picks throughout the evening, Reddish eventually landed in Atlanta as many projected. On the eve of the 2019-20 season, it is intriguing to evaluate what Reddish might bring to the table, both as a rookie and long-term, but his first-year status dictates that any evaluation looks to the past with an eye on the future.
Reddish was a highly-touted high school recruit, landing at No. 2 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings. Ironically, that placed the Norristown, Pennsylvania product ahead of Zion Williamson in the recruiting pecking order and, if nothing else, that placement is a reminder of the type of pedigree Reddish brings to the table.
Upon arrival at Duke, however, things didn’t go swimmingly for Reddish. There were bright spots along the way but, all told, Reddish struggled mightily during his one and only college season, and his issues caused a sharp divide when it came to NBA Draft-focused evaluation.
Reddish averaged 13.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game at Duke and, considering he was the clear No. 3 option behind Williamson and R.J. Barrett, that level of production isn’t damning. However, his efficiency was an issue on a number of levels.
In 36 games, Reddish committed more turnovers (96) than he garnered assists (70) and his well-documented upside as a ball-handler and creator didn’t come to fruition. Beyond that, he had a ton of trouble finishing at the rim, shooting only 47.3 percent in the basket area (per Synergy) and flailing on the way to a 39.4 percent clip from two-point range.
His two-point inefficiency led to a dismal 35.6 percent field goal percentage but, on the optimistic side, at least some of his issues could be tied to injury. In addition to the core muscle injury that sidelined Reddish during some of the pre-draft process and the entire summer, Reddish’s father, Bob, told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic that the rookie forward also “played all season with serious injuries that ranged from broken ribs and issues with his big toe.” It is still possible, or even likely, that Reddish’s raw athleticism was overrated as a high school player but, in the same breath, injuries can take a toll and it is quite possible that he is a significantly better athlete, at least at full strength, than he was able to display at Duke.
Those injury-related issues could at least tangentially explain some of his finishing issues near the rim, with core muscle ailments causing a lack of explosiveness that could lead to an avoidance of contact. There is reason to be skeptical of his famed on-ball creation ability, particularly in the pure ball-handling department, based on college tape but, fortunately, the jury is very much out on whether his freshman season is actually a representative sample of his athleticism and efficiency moving forward.
In fact, the Hawks seemingly believe Reddish’s freshman campaign is actually an outlier, which makes sense for a franchise that has been closely monitoring his progress dating back to the high school ranks.
“What we’re intrigued by with Cam is his his skill set and his ability to play at this level,” head coach Lloyd Pierce said earlier this summer. “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.”
As Pierce notes, Reddish was not in an optimal scenario at Duke, headlined by questionable spacing throughout the campaign. He was playing alongside NBA-level players in Barrett, Williamson and future draftee Tre Jones but none of his cohorts were impressive floor-spacers, leaving Reddish as the only player to fit that particular role.
In a positive data point, Reddish was able to fire 7.4 three-point attempts per game (10.0 per 40 minutes) and, if nothing else, getting shots off without hesitation is something he’ll need in the future. Reddish is also comfortable shooting from NBA range and, even with only 33.3 percent of his threes dropping in college, there is a widespread belief that he will be an effective three-point shooter at the professional level. At present, Reddish is a better shooter off the dribble than in catch-and-shoot situations, though, and that is something to monitor given the presence of Trae Young as Atlanta’s primary on-ball creator.
One aspect of Reddish’s performance at Duke that flies under the radar is the fact that, even in a relatively small sample, he was exceptionally effective as an on-ball scorer. Barrett took most of that role and Williamson was, in short, phenomenal, but Reddish finished in the 94th percentile (per Synergy) as a pick-and-roll scorer. Of the 863 Division 1 players that had at least 43 possessions of pick-and-roll scoring, Reddish’s effective field goal entage (72 percent) was the second-best nationally. That translates to the fact that, when he was able to get to his own shot, the results were overwhelmingly positive.
It has to be noted, though, that he struggled immensely with turnovers (32.6 percent) and passing when playing on the ball. In addition, things didn’t go well when Reddish got all the way to the rim, but there are still some positive signs with his relative scoring. If nothing else, it is very fair to question just how indicative Reddish’s play within Duke’s structure will be at the NBA level, especially when he will now operate with a potentially elite creator in Young and floor-spacing options that far exceed the cramped nature of what Coach K and company were able (or willing) to deploy.
Defensively, Reddish is likely underrated at this stage and that greatly helps to project his floor as an NBA player. He performed well on that end of the floor in college, using his good hands and long, rangy frame to strong effect. Reddish produced an encouraging 2.9 percent steal rate at Duke and, at 6’8 with a wingspan north of 7’0, he has the tools to be a solidly positive defender in the NBA. It remains to be seen just how effective Reddish will be on the ball but his off-ball defense provided real optimism and, when combined with the on-ball dominance of fellow rookie De’Andre Hunter, there is a strong fit for the future.
Because of Reddish’s injury concerns in advance of his rookie season, there is great mystery as to how ready he’ll be at the start of the 2019-20 campaign. There is reason to believe that some, or even most, of his college shortcomings could be explained by situation, but Reddish did struggle in Durham and, as a general rule, rookies that don’t perform overly well in college rarely contribute in a positive fashion as first-year NBA players.
With that said, the Hawks will put him in a positive situation immediately and, to put it plainly, there is a reason that many scouts and evaluators believed that Atlanta was the best possible place for Reddish to land. He will not be under the pressure cooker that could have arisen elsewhere and, while some of the other rotation options aren’t terribly sexy, Pierce and his staff do have the chance to bring Reddish along slowly if they so choose.
Hunter projects as the team’s starting small forward on opening night and he projects to be significantly ahead of Reddish in terms of NBA readiness. Behind Hunter, though, there are certainly minutes available for Reddish.
Reddish will compete with the likes of Allen Crabbe, DeAndre’ Bembry, Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons and even Jabari Parker for minutes, but no player on that list can replicate the exact skill set of Reddish. Crabbe can’t match his size and defense, Bembry can’t match his gravity and length, and the trio of veteran combo forwards (Carter, Parsons, Parker) all project as better at the 4 than the 3 at this stage.
It remains to be seen just how aggressively the Hawks will deploy Reddish, particularly in October and November, and at least some of that is tied to his health and court readiness after a long layoff. After all, the (vast) majority of rookies don’t contribute to winning basketball and it is possible, or even likely, that Reddish scuffles in the early going.
Eventually, though, Atlanta has every reason to get Reddish on the floor for extended minutes and, for the future, he joins Young, Collins, Huerter and Hunter as a full-fledged member of the franchise’s five-man core. That is the nature of the Hawks investing a lottery pick to land Reddish in June but, in addition to that, he is a lottery-level talent and, if things go well, Atlanta can return value on the No. 10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.