The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t “over” but, with the coronavirus pandemic placing the season in a suspended mode, there is a distinct chance that the Atlanta Hawks won’t be playing again this season. With that as the backdrop, the Peachtree Hoops crew will look back at the players still on the roster and how they performed in the team’s first 67 games.
This installment focuses on rookie wing Cam Reddish.
For months, murmurs suggested that the Atlanta Hawks coveted Duke wing Cam Reddish in the 2019 NBA Draft. Ultimately, Travis Schlenk and company made the “big move” for another forward, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, on draft night, but the Hawks didn’t include the No. 10 pick in that package and, by the end of the night, Atlanta landed a prime target by adding Reddish to the fold.
Unlike Hunter and many other lottery picks around the league, Reddish didn’t enjoy the benefit of extensive work in the summer. The youngster suffered a core muscle injury during the pre-draft process and, while the Hawks were adamant that the issue wasn’t a significant concern long-term, Reddish was unable to play in Summer League and entered training camp with a great deal of rust as a result.
Given the combination of that injury-driven hiatus and a relatively underwhelming one-year stint at Duke, expectations for Reddish’s rookie season were, at the very least, mixed in nature. On one hand, there was reason to believe some of his skills, particularly on the defensive end, could immediately translate to the professional game. On the other, his offensive metrics left plenty to be desired in college and, without the benefit of a full summer to improve his game, widespread speculation existed that a slow start could be in the offing.
In short, that is exactly what transpired with Reddish in the opening portion of the 2019-20 season. While his defense was actually quite impressive by rookie standards from the opening tip of the campaign, Reddish’s offense lagged behind in a significant way, with the rookie posting hideous shooting numbers — 27.9% TS in October, 42.8% TS in November, 46.7% TS in December — for the first few months of the season.
His long-distance shooting was, at best, inconsistent, with some visible mechanical flaws and underwhelming efficiency. Closer to the rim, Reddish struggled mightily to finish, spotlighting some of the pre-draft concerns about his lack of vertical explosiveness and creativity in traffic. Still, the sample size was small and, with the benefit of the (very) reasonable expectation that the 20-year-old could scuffle out of the gate, there was no reason to panic.
From there, things improved markedly for Reddish, with rave reviews pouring in concerning his play in the second “half” of the now-suspended season. Though his season-long offensive numbers aren’t exactly spectacular, Reddish showed notable improvement as the journey progressed. In January, he posted a 54.3% TS, representing a marked jump from his early struggles. That progression continued in February, with a 57.2% TS and, while March was a (very) small sample size, Reddish posted a sparkling 67.2% TS in four games.
While true shooting percentage is only one metric, Reddish’s 57.4% TS from Jan. 1 to the end of the season (27 games) was enough to assuage many concerns from the earlier portion of the schedule in which that number was a grotesque 42.3% TS in 31 games. In fact, his overall performance showed linear improvement on the offensive end, with increased efficiency in many areas.
Efficiency increases were both encouraging and badly needed for Reddish after the ugly start, and they also coincided with an uptick in raw production. After the All-Star break, Reddish averaged 16.4 points — on 50/39/85 shooting — and, even when acknowledging the small sample of 10 games, the flashes were there. In taking a broader view, Reddish’s production — 13.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals in 28.2 minutes per game — over the final 25 contests (12 starts) stood in stark contrast to his showing in October and November, with 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 82 percent from the free throw line in that sample.
In projecting Reddish’s trajectory, the early-season showing can’t be ignored in favor of the more optimistic nature of the way his campaign finished. It is true that late-season performance, especially from a rookie, is more predictive than early-season performance, but it would be aggressive to assume that the “new” Reddish from February and March is an accurate baseline moving forward. Still, there is plenty to be encouraged by with the youngster’s on-court ability.
Defensively, Reddish was one of the best rookies in the NBA this season and, in short, he is already a reliable player on that end of the floor. He has encouragingly high block (1.5%) and steal (1.9%) rates for his position, and Reddish proved to be a solid rebounder (12.7% DREB) for a wing.
He graded as the best defender in Atlanta’s full-time rotation per FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model and, according to PIPM, Reddish was also one of the team’s better defenders this season. That is backed up by the eye test and, while the Hawks struggled mightily at times on the defensive end, Reddish combines strong awareness — particularly for a rookie — with quick hands and quality size for his position. Reddish may not be one of the NBA’s best defenders in the future but, even if he were to stall on that end of the floor, the Hawks have unearthed an exceptionally valuable defensive piece at a position of great need in the league.
Offensively, Reddish is more of a mixed bag and, in contrast to pre-college comparisons to Tracy McGrady and others, that was to be expected. While Reddish flashes some intriguing playmaking upside, he issued more turnovers (96) than assists (87) for the season and, unlike other things in his game, that didn’t really improve as the campaign progressed. To be fair, Reddish won’t need to be a high-volume creator on a team with Trae Young and, as a rookie who missed his pre-NBA summer, there is reason for optimism here. Still, it will be interesting to see how much of a burden the Hawks choose to place on his shoulders as a secondary creator, especially when considering some of the uncertainty with what Atlanta will do in the draft and free agency.
As a finisher, Reddish struggled in an overall sense, even if his improvement was heavily visible over the course of the season. He finished in the 19th percentile (per Cleaning the Glass) among wings by shooting just 52 percent at the rim, and there were myriad instances of his shortcomings when challenged by NBA length and athleticism. Reddish did flash intriguing creativity later in the season, though, and while he isn’t an overly explosive vertical athlete, he has quality body control that should help him to improve.
In addition, Reddish drew fouls at a more than acceptable rate when driving to the rim. He attempted 3.8 free throws per 100 possessions and, after a 77.2 percent clip from the charity stripe in college, Reddish converted 80.2 percent in his maiden NBA voyage. That is a weapon that he can carry moving forward, particularly as he navigates the waters and figures out what is effective when he enters the paint.
In an overall sense, the Hawks were better with Reddish on the floor than without him this season, posting a -6.3 net rating when he played and a -7.9 net rating when he didn’t. While those numbers don’t excite you on the surface, they heavily bake in the early-season struggles of the No. 10 overall pick. From Jan. 1 to the end of the season, the Hawks were 6.2 points (per 100 possessions) better when Reddish played and, while it may not seem like much, Atlanta posted a -1.4 net rating with him on the floor. Compared to Atlanta’s overall baseline, that is an impressive number.
Cam Reddish’s slow start garnered a lot of national attention for all the wrong reasons and, by the end, it was apparent that many evaluators simply stopped viewing the Hawks and seemingly missed the substantial uptick in his play. If the former Duke wing can maintain those gains as his second season approaches, there is significant reason for optimism with how Reddish can help the Hawks on both ends of the floor.
At the moment, his defense remains ahead of his offense but, as evidenced by several 20-point showings in the back half of the 2019-20 season, the offense is catching up. With that in mind, the Hawks have unearthed a quality, two-piece for the future and a strong complement to Young, John Collins and the rest of the team’s young core.