For the 11th time in the last 13 years, the NBA website sat down with the league’s rookies and polled them on the group at large. They were able to give feedback as to which of their contemporaries they believed to be the Rookie of the Year, steal of the draft, best defender and best playmaker.
But one survey question especially caught the eyes of many: Which player will have the best career?
For the sixth consecutive year, a former Duke Blue Devil walked away with the honor from his peers. But it wasn’t top overall pick Zion Williamson or third pick R.J. Barrett. It was Cam Reddish of the Atlanta Hawks who got 19 percent of the vote and the top honors.
What is it about Reddish and the home he’s found in Atlanta that leads to such a response from fellow rookies? Is the situation in Atlanta one that particularly lends itself to his success? How did he fall to the tenth pick if he was such a consensus top player? What do the players see that some general managers or scouts didn’t, even before he plays an NBA game?
Or is this just an outlier on a paltry 19 percent of poor judgment?
Reddish was the sixth-rated player on my pre-draft board, in part due to the shackles and situation he found himself in at Duke. His role in the NBA will look vastly different.
With the ball in his hands more, there is room for a Devin Booker-like transition from spot-up shooting threat to offensive creator. Reddish demonstrated some elite-level skills in short spurts at Duke that make him a unique prospect.
For those unfamiliar, let’s begin with a sample of his strengths on our draft scouting report. Each section is brief, but highlights exactly what he does well:
The ability to shoot with a seven-foot wingspan is such a unique tool. Reddish will not have his shot blocked frequently, nor will late-arriving defenders truly alter his release.
He wasn’t the most consistent shooter in his lone year at Duke, but the mechanics are there. He can play on-ball or in a supporting off-ball role as well. His ability to move fluidly and set himself off screens is not his best trait, but he does possess it. What makes Reddish intriguing is how he shoots off the pick-and-roll. Even dating back to high school, his pull-up three off the bounce has been one of his more devastating shots.
Reddish can explode the most with his playmaking ability. The ball was taken out of his hands at Duke in favor of scoring options like Williamson and Barrett (top-three picks in this year’s draft), along with Tre Jones—a pass-first point guard that facilitated the offense and was ineffective without the rock.
That pushed Reddish to a supporting role all year.
He’s capable of doing much more, though how much remains to be seen. The quality of many of his passes and the reads he makes are encouraging for those who expect him to be a major focal point of this Hawks offense.
We’ll hit more on his playmaking later, but it’s an incredibly important piece to his fit in Atlanta.
We mentioned that ridiculous frame before, but this is a guy built like Paul George or Kevin Durant that will play the 2 or the 3 for the Hawks. He’ll flank Trae Young and eventually draw the top backcourt defensive assignment for his team—though fellow rookie De’Andre Hunter will be in that mix as well.
That time will not come early in either of their days, and the Hawks will likely struggle on defense until Reddish and the rest of their core matures.
Scouting report videos are brief by nature and gloss over a player’s impact. Since Reddish has now found a team, we can more clearly envision his role and predict which skills he’ll showcase and how he can utilize them.
The context within a team environment is incredibly important, as Reddish already knows from playing fourth-fiddle at Duke. He’ll be a secondary playmaker (tertiary at worst) with the Hawks alongside one of the league’s most dynamic young scorers in Trae Young.
General manager Travis Schlenk is not-so-subtly trying to copy the Golden State Warriors with his roster construction. Trae Young is his Stephen Curry, Kevin Huerter his Klay Thompson and Evan Turner may serve as the Shaun Livingston. Reddish may project as the Kevin Durant prototype eventually thanks to his length, but he’s a piece that helps unlock Young’s off-ball movement, a vital piece to his game.
Last season, the Hawks were dead last in efficiency scoring directly from off-ball screens. Young himself shot less than 30 percent, and the team’s leader was Taurean Prince with 16. The playbook will continue to open in these ways as time goes on, particularly to save Young from the onus of creating with the ball in his hands on every trip. Now that a high-caliber passer like Reddish is in town, we may see the rest of the Lloyd Pierce playbook unlocked.
Reddish will initially fill the job left behind by Kent Bazemore, who was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers this summer. While Trae Young will still command the largest chunk of offensive production, the supplementary handler has an incredibly important role.
Maximizing the impact of your dribbles is of major importance for any secondary playmaker.
Reddish can read a playmaking guard easily and create plays from brush screens, or essentially cuts from other players trying to get out of the way. He utilizes those angles well to manipulate the defense and put his teammate in a position to succeed.
Here’s one example of that from his time at Duke with R.J. Barrett:
Gravity is a powerful factor with these brush screens. As Barrett goes to collide with Reddish’s man, defenses are so aware of who the screener is that all Reddish needs to do is make a quick move and he’ll get his teammate open.
Trae Young is already fantastic at these borderline-illegal maneuvers, using his gravity and attention as a shooter to help his teammates. One such example sprung Kent Bazemore open for a rim attack a season ago:
Watch again and pay close attention to how Kris Dunn defends Young. As soon as Young gives up the ball, Dunn is back in deny mode. He and Bazemore exchange spots, so as Dunn stays hugged to his man and Bazemore’s defender (Zach LaVine) must go underneath the action. Now LaVine is in no man’s land, as Bazemore can dart off the ball screen and put pressure on the rim. LaVine was too low to get over the ball screen, and it was set so low that neither defender involved could react.
That causes a normal weak-side rotation, and Young gets the shot despite the efforts made to deny him the ball. It may seem like a small, near-mistake type of play, but that’s how a shooter like Young can be used for gravity.
Reddish has an added element that Bazemore did not: the ability to score off a step-back. When a defender like LaVine gets hung up, the only option several slashing wings had was to bully their way to the rim and make the kickout. Reddish is different because he projects as such a high-caliber isolation scorer.
Watch the same strong-side cut turn into a rub action on Reddish that provides the spark for him to ignite a step-back three:
How do you take that away if Young is the man on the strong-side cut and is jammed by his defender? Simple and minor movements like that between two talented players allow the Hawks to score without opening their playbook on every possession.
The other way to use Young’s gravity is through placing him as the raise man during a spread pick-and-roll. As defenses hug him, that makes for a consistent and open read for cross-court passes. Either the roller or the weak-side corner will be open, and Bazemore made a killing in these situations a year ago:
Bazemore’s skip pass was a little off target, but the read is incredibly open because Collin Sexton is hopping with Young to prevent the reversal to one pass away. The same looks will occur as long as Young is on the floor and he’s shooting at the elite clip he does. Defenses are so tuned into him as the top scoring threat that they’ll live with those skip-pass threes.
Insert Reddish into the lineup where Bazemore was and the offense will likely take a slight step up. Reddish is a very accurate passer on the move, particularly across his body and with skip passes. The Hawks can run the same action and provide the rookie consistent reads to maximize his unique playmaking:
The Hawks will want Reddish to play with the ball in his hands. He’s a gold mine of untapped scoring in those situations. The highlights of how he can score in isolation is a little ridiculous.
Yet, this is a guy that was picked tenth in a draft considered fairly light on elite talent:
The most lethal of those clips is the last one: the Euro-step to a layup in one dribble while a defender is pressing up on him by the three-point line. If Reddish can gracefully glide to the basket in less than two bounces whenever teams play him tight, he’s going to be a problem, particularly in Atlanta’s fantastic spacing.
How many of these plays were late-clock isolation or one-on-one scores, too? Reddish is a player that will alleviate the burden from Young and be able to produce late in possessions. Defenders always fear guys that you can give the ball to and manufacture a bucket.
Reddish can be another bail-out for the Hawks that allows them to run offense through others and know that he will save them if Young can’t.
The hallmark of go-to scorers, particularly late in possessions, is the mid-range pull-up. While analytically de-emphasized, it is still the toughest shot to guard. Drivers that can get to the rim create a cushion between their man as they start, so a fluid and smartly-used pull-up can be the most open look they get near the end of possessions.
Reddish’s mid-range game is not polished yet, but the tools are there. He hit a few mid-range pull-ups that provide a great deal of optimism for him ascending as an elite three-level scorer in an excellent offense:
During Pierce’s first season at the helm, the young Hawks played a helter-skelter style, getting up and down the floor and gunning early in the shot clock. They were the league-leader in pace, and that should only create more opportunities for Reddish, who thrives in the open floor with his unique blend of perimeter skill and size.
Reddish suffered from a lack of explosion at the rim in the half-court, as his runway could be taken away by the clusters of defenders sagging off Duke’s non-shooters. NBA spacing will help, but so will an emphasis on transition and fluid play.
His true athleticism comes out when he is able to play in the open floor:
As a reminder, this guy is 6’8″ with a 7’0″ wingspan weaving his way through traffic and keeping the ball on a string. To dodge defenders swiping at the ball and have such a fluid pull-up from deep are such difficult skills to teach. Reddish was certainly underappreciated during the pre-draft process, and part of that may be due to the lack of volume he was given in the open floor at Duke.
Reddish isn’t just a ‘put your head down and go’ type of player. He’s got an unreal feel that was seen during the Playmaking Upside section. He rarely over-bounces—the sign of a player looking and willing to share the ball.
He’s a ridiculous passer in the open floor as well:
So where do current Hawks benefit from this style? For John Collins, it may be the ability to sprint the floor and play above the rim. For guys like Huerter and Young—shooters that get so much extra attention against set defenses—a steal or rebound from Reddish means they get to leak out and seek to slip beneath the confines of the defense.
Young, in particular, has a tendency to ball-beg. When a teammate secures a rebound or gets a steal, he doesn’t run the floor in transition ahead of them, instead standing and waiting to get the ball in his hands. While that can take away from transition opportunities to put pressure on the rim, there is a useful way to inculcate that propensity into the team’s attack.
Trae can simply let the ball pass him, cool off the jets and fill behind the play as a trailer. That would allow handlers like Reddish to put pressure on the rim and work to cross-match the defense.
Young can then sneak behind as an afterthought and get wide-open threes:
Reddish can open a lot of doors for Young, maximizing what the second-year pro can accomplish with the ball in his hands by providing great spacing and allowing Young to expand his game as a catch-and-shoot option.
Perhaps that is where the fellow rookies got the idea of placing Reddish atop their “best career” list?
He’s in a situation where it is clear to see his positive impact and exactly how he can make an already-elite scorer better. Give the Hawks credit for drafting and fitting their players into this plan, having the foresight and fortune to select a player that fits both talent-wise and positionally.
Don’t take your eyes off the Atlanta Hawks. The ingredients are there for something incredible.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of NBA.com stats, basketball-reference or Synergy Sports Tech, and are current as of August 25, 2019.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.