Atlanta Hawks: How Cam Reddish is thriving where he wasn’t meant to

 Cam Reddish, during his rookie season, has been a pleasant surprise for the Atlanta Hawks

Pre-draft, Cam Reddish was a divisive prospect. His smooth handle and replicable shot mechanics at 6-foot-8 had many excited about how his game would translate to the pros. Others, fairly, saw Reddish’s subpar production and concerning habits from his time at Duke as major red flags.

But the consensus was clear. If Cam Reddish were to thrive, it would be offensively. And even that, to many, was a long shot.

Reddish shot just 35.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3 in his lone season with the Blue Devils, averaging 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Reddish largely failed to make up for his putrid shooting elsewhere, lacking consistent focus on the defensive end while posting 26 more total turnovers (96) than assists (70).

Reddish, despite his lowly assist numbers, often deferred to Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, frequently fading into the background and failing to make any real impact on either end of the floor.

Still, Reddish’s tools had scouts intrigued. While he’s not an overwhelmingly great athlete, Reddish makes up for it with flashes of craftiness on the offensive end fueled by his tight handle. Defensively, his 7-foot-1 wingspan makes him effective in passing lanes – his 1.6 steals per game mark at Duke was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal individual season.

Reddish ultimately went 10th overall to the Atlanta Hawks. The vision: a reliable shooter and a decent enough shot-creator who could take the pressure off of Trae Young. The pipe dream, of course, was that Reddish would thrive with NBA spacing. At Duke, room for Reddish to showcase his skill set was at a premium.

With Barrett and Williamson – two slashers – taking the vast majority of the shots, Reddish was essentially cast as a spot-up shooter (7.4 3-point attempts per game; 4.6 2-point attempts per game). And when the ball did come Reddish’s way, he’d frequently force it. With Barrett, Williamson and a traditional center all vying to score at the rim, it made taking the ball to the basket inaccessible for Reddish.

His game was pretty much made up of 3s and cringeworthy pull-up 2s. But Atlanta saw enough. The body type was there and if he put everything together, he’d fit well within their Trae-centric ecosystem.

But what the Hawks have seen from Reddish thus far was entirely unprecedented. Well, partially.

Offensively, Reddish has been, largely, as advertised. Though his offense has picked up as of late (50.9 percent on 2s, 35.4 percent on 3s over his last 15 games – 53.1 percent on 2s and 36.6 percent on 3s over his last 10), he’s still at 40.9 percent on 2s and 31.9 percent on 3s for the season.

It’s defensively where, bizarrely, he’s shone.

Reddish’s comfortability playing passing lanes – a trait he flashed at Duke – has translated to the NBA. Reddish is averaging 1.1 steals per game and ranks in the 75th percentile in steal percentage at 1.7 percent.

The Hawks are also comfortably better on the defensive end with Reddish on the floor compared to when he’s off. Opponents shoot three percent worse on mid-range jumpers with Reddish on the floor (82nd percentile) as well as 4.8 percent worse on corner 3s – the spot where Reddish is usually stationed. That mark ranks in the 80th percentile.

In the halfcourt, opponents average 1.2 points less per play when Reddish is on the court compared to when he’s off the court (60th percentile). Opponents also have a worse effective field goal percentage, average fewer points per 100 possessions and get to the free-throw line less when Reddish is on the court compared when he’s not.

The eye test backs up the encouraging stats regarding Reddish’s defensive impact. The aforementioned awareness of when and when not to play passing lanes is glaring, as is Reddish’s ability to use his length when guarding on the ball.

Reddish is still far from an elite player on the defensive end. He still has his lapses and is at times overpowered by stronger opponents. But he deserves props – he isn’t merely serviceable on that end: he’s a plus. Atlanta likely envisioned Reddish being played off the floor due to his lack of defensive gusto at Duke. Instead, he’s closing games and is part of the Hawks’ premier defensive five (which isn’t saying much, though the point remains. Reddish is an excellent defensive piece).

Not only has Cam Reddish’s offense come around to the point where he’s a positive player on that end (+1.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court – 67th percentile), but his defense has been particularly stellar. Reddish has the makings of an extremely solid “3-and-D” wing that could complement the unbelievable Trae Young for years to come. If he lays off the pull-up jumpers and continues to develop his already effective defensive arsenal, Reddish has the potential to prove a lot of people wrong.