Atlanta Hawks: The strange case of Cam Reddish

Before the 2018-19 college basketball season, and before Zion Williamson took a stranglehold on the national narrative, a different man sat atop my draft board: Cam Reddish. Obviously Reddish’s status was short-lived, but it was still noteworthy. 

In high school and AAU circuits, Reddish was a tremendous talent who often stood above the rest. He had an irking tendency to play down to his opponents, but in the end, his skill set and physical gifts were thoroughly tantalizing. Many expected a similar display at Duke.

The Duke Disappointment

Unfortunately for both Reddish and talent evaluators, Duke was a poorly constructed roster with an abundance of talent. Zion held the national spotlight, but even he wasn’t the No. 1 option. R.J. Barrett was awarded the biggest slice of the shot-taking pie. As for lead guard duties, Tre Jones was the undisputed choice. 

It left Reddish, who spent time as a jumbo-sized point guard in high school, without a clear role. He was behind Barrett and Williamson as a scorer, but wasn’t afforded the playmaking opportunities to assert his value elsewhere. 

On top of a congested rotation and ill-defined role, Reddish just didn’t play well. He averaged 13.5 points on a putrid 35.6 percent shooting — not great, Bob. It was a tough season, and one that greatly diminished Reddish’s draft stock. He went from a potential top-3 pick to a fringe top-10 pick.

Beyond his role, other factors contributed to the 19-year-old’s historic struggles. Reddish underwent surgery for a ‘core injury’ over the summer, which limited his participation in pre-draft workouts. In his introductory press conference, he identified it as a groin injury.

It provides a very clear explanation for Reddish’s foremost issue. At Duke, his efficiency dipped in large part because of his limited burst and explosiveness. Reddish often struggled to elevate, which saddled him with bad misses and blocked shots at the rim.

A Calculated Risk

When June rolled around, however, the Hawks were still enamored with Reddish’s talent. It’s worth remembering the context of a team’s decision on draft night. Atlanta knew about Reddish long before his one season at Duke. Travis Schlenk first watched Reddish play when he was 15 or 16 years old

The Hawks managed to select Reddish in the 10th spot, a gamble Schlenk was admittedly nervous about. Atlanta’s president of basketball operations went as far as to call it a “calculated risk,” saying Minnesota’s trade up to No. 6 “[made his] heart flutter.”

Changing the Narrative

Reddish, given the benefit of a much-needed change of scenery, is now tasked with turning the narrative in his favor. The Hawks will afford him every chance to showcase a diverse skill set in a funky rotation. Reddish will get opportunities he simply didn’t receive as a Blue Devil. 

There are veterans on the roster, but Allen Crabbe and Chandler Parsons don’t project as season-long contributors. Unless Atlanta takes a concrete step toward playoff contention — a leap I’m not expecting in 2020 — the young talent will prevail, especially after the All-Star break.

Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, and Alex Len are natural picks for Atlanta’s starting five. That leaves Jabari Parker, Evan Turner, and Reddish as the core pieces in the second unit — versatile wings who can fit into various lineup combinations.

Reddish’s Role

In that setting, Reddish is of particular intrigue. If we assume his groin is back to full strength, Reddish should reprise a point guard-esque role similar to his AUU days. While Young will carry the lead playmaking burden for 30+ minutes a night, Reddish (and Turner) will need to create for others when Young sits. 

Reddish’s feel and basketball I.Q. has never been a concern. He sometimes settled for difficult shots at Duke, but the scarce opportunities and physical impediments are reason enough to project improvement. If Reddish can reliably get to the rim and create in the pick-and-roll, the Hawks should proceed with immense optimism. 

There’s also a silver lining in those difficult shots. Reddish can get buckets — at 6-foot-8, he has smooth handles, a nice hesi, and a knack for NBA-caliber moves. He was never the most explosive athlete, but again, a healthy groin could allow Reddish to leverage his size and touch more efficiently in isolation. 

The Hawks will experiment this season. Lloyd Pierce has made constant mention of Atlanta’s focus on switchable defenders and versatility. Schlenk himself mentioned Reddish’s point guard roots. In a season focused on development, expect the Hawks to see just how many bases the Duke product can cover. 

Reddish’s Redemption

In a rookie class many consider weak, Reddish stands in a singular light. Once dubbed the most talented prospect on the board, Reddish promptly juxtaposed high expectations with a historically poor season. The Hawks sifted through the noise and landed on Reddish at 10. 

On a personal level, I still believe in Reddish. At full health, in a comfortable situation, and under Atlanta’s development staff, I expect serious growth on his part. Just read Sam Vecenie’s preseason profile over at The Athletic (if you have a subscription, of course). It encapsulates just how highly talent evaluators thought of Reddish before Duke. 

He’s 6-foot-8, has guard skills, can bury 3s, and is underrated as a defender. Buy all the Reddish stock you can.