It is truly comical to see most casual NBA fans jump to the conclusion that the Mavericks, by default, won the draft-day trade that landed Luka Doncic. This is not to say the Hawks won either, but it has yet to be determined. Luka is a generational talent, but you can’t gloss over the fact that he has been playing professional basketball since he was 14 in the second-best league in the world. He was always going to be more pro-ready than most prospects. But Trae Young is a generational talent as well and proved that with his All-Star Starter status in just his second season. Both players have the makings of future Hall of Famers. However, this trade was never mano a mano. There is an added variable in this deal, and that is rookie forward Cam Reddish.
Reddish has acknowledged that he struggled out of that gate to start the season, but we have seen him progress little by little throughout his rookie year, to the point where he is now being viewed as one of the premier first-year players in the NBA. His play in January has elevated him to 4th overall on NBA.com’s rookie ladder.
The forgotten member of Duke’s remarkable trio of freshman from last year looked lost early in the season but showed from time to time what made him a lottery pick and a top-three prospect coming out of high school. Now, he has finally found his stroke, flashing his star potential on a much more consistent basis. As the All-Star Break approaches and the Hawks enter their final stretch of the season, Reddish told me the goal is “to try to stay on that steady progression path and continue to work hard.”
Steady progression is the perfect way to describe Reddish’s rookie campaign to this point. The simple eye test shows that he has a lot more confidence in his shot and is attacking the paint with a whole different attitude. The numbers don’t lie either. In his first five NBA contests, Reddish could not buy a bucket. He went 9-for-43 from the field, including 1-for-18 from beyond the arc. He was better in November, his first full month in the NBA, but was still getting his feet wet. He showed great promise on the defensive side of the ball, but only shot 32% from the floor, and 27.9% from beyond the arc. He looked like a deer in the headlights, but once he started seeing the ball go through the hoop, it was easy to tell he was made to play in the NBA. In December, we saw another spike in his shooting, as he finished the month at 35.9% from the field and 31% on three balls.
January, however, has been Reddish’s coming out party, reminding everyone why people believed he was going to be a superstar at Duke. He’s shooting 41.2% from the field, and 40.3% from outside, playing with elevated confidence and shooting the ball at a high level, which were the two most prominent question marks critics bashed him for early on. If he can stay the course of steady progression, there is no reason why he can’t be a premier player in the NBA, and he could be the piece that ends up putting this Hawks’ rebuild over the top.
Reddish says that there are a lot of things to attribute his strides in development to, but it has “mainly been staying in the gym.”
“Been watching a lot of film lately, That’s been paying off,” says Reddish. “I’m just going out there and playing hard, not trying to think too hard and playing my game.”
Reddish has also strongly benefitted from being drafted by a team that believes in him. Though the Hawks’ record leaves a bit to be desired, being in a situation where he has been allocated significant minutes out of the gate has been ideal for garnering experience. He already has 30 starts under his belt and is averaging around 26 minutes a game. When asked if being a starter out of the gate has helped his development, Reddish responded, “it really sped it up a little bit.”
As far as the future goes, Cam is focusing on remaining positive. Most of the players on the Hawks are not used to losing this many games throughout their careers. With Reddish coming from a school like Duke, and being one of the most dominant high school players in the country, positivity is a must. But there is a lot to be optimistic about, and Cam Reddish is a primary reason for that. The Hawks are a young team with all starters age 23 or younger. But they have a handful of guys with legitimate All-Star potential, and as this young core grows organically, they may have the long-term recipe for a contender. Year two for the rookie duo of lottery pick wings — Reddish and De’Andre Hunter — will be an excellent gauge of how far from a reality that truly is.