The Hawks‘ young crop of talent is intriguing. AJ Griffin, Jalen Johnson, and Onyeka Okongwu all have what it takes to be significant contributors to a contender. And the next class is here, led by first-round pick Kobe Bufkin.
Coming out of Michigan, he was scouted as a potential combo guard with the makings of a three-level scorer, facilitator, and defensive chops. Though he wasn’t great in any one area, he was well-rounded and heralded for his basketball IQ.
In our first glimpse of him with the Hawks, he struggled mightily in the Las Vegas Summer League but finished strong, even hitting a game-winner in the club’s fourth contest.
Kobe Bufkin for the Win!! pic.twitter.com/yJMZiWob4H
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) July 13, 2023
Through five games in the Summer League, Bufkin averaged 14 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game on very inefficient shooting — 33.3% from the field and 13.8% from beyond the arc. Moreover, averaging 4.6 turnovers and 3.4 fouls per game is never what the club wants. In fact, an anonymous Hawks staffer had constructive criticism for the youngsters.
“Kobe (Bufkin) needs to settle down a little,” the staffer said, per Keith Smith of Spotrac. “It’ll come for him. We’re deep, but not in ballhandlers. Kobe could find a rotation role this year.”
Though his stat line will tell you it was an utter failure and looks to be a bust of a draft pick, it doesn’t encapsulate the entire picture. The Hawks rookie showed growth throughout his time in Vegas. Nevertheless, John Hollinger of The Athletic included Bufkin in his piece on the worst of the Summer League.
Bufkin played as a combo guard in college, and having to run the offense every play seemed to really slow him down; you could almost hear the gears cranking at times as he thought through a pick-and-roll read. This was a different guy from the one making quick darts down the lane at Michigan and pulling up into soft floaters. There were too many times when he paused too long and either got his dribble picked or threw a pocket pass half a beat late; ball pressure in particular really bothered him.
Bufkin’s stats also took a blow by shooting 4 of 29 from 3; he needs to improve as a shooter, but numbers this bad are mostly small-sample variance. I’d be more troubled by the multiple finishes that were swatted at the rim, again caused by him seeming to cruise through an opening too slowly.
Playing with two ball-dominant guards like Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Bufkin is never going to be the primary ball handler; however, the Hawks are right to try him at point guard. He might just better project as a 2 in the NBA, where he can play off-ball more. Regardless, he will need to improve his shooting and cut down on the turnovers to push his way into the Hawks rotation.
Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire