The Atlanta Hawks have performed as the worst team in the NBA in the first half of the season. Much of that ineptitude can be traced to a 25-game suspension for John Collins and a few injury issues, but Atlanta’s shakiness can also be attributed to youth. Trae Young has been phenomenal in operating at an All-Star level, but with few key veterans to keep the ship afloat, the Hawks are relying heavily on young players, including a trio of rookies in De’Andre Hunter, Bruno Fernando and Cam Reddish. None of the three have been fantastic this season but, in the early months of his career, it is Reddish that has taken the majority of the heat.
From a statistical perspective, the 20-year-old has been one of the worst offensive players in the NBA in his debut season. Reddish is posting a 43 percent true shooting that includes a 37 percent clip from two-point range and a 27 percent clip from beyond the arc. In addition to shooting woes, Reddish has had trouble navigating the traffic that is caused by NBA defenses, and with the team already struggling to a bottom-five offensive rating the Hawks have been 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse offensively (per Cleaning the Glass) when Reddish is on the floor.
Still, there are signs of life emanating from the No. 10 pick, including a big game on Sunday in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Reddish scored 20 points and snagged a career-high five steals, with much of his damage coming in a prolific second quarter. In a microcosm of the full season, Reddish had a few highs and lows during the game, but when it comes to together Reddish looks fluid and impressive with the ball in his hands. Offensively, there is still room for concern, especially with his shooting, but Reddish has knocked down 31.3 percent of his three-point attempts since Dec. 1, up from a paltry 21 percent figure in the first 17 games. The growth has arrived in baby steps, but it is there if you want to search.
The bigger carrying trait for Reddish in his rookie season has been his defense, where the Duke product has been legitimately impressive. Reddish ranks in the middle of the pack across the NBA in most defensive metrics and, for a rookie wing, that is outstanding. Atlanta’s defense is 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when he plays, and Reddish is often tasked with the most difficult defensive assignment on the club. If anything, Reddish has been a better defender than Hunter this season and, considering Hunter’s age and profile as the No. 4 overall pick, that is an encouraging sign for Reddish.
Ultimately, both Atlanta’s front office and Reddish will be judged on how he progresses offensively, Given his defensive baseline, the offensive bar is lower to clear, and that should help all parties involved. Still, Reddish has to knock down enough three-pointers to serve as even a role player and, for some of the (very) lofty expectations from his high school pedigree to come through, he must improve by leaps and bounds. In the end, Reddish doesn’t have the profile of an offensive star but, in ways that can only be noticed with close attention to his highly encouraging defense, the No. 10 pick has been better than you would think by simply assessing his woeful offensive production.
Where does Reddish stack up against the rest of the class? Let’s find out.
- Jarrett Culver – In similar fashion to Reddish, Culver’s overall baseline is dragged down by sketchy offensive numbers. After all, he has a 44 percent true shooting for the season and that isn’t going to get it done. Still, the former Texas Tech star has been good defensively and Culver does check a lot of other boxes. To make things better, Culver is averaging 14.1 points and 5.4 rebounds since rejoining the starting lineup in late December, and he is shooting 44 percent from the floor over that stretch. That is helping his case.
- Terence Davis – Davis still has a strong case for inclusion based on his contributions to a winning club. In January, though, he is shooting 34 percent from the floor and his efficiency needs to bounce back.
- Rui Hachimura – Hachimura has played 25 games and that is enough to evaluate in a reasonable manner. With that said, he hasn’t seen the floor since mid-December for injury reasons and everyone is just waiting for him to be back.
- Cam Reddish – On the whole, Reddish’s offense weighs him down enough to keep him out of the top ten for now. If he can fix his efficiency to some degree, that might change, because he’s been one of the best defensive players in the class so far.
10) Sekou Doumbouya
It is Sekou time in Detroit. The Pistons are going nowhere fast and, as such, they have every reason to invest heavy minutes in their rookie forward. Doumbouya is rewarding them for that choice, averaging 12.0 points and 5.3 rebounds since joining the rotation. For good measure, he is posting solid efficiency (47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three) and flashing some of his considerable potential.
9) Michael Porter Jr.
Porter’s season-long numbers don’t blow anyone away, based largely on a stretch of time when he really wasn’t playing. The former top high school prospect has appeared in 18 straight games, though, and he’s been incredibly efficient (58.2 percent from the floor) since fully joining the rotation. There are certainly some spots where Porter has to improve, but his offensive skill set has always been potent and you can see the glimpses.
8) Darius Garland
In the last 13 games (covering about a month), Garland has been legitimately good. He is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 36 percent from three over that stretch, averaging 14.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. Garland’s full-season numbers are rounding into form as a result, and amid all the noise in Cleveland there appears to be tangible improvement in the works.
7) R.J. Barrett
It’s pretty difficult to evaluate Barrett. On one hand, he ranks third among rookies in scoring and fifth in rebounding. That is usually a strong profile. Barrett has been harmful in virtually every advanced metric, however, and that is based on his high usage and low efficiency. Things have been better better in January with Barrett shooting 48 percent from the floor, and he’ll rise in the rankings if that lasts.
6) Eric Paschall
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Paschall. After a splendid start, he hit the skids in December, with a demotion in role and a downturn in production. Since then, Paschall is back to being productive, averaging 10 points per game in the last six with reasonable efficiency. Make no mistake, Paschall will keep falling if he doesn’t return to his November levels, but he’s done enough lately to provide some optimism.
5) P.J. Washington
In the nine games since Washington returned from injury in December, he is averaging 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 46 percent shooting and 39 percent from three. Those numbers were even better before a quiet weekend and, even with real defensive questions, Washington has been a strongly above-average rookie.
4) Tyler Herro
You could convince me that Herro is the best rookie on the Heat roster. He’s been quite good by rookie standards, and his shooting (38.5 percent from three) is a super valuable factor on what appears to be a 50-win team.
3) Brandon Clarke
Clarke’s raw production has cooled a bit in the last two weeks and, with relatively modest box score stats even before that, this is probably higher than most would have the former Gonzaga star. The counterargument would be that Clarke leads the class in PER, win shares and true shooting percentage while helping his team win.
2) Kendrick Nunn
There is a big drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 and Nunn isn’t a clear No. 2 for me. He does have the best combination of production and relative efficiency. Nunn ranks second in scoring and, after a strong week (15 points per game on 59 percent shooting), he gets the nod in the runner-up slot.
1) Ja Morant
If the season ended today, Morant should be the unanimous Rookie of the Year. He leads the class in scoring (17.8) and assists (6.9) with 56 percent true shooting. He has been arguably the best player on a team that is currently (!) in the playoffs. This isn’t a tough choice.