The Atlanta Hawks surprised the NBA Twitterverse late Thursday evening, trading tenured sharp-shooter Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Mike Dunleavy and a 2019 protected first round pick. It was some nifty cap work by Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, swapping a 2017 first round pick with the 2018 first round pick already owed to the Portland Trail Blazers, allowing Cleveland the ability to trade a 2019 first unencumbered by the Stepien Rule, pushing up the timetable for the Hawks to get a return on the deal.
While the attention will mostly surround Kover’s impact on the Cavaliers as LeBron James’ latest elite off-ball shooting cog, the ramifications for the Hawks are low-key intriguing.
The Hawks doubled-down on the wing in the 2016 NBA Draft, selecting Taurean Prince No. 12 overall and DeAndre’ Bembry No. 21 overall. At the time it looked like a complete log-jam pairing those two with likely to be re-signed Kent Bazemore (though the draft acted as an insurance policy for sure), Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. But the writing was probably on the wall with both Korver and Sefolosha approaching unrestricted free agency in 2017 at the ages of 35 and 32 respectively. With Korver being dealt and the Hawks reportedly looking for a third team to send Dunleavy, it clears up a rotation spot for one of their young rookie wings. Since Bembry is currently playing spot rotation minutes with Prince spending time in the NBA D-League, the following will fixate more on the opportunity for the former.
At a hair under 6-foot-6 (emphasis on hair in general) and at 207 pounds with just over a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Bembry has respectable, yet unspectacular measurables for an NBA wing. He’s only an above average NBA athlete as well, which overall doesn’t construct an outlier athleticism or tools picture, merely one that barely reaches the benchmarks.
What separates Bembry from most players his size is his cerebral play and feel. I wrote pre-draft that Bembry’s best team fit was the Hawks because of head coach Mike Budenholzer’s motion scheme and emphasis on read-and-react principles. Sporting an outlier 2.21 assist to turnover ratio his junior year, Bembry showcased deft passing on the move and elite cutting, both indicators of a high-feel floor. Couple that with enough positive individual and team defense at the college level to project him as a potential two-way player, and there was decent upside for the 21-year-old at the time. While there is limited tape on him this year having played only 82 total minutes, some of Bembry’s qualities have shined through in limited action.
Bembry knows he isn’t an adept shooter and more importantly wont be respected with any kind of gravity, thus he really has to pick his spots as a cutter operating off-ball. As it turns out, that is his specialty, as Bembry has always been an elite cutter. Here, when he realizes Tyus Jones is confused on his assignment in semi-transition and has his head turned, Bembry darts right to the basket for the finish.
He’s relatively fast and has just enough vertical pop to eek out finishes like this over contests at the rim.
In the following clip, Bembry again opportunistically recognizes an open cutting lane to the basket, and when Jameer Nelson turns his head he explodes to the basket.
Nelson expects rookie Jamal Murray to switch this action, but it’s too late once Murray realizes that’s his assignment.
This one is perhaps his most impressive cut, and again involves both Murray and Nelson on the coverage defensively. Murray and Nelson switch what looks like a down-screen, and Nelson, expecting an additional screen by Kris Humphries, turns his head losing eye-contact with Bembry trying to jump the screen. Bembry recognizes this and again immediately takes off to the basket.
Part of the reason I loved Atlanta as a destination for Bembry is because of their ability to invert their offense with elite passing bigs in Al Horford and Paul Millsap, giving Bembry room to work his cutting magic. With Horford departing for Boston in July and Millsap potentially being dealt before the trade deadline, it’s a blow to Bembry’s optimal use of time and space, as Dwight Howard and other bigs on the roster aren’t the same caliber of passers. Nevertheless, cutting is an established skill that Bembry possesses.
Bembry isn’t just an off-ball cutting savant however. He has legitimate ball-skills, operating in a lead guard role for considerable amount of time at Saint Joseph’s. He possesses an above average handle with the ability to keep his head up while dribble-penetrating. He doesn’t have elite burst, but he’s fairly fast and fluid with the ball and possesses wiry strength. Here, watch him dislodge Zach LaVine on a straight-line drive and finish with smooth body control.
In last Thursday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Bembry had one of his best finishes of the season, showing a good first step and solid burst combination, with the ability to adjust his attempt with touch around the length extension of Anthony Davis.
This finish is in the open court, but you can again see the smooth footwork on the drive and crafty finish with the left hand protecting the attempt from Danilo Gallinari’s contest.
Bembry can finish above the rim in space, possessing some juice as a leaper, but in the half-court he’s going to have to rely on craft and touch more than mere explosion not being an outlier athlete. Thus far, the returns are positive in a limited sample. Bembry is 9-of-16 finishing around the basket, and those attempts constitute two-thirds of his shot attempts (as of last Friday).
What we haven’t seen much of yet is Bembry’s creation acumen as a secondary-handler in pick-and-roll and his passing prowess, as he’s mostly played an off-ball role. There have been flashes of the vision he showed in college however.
Based on multiple years of college tape, Bembry seems like a decent bet to thrive as a secondary handler, eating up space off the bounce as a rotation player with playmaking ability and plus vision. He doesn’t have a ton of shake with the ball and isn’t going to create baskets in an isolation setting, nor is he an aggressive scorer, but he has very workable ball-skills. Whether he evolves into a starting-caliber player revolves around two aspects: developing a respectable catch-and-shoot 3 or defending at a high level.
Shooting has long been Bembry’s bugaboo, as he thrives neither off the catch or off the dribble. He shot 31.2 percent on 385 college attempts from 3, regressing each year, and 62.8 percent from the foul-line on 310 attempts.
His form isn’t broken, but he doesn’t get great elevation on his shot, which could limit his volume upside at his size. He typically doesn’t show good preparatory footwork catching on the hop, he doesn’t have a quick release and his elbow flares out, all elements you can see in the following clip.
His shooting isn’t projectable at this point, but given Budenholzer’s background with skill-development it isn’t out of the question that Bembry eventually develops a passable spot up 3, which he has shown greater proclivity at than shooting off the bounce.
As far as defense is concerned, there isn’t enough of a sample to work with yet in the pros. Bembry didn’t project as a high-level impact defender entering the league, lacking the size, tools and intensity to be a true plus there. He’s better characterized as a decent bet to be above average and capable of guarding two positions and sometimes three adequately. He is a smart team defender with range to cover ground quickly, even though he was never especially adept at creating steals. Still, it’s reasonable to assume he can improve defensively.
Overall, there is some utility here with Bembry as a cerebral playmaker, elite cutter and non-liability floor on defense. He has the look of a solid rotation player, and if he somehow develops a spot up 3 the Hawks really have something. They’ll need to use him on-ball more to optimize his passing, perhaps in a backup initiator role as he’s been employed some in garbage time.
Bembry might not have a lot of flare, but for those who appreciate true feel and making the right basketball play, Bembry is one to monitor. He tallied 6 points in non-garbage time minutes on Thursday night against the Pelicans, and it looks like his opportunity has finally come.