Nylon Calculus Rookie Review: What did the Hawks see from Cam Reddish?

Cam Reddish, #22, Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Cam Reddish, #22, Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Even if the NBA regular season is canceled, we’ve seen enough to start assessing the first seasons of notable rookies. What did the Atlanta Hawks see from Cam Reddish?

The Hawks did some draft-night maneuvering, coming away with two wings — De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish — both of whom had strong defensive reputations and seemed like useful fits next to Trae Young. The conventional wisdom was that Hunter was the more NBA-ready of the two but that Reddish might have the higher offensive ceiling.

Neither rookie was overly impressive but Hunter certainly looked more ready to contribute from opening night. Reddish’s contributions were all over the place but when the season was suspended he was averaging 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He also had moments where he flashed that offensive upside, like a 26-point explosion on Feb. 28 against the Nets where he knocked down 6-of-9 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over once.

The question is how well did Reddish’s high-highs and low-lows compare to what was expected and what does it imply about his hypothetical future as a key rotation player when the Hawks begin to pivot their rebuild towards contention?

What did we expect?

Reddish was the third-ranked player in his high school class, according ESPN. Ironically, the two players ranked ahead of him — Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett — ended up as his teammates at Duke. Williamson became a star and Barrett proved he was ready for the next level. Reddish, on the other hand, mostly underwhelmed and saw his NBA draft stock took an enormous nosedive.

The original consensus on Reddish was that his ceiling was as a high-level wing scorer with some defensive upside. After that one season at Duke, Trevor Magnotti still saw reasons for optimism with Reddish but saw his ceiling as more of a souped-up 3-and-D role player.

"“Reddish still probably has an avenue to becoming a top-five player in the 2019 NBA Draft class. He should at the very least be on the upper end of the 3-and-D spectrum of wings thanks to his size, switchability and shooting, even if he never does hit that Klay Thompson level of off-movement shooting prowess. And there’s definitely still hope for him as a driver thanks to his size, although I wouldn’t expect him to become an elite one-on-one driver due to his lack of vertical pop and elite handle.”"

The discouraging assessments of his offensive upside were driven by tape but are best summarized by three data points from his freshman year — Reddish had more turnovers (96) than assists (70). He shot just 33.3 percent on a lot of attempts (287). Less than 20 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim and he made just 51.2 percent, a number that’s almost unfathomably bad for a player as long and as athletic as he is. For reference that was the worst field goal percentage on shots at the rim but any player at Duke last season. In fact, only seven other players in the entire ACC had at least 50 attempts at the rim and were that inaccurate.

The mission then for Reddish this year was proving that he could provide viable offensive output, even if it was just canning spot-up 3-pointers at a respectable rate.

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What did we get?

From the beginning of the season through the end of December, Reddish was shooting 32.1 percent from the field, 26.1 percent on 3-pointers and had considerably more turnovers (56) than assists (50). From the beginning of 2020 to the suspension of the season, he shot 44.5 percent from the field, 39.7 percent on 3-pointers and … well, he didn’t really flip that assist (36) to turnover (39) ratio but at least he was finally making shots, right?

That shot-making is no small thing considering Reddish’s track record. The question is, how much faith do you put in 27 games of impressive play measured against his atrocious first half of the season and his extended struggles as a freshman at Duke. At the risk of beating a dead horse, it’s worth repeating that, for all his talent and aesthetic appeal, Reddish was a bad 3-point shooter in college, overall, and a historically inefficient finisher for a high-level draft prospect.

One of the tools we can use to try to unpack this is the DARKO projection system from Kostya Medvedovsky. This system incorporates new box score data daily (when we had daily basketball) to create updated estimates of a player’s “true talent” level in several statistics. The mechanisms of the system, explained here, account for a variety of factors in their estimates, including recency, opponents, aging, seasonality, rest and home-court advantages. They have their noise and are, by nature, continuously evolving estimates, but they can be helpful in understanding the evolution and present state of a player’s skill.

Below is the progression of Reddish’s estimated 3-point percentage alongside Paul George and Iman Shumpert who, subjectively, seem to represent ceiling and floor comparisons for Reddish over the next few years.

You can see here how comparatively rough Reddish’s start was, as well as how strongly he rebounded over the course of the season. However, it’s worth noting that DARKO does not include any college data in its projections for rookies. Shumpert was roughly a 30 percent 3-point shooter in college, George was at nearly 40 percent. If that data was incorporated we’d likely see a steeper curve for Shumpert that matched Reddish even more closely.

The point here is that at this point Reddish looks like about a 35 percent 3-point shooter which is a huge step forward from where expectations might have been entering the season. However, a lot of the reliability of the specific number would have been carried by how he shot over the rest of the season, data we probably won’t get now. How Reddish starts next season shooting the ball could change these estimates a lot.

In terms of finishing, we saw a “tale of two seasons” that mirrored the trend in his overall shooting percentages. In that second half of the season, Reddish shot 46.9 percent on drives. That’s a huge improvement on the 39.2 percent he shot in the first part of the season but in and of itself it’s not a hugely impressive number. If that was the entirety of his rookie sample it would only be slightly above average, about the same as Luke Kennard, Rajon Rando and Michael Carter-Williams shot on drives this season. Given all that, Shumpert seems like a much safer bet than George as a model for Reddish’s ultimate offensive effectiveness, which is especially frustrating when you consider how his rookie season went on defense.

ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, 538’s RAPTOR and Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM all estimated Reddish to be a negative on defense, fairly significantly in the case of RPM and PIPM. That, in and of itself, is not unexpected. Most rookies struggle on defense, even those that go on to be solid contributors down the road. But there were some specific areas for concern.

Containing the ball did not appear to be a strength and Reddish’s Regularized Adjusted Deterrence (a measure of how a player affects the efficiency of an opponent’s shot selection patterns) was in the third percentile. You can see from his RAD chart that opponents had no problems getting shots at the rim when he was on the floor.

There are, of course mitigating factors but he wasn’t necessarily thrown into the fire by the Hawks. Both De’Andre Hunter (another rookie) and DeAndre’ Bembry spent more time defending the opponents’ primary offensive option, per stats from Krishna Narsu.

Reddish’s steal and block numbers are solid and they make him look a bit better by metrics that lean heavily on box score stats, but turning back to DARKO and the evolution of his season by DPM (a defensive metric that uses both box score stats and plus-minus data) doesn’t paint an optimistic picture.

We’re again using Shumpert and George as points of comparison because you can see neither was a strong defender at the beginning of their rookie season but had pretty much reached the point of being net-neutral by the end of that season. George kept growing from there, Shumpert seemed to have hit his ceiling and leveled off. Reddish just went in a completely different direction. Even if we account for the fact that he didn’t get to finish this season and continue on that upward trajectory he eventually started, he would have likely finished the season well behind these two comparables.

So, again, maybe Reddish is the player he appeared to be for the last 25 games or so of his rookie season. Maybe he really is headed for a lengthy career as an elite 3-and-D weapon who can even do a bit more with the ball in his hands. But if you look at his trajectory from its starting point at Duke, it seems just as likely this is a blip or an evolution that ends far short of where the Hawks are hoping it does.

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