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Is Cam Reddish still a top-10 prospect?

Cam Reddish has been the marginalized member of Duke’s big three, but he’s still considered a top-10 prospect. Is he still worthy of that status?

There are plenty of difficult prospects to evaluate in the 2019 NBA Draft. You can make the argument for any of the following as the most difficult — Bol Bol, with his skinny frame and lack of defensive feel; Ja Morant, with his statistical dominance despite a lack of advanced skill play; Kevin Porter, who looks like a dominant athlete but can’t get major minutes for USC; and the pair of De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson, who both have profiles of strong NBA wings but may be pigeon-holed into college roles that don’t fit their skill sets.

But the winner of this title is probably Cam Reddish. Reddish takes the Hunter and Johnson problem to the extreme. He might be more talented than any player listed above, and he’s a major contributor to one of the best teams in the country, so much so that he can take over and shoulder the scoring load from Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, like in his 24-point effort against Boston College. But those performances are few and far between — more often, he is relegated to a tertiary role, or worse. In some games, you get the sense that even Tre Jones has more of a focused role for the Blue Devils than Reddish does.

Those big performances and the general effect Reddish has as a floor spacer for Duke couple with his recruiting rating — he was a top-three recruit in the 2018 class — to give many the hope that he’s still a top prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft. He’s ranked fifth on the Step Back Big Board currently, and sixth in our latest mock draft. That’s pretty close to the consensus.

However, Reddish’s statistical performance paints a much different story. There are some positives, for instance, a 4.1 steal rate and 7.6 three-point attempts per game, with an acceptable, if disappointing, 35.3 percent hit rate. But for someone who was supposed to be a secondary initiator type at the NBA level, 3.1 assists per 40 minutes is pretty poor. And for someone who is 6-foot-8 with a good frame and top-five pick potential, shooting 39.6 percent on 2-point shots is far from ideal.

There’s also the questions of effort level and frustration with his role at Duke. To be fair, standing on the perimeter and chucking shots off Barrett’s and Williamson’s many creation opportunities can’t be what he signed up for, but Reddish does go games at a time with particularly questionable play, and visible frustration when his shot isn’t falling. That has gotten the rumor mill swirling, even if Reddish hasn’t voiced these concerns publicly. And given what we know about how some Duke players have been used suboptimally in the past (Tatum, Jayson), it’s worth wondering where we should sit between the poles of alarm and optimism that exist in regard to Reddish.

On the positive side, Reddish has proven himself about as well as he could on the defensive side of the ball. Coming into college, he was a very dicey prospect on defense primarily due to effort level. There were real concerns about whether he was going to be playable at the NBA level. But at Duke, it’s almost as if Barrett and Reddish flipped profiles — Barrett is now the one with severe defensive apathy, and Reddish might be the best defensive prospect on Duke, due to his potential versatility on that end that surpasses even Williamson.

Reddish has been a consistently solid defender this season for Duke, and he has figured out how to put his size and athleticism to good use. Reddish isn’t a top-tier athlete, particularly laterally, but he is fairly strong, and he uses his length well to disrupt on the perimeter. Reddish gambles frequently, which can put him out of position at times, but his ability to get skinny and rip the ball from opponents is very impressive.

Reddish has shown good ability to switch on defense this year, taking on possessions against primary ball-handlers and bigs with success. He’s best as a perimeter defender, particularly in open space, where he mirrors well and has good footwork to cut off drives. One-on-one, Reddish is already a pretty advanced defender for his age, and he looks like he will be a particularly useful defender against pick-and-rolls and isolations off switches.

The major weaknesses of Reddish’s defensive game are consistent with a lot of general concerns for young defenders. He takes bad angles on closeouts at times and doesn’t have the flexibility to counter it. He also doesn’t play consistent off-ball defense, and will lose his man at times, especially on box outs. But he checks some major primary boxes that lead to confidence in his long-term defensive health. His activity on defense, length, strength, and reaction times are good, and there’s potential that he could eventually become a one-through-five switch defender at the NBA level.

The offensive side of the ball is the much harder area to project for Reddish. After being a primary initiator in high school and showing off impressive pull-up mechanics and talented driving skills, he’s mostly been a floor spacer at the college level, but even that has been a fairly limited role. It’s nice to see Reddish shooting a high volume of 3s, and his percentage is pretty good, even if 35.3 percent from 3 doesn’t look appealing on paper. His mechanics are strong off the catch, and it’s likely that he’s going to be a strong shooter from 3 in the pros. But Reddish isn’t projected this high because he’s just a shooter — the idea is that he can become a Klay Thompson type, a shooter who can be efficient on a high volume and score from 3 off a variety of different sets.

So far at Duke, though, we just aren’t seeing that advanced profile that you’d expect from an elite shooting prospect. There’s plenty of catch-and-shoot looks among Reddish’s 3-point makes, but you don’t see a lot of off-movement looks. He rarely gets the chance to get the off-screen chances that a guy like Kevin Huerter routinely got last season.

Instead, the extent of Reddish’s off-movement shooting comes on relocation after cuts, which is still valuable, but still puts him in the position to primarily shoot from a stationary position. Now, part of this could just be that Duke’s play calling doesn’t set him up for these opportunities — Gary Trent Jr. had some of the same problems last season — but it does really hamper the certainty with which we can project Reddish’s ceiling as a shooter. And without certainty that Reddish will shoot, there really can’t be any certainty about him offensively.

That’s because his finishing and driving game has not translated at all to Duke. He doesn’t get ample opportunities, so there is a bit of a sample size bias — but what we have seen isn’t promising. Reddish struggles to get all the way to the rim, as he doesn’t have a ton of shake off the dribble, and his touch hasn’t translated to the college level, either.

This doesn’t make a ton of sense, given Reddish’s strength and size combination. It also doesn’t really make sense given his high school film, where he routinely used his upper body strength to dislodge defenders and power to the rim.

The issue is likely due to the functionality of his driving. Reddish can shake his way to the rim and use his shoulders to create space, but he doesn’t have the necessary skills to go with it. He doesn’t have good vertical leaping ability to explode into defenders. He also isn’t very coordinated as a handler, and it’s hard for him to make some of the more advanced finishes he is capable of when he’s trying to break down a defender because of it. Honestly, his best role may be as an off-ball cutter, because getting a head of steam and attacking in a straight line allows him more room to gather and get into some of his more crafty finishes.

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.

Next: The Step Back 2019 NBA Draft Big Board: February Update

But the main reasons for being excited about Reddish don’t come offensively. They come on the defensive end primarily, and it’s difficult to not be disappointed by Reddish if you don’t go in with the mindset of looking at his potential two-way value. No, he’s probably not going to be a potentially ball-dominant scorer at the NBA level, and putting all your eggs into the shooting basket may not be wise, either. But he has the opportunity to be a truly special defender at the next level. Reddish is a good prospect, he just isn’t good for the reasons that many people think.

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