Lottery picks are viewed through rose-colored lenses in the NBA. As the draft approaches, teams, fans and the media alike increasingly overvalue top players and picks. Player comparisons provide unrealistic evaluations, and they put a ton of pressure on young players. Meanwhile, top prospects are mostly under 20-years-old and – more often than not – struggle to meet the ridiculously high expectations that were set for them.
And that overview of the NBA Draft process explains Cam Reddish’s first foray into professional basketball, too.
Reddish is a 19-year-old rookie who was the third-ranked player in his high school class (per ESPN Top-100) and was selected 10th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The Hawks were quickly dubbed one of the Association’s new darlings– mainly due to Trae Young’s incredible rookie campaign, but also due in part to their youth, talent and versatility. Consider for a moment that five of the Hawks’ top six minute-getters have played three seasons or less. And Reddish is one of those young talents getting serious burn for Atlanta. Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Reddish to discuss Atlanta’s youth movement and how he views his rookie campaign.
“I see it as a positive,” Reddish said. “(I) get to play more as a result of it. The best teacher is experience.”
While ample playing time is important, so too is learning the ropes of the NBA and building chemistry with your new team.
“We’re definitely growing from this season (and all of the losses),” Reddish continued. “We just need to keep building chemistry on and off the court, continue to learn each other and hopefully that translates on the court.”
The Hawks have struggled relative to expectations so far this season, and so has Reddish. Looking at stats alone, Reddish’s rookie season is disappointing for someone thought so highly of so recently. He’s averaging only 8.1 points per game on an eFG% of only 37.8, which is being dragged down by subpar three-point shooting (26.1).
But if you look closer, you’ll see the foundation of a really good player. Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce agrees.
“His activity defensively has been great,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders following a recent game in Brooklyn. “His length defensively has been great. He got a big steal late in the game tonight and it’s kind of what you’re hoping for him – contest shots, contain in pick and roll and contain in isolation situations against guards.”
To be fair, Reddish was never going to transition smoothly into the Hawks’ offense – he isn’t terribly aggressive and is more likely to get his teammates involved while picking his spots on offense. But he’ll always impact the game with his length and instincts on the defensive end.
“Part of his path is to guard elite perimeter players,” Pierce said. “When you’re a rookie, the only way to learn is to be out there.”
And in the meantime, Reddish has put together some impressive games that demonstrate his ridiculously-high ceiling. He dropped 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting in a loss to Brooklyn on Dec. 4, and he scored in double-figures six separate times in the month of December. He’s also tallied 3 steals on five separate occasions in the season, and he posted 6 rebounds and 5 assists on Dec. 28 against Chicago in a game in which he only scored 2 points.
And to Pierce’s point, he can continue to impact the game on the defensive end of the court. His teammate Chandler Parsons recently spoke with HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky for a feature, in which Parsons gushed about Reddish’s potential.
“Cameron Reddish is a little looser (than De’Andre Hunter) and a little more swaggy when you see him play, but just the potential. The sky’s the limit for both of them and they’re so advanced,” Parsons said.
“Like when Reddish struggled the first month, he was still defending and was probably our best defender,” Parsons continued. “A lot of young guys, when their shot’s not falling, they’ll shut down. He stuck with it and he found ways to impact the game without scoring or really being effective or efficient on the offensive end.”
Reddish himself concedes that he must improve, but he sees it as a process and understands that he can’t expect to be a finished product as a rookie.
“I need to work on everything, really,” Reddish said. “(I) can never stop getting better. But I need to be more consistent – day in and day out. (To do that) I need to stay in the gym and stay on top of my body, but I’ll be good.”
Reddish’s laid-back attitude is oftentimes misread for disengaged. He’s not. He’s just not an outspoken athlete. But as a result, Reddish’s love for the game itself has been questioned, which came up in the pre-draft process. But Reddish himself is flummoxed by the false narrative.
“I have no idea (why people say that),” Reddish said at the pre-draft media day in New York in June. “I work extremely hard. This is my passion. My love. I’m not sure why anyone would question that.”
“You might not necessarily respect my personality,” Reddish continued. “(You) might want me to be more of a rah-rah, loud type of guy. But that’s just not who I am.”
And in Reddish’s defense, every NBA great wasn’t a loud, alpha male. For example, Tim Duncan is widely assumed to have been the best power forward to ever play the game. And he is about as reserved as they come.
Reddish has a long way to go before he can be compared to Duncan or other legends, but he’s made fans of some pretty impressive people, like his college coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
“I think he has the biggest growth potential (between Reddish, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson),” Krzyzewski told the media, according to a 24/7 Sports interview. “And I’m hoping that he goes to a program that will develop him that way, and doesn’t expect him to be necessarily a double-double guy right away. I think he’s got a great chance to be an outstanding player in the league.”
Barrett, Reddish’s teammate at Duke last season, also gushed about Reddish when addressing the media at the pre-draft event in New York.
“That dude is crazy. He can get hot at any minute,” Barrett said. “He’s so tall and long and athletic, and he’s really skilled. He’s just a great guy to play with.”
Ultimately, current and former teammates and coaches can’t write Reddish’s legacy for him. Only he can do that. And it will be determined by how well he develops. Either he grows as a player or he doesn’t. And how much he’s able to do so will dictate how long he sticks around the NBA, and how positively he’s remembered.
If forced to pick a side, this writer is betting that Reddish meets or exceeds expectations — and if the Hawks are patient with him, they’ll have another foundational piece around whom they can build.