Before last week, DeAndre Bembry had started two games this season - and six in his three years - with the Hawks.
Bembry saw himself as a spark off the bench. Coach Lloyd Pierce liked him in that role and the wing had grown comfortable in it.
But injuries have plagued the Hawk’s roster throughout the season, requiring other members of the team to fill roles left empty. Bembry earned an opportunity to do so as a starter against Miami on Jan. 6.
Bembry has started the last six games for the Hawks, including Tuesday against the Thunder. The Hawks (14-30) beat the Thunder (26-17) 142-126 with a fourth-quarter push.
Bembry’s presence was felt on the court throughout the game. He went 7 for 9 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and totaled 16 points with a couple decisive dunks in the fourth quarter. Defensively, guarded Thunder all-star guard Russell Westbrook. He totaled seven defensive rebounds and two steals.
“I think it’s important to play with confidence, play with swag, and to take a challenge like a guy like Russell Westbrook and to step up to compete and be able to perform on the offensive end as well,” Pierce said. “That’s who Dre is, and that’s what he’s done.”
The starting position is a role for Bembry, one he will keep until Taurean Prince is fully healhty.
“I’m getting more of a pace right now, but I’m also trying to get my name out there,” Bembry said. “I feel like there are people out there in the NBA that don’t really know me, and I’m just trying to make myself known. Which if it’s defense or if it’s me hitting some 3’s, or me just out there talking and getting us together, that’s just the person I am. I feel like it’s definitely working.”
Throughout the six-game stretch, Bembry has seen different elements of his game work well like steals, rebounds and points. He said it varies from game to game, but his focus is on being as aggressive both on offense and defense as he can. He’s succeeded in that regard against the Thunder.
Pierce praised Bembry in recognizing his successful moments on the court.
He also sees areas of improvement for Bembry. Pierce said they are still working to grow his 3-point shot. He is taking the shots, averaging 30.8 percent for the season and 66 percent against the Thunder. It encourages Pierce that he is taking those shots, but still seems room for Bembry to grow. The number of turnovers for Bembry, and for the whole team, needs to decrease. Bembry had six turnovers against the Bucks on Jan. 13 and seven against Toronto on Jan. 8, both games he started.
“With increased minutes, with an increased role, it’s now trying to find a balance of staying out of the crowd,” Pierce said.
He had two turnovers against the Thunder.
Bembry works to improve his game daily, and credited his work during the summer of 2018 as a key growth period in his 3-point shooting game. When he looks back at his first season with the Hawks to now, he said his confidence level in his game built up. His increased confidence in his game stems from believing he has improved as an overall basketball player.
He said this season is one of his best so far, after dealing with injuries throughout his second season on the Hawks. The six-game stretch of appearing in the starting lineup has highlighted Bembry’s career with the Hawks. Yet even with his new role, he looks forward to playing with his teammates.
Vince Carter said Bembry’s attitude of continual learning allows him to pick up skills and information from the veterans. He said Bembry asks him questions and studies his game. He takes what he learns and applies it to his own game, both on and off court.
The integration of the knowledge can be seen on the court. The last six games as a starter, with his performance against the Thunder as the most recent example, exemplify that integration and illustrate his role on the Hawks.
“Him in the starting lineup is a testament to his growth from the beginning of the year, committing to wanting to get better, and obviously taking an advantage of his opportunity of playing,” Carter said.
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