Hawks’ Cam Reddish could be ‘one of the best defensive players in the league’

Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk (left), Hawks 2019 draft pick Cam Reddish (middle) and Atlanta Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce (right) prepare to answer questions at Cam Reddish's introductory press conference at the Hawks practice facility, in the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, in Brookhaven, Georgia on Monday June 24, 2019. Reddish was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 NBA Draft on  June 20, 2019, and was the 10th overall pick. Reddish previously played small forward/shooting guard for the Duke University Blue Devils. Christina Matacotta/CHRISTINA.MATACOTTA@AJC.COM

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk (left), Hawks 2019 draft pick Cam Reddish (middle) and Atlanta Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce (right) prepare to answer questions at Cam Reddish's introductory press conference at the Hawks practice facility, in the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, in Brookhaven, Georgia on Monday June 24, 2019. Reddish was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019, and was the 10th overall pick. Reddish previously played small forward/shooting guard for the Duke University Blue Devils. Christina Matacotta/CHRISTINA.MATACOTTA@AJC.COM

Defense never was the issue for Cam Reddish.

In his rookie season with the Hawks, Reddish adapted quickly in that area, which is usually a slower process for first-year players. General manager Travis Schlenk remembers just how quickly, recalling Reddish forcing Reggie Jackson into two air balls within the first few minutes of the Hawks’ season-opening win in Detroit.

With his athletic ability and length (6-foot-8 with a 7-1 wingspan), defense became Reddish’s bread and butter, particularly early in season before his offense started to catch up. The 20-year-old Reddish is a member of the Hawks’ young “Core Five” (along with Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and John Collins) that the franchise is rebuilding around, and Schlenk sees his defensive capabilities as a key factor for the team in seasons to come.

“What he allows us to do defensively, just with his length and athleticism and anticipation is going to be really important to us in the future,” Schlenk said. “He’s got a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the league. … His defensive versatility, being able to guard quicker point guards and kind of cover Trae (Young) on that end is going to be extremely important to us moving forward.”

For the first few months of the season, Reddish’s poor shooting seemed to overshadow everything else, as he shot 20.9% from the field in October, 32% in November and 35.9% in December, and he shot 5.6% from 3-point range in October, 27.9% in November and 31% in December.

“Everyone saw his growth from the beginning of the year to how he was playing (toward the end), and really, I don’t think he was playing poorly, but the perception was he was playing poorly because he wasn’t making shots,” Schlenk said.

His offense eventually picked up with a strong January, shooting 40.3% from 3 and averaging 11.9 points per game, then he averaged 15.9 points over the last 12 games before play was suspended.

He had several standout defensive plays throughout the season, including a clutch steal and go-ahead slam in a win vs. Miami on Feb. 20, an aggressive move that encapsulated what the Hawks have been missing, coach Lloyd Pierce said afterward.

“We think he’s got a really bright future,” Schlenk said.