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Who is the real Cam Reddish? Hawks fans now get to find out

The 10th pick to Atlanta is the enigma everyone is trying to figure out in the 2019 NBA Draft.

CHICAGO — Cam Reddish thought you have him all wrong.

As he faced reporters at the NBA Draft combine, the line of questioning directed at Reddish was unusually probing. Reddish was asked to respond to questions over how much he loves basketball. He was asked if he felt he was overshadowed at Duke by playing alongside Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. He was asked if his laid back personality is a cause for concern.

“I can do it all,” Reddish said in a voice that is soft-spoken but defiant. “I feel like I’m capable of doing everything on both sides of the floor. I’m excited for the opportunity to do that.”

A year ago, Reddish was ranked ahead of Williamson by most recruiting services and was considered by some to have the highest long-term upside of anyone in Duke’s prized incoming freshmen class. After one rocky season in Durham, Reddish spent draft season fighting to save his reputation as much as his stock.

Now, he’ll continue that fight with the Atlanta Hawks after they selected them with the No. 10 in the 2019 NBA Draft.

[Do you like draft grades? We have 2019 NBA Draft grades just for you!]

Reddish looks like the prototypical NBA prospect from the moment he walks into the gym. He measured at 6’8 with a nearly 7’1 wingspan at the combine, ideal size for a wing who can defend multiple positions and still create his own offense. Add in a smooth shooting stroke, the ability to pull-up off the dribble, and point guard experience from his high school days, and Reddish offers an intoxicating package of new-age potential that feels like a seamless match for today’s NBA.

So why didn’t Reddish’s obvious talent translate into production at Duke? That’s the question Atlanta must ask themselves after a freshman year full of statistical red flags. Reddish’s effective field goal percentage of 46 percent is the lowest for any projected first rounder. He badly struggled to score inside the arc, shooting an abysmal 39 percent on two-pointers. His turnover rate was twice as high as his assist rate.

It all went in to making Reddish the NBA Draft’s biggest enigma, a player who looked the part of a top-five pick, but had little hard evidence to back it up and thus slipped to No. 10. It made him a landmine in a draft that was starved for star potential after Williamson. Pass on him for a less talented player, as the Wizards did, and look like a fool if he plays up to his ability. Take him, like the Hawks did, and look like a sucker if he never overcomes the same deficiencies that made him so inefficient in college.

Who is Cam Reddish? It’s a mystery no one has been able to crack just yet.

Duke v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Seth Berger remembers the moment he knew a young Cameron Reddish was different. It harkens back to his early high school days when the Westtown head coach saw his burgeoning talent show up at the gym by himself to get work in at 5:45 a.m. before the school day started. Berger gushes as he says Reddish was never late for a practice his entire senior year.

Westtown is the northwest Philadelphia school where Reddish blossomed into a blue chip prospect. It’s also the place where he began to hone his ball handling and passing ability after Berger made the decision to play him at point guard.

“Any basketball player’s highest level is the one where they’re making the most difficult decisions that they can,” Berger said. “Moving him on the ball early was an effort to increase the speed of the improvement of his decision making.”

It was Berger’s job to maximize Reddish’s natural tools by helping him learn to process the game more quickly. What he found was a player willing to learn, who was blessed with a naturally unselfish attitude, and who treated teammates with a kindness and equality that belied his five-star status.

Reddish burnished his reputation at USA Basketball and on Nike’s EYBL grassroots circuit. This isn’t an example of a late bloomer — Reddish has been ranked at or near the top of his class from the moment it started being evaluated. He could have played for any college in the country, but chose Duke as he started his senior year of high school, hoping to follow in a burgeoning lineage of star wing scorers like Jabari Parker, Brandon Ingram, and Jayson Tatum. He had no idea at the time Barrett and Williamson would be joining him.

Reddish had a foundation for success with his physicality and his personality. Converting that into efficiency has always been a work in progress. He finished his final season of grassroots (or AAU) basketball as one of the leading scorers on the EYBL at nearly 24 points per game, but he only shot 40 percent from field and 29.7 percent from three, per D1 Circuit. He also struggled at the Nike Hoop Summit, finishing 2-for-8 from the field for seven points, as scouts began to question his motor, focus, and shot selection.

Reddish’s one year at Duke hardly provided any answers. He scored in single digits in 13 of his 36 games. He shot only 35 percent from the field. He ranked in the 38th percentile in points-per-possession in transition and in the 36th percentile in points-per-possession in the half court, per Synergy-Sports. Often times, it felt like Reddish was pressing when he finally got his turn with the ball in an offense that monopolized by Barrett and Williamson.

Reddish’s supporters say he didn’t get the opportunity to show the full breadth of his talent at Duke playing alongside two top-three draft picks. His skeptics wonder why he couldn’t make a more meaningful impact as opposing defenses game-planned to stop his teammates first. Berger sees it a different way.

“I don’t view success by statistics,” Berger says. “I look at his season and say he did what his team needed him to do to be really successful. Whatever the coach asks him to do is what he’s going to do. That’s the type of person and player Cam is.”

Army v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

While Reddish’s lone college season was characterized by inconsistency and inefficiency, there were some some encouraging statistical markers. He posted an impressive steal rate of 2.9 percent, which historically is a strong predictor of success from college to the NBA. His free throw percentage of 77.2 percent shows he has tremendous potential as a shooter even if he ran hot-and-cold at Duke from behind the arc. He also thrived as a pick-and-roll ball handler, finishing in the 96th percentile nationally for points-per-possession. He graded out as “very good” in pull-up shooting and “good” in isolations.

“I don’t necessarily see myself as just a shooter,” Reddish says at the combine, hoping he doesn’t get pigeonholed as a catch-and-shoot wing. He wants to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.

A core muscle injury prevented Reddish from winning himself some new fans in private workouts — a video from before the injury went viral, as Reddish exploded for a dunk and sank five consecutive three-pointers. Of course, Reddish has always been a great NBA prospect on-paper. It’s molding that theoretical talent into tangible production that has eluded coaches and scouts for so long.

As a high school player, Reddish drew comparisons to Paul George and Tracy McGrady because of his frame and athletic fluidity. Even after a rough year at Duke, the narrative as he entered this draft was that he may have the highest upside of any player available after Williamson.

But instead of seeing Reddish’s combination of length and that shooting stroke as an avenue for a high ceiling, perhaps it’s what gives him a high floor. The NBA will always need long, versatile players who can shoot. That’s what Reddish should be able to provide to the Hawks as he continues to develop, even if he doesn’t turn into a Hall of Famer. What some see as a lack of “killer instinct” also makes him a great teammate with an amiable personality who has always been highly coachable.

Reddish didn’t live up to his high school hype during his one-and-done season, but he still has all the attributes for a long pro career. Instead of focusing on why he isn’t standing out, maybe it’s time to consider how he can fit in.