No player better signifies how quickly Atlanta transitioned from its previous era to the current one than DeAndre’ Bembry. In just his fourth NBA season, Bembry was the longest-tenured Hawk last year, and the only holdover from the last Mike Budenholzer team (until Dewayne Dedmon returned at the trade deadline). The 25-year-old is now a seasoned veteran compared to his fledgling teammates, which showed both in his play and in the amount of trust Lloyd Pierce had in him. Bembry was Atlanta’s primary sixth man for much of the year, working as a primary wing stopper and, at times, a backup point guard for a team that simply lacked better options.
The Hawks have professed their intent to make the playoffs next season, and Bembry could wind up a victim of those expectations. Injuries to his hand, groin, and lower abdomen cut Bembry’s season short at just 43 games, but even prior to those ailments, his playing time had begun to shift toward younger players like Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter. During an auspicious start to the season, Bembry’s energy and availability kept him a central part of Pierce’s rotation. He logged over 26 minutes per game in his first 22 contests and provided Atlanta with smart, energetic play off the bench.
But as more alternatives became available, he became increasingly expendable. Bembry is a perfectly suitable option for a team with modest ambitions, but the better that team becomes, the more pronounced his flaws become, and the more he leaves his team wanting. Specifically, Bembry’s inability to shoot makes him difficult to accommodate on offense when he doesn’t have the ball. He shot just 23 percent from beyond the arc this season, and didn’t look comfortable even taking open catch-and-shoot jumpers early in the year. Bembry attempted nearly 60 percent of his shots at the rim -- an astronomical mark for a guard -- but while he’d occasionally put down a forceful dunk, he shot a modest 58 percent there.
Bembry can be dynamic with the ball in his hands. He attacks closeouts with pace and craft, breaking into open space just before catching the ball to give himself an extra step on defenders who sag off of him. He’s a shrewd ball-mover who often connects the offense with decisive passes, and his ability to collapse defenses and make good decisions yielded many easy buckets .
And yet, his assist percentage dipped last year while his turnovers increased as he worked more as a primary ball-handler. He needs to move quickly and decisively to overcome his shooting limitations, but that can lead to moving too quickly and too decisively at times. Bembry also fell prey to poor decision-making -- most notably against Indiana and Miami, when he cost the Hawks opportunities to win with ill-advised shot attempts in the lane. He’ll occasionally get caught in the air without a backup plan, or lose his balance as he attacks downhill.
Defensively, he competes hard and can cover at least three positions capably. He was among Atlanta’s most disruptive and instinctive defenders, expertly playing passing lanes and aggressively pursuing loose balls. He keeps the ball in front of him, fights over screens, and usually makes the correct rotations. On this year’s Hawks, that was a much-needed element with so few capable defenders on the roster. But as the disparity between Bembry and Atlanta’s other wings shrinks on that end of the floor, his defense won’t so easily balance out his offense.
Defensive pests with crafty but limited offensive games can succeed in the modern NBA, even as shooting becomes increasingly essential for wings and guards. But the ones that do find success have either more versatile offensive games or game-changing defensive ability. Bembry isn’t quite there on either end, and with his contract expiring this offseason, his title of longest-tenured Hawk could be in jeopardy. Atlanta will target free agents with more postseason experience and better shooting touch than Bembry offers; even if the Hawks are interested in bringing him back, it may not be in the role he wants to play. There is a place for someone like Bembry in the NBA, it’s just not clear if it’s in Atlanta anymore.