Hawks Player Preview: DeAndre' Bembry
There may be no better evidence of Travis Schlenk’s decisive teardown than DeAndre’ Bembry, who, with a full three years of NBA experience under his belt, is now the longest-tenured Hawk. Most of Atlanta’s roster can be placed in at least one of four categories: promising long-term prospects, castoffs from other teams, bad contracts taken on for assets, and useful veterans. Bembry fits somewhere in between: not quite a part of the team’s young core, but a good deal younger than the other veterans on the team. His game reflects that; Bembry often moves with a veteran’s patience and craft, only to follow it up with a sequence typical of someone still learning the NBA game. He’s effective in many capacities, but has no definitive place in the Hawks’ long-term plans – helpful, but not absolutely necessary.
Some nights, one can plainly see what an actualized version of Bembry should be: a pesky, versatile wing defender with secondary playmaking capabilities. He is clearly a smart player, one who sees the floor, moves at his own pace, and understands the constantly shifting geometry of the game. He has the length and footspeed to contain most perimeter scorers and tends to be in the right places on defense. But understanding the game and impacting it aren’t synonymous, and Bembry as thus far struggled with the latter. Just a 28 percent career three-point shooter, it just takes more for his game to work. Last season, his first featuring a jumpshot in earnest, he clanked 123 of 173 attempts while making a career-high 64 percent of his free throws; neither figure is encouraging. He ranked in the 21 percentile on spot-ups, and therefore his every drive, pass, and cut started at a disadvantage as defenders simply sagged off of him and invited jumpers.
Getting the most out of a player like that demands not only that he compensate with other skills, but that the players around him – intentionally or not – be tailored to his game. Bembry is not immutable in any one area, nor are these Hawks particularly well-suited to accommodate him. Atlanta wants to surround Trae Young with shooters and roll men, letting the point guard operate in space. Bembry, frankly, infringes upon that space. The challenge for Lloyd Pierce will be to keep enough collective shooting gravity on the floor that he doesn’t become an offensive liability.
That is a thin, but not impossible, line to walk; Andre Iguodala became central to the Warriors’ dynasty despite his shooting limitations – though the difference between Bembry and Iguodala is just one of many flaws in comparison between the two teams – and smart players can compensate for athletic or skill deficiencies with heady and decisive action. Bembry has counters for when opponents slouch away from him, including meeting passes in the air and moving into open space:
He lacks outstanding burst, but has more utility with the ball in his hands than many players his size and age – including a wily crossover in space that allows him to glide past unsuspecting defenders:
Bembry is at his best when finding creative ways to keep possessions moving. He isn’t a primary option, but can create in a pinch (he ranked in the 70 percentile leaguewide in isolation scoring last year) and he helps grease the offense with simple extra passes, dump-offs, and drive-and-kicks. A good portion of his minutes might come as a nominal backup point guard, and he could allow Young to work off the ball more often – something Pierce intends to make happen. Deploying Bembry as a screener (especially for Young) would force defenses to account for him without the ball.
He is a favorite of Pierce’s; Bembry averaged nearly 24 minutes and played all 82 contests last season. But Atlanta’s roster turnover this offseason could leave his role slightly less defined. Evan Turner, who Pierce says will be the backup point guard, places many of the same constraints on the offense, only offers more utility as a creator. There may only be room in the rotation for one or the other in a given game.
Making Bembry into a positive offensive player means keeping him actively involved, whereas most of Atlanta’s other role players can simply exist within the offense. Defense will be his easiest path to playing time, especially on a roster thin on plus defenders. This is a crucial year for the 25-year-old, and Atlanta will have to decide how he fits and whether he’s worth keeping around.