2018-2019 Off the Glass Breakout Players Series: Taurean Prince
The Atlanta Hawks were the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year, and it looks like this year will be more of the same. Atlanta is in rebuilding mode and will be led by new coach Lloyd Pierce. While they may be bad this year, there is some exciting young talent on the roster.
Of course, there is rookie Trae Young and last year’s first round pick John Collins, who should both be good — but I’ve got my eye on someone else.
Taurean Prince, the third-year small forward, is poised to break out. He may be the best player on the Hawks next season, and barely anyone knows about him. His rookie year he ended up starting for a playoff team, and last year, he took a big jump.
Last season, Prince averaged 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and a steal per game on 42 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from three, and 84 percent from the line — all significant improvements from his rookie year.
His advanced stats were better as well as his True Shooting Percentage jumped from 51 to 55, his PER jumped from 9.88 to 12.9, and his Assist Percentage improved as his Turnover Percentage dropped. A significant jump across the board.
Now, Prince is entering his third year, which is the year most players break out. He is a lock to start at small forward and should lead the team in minutes. So what can we expect from Prince this year after a solid sophomore campaign?
Last year Prince's biggest jump on offense was his three-point shooting. Shooting 38 percent on 5.7 attempts per game is pretty damn impressive. Prince ranked in the 68th percentile amongst all wings in three-point shooting.
He got his three-point shots mainly from spot-up opportunities and coming off screens. Prince ranked in the 49th percentile in spot ups and 60th percentile coming off screens.
He was better off screens because he wasn't as predictable. Defenders know he doesn't have much of an in-between game and can struggle getting to the rim, so Prince has to work sometimes to get his shots. Prince isn't just a catch and shoot guy though — he can also hit contested threes on or off the dribble.
Prince brings the ball up in semi-transition. Smartly, Prince waits until Mike Muscala gets up the court to give his defender a little brush screen. Then, Prince stops on a dime, pulls up and drills a three from the top left of the key. This is going fast while not being in a hurry defined and shows the skills Prince has.
His other strong suit on offense is his passing. 2.6 assists may not be much, but considering his usage and how little he has the ball in his hands, it’s a solid number. His assist percentage ranks in the 84th percentile amongst wings. Prince sees the game well and knows how to make the right reads.
Defensively there is a lot to work on, but Prince does some good things. Prince gets blocks and steals at an above average rate and has a low foul rate. Doing both is hard. He is also an above average defensive rebounder for his position
The one thing you can't teach on defense is effort, and Prince certainly has that. In this play, Goran Dragic is pushing it in transition even though there are three Hawks ahead of him. Prince doesn't assume his teammate will stop Dragic, runs back and swats away Dragic's floater.
He is at his best defending spot-up action and defending off ball screens. He can use his length and athleticism to close out and contest shots. Still, despite the reputation as a three-and-D player, he is probably more ahead of the curve on offense. It is important to keep in mind he has to defend the opposing teams best wing player most nights, which is no easy feat for a young player.
Where he can improve
Offensively, his biggest weaknesses are finishing at the rim and scoring out of the pick and roll. The matter of finishing around the rim comes down to strength; he still needs to get a lot stronger. Scoring out of the pick and roll will come with more reps and better teammates. Prince ranked in the 28th percentile finishing at the rim and 18th percentile in the pick and roll. He struggles to get separation, navigating screens in traffic and shot selection.
In college, Prince didn't have the ball in his hands much, so his handle is still a work in progress. I don't think this will ever be his strong suit, but it will get better.
With Collins’ development and having another roll man in Dewayne Dedmon, he should have a solid big man to dance with at all times. Young should also give him more space to operate.
Ideally, he can grow into a secondary pick and roll ball handler. To do that he must improve getting to the rim and finishing first. He is already a good foul shooter, so if he finishes more he will draw more fouls, and his efficiency will go up.
The one other significant weakness he must address on offense is turnovers. Prince had one of the highest turnover rates in the league last year, ranking in the fourth percentile.
This comes from his lack of a handle and forcing too many things as a scorer and a driver. Youth and poor teammates are factors as well, but Prince sometimes needs to chill. Next year, I would keep Prince as a secondary option more and then slowly increase his load as a ball handler.
Defensively, he struggles with the pick and roll as well. His lack of strength hurts him here as too often he dies on screens. He can also gamble on steals too many times. Even if he survives the initial screen, he is a prime candidate to get re-screened, or the ball handler can overpower him. Besides adding muscle, Prince must learn to better position himself.
This is a lot to work on, and there will be growing pains again next season, but the physical tools are there. Going into his third year, he should be stronger than ever, and in the best shape of his life. With more experience and better teammates, he should be able to lower his turnovers, get better at finishing at the rim and improve in the pick and roll on both ends.
Then, of course, he can build on his strengths. Being a deadly shooter from three, an above average passer, a good rebounder, and free throw shooter. A defender with good physical tools who can guard multiple positions and get blocks and steals at a high rate.
If Prince puts it together, he can average 17 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block per game. He is capable of shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, while being an above average defender.
There is work to do, but Prince is poised to break out, and he may be the best player on the Hawks next season. Even if that means being the best player on a team that is likely to win 25 games.