Cam Reddish is incredibly polarizing, but that's not on him, it's on us

Jake Chapman says Reddish is a safer prospect than most think

Jake Chapman
June 20, 2019 - 9:10 am
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Cam Reddish fascinates me. I’m intrigued by his game, the way he’s been scouted, the way he’s been covered, the subpar numbers he put up in a nearly unprecedented situation during his freshman season, the way his superstar teammates gush about him, the way ex-NBA players love him and #NBATwitter hates him, all of it. This is an article about analytics, scouting, hype, sacrifice, competition and media, because this is an article about Cam Reddish.

I shouldn’t need to give you a full re-hash of his freshman season at Duke, but here are the Cliff’s Notes: Reddish, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett were arguably the top 3 recruits in the 2018 class, depending on the outlet. Barrett was the consensus number 1, with Reddish at 2 or 3 and Williamson close behind according to most services. It’s arguably the greatest recruiting class of all time: Three talents like this have never committed to a program in the same season, so all three entered into unchartered territory, as did Duke’s coaching staff. You saw the rest. Zion went nuts. RJ played great, Cam struggled. He was inefficient and inconsistent. But he had his flashes. And he showed a knack for knocking down clutch shots in big spots, including against teams like Texas Tech, Louisville, UCF (in the NCAA Tournament,) and more famously, his game-winning three against Florida State in January. His teammates nicknamed him Killer Cam for crying out loud.

But alas, the “clutch gene” is not quantifiable. And his struggles most definitely were. He shot 35.6% from the field and 33.3% from three. He turned the ball over 2.7 times per game and averaged just 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists a night. He was atrocious at the rim, shooting just 50.6% and the eye test backed that up. Reddish did not attack the basket well and had trouble finishing through contact despite his size. And his paltry numbers weren’t just because he was the third or fourth option on his team (PG Tre Jones had the ball in his hands quite a bit, as PG’s often do.) Reddish had opportunities, he just didn’t capitalize on them. With that said, there are some positive numbers that don’t seem to get the same amount of attention as the negatives.

Reddish showed some high-level defensive potential in his freshman season. He averaged 1.6 steals per game and his 6’8 frame, 7’1 wingspan and smooth, fluid, lateral movement bode well for his future on that end of the floor. He shot it very well off dribble hand-offs (4th in the ACC in points per possession) and in ISO situations (5th.) He shot 41% on 3-pointers in transition. There are some good numbers to cherry-pick, but if you watched him all year, especially relative to the expectations he brought with him to Duke, you must admit his freshman season was disappointing.

So, in an entirely unique situation where he was the 4th option on a good team, but a team with no perimeter shooting outside of Reddish himself, he struggled mightily. Where does that leave us? How much should his performance in 36 college games matter? At what point can you brush aside numbers and just say: “He’s a good player based on what I see.” This is what’s so intriguing to me.

All season long, ex-NBA players gushed about Reddish’s potential. From unnamed Cavaliers to Alaa Abdelnaby (former Blue Devil, now Sixers broadcaster) and beyond, Reddish seems to be your favorite player’s favorite player. And yet, if you ask #NBATwitter, he’s complete garbage. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground here, and there absolutely needs to be. Between the oversized high school hype, the underwhelming freshman numbers, the shadows cast by Barrett and Williamson, the cool demeanor on the floor, missing out on an NCAA tournament game because of illness, surgery after the season to repair a core muscle and questions about his desire for the game, Reddish is easily the most polarizing player in the draft. And he probably shouldn’t be. Scouts and ex-players love him, analytical twitter types hate him. Me? I just kinda like him.

All of those factors have shaped Reddish’s perception as a boom or bust prospect, but he’s actually a very safe pick in my opinion. With a baseline as a 3-and-D guy, Reddish is absolutely worth a lottery pick, and potentially a high lottery pick. The leap of faith is whether he can live up to his high school hype, where he was a ball handler and offensive initiator. That part is going to take time. But 55% of Reddish’s shots at Duke were catch and shoot jumpers, so he should be ready to contribute off the ball and as a floor-spacer right away at the next level. His jumper is smooth and from my perspective, it looks like it’s always going in. He needs to make some light adjustments to his release, but I project him as a better long-range shooter than anyone else going in the lottery with the possible exception of Darius Garland Jr. We covered his defensive potential – of course that will take some time to sharpen at the next level too. But using 3-and-D as his baseline, which we afford guys like De’Andre Hunter, Reddish should be a contributing role player right away, and could develop into a much more effective offensive weapon.

Some of these contradictions make very little sense. Reddish gets hammered for missing two games due to illness, but nobody mentions he had core muscle surgery after the season was over. Analysts are willing to scout Darius Garland Jr. based on workouts, camps and 5 games at Vandy, but they hold Reddish to his worst moments and statistics in his 36 games at Duke. In all honesty, 36 games is an extremely small sample size. And we’ve already touched on just how unique his Duke experience was. Analysts call De’Andre Hunter an extremely safe 3-and-D prospect because he shot a higher percentage than Reddish on 3P attempts, but they fail to recognize Reddish attempted almost 3X as many attempts as Hunter last season. There seems to be a lot of confirmation bias surrounding Reddish, on either side, and the truth likely falls somewhere in the middle.

Beyond that, most of these guys are 19-year-olds. This isn’t the NFL draft where you have 3+ years of data to use in your projection. You have 36 games, and you’re projecting kids who aren’t even done growing yet. So much will change over the course of these players’ rookie contracts - the situation they’re drafted into will be vital. Coach K said earlier this week that Reddish will need to be drafted to a situation with a strong development program and low expectations early in his career. That sounds a lot like the Cavaliers.

This isn’t to say Reddish must be the pick at 5 and Hunter or Culver or Garland would be disappointments. All would be fine selections. But the way Reddish has been covered and projected has been entirely unique, much like his whole college experience. He’s a good defender with a pretty-looking jumper and an NBA body. He should be a rotation player right away with the potential to grow his offensive game as he matures. Does he have superstar potential? Maybe a bit more than the other options outside the top-3, but to label him a boom or bust prospect seems to focus more on narratives and pre-Duke hype than what the numbers and eye test actually show you. Cam Reddish is going to make a lot of people look stupid, one way or another. People either love him or hate him, but that’s not on him. It’s on us.