For regular readers of this weekly piece, you’ve probably noticed recent references to “prototypical small forward” and Portland Trail Blazers deadline addition Cam Reddish.
I’ll admit, this opinion was based purely on the “eye test” through his first games as a Blazer and the few times I saw him take the floor for the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.
So I decided to dig a little deeper, looking closer at the numbers and the rocky NBA journey he's walked the first three-and-a-bit years of his career.
Selected 10th by the Hawks in 2019, Reddish was one of those rare mid-lottery picks who had played third banana in college, behind Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.
Coming out of Duke, consistency and rebounding were some of the bigger question marks hanging over him. But there was clearly enough there, via his potential, instincts, impressive measurements and shot — current Blazers Assistant GM Mike Schmitz was initially on board.
Once in the NBA, it didn’t take long for Reddish to contribute, playing consistently for the Georgia franchise. In 118 games (62 starts), he averaged 11.1 points on 33 percent three point shooting, 3.4 boards, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 26 minutes.
Clearly, the Knicks agreed, given they gave up a first rounder and Reddish’s future teammate Kevin Knox II — another former lottery pick — for his services in January 2022. One would assume that giving up a serious asset to reunite Reddish and Barrett meant he was going to be a key part of the Manhattan franchise’s plans.
Not so much. In just over one calendar year, Reddish was gone — I’m not sure what happened there but clearly he and coach Tom Thibodeau weren’t on the same page.
Unfortunately for New York, they were again giving up a first, this time to move off Reddish’s contract while obtaining a more reliable forward in Josh Hart.
But whatever has happened thus far, Reddish is still only 23 years old, the same as Anfernee Simons, and he's shown glimpses of the promise that once had him drafted in the top 10.
So what makes Reddish the theoretical modern prototypical small forward?
Perhaps my initial excitement over Reddish’s arrival played into the Blazers’ own recent history. The franchise has not had a player perfectly suited to the position since Nicolas Batum was sent to the Charlotte Hornets for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh in June, 2015.
Not one wing has been able to expertly fill the void since. Maurice Harkless, Kent Bazemore, Gary Trent Jr. and Norman Powell were entrusted to play the starting big wing position. Some have performed better than others but all have had clear flaws when it came to lining up as a modern-day three.
Reddish is 6’8 carrying a decent frame — Basketball Reference might say he’s 217lbs but I wouldn’t be surprised if that number had grown since last weighing.
Through 12 games as a Blazer, we’ve seen glimpses of his ability on both sides of the ball — he’s a decent defender, can handle the ball, can move without it, can shoot, and has the ability to get downhill.
Reddish has the athleticism that puts him in favorable positions on either side of the ball, particularly in dribble-drive opportunities. He can pull up, shoot off the dribble and on the catch and shoot, and also looks comfortable finishing in transition.
That large frame enables him to bully his way to the rim. With a tight-ish handle, he is able to protect the ball most of the time. He’s also been helped by spacing, exemplified by his near 40 percent three point shooting through his Portland tenure. As far as the midrange goes, Reddish plays to his strengths, taking almost all of his shots within 14 feet of the basket.
On the defensive end, Reddish is agile, using a his 7’1 wingspan and decent lateral movement to match it with bigger more dominant wings. I’m by no means calling him a stopper, but Reddish is definitely not a liability on that end of the floor.
He’s not a perfect player though. I do have concerns about his rebounding and block rate and there’s still work to be done finishing at the rim, which we discuss further down. Reddish’s offense is pretty predictable, making him a relatively easy scout.
His propensity for turnovers is also a concern but might be able to be addressed with more playing time and development.
This season is a tricky one to gauge, given the two months he spent out of the Knicks rotation. However, taking a cursory look, Reddish is still registering 10.3 points on 35 percent three point shooting, 2.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1 steal. All numbers that have increased slightly since arriving in Portland. In 12 games with the Blazers he sits at 13.8 points on 39 percent three points shooting, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals.
Reddish’s assist numbers also look pretty impressive given he still isn’t 100 percent acquainted with the playbook.
Many of the below numbers refer to this season, and more specifically his time in Portland, but what I found interesting was that his career numbers weren't too dissimilar.
His points per possession is the highest it's been at 122.6, considered the 86th percentile or 16th best of all wings.
As mentioned, his success in the midrange hasn’t gone unnoticed with his 55 percent percentage, considered the 97th percentile, fourth in the league behind Eric Gordon and lower usage Utah Jazz wings Kris Dunn and Ochai Agbaji.
His near 40 percent three point shooting is considered the 73rd percentile or 32nd among all wings. He’s thrived in shots above the break, hitting 40 percent, considered 83 percent or 29th among wings.
His effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the extra point scored from three) is a career best 57.1 percent, considered the 78th percentile or 24th among wings. His free throw percentage is also a fine 88.5 percent.
Reddish’s assist percentage is the highest it’s ever been with 15.1 percent of made shots assisted by Reddish, good enough for the 78th percentile or 24th among wings.
This is coincidentally one spot behind Hart, whom the Blazers gave up to receive Reddish, Mattise Thybulle, Ryan Arcidiacono and a protected first round pick.
To prove his usefulness on the defensive side of the ball, Reddish has registered 2.0 percent of steals per play, considered the 89th percentile or 12th among wings. Interestingly, he’s placed just behind defensive savant OG Anunoby who appeared to be on every NBA team’s trade deadline wishlist.
Unfortunately, Reddish’s percentage at the rim isn’t great at 53 percent, considered the 18th percentile or 85th among wings.
I said tight-ish handle above. He has moments where he opens himself up to turnovers. During his Portland tenure, that has happened 13.2 percent of the time, good enough for the 33rd percentile in protecting the ball or 70th among wings.
His rebound rate has been a concern. Throughout his career, Reddish pulled down a grand total of 97 offensive rebounds, good for 0.6 per game. With the Blazers he sits in 50th percentile for wings. His defensive rebounds are more concerning, grabbing just 9.0 percent of boards in Portland, considered the 29th percentile or 74th best across all wings.
Finally, his block rate could be higher. He’s rejected 0.4 percent of opposing shots representing Portland, the 43rd percentile, or 60th, among wings.
Right now, on a team trying to contend — not just the Portland Trail Blazers — Reddish would be a decent small forward option off the bench.
But given his obvious natural ability, Reddish has the potential to be a high-contributing starter if he can put everything together consistently. If he goes missing for quarters and games at a time, he might find himself continuing his tour around the league, relying on potential until the NBA puts a line through his name.
If everything clicks, he’ll be a fourth or fifth option on offense, while able to stay with some of the best players in the league on the other side of the ball.
I’m reluctant to make player comparisons, but my instinct here is a Harrison Barnes-type player, with shades of Batum himself.
Barnes fits on almost every NBA team because he can score at all three levels, defend and isn’t awful generating offense.
Batum could become a comp if Reddish’s ballhandling ability becomes a mainstay. I can also see Tobias Harris if he’s able to make the most of his physicality. Heck, there may even be shades of Gordon Hayward in there, but he’s not particularly close at the moment.
This whole discussion could be moot if the Blazers make a play for a difference-making upgrade at the three this summer. But I don’t begrudge General Manager Joe Cronin for trying out Reddish. He has innate abilities that touch on the breadth of basketball skills required to succeed in the modern game.
I’ve previously written that this starting unit doesn’t necessarily need another ballhandler with Lillard and Simons taking the lion’s share of those responsibilities. It probably explains why Reddish had returned to the bench to help facilitate with the second unit.
However, his size and ability to move into scoring positions, with and without the ball, are traits that this team hasn’t had at this position for a while.
Reddish has shown enough to give me pause. At 23, he still has a lot of growing to do. If the Blazers can give him the space to fine tune his skills and grow some confidence, who knows?
As we say every week, Damian Lillard hasn’t got time for players to find themselves on the court. But given that Reddish is a pending restricted free agent and unlikely to attract ridiculous offers — I could be wrong — it’s worth keeping him around.
Why? Because despite his inconsistency and obvious flaws, he’s able to contribute on the floor now without being a hindrance on the cap sheet and still has room to improve.
Reddish needs to prove he can play night-in, night out, he needs to be relied upon to generate offense for him and others, shoot from long range while being a reliable defender on some of the league’s better offensive wings.
If he puts it all together, there's no reason he can't be a starting small forward on a good-to-great NBA team.