ATLANTA — It’s easy to understand why the Knicks were interested in acquiring Cam Reddish. When he entered the NBA in the 2019 draft, some talent evaluators wondered if he eventually might be the best player in that draft class.
The recruiting class that led to Duke bringing together Reddish, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson for one season was a historic haul, but it was Barrett and Reddish who were considered 1 and 1A during their high school days. Williamson surpassed them in the one season at Duke and was taken No. 1 overall in the draft. Barrett went to the Knicks with the third pick. Reddish, coming off a disappointing freshman season at Duke, fell to No. 10 and the Hawks.
At the draft combine, when he heard questions about why he had fallen from the top of the prospects a year earlier, Reddish said, "I can do it all. I feel like I’m capable of doing everything on both sides of the floor. I’m excited for the opportunity to do that."
So as he readies for a second chance after the Hawks gave up on him, it’s worth considering why the Hawks bailed and why the Knicks believe acquiring him was worth the gamble.
For the Hawks, it was a numbers game. Not the numbers that Reddish posted on the court — although those weren’t great and he wasn’t on the court enough — but rather the contract numbers. Atlanta, in the midst of a disappointing drop-off from last season, either already has signed its young core to large contracts or will need to soon. And in a crowded group, Reddish was expendable — something he already sensed, having asked the team privately for a trade before the season.
"I don’t know if I worry about it coming back to burn me, per se," Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk told reporters Friday. "I wouldn’t be surprised if Cam Reddish goes on to have a great career. It certainly wouldn’t shock me. What we came to was he probably wasn’t going to happen with us with the current mold. We tried to maximize the return we could get for him."
Schlenk said he had shopped Reddish and that this was the best he could get, a heavily protected first-round pick (packaged with Kevin Knox, who was never mentioned once in the 20-minute session with Schlenk).
So maybe it’s worth examining what the Knicks see or why they’d be the ones to send out the Charlotte Hornets’ protected first-round pick, one of the picks they’ve been stockpiling.
"He and I had many conversations of my vision of what I thought he could be," Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. "I had the opportunity to coach Paul George — same type of body, same type of game, the ability to score, be a two-way player. Those are things I always talked to him about. He has a ton of potential.
"He talked to us during the summer that he wanted to go somewhere else. It was tough on him and he was a professional. He was a pro. He didn’t do anything through the media. He came in, he tried to work. A lot of [reporters] were asking why he wasn’t in the rotation or why we weren’t doing certain things. We knew this was something, he probably wasn’t going to end the season with us. Unfortunate. He has a lot of talent. Great kid."
"He could certainly go on and have an All-Star-caliber career and I wouldn’t be shocked at all by that," Schlenk said. "But he also wouldn’t be the first player that didn’t have that All-Star-caliber career with the team that drafted him, either. Sometimes, for whatever the situation, things don’t click.
"Listen, I completely understand where New York is coming from. If I was New York and I had three first-round picks the way that they did and you look at Cam Reddish’s potential, I get that."
The pick, Charlotte’s first-rounder, is protected 1-to-18 in the 2022 NBA Draft, 1-to-16 in 2023 and 1-to-14 in 2024 and 2025 before it would convert to a pair of second-round picks. At its best, say 19 this season, could the Knicks have gotten a player with the potential of Reddish? That is really the key.
They will get at least the remainder of this season and all of next season before they will have to decide on whether Tom Thibodeau and his staff can coax the potential from the 6-8 Reddish, who is 22.
On the surface, there is another variable. Reddish wanted a better opportunity than he had in Atlanta, which had a glut of wings. Well, he arrives in New York with a sprained ankle that will hold off getting him in the mix, but he will compete with Barrett, Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes for minutes.
So will Reddish get a better chance with the Knicks than he had with the Hawks?
"I don’t think we would have got him if that wasn’t the case," Barrett said. "I think he’ll do well here. He’ll have a chance to be a great piece to the team. He’s 6-8, he’s very skilled, can shoot the ball, finish with both hands, plays great defense. You’re getting a good, talented player."
"Everyone’s path is different," Thibodeau said. " . . . Some guys get off to fast starts, some guys get off to slow starts. It will all be based off performance. He comes in and it’s a fresh start for him. We’re loaded at the wing position right now, so we’ll see."
The shooting hasn’t happened — either at Duke or with Atlanta. There have been flashes of the potential, but it has not come together. The Knicks consider it a low-risk, high-reward proposition.
Schlenk pointed out that while he tried to comply with Reddish’s request for a fresh start, his priority wasn’t a place where he would get that chance.
"I don’t know if New York is going to be the perfect spot for Cam or not," Schlenk said. "But my job is to get the best value I can for Cam Reddish . . . Everyone values draft picks. Every team might not value a player, but 29 other teams will value a real first-round draft pick."
Knock on Knox?
Schlenk never mentioned Knox once in his 20-minute session, and maybe that speaks volumes about where the value of the Knicks’ former lottery pick is now. He played only 13 games this season, mostly either in garbage time or when COVID and injuries forced the Knicks to consider desperate measures.
The departure of Knox keeps the odd history of Knicks draft picks in place, with not a single rookie getting a second contract from the team since Charlie Ward, who was drafted 26th overall in the first round in 1994. Barrett will have a chance to snap that streak, as he is eligible for an extension in the summer.
Kemba Walker did not accompany the Knicks to Atlanta and has missed eight straight games with what the team has called a sore left knee.
"It’s a one-game trip,’’ Thibodeau said. "We thought it would be better, don’t get on the plane, stay at the practice facility, get your treatment, get your workout, get a much better workout there. Because it’s a one-day thing, we just thought it made more sense that way."
Walker has had his ups and downs this season, to say the least. He was rested on Nov. 27, didn’t get on the court for even a second in the next nine games, averaged 31.3 points in the next three, tailed off in the next three and now has been idled by the knee injury.