It was just over two years ago that Taurean Prince made one of the most memorable comments in post-game press conference history. Following his Baylor Bears’ loss to Yale in the NCAA tournament, a reporter asked Prince how a seemingly weaker team like Yale could outrebound the much bigger, more athletic Baylor. Prince proceeded to provide an in-depth definition of a rebound before saying that Yale “got more of those than [Baylor] did.” In the days to come, Prince’s response to the question went viral and quickly became a national phenomenon. However, no one could have predicted then that roughly a year later, this wisecracking small forward would be starting every game of an NBA Playoff series, or that within the next two years, he would emerge as one of the brightest young stars of the NBA.
Following the Hawks’ second straight playoff sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, it was clear that a change was needed. Backup point guard Dennis Schroder had taken a lot of starter Jeff Teague’s minutes in the series, especially late in close games, and Schroder himself had publicly expressed his desire to become a starter. With this in mind, the Hawks decided to trade Teague to the Indiana Pacers in order to give Schroder a chance to spread his wings. It was this trade that ultimately brought Taurean Prince to Atlanta.
In his senior season at Baylor, Prince averaged a solid 16 points and 6 rebounds. Despite this, many Hawks fans were upset when Atlanta took him with the twelfth pick that they acquired in the Teague trade, thinking that Prince could have been still available with the Hawks later first round pick. Over time, Prince would quiet these doubters.
Early on, Prince was glued to the bench, only receiving limited minutes in blowout games. However, as the season progressed, Prince matured quickly and soon was a part of Atlanta’s normal rotation. With Kent Bazemore struggling and dealing with minor injuries, Prince eventually found himself in the starting lineup as the playoffs rolled around. While Paul Millsap was the best player on the floor for Atlanta, Prince played well, showing patience and surprising maturity for a rookie in the six-game series loss to Washington.
This year, Taurean has understandably been asked to carry a much heavier load with the team rebuilding, and he hasn’t disappointed. As the injuries have mounted for Atlanta late in the season, Prince has stepped up to the challenge, averaging 19 points and 5.5 rebounds in his last ten games to bring his season averages up to 13.5 points and 5 rebounds. While he did experience a mid-season rough patch (which was rumored to be caused by a thumb injury) he has still arguably been the second best player for Atlanta this season behind Dennis Schroder.
This season, Prince is shooting nearly 40% from three point land, forcing teams to cover him far away from the basket. This has naturally opened up opportunities for him to become a slasher, constantly cutting to the basket when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands in order to get easy layups. He has also shown an ability to be an isolation scoring threat, learning to use his lengthy 6’7″ frame to his advantage when being guarded by smaller players. Because of these newfound scoring abilities, Prince’s point totals have picked up dramatically; he scored 38 points twice in a four game stretch in March.
Despite the improved scoring, there are some areas where Prince can improve. On fast breaks, he has a tendency to drive recklessly into the paint without a plan. This often causes wild shots or turnovers. Prince also needs work on passing through tight spaces in the post to find open teammates for layups. This offseason, his main goal should be to add some muscle to make it less taxing for him to guard bigger small forwards on opposing teams. Adding size will also allow Taurean to use his large frame to generate more offense in the post.
One player that comes to mind when thinking about Taurean’s potential as an NBA player is Jimmy Butler. They are both great spot-up shooters who play hard on defense and have impressive scoring ability. If Taurean can continue to improve his decision making and add some weight during this offseason, there’s no reason why he can’t reach or even surpass the level of Jimmy Butler in the coming years.
At this point, there can be denial of the fact that the Hawks found a gem when they selected Taurean Prince in 2016, and with a great coach like Mike Budenholzer and an ownership team dedicated to maximizing the potential of every player, the future has never been brighter for Taurean.