Hawks rookie Tyler Dorsey has played just 223 minutes, not nearly enough to determine if he’s an NBA player. But Dorsey is on the come. As a result, more than half of those minutes have come this month and, increasingly, they are meaningful instead of during garbage time.
Dorsey had probably his best game of the season in the 105-100 victory over the Timberwolves Monday night. Dorsey played nine minutes in the fourth quarter and scored eight points on four shots, including one 3-pointer that gave the Hawks their first second-half lead and another transition 3-pointer that put them ahead 94-92 and ignited Philips Arena.
It was the fourth time in the past 10 games that Dorsey made a positive impact while playing important minutes late in a competitive game (Dorsey played in the fourth quarter at Denver but quickly went to the bench after some defensive lapses). Over the first 40 games Dorsey spent more with G-League Erie (where he played well) than with the Hawks (where he hadn’t).
Dorsey has cracked the rotation in January, something that isn’t easy for a second-round pick on a team with three capable veteran wings (four if you count Malcolm Delaney).
“I’m liking his competitiveness,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s in there scrapping for some loose balls and trying to compete on the defensive end. He’s just getting more confident, more aggressive, more comfortable offensively: coming off a screen, attacking the basket, getting a layup and a couple rise-up 3's.
“He’s taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s got a knack offensively and we’ve just got to keep working with him defensively to get him to understand things and understand the toughness and the competitiveness that it takes on that end. He’s just getting better and better.”
Dorsey hasn’t provided much impact with steals and blocks. Among NBA wings he ranks in the 29th percentile in block percentage and in the 6th percentile in steals percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass (the site filters out garbage time and so has Dorsey with 154 minutes played).
The Hawks have allowed 4.5 points per 100 possessions fewer with Dorsey on the court for 154 meaningful minutes, according to CTG (though I’d say some of that is a function of playing only 45 overall minutes alongside Dennis Schroder and 111 with Malcolm Delaney). Surprisingly, Dorsey also has been a good rebounder for his position (89th percentile defensive, 58th percentile offensive) after he was below-average at Oregon.
Dorsey’s NBA-ready skill is shooting but early in the season he, like many fringe rookies, seemed rushed and out of control offensively when he did get playing time. With more consistent minutes has come better shooting: 51.1 effective field-goal percentage over his last 10 games, including 12-for-26 on 3-pointers. Dorsey has been especially good catching and shooting coming off screens, according to Synergy Sports tracking data.
Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has said he believes Dorsey can develop into a secondary ball-handler after he wasn't one in college. The jury is still out on that. Dorsey’s hardly ever turns it over (95th percentile in CTG turnover rate) but hasn’t created many assists (8th percentile) and has been inefficient in the small number of possessions he's used as the pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Those are things to monitor for Dorsey in the long term. Lately he’s shown that he can have some value as a scorer off the bench who can hold his own defensively. That’s a positive development for the Hawks after his early-season struggles suggested he wouldn't play meaningful minutes as a rookie.
"I’m always going to stay confident in myself,” Dorsey said. “At the beginning of the season, I was begging and waiting for this opportunity to come. So it's here now, and I'm just going to stay confident and let all of the hard work (pay off) and help the team win in any way and make winning plays."
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