Hawks forward Taurean Prince.

Hawks’ Prince on his inconsistent play: ‘There are certain things I’ve got to tune out’ 

The box-score numbers say Hawks forward Taurean Prince has been inconsistent in his second pro season. There will be a game or two or three when Prince does it all — scoring efficiently, collecting rebounds and steals, handing out assists — followed by a stretch where he provides little positive box-score stats at all. 

Here’s what Prince had to say about that before the Hawks headed to Indianapolis for their first game following the All-Star break: 

“It’s more than just basketball. Life situations happen, other things go on besides just Atlanta Hawks basketball in the world we live in. Basketball players, we are human. I don’t think that’s a reason for my numbers being down. But there are just certain things I’ve got to tune out and continue to be more consistent, and just continue my work. 

“Nothing has changed: same routine, same after-hours work, the same everything. I’ve just got to put (good) games together in succession.” 

The numbers also say Prince has slipped defensively in his second NBA season after he was very good as a rookie. They show that Prince’s production in steals, blocks and deflections have decreased dramatically and that he doesn’t have a positive influence on the team’s defensive efficiency when he’s on the court. 

Here’s what Prince had to say about the numbers: 

“Defense is more heart, more want. It’s kind of hard to get an individual defensive stat besides steals. It’s different on offense. Defensively, you can’t really look at numbers too much because it’s more of a team thing and (outside observers) don’t know the coverages. People may determine your numbers based off what they think defense may be played. But we may be having a scheme were we want to give (a certain shot) up, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of things that go into it.” 

I do know what he means. It’s difficult to isolate individual contributions to team defense in a sport where so much of what happens is interconnected. As Prince said, those of us outside the team don’t always have the information needed to make judgments. The numbers do a better job of isolating individual offensive performance, but there still can be problems with noise or lack of context. 

But Prince’s on/off defensive numbers have slipped this season, too. 

Overall, the Hawks are allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass (garbage time is excluded). In 1,995 possessions with Prince off the court, the Hawks have allowed 108.8 points per 100 possessions. With Prince on the court for 3,550 possessions, the Hawks have allowed 112 points per 100 possessions. 

The on/off court numbers also don’t tell the whole story. But isolate Prince from what probably are the Hawks’ two worst defenders, Dennis Schroder and (since-departed) Marco Belinelli, and the numbers don’t look much better. In 457 possessions with Prince on the court and Schroder and Belinelli off, the Hawks have allowed 112.4 points per 100 possessions. 

Account for the quality of Prince’s teammates and opponents, as ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus attempts to do, and the numbers still show slippage for Prince. Last season he ranked fourth in Defensive RPM among small forwards while averaging 16.6 minutes per game, but ranks 77th this season while averaging 29.9 MPG. 

There are issues with comparing differing sample sizes and, as mentioned before, context is needed. But put all the numbers together and they paint a picture of Prince’s defensive impact declining from Year 1 to Year 2. 

Prince is a full-time starter now playing more minutes at a position where the NBA is deep in good scorers. He’s being exposed to better opponents more often. 

My subjective observation is that Prince’s defensive intensity isn’t always consistent. He’s still young, though, and he showed as rookie that he has the potential to be a very good defender. I would expect him to get back to that level of play as he adjusts to what’s a very tough job assignment. 

“I’m still getting used to guarding the best players in the world,” Prince said. “There is going to be a learning curve. The good thing is I’m progressing. Iron sharpens iron. The more better players I have to guard, the better I get. It’s all about doing what you can do to slow some of the best scorers down. 

“If they were able to be stopped, I’m sure somebody would have stopped them by now. I think it’s more taming them and making other people around those type of (players) score the ball. I take individual pride of making sure my guy doesn’t score but sometimes coach wants me to do something specific as far as schemes. If (my man) scores within those guidelines, then I am OK.” 

What’s unequivocally true is that Prince has improved his 3-point shooting in his second season. He couldn’t keep up his hot pace from earlier in the season but Prince still is shooting 36.8 percent on 630 3-point attempts, compared with 32.4 percent on 285 attempts as a rookie. 

Prince’s true shooting percentage is just 53.0 because he’s not getting to the free-throw line often and, according to CTG, he ranks in the 35th percentile among NBA forwards (defined as players who split time between the three and four) at converting shots at the rim. Still, Prince’s scoring efficiency has improved in his second season as his usage rate increased. He’s also been an effective playmaker: 66th percentile among forwards in assist rate compared to usage rate, according to CTG. 

Prince’s offensive growth has been real, if less dramatic that it seemed it might be when he was off to the great start this season. 

“I’m more patient offensively,” Prince said. “I’m less indecisive. I still can get a lot better in a lot more areas on offense That’s the highlight of my success this year is that’s there’s even more room to get better. I know I can be an even better player. From a (ballhandling) standpoint, a decision-making standpoint and even continuing to improve my 3-point percentage and continue to build.”

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.