Taurean Prince is adjusting to the life of a rookie in the NBA.
The Hawks’ wing player has been in and out of the rotation. There have been games when he’s been quickly pulled for miscues. He’s been yelled at. There was a four-game stint in the NBA Development League.
It’s all been part of the learning process.
“It’s been difficult, but that’s life,” Prince said. “You take it for what it is. Continue to work hard behind the camera and just let everything work its way out. You never know what will happen in the future. You have to take everything day-by-day and take advantage of your opportunities.”
Prince, the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has played in six consecutive games, one shy of his longest stretch of his young career. Over the past six games, Prince has averaged 22.5 minutes. That included a career-high 30 minutes in Monday’s win over the Celtics. In the seven consecutive games in November, he averaged just 16.3 minutes.
As with any player in the Hawks’ system, it’s defense that gets you minutes and keeps you on the court. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Prince brings an athletic and physical frame as a wing defender that the Hawks need.
“Hopefully, Taurean is better understanding that the way he’s going to get minutes on the court is with his defense first, defense and rebounding,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Helping us there. I just feel like he’s had a really good presence defensively. He’s helped us there. He has a physicalness that is helping us.”
The Hawks tend to use a four-man wing rotation with Mike Dunleavy, fellow rookie DeAndre Bembry and Prince vying for the spot with Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. Dunleavy is a veteran with a consistent outside shot. Recently Budenholzer said he added Prince to the mix for his defensive ability.
“I’m feeling really confident, but that’s due to the coaching staff and my teammates really believing in me and me just flying around trying to be the best active player, the best defensive player, on the floor,” Prince said. “… I feel like I’m a great defender or I can be a great defender. I’m only going to get better.”
Players often say that eventually the professional game slows for young players. They learn the fine line between playing fast and playing fast but in control. Repetition allows for quicker decision-making and realization of when and where to be on the court. Prince said that has been the case for him.
Prince said he has also been under the wing of players such as Dwight Howard on defense and Bazemore on offense in fully learning the systems.
“I’m always making sure I talk to him and do whatever I can to help him out,” Howard said. “He’s a young guy learning the ropes. Usually when you come in as a rookie, the game goes so fast. You really try to slow it down in your head, but it’s tough. On TV it looks like everybody is out there moving at their own pace. But it’s a fast-paced game, and you have to really think on the go. Sometimes it’s tough.”
In last week’s game at the Magic, Prince set career-highs with four field goals and 11 points. The following game at the Celtics he set career-highs with 30 minutes, nine field-goal attempts, five offensive rebounds, seven defensive rebounds, 12 total rebounds and three assists.
Prince has appeared in 37 of the Hawks’ 60 games. Since a stint in the D-League ended in early January, Prince has played 17 of the past 24 games. For the season, he has averages of 3.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 12 minutes.
“I don’t put a ceiling on myself,” Prince said. “… I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team and continue to be on the floor.”