Hawks’ Bembry opening eyes of coaches, teammates with versatility

The first-round draft pick touted his versatility after the Hawks selected the 6-foot-6 forward with the 21st overall selection. Despite his size and position, don’t sleep on the rookie’s ability to play guard.

Bembry said at the Las Vegas Summer League that he could play point guard as well as shooting guard and small forward. He got a chance to open the eyes of coaches and teammates in recent months to suggest that one day he may be such an option.

“I have been playing (point guard) a lot this summer, throughout summer league first and then pickup games,” Bembry said during the first days of Hawks training camp at the University of Georgia. “After a while, they started to realize that I can play with the ball in my hands. That’s where I wanted to get, gain that trust throughout my teammates. Not just, ‘Who is this rookie out here with the ball? Gimme the ball.’ Now, it’s, ‘Alright, he got it. Let’s go.’

“I’m not surprised. That’s what I know I can do. But you have to have that over-time progression that they see it for themselves.”

The opinion of Mike Budenholzer is what really matters and the coach says he can see the potential.

“He’s got a vision, a willingness to pass and a willingness to play unselfishly. As he continues to improve his handle, he’ll be better,” Budenholzer said. “I think he’s a high I.Q. player, a guy who could be a second-side playmaker.”

There are those words again: high basketball I.Q. The characterization has often been used to describe Bembry. The Hawks used it when they selected him after three seasons at St. Joseph’s and continue to use it during training camp.

Asked what the identifier means to him, Bembry said, “On-court awareness. Being able to see things before other people can. Seeing plays develop before other people. I love it. You stand out more than other people.”

Bembry, 22, played 101 games at St. Joseph’s and averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 36.1 minutes. Last season, he was named the Atlantic 10 player of the year.

Standing out will be hard on a Hawks roster loaded with wing players. A lengthy list of experienced players already exists at the position, including Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. The Hawks also added fellow first-round pick Taurean Prince to the mix.

The competition for spots in the rotation and playing time was already underway this summer.

“I wish you guys would have been in (the gym) this summer,” Bembry said. “It’s been battles. Me and Kent Bazemore going at it. Taurean and Thabo Sefolosha going at it. All the battles have been great and competitive. That’s what Coach Bud loves. You have veterans who have been through it (with the Hawks) but you also have me, Taurean, Malcolm (Delaney) and Jarrett Jack. We can go now as well. I feel like it’s going to be hard for Coach Bud.”

Versatility will help Bembry now and in the future, even when playing time becomes hard to come by once the regular season begins.

“You can see that he did it in college,” Prince said of Bembry’s ball-handling ability. “He definitely can do it now. Like everybody, we all have to want to get better.”