The start of Cam Reddish’s tenure with the Knicks was inauspicious but his unlocked talent still makes him a player worth investing in.
When Cam Reddish and the Atlanta Hawks concluded last season that it would be best if he played elsewhere, they did so because they had no room for him in their wing rotation. He appeared to be ready for more minutes, more touches, more opportunities. “Reddish, the 10th pick in the 2019 draft, was the victim of an overpopulated Hawks roster of talented young wing players,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported back in January, noting that Atlanta’s crowded group “ultimately left him without the role or pathway to a contract extension — and the Hawks made it a priority to move him ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline.”
The New York Knicks didn’t seem like a half-bad destination for Reddish, a 22-year-old slasher who had shown flashes of offensive brilliance with the Hawks. He’d scored 30-plus points twice before being traded — coincidentally, both coming in losses where he played 40-plus minutes and took more shots than he would the rest of the season. He has experience playing alongside RJ Barrett, too; they made up two-thirds of Duke’s three-headed 2018-19 monster, along with Zion Williamson, and had remarkable success despite falling short of an NCAA championship.
Barrett and Reddish were both excited about the move that brought them back together. Barrett even told reporters that he was confident Reddish wouldn’t have a problem cracking the rotation. “I don’t think we would have gotten him if that wasn’t the case,” Barrett said of how Reddish will fit into the Knicks’ core group of wings. “So, I think he’ll do well here and have a chance to be a great piece to this team. We’re excited to have him.”
Instead, the opposite became true. Reddish missed the first four games of his time in New York due to an ankle injury and what followed was an up-and-down half-season in which he played in fewer games (15) than he missed (25). His averages dropped from 11.9 points, 10.1 shot attempts, and 23.4 minutes with the Hawks to 6.1, 4.3, and 14.3, respectively, with the Knicks. It was disappointing, but perhaps it should have been foreseen given the New York Post report that Thibodeau had no plans to add Reddish to his notoriously small rotation. That report was published on January 29. Reddish was acquired on Jan. 13 and played in his first game as a Knick on Jan. 23. Not a great omen.
But omens are malleable, hardly ironclad notions that serve as portents of future events; there are no guaranteed results from them. Perhaps the preseason begins and the talk coming out of camp is all about how motivated and good Reddish looks. If you spend any time on NFL Twitter, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the chatter about New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones’ offseason — how he’s slimmed down and entered workouts looking like a player who has matured and improved drastically ahead of his sophomore season. I’m not saying you should place any wagers on Cam Reddish’s nonexistent MVP odds, but at his age and with the flashes of his potential at our disposal, what’s the harm in wondering what he might provide should he sneak into the rotation?
Considering how much time he missed after he swapped red and yellow for orange and blue, it’s difficult to look at Reddish’s play after last season’s trade deadline as any indication of what he could provide if given more time on the floor to contribute. He only saw more than 20 minutes in a game twice for the Knicks before being sidelined for the year with an AC joint injury. But in the second of those two games — a 23-point drubbing of the LA Clippers — Reddish made four of his seven shot attempts (two coming from behind the arc, where he shot 50 percent that night) and knocked down seven of his eight free throws, good for 17 points, a high for him in New York.
The problem with Reddish isn’t necessarily what he can provide, but what he rarely brings when he does have the opportunity to. He’s not well-known as a particularly aggressive defender even though he probably should be one of the league’s premier ball stoppers given his length and athleticism. He has a facade that makes you assume he may bring what, say, Herbert Jones brought to the New Orleans Pelicans as a rookie last season. Reddish is instead much more sporadic, unreliable.
Offensively, Reddish can shoot it, but again, there’s an inconsistency to that part of his game. Really, every part of his game sees great moments of application, and plenty of poor instances, too. He also shares the ball so infrequently — and turns it over semi-regularly — that his MyPlayer Teammate rating on NBA 2K would likely top out at around a B. He’s not selfish, but he doesn’t have the sense of the game and what his best move should be that you’d like him to have at this point in his career. Even after three seasons in the NBA, Reddish is as raw as he was when he was drafted.
In May, ESPN’s Seth Greenberg spoke to Marc Berman of the New York Post and fittingly referred to Reddish as “the ultimate tease.” Greenberg noted, “He seduces you with the things he does. But he doesn’t do those things on a consistent basis. He should be a really good defender but he’s not consistent. He looks like he should be a god shotmaker but doesn’t shoot with consistency. He doesn’t play through contact the way you’d like to see him play through contact. Those are the ‘ifs’ in his game.”
This team can’t afford to plug an “if” of a player into its regular rotation unless it has a real desire for his development to occur in real-time. And given what the Knicks have done this offseason (adding Jalen Brunson to their starting five via free agency) and what everyone assumes they will do in just a matter of time (acquiring noted Mets fan and New York native, Donovan Mitchell, via trade with the Utah Jazz), it’s hard to find a spot in which Cam Reddish will be able to thrive. The last we heard of any news regarding Reddish came in relation to the Knicks possibly moving him, and the Miami Heat possibly being interested in hearing offers or making one of their own.
But what if he could thrive? What if there ends up being a version of this Knicks season in which the surprise du jour is Reddish, in a similar vein to the leaps players like Jeremy Lin and Julius Randle have made in the Garden in the past? After all, we’re not talking about a 34-year-old two-guard on a pair of bad knees and in the twilight of his athletic ability.
Cam Reddish has dealt with his own injury problems, even just as recently as last season, but he also just became old enough to legally drink alcohol just a little over a year ago. Time, as long as he takes advantage of it, is on his side. The ultimate variable, when it comes down to it, is how much time the Knicks brass is willing to grant him to prove their investment was a worthwhile one.