Cam Reddish once again finds himself on the outside of the rotation looking in. Can head coach Tom Thibodeau salvage the situation?
As my stomach began to cramp from laughter from reading the news of the Los Angeles Lakers trading Talen Horton-Tucker to the Utah Jazz for Patrick Beverley, I paused. Not because I was wrong to laugh. Over the past few years, the Lakers had utilized every back channel at their disposal to pitch Horton-Tucker as a future superstar with the same ferocity that Stratton Oakmont pitched Steve Madden IPO stock.
It was because the New York Knicks have a Talen Horton-Tucker of their own: Cam Reddish. Similar to Horton-Tucker, Reddish’s value as a trade chip is purely derived from the allure of everyone’s favorite word: potential.
Unlike the Lakers, however, the Knicks have not looked to pump up Reddish’s value. That task has fallen at the feet of NBA Twitter and scouts who still remember the potential Reddish possessed coming out of high school. The Anthony Edwards co-sign is the most notable, however, Edwards is far from the only player to speak highly of Reddish’s skills.
Do not count Tom Thibodeau among the Reddish truthers. Thibodeau was reportedly against trading for Reddish last season, citing that he was not an upgrade for the rotation. The hilarity of that statement aside, Thibodeau backed that up by playing Reddish sparingly.
Prior to missing the rest of the season with a right-shoulder AC joint injury, Reddish logged 215 minutes in 15 appearances, the majority of those minutes spare. The limited look left Reddish’s potential in the same mystery box it has resided in since he arrived at Duke’s campus.
The mystery box always carries the most allure, though. The most concise way to describe Reddish on how one scout put it for The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie: “Reddish is the classic highlight-style player whom scouts tend to overvalue based on positive moments.”
That assessment helps describe why Reddish has remained relevant as a trade piece. Most recently, the Lakers were said to have interest and there still figure to be teams that would be open to taking a flier on a young player who has not scratched the surface of his capabilities.
Those capabilities will have to show out in a big way from the start of training camp. Barring a strong preseason, Reddish is said to be on the outside looking in of the rotation. It is why the rumor of Reddish wanting a change of scenery felt so plausible until Reddish himself shut it down.
The selling point for Reddish is the foundation he has. His shot is pure, his drives fluid. He is active on defense, with the prowess to be a disruptor. The problem is all of those things have not come together, or had the time to might be a fairer phrasing. In addition to coaching decisions, Reddish has not been healthy. Injuries cut his inaugural season in New York short, and it is not a one-off.
For his career, Reddish has yet to play 60 games in a single season.
In the minutes he did see, Reddish has shined on offense. More times than not, it was his defense that caught your eye. Reddish has yet to consistently show off the scoring potential that caught the attention of scouts coming out of high school. Instead, it has been his ability to disrupt and apply pressure on defense.
Yooo Cam Reddish is a menace‼️ pic.twitter.com/XbPZFGo31c
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 8, 2022
The irony that Thibodeau would not tap into what he could have in Reddish should not get lost. A defensive enthusiast would at least want to see the potential of a lineup featuring Reddish at the four alongside RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes – add in Deuce McBride or Immanuel Quickley at the point if you really wish to get nuts.
Playing with Barrett happened to be the best moments Reddish had last season.
You have to play Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett together more pic.twitter.com/lgIv8m9sk9
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 27, 2022
The chemistry was still there. In their lone season at Duke, Barrett and Reddish had to rely on each other once Zion went down for a stretch of games late in the season. At that time, it was Reddish who was the defensive ace, while Barrett did a little bit of everything.
Chances are we may never get a proper encore of Reddish and Barrett. Evan Fournier and Grimes figure to be prioritized over Reddish. The best-case scenario at the outset of the season is finding a role backing up the guy he plays best with.
The area where he could provide the most value however could be as a small ball four. Reddish is an intriguing option for the same reasons Thibodeau would play Barrett there for spurts. He is a mismatch on offense and can hold his own in the paint. His 6-foot-8 frame is better suited than Barrett, and when his jumper is falling, he could become a hellish matchup for opposing power forwards.
The problem is, where are those minutes going to come from?
Julius Randle will continue to play near 40 minutes a night. Obi Toppin could not crack 20 minutes consistently but should be in line for that range this season. Then there are those spot Barrett minutes.
And that has been the story for Reddish in New York so far. Cam Reddish has all the talent to be the high-level player people dream of. It’s just not certain that any of his potential will be realized in New York.
For now, Reddish’s greatest contribution is as a quasi-trade chip as the next team wonders what’s inside the mystery box.