After making the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, the Atlanta Hawks’ postseason streak came to an end last year when they went 24-58.
While the Hawks are in rebuilding mode, they’re being led by first-time head coach Lloyd Pierce and general manager Travis Schlenk. Atlanta has done a great job of stockpiling young talent and now they’re determined to develop their prospects and identify their franchise cornerstones. The team’s young core consists of Trae Young (20 years old), Kevin Huerter (20), John Collins (21), Omari Spellman (21), Taurean Prince (24), DeAndre Bembry (24) and Justin Anderson (24) among others.
Prince, the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, certainly seems to be part of the Hawks’ long-term plan. He posted a strong sophomore campaign in which he finished second on the team in scoring. He played all 82 games and averaged 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 steals, 1.0 steals, while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range on 5.6 attempts per game.
HoopsHype caught up with Prince to discuss his development, his star potential, his young teammates, the incoming veterans who will be mentoring him, expectations for this season and much more.
I want to start with your offseason improvement. What aspects of your game were you focused on developing this summer?
Taurean Prince: I focused on my consistency, especially with my jump shot. When I’m shooting, I want to make sure I do everything the right way every single time. I stayed locked in on my mechanics. Also, I worked on my ball-handling; I just want to be tighter with the ball because then I can get to my spots.
Now that you’ve been in the NBA for two full seasons and become a full-time starter, how much has your confidence improved? Do you feel more comfortable on the court?
TP: I’m a lot more confident. My confidence is a lot higher than it was during my rookie year. I think that my past coaches and teammates, and my coaches and teammates now, have instilled that in me. I think my confidence will only continue to increase too.
Trae Young was a big addition for this team over the offseason. What have you seen from him behind-the-scenes and how excited are you to play alongside him?
TP: It’s a blessing. He’s a special point guard. And he’s a two-way point guard, which is something that I’m definitely used to if you look back at all of the great point guards I’ve played with throughout my life. Trae brings a whole new dynamic to the team. He’s a great shooter and he can pass the ball so well. If you know basketball, you know that he’s a great passer and how valuable that is for our team. He’s a great asset to the team, and he brings so much energy and excitement.
The front office also added Vince Carter and Jeremy Lin over the summer. What’s it like having those veterans around and what have they been telling you?
TP: It’s been great. They just tell me to keep my head, continue to push forward and don’t focus on any kind of outside things. They just want me to focus on the things that I can control. They want me to continue leading the team and be the kind of guy that everyone else can look up to – on and off the court. I want to grow every day with the team that we have and just continue to get better.
I was impressed with your growth last season; you made some big strides. With that said, you still have a lot of untapped potential. If you’re able to reach your ceiling, how good do you think you can become?
TP: I think I can be up there with the All-Stars and the best of the best in the league. There’s no doubt in my mind [that I can get to that level]. I’ll keep developing over time and God will keep blessing me. But in order to get there, I have to do my part. That means focusing on my work every single day, grinding and doing whatever I can [to improve] so that I reach my full potential and hit my ceiling. I think it’ll take a minute, but I’m just focused on working hard and showing my growth each year. But when that time comes? It’ll be game over.
What are some team goals that you guys have set for the season?
TP: We have a few team goals that are important. We want to get better day in and day out. We want to play hard as hell every single night. We want to show effort and lock people down defensively. And after playing lock-down defense, we want to share the ball and make the right play on the offensive end. Each of us wants to make things easier for the person next to us.
You won 43 games and made the playoffs during your rookie season, but last year was the start of the Hawks’ rebuild and the team won just 24 games. How difficult was that and how did you stay positive while the team was losing so much?
TP: I do a pretty good job of staying even-keeled. I may be a little emotional at times, depending on how we lose. But at the end of the day, I stay pretty even-keeled. I just focus on coming to work and busting my ass and doing the things that I need to do in order to get better individually. Then, when it’s time to come together as a team and put together the game plan, I listen to my coaches and put my trust in them and what they’ve set up. Then, we just try to execute the plan to the best of our ability.
We talked about your offseason work on the court, but do you study game film during the summer too? Are there certain players you watch and try to model your game after?
TP: To be honest, I watch a lot of film of myself. Yeah, there are some guys around the league who help get your imagination going [and help you think of new moves]. But I tend to stick to my own film. I think I can be the kind of player that no one has ever seen before. Hopefully I can make that stamp by the time my days in the league are done.
We talked about Trae Young, but what have you seen from fellow first-rounder Kevin Huerter?
TP: He’s a great shooter. He’s a very even-keeled kid as well. He’s outspoken; even though he may look like he’s a little quiet, he talks a lot. He’s a hard worker and he comes to work early every day. I think he’s going to be one of the best players from this year’s draft class, along with Trae and Omari [Spellman]. They’re all going to be great for us. I’m excited to have Omari back on the floor and competing with us because he’s a warrior.
John Collins is now entering his sophomore season. What do you think of his development after spending last season with him and seeing how he looks now?
TP: John is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. John has been taking better care of his body. He’s getting bigger from working in the weight room – not that he wasn’t in there before, but he’s definitely gotten even more serious in the weight room. He’s doing all of the things he needs to do to up his game. He’s a really low-maintenance guy, and he always gets the job done.
This team has so much young talent on the roster. If you look at the depth chart, there’s young talent at every position. Are you excited about this young core and how good you guys can be in a few years?
TP: Yeah, for sure. To be honest, I’m excited about how good we can be right now. I’m excited for our next game. I just try to take things game by game. We can look to the future all we want, but who know what God really has in store for us?
We have to take this day by day, and we have take advantage of the things we can control today. We’re all together now, and we all have to do whatever we can to get better. We’re going to try to win as many games as possible this season.