This might be the most important sentence anyone could say right now about Cam Reddish.
“He loves to play basketball,’’ Rob Brown, who runs the Team Final AAU program, said last week.
“Loves it,’’ chimed in Aaron Burt, who coached Reddish for Team Final.
They noted the time Reddish flew back from Egypt in 2017 after playing for USA Basketball; how he connected on a flight from Cairo, through Germany, to Washington; got up to Philly, took a cat nap, and boarded a flight through Charlotte to Augusta, Ga., and jumping into a cryotank to reinvigorate himself.
The rest of the story?
“Dropping 47 points that night,’’ Brown noted.
Officially, it was 44, but you get the idea. It might seem funny to emphasize a commitment to a sport, since Reddish was labeled a can’t-miss future professional basketball player as soon as such labels get attached. Yet, after a sterling high school career at the Westtown School and a year at Duke, the Norristown native is one of the bigger enigmas of the 2019 NBA draft.
A monster talent, but what will Reddish add up to in the NBA?
If you’re looking at risk-reward, let’s argue that teams passing on Reddish will do it at their own risk, since they typically like to draft on upside potential. Zion Williamson, Reddish’s Duke teammate, established himself as the top player in this draft class, period. RJ Barrett might have lost the top spot to Williamson, but he isn’t expected to go past the top three after proving himself at Duke.
Reddish, on the other hand, took more of a back seat in Durham. He didn’t have the ball in his hands as much as he’d always had in the past. Scouts ask why he didn’t fight through knee issues to play in an NCAA Tournament game, since he returned for the next game. It’s all fair game for the next level.
If you’re drafting on potential, a 6-foot-8 wing player with ball skills and an improved willingness to work on defense must have the attention of every team drafting in the top 10.
“Let’s be fair. It’s great if [he turns out to be] the fifth guy,’’ said one NBA scout, referring to this year’s draft order. “You want him to be the No. 2 or 3 guy.”
Elan Vinokurov of EV Hoops scouting service talked about the possibility that Reddish “has the skill set of being an all-star. Does he have the mentality for it? I don’t know.”
Ultimately, Vinokurov said, it comes down to this: “Does he understand what it takes to be an alpha, to impose your will on the game?”
Scouts want to see Reddish not putting his head down, and instead fighting through tough times. One scout mentioned that, with Reddish’s talent, they’ll look for the right comparison. Could Reddish be another Paul George, putting it together at the top level? Can you pass on the possibility of that?
Reddish recently had minor surgery, a “cleanup” of a core-muscle issue. A representative of his Octagon agency said the surgery went well. “He’s shut down media for a bit given that, though,’’ the spokesperson said.
As the game gets analyzed to the nth degree, it also can be simplified. Brown from Team Final noted that if you polled the top dozen players in this draft class, and asked them who always gave them the toughest time, you’d hear Reddish’s name a whole lot, as much as anyone else.
Reddish is aware of the perpetual questions. I asked him two years ago what he needed to improve on. Reddish immediately said his motor and his defense.
“Especially when he’s always been this way, the motor questions — maybe it is what it is,’’ one scout said.
Just look at the whole package, though. It’s not an ordinary package.
“Cameron can make a shot with his left hand, going around his back, sitting from half-court,” Burt said that year. “Now, he has to focus and hone in. If he does that, this kid can be one of the best to ever play the game of basketball.”
By the way, that game when Reddish dropped 44 coming off the crazy itinerary -- Team Final lost. It wasn’t enough. His coaches argue that wasn’t on Reddish at all.
When he heats up from outside, it can be game-changing. His form on his jumpers seems great, but he made just 33 percent of his three-pointers for Duke. However, when the Blue Devils played at Virginia last season, Reddish hit five of seven threes — and had 17 points, 3 assists, and 0 turnovers — in an 81-71 victory. Afterward, coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “He’s just gotten stronger. He was good before, but his shots were not strong. His whole game has gotten stronger.”
Maybe that was the high point of the season, for Reddish and his team. But as scouts pick Reddish apart, that game needs to be part of any evaluation package. A team needing a secondary ball handler might prove hard-pressed to skip past a guy who, upside aside, has a visible side bringing value. Cleveland, picking fifth, and Atlanta, choosing eighth, seem like fits in the June 20 draft. He doesn’t have to be one of the best to ever play the game of basketball to bring value.