Was Taurean Prince strictly a pawn in a move considered to be a ‘salary dump’ or can his addition prove to be much more than such?
When the Nets traded Allen Crabbe to the Atlanta Hawks on June 6th it was regarded as a salary cap clearing move to open two max contract slots.
In return, the only player the Nets received in the deal was Taurean Prince. The question now is: will Taurean Prince be the answer at power forward for the Nets?
Or was Prince just a throw-in of that transaction?
Whether Prince can fill the void at power forward for the Nets is one of the most difficult questions to answer. It’s fair to ask why Atlanta was willing to trade Prince if they thought he had a higher ceiling.
It’s rare for any team to trade a restricted free agent with the offensive skills and size Prince has at 6’8, 220 pounds. Moves like these are extremely polarizing. It can mean one of two things.
- The Hawks either thought Prince was a very good player but wanted to avoid negotiating with him as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020 to reserve room in their salary cap for other players, so they just moved him for picks prematurely to continue their rebuild.
- They thought Prince reached his ceiling and were willing to part ways with him for the picks they received because they had a player they were coveting at pick 17 in this year’s draft, taking back a 2020 protected pick as a bonus – and taking on Crabbe’s contract as an additional bonus salary dump for 2020’s free agent crop (Which isn’t very good).
The Hawks are in rebuild mode but they easily could have showcased Prince in the upcoming 2019 season and moved him for a sweeter deal later as many NBA teams are regularly looking to dump bad expiring contracts like Crabbe’s.
Prince is entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract and the Hawks probably could have moved him at a later date for more value than what they got from the Nets. After all, Prince, a Baylor Alum, was the 12th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, selected by the Utah Jazz.
The Hawks had all the bargaining power in this deal as Nets GM Sean Marks was desperate to move Crabbe’s $18.5 million expiring contract, yet the Hawks chose to trade Prince instead of other players. One can only speculate why.
One possibility is that the Hawks management team simply made a huge mistake in evaluating Prince’s upside but that seems unlikely as the Hawks have an impressive core with Trae Young, John Collins and other solid young players they’ve acquired and developed.
However unlikely that last scenario is, it’s what the Nets are banking on if they entrust Prince with the starting power forward job.
In 196 career games Prince has per game averages of 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2 assists, on 42.7 field goal percentage, 82 percent free throw shooting and 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
In an article by Zach Hood of Peachtree Hoops he analyzed Prince’s 2018-2019 season in great detail. He praised Prince as an excellent shooter but his biggest criticism of Prince on offense was the following:
"“Prince’s biggest weakness on offense is his ability to find his teammates when they come open, as even notorious chucker Kyle Kuzma had a higher assist percentage than the Hawks’ primary starting small forward this season.”"
In regards to Prince’s defense acumen he surmised:
"“The more alarming note is the whopping 115.8 defensive rating the team endured in those same 324 minutes when Prince was on the floor, which resulted in an overall rating of -3.8. Compare that to the significantly better 103.0 defensive rating with the other four regular starters and Kent Bazemore on the wing across 149 minutes. Prince has taken some tough assignments this season to be fair, and held his own in some cases, but the numbers indicate that the Atlanta Hawks roster was better with him off the floor on the defensive end in 2018-19. Going forward, Prince absolutely has to be more consistent on defense.”"
Prince averages 25.5 mins played per game, .9 blocks and .4 steals for his career. Considering the Nets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last year it’s hard to imagine the addition of Prince will improve the Nets as a team defensively if he doesn’t improve significantly.
Based on this in-depth player review by Hood, Prince doesn’t seem to be an ideal fit for the Nets as a starting power forward.
Not only is this not his natural position but outside of his 3-PT shooting, the fact Prince does not move the ball well is counterintuitive to what Atkinson may have in mind for the Nets offensive strategy in the 2019 season.
To compound this less than ideal fit is the fact Prince would have to take a considerable leap as a defensive force to really contribute to the Nets team defense this season.
On the bright side, Prince’s shortcoming’s can be fixed. Intense practices and player development can correct his defensive technique as effort is not Prince’s issue. He can also improve his team offense if he is taught to move the ball as situations demand through pre-season scrimmaging.
Many Nets players and fans have been clamoring for the Nets to sign Carmelo Anthony, especially in light of the power forward dilemma the Nets are facing.
While Anthony may or may not be the ideal fit at power forward for the Nets, the chances of Melo being signed took a slight probability hit recently.
As per the Athletic, the NBA has approved a disabled player exception for the Lakers’ DeMarcus Cousins, who could miss the entire season with a torn ACL suffered in August during an offseason workout.
The Lakers were granted a $1.75 million disabled player exception which they could very well use to sign Anthony as the Lakers are in dire need of team depth.
In many ways, the success of the 2019 Nets season may hinge on Prince being the X-factor. With Rodions Kurucs‘ future with the team in question and Nicolas Claxton expected to play mostly in the G-league, Prince has a heavy burden to carry if named the starting power forward.
Being in a contract year, Prince should be more motivated than ever to improve his game outside of his shooting which apparently needs no tweaking. His prowess from deep will be valuable but Prince needs to become much more well rounded to be the real answer at power forward.
In the best-case scenario Prince will make the necessary adjustments to his game and play extremely well for the Nets.
In the event this happens, the Nets will be the team making decisions regarding Prince’s future in the summer of 2020 (assuming he’s not traded by the February deadline) as Prince is a restricted free agent, likely to garner lucrative offers from other NBA teams considering the weak free-agent crop next summer.
The Nets would be able to match any offer Prince would receive on an offer sheet from another team but if Prince plays well, and the Nets elect to retain him, the team’s salary will likely be thrust upward into the luxury tax realm.
Sean Marks will cross that bridge when the time comes but it would be one of those good problems to have.