Story by Jacob Eisenberg
For DeAndre’ Bembry, the summer of 2016 brought the highest highs and the lowest lows of his life. Shortly after declaring early for the NBA Draft out of St. Joseph’s, his younger brother, Adrian Potts, was tragically killed in North Carolina.
In mourning, a 22-year-old Bembry heard his name called by the Atlanta Hawks on draft night just two weeks later. He arrived at last year’s Summer League with a heavy heart, downplaying the immense weight on his mind.
“Mentally, last year I had a lot of things on my mind as far as my brother passing away and my cousin passing away,” Bembry acknowledged this summer. “I had a lot of stuff going on.”
All things considered, Bembry put on a strong showing at the 2016 Summer League. He averaged 10.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists and impressed scouts around the league with his prodigious passing.
But by the time the regular season started, he struggled to stand out as a rookie in Atlanta’s crowded rotation. For Bembry, a rhythm player who had always been the star of his team, receiving such sporadic playing time behind Atlanta’s bevy of veteran wings wore on him.
“Sometimes as a rookie when you’re not getting in, you might lose a little confidence,” Bembry admitted. “But I felt like that was one of the things I had to deal with last year. I’ve never had a problem as far as being confident with my game. But sometimes you think about your jump shot when you don’t play for like 10 games in a row and then you come out and you’re open, there are a lot of things going on in your mind.”
And so the rookie season was largely a forgettable one for Bembry, who played in just 38 NBA games and was shuttled to and from the now-NBA G-League.
However, following an offseason of overhaul to the Hawks’ roster, Bembry figures to play a much more prominent role and has big plans for the sophomore campaign.
“With a lot of the guys leaving the team this year, we’ll really have to pick it up offensively,” Bembry noted. “That’s one of the things we’ve been working on: getting a lot of jump shots up and making the right passes. So this summer I’ve been able to clear my head, and I feel like I’ll be alright this year.”
So far, the early returns have been encouraging. The question mark for Bembry coming out of college was whether he’d have enough touch from the perimeter to thrive at the NBA level as a shooter. While the sample size in the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League was admittedly small, Bembry shot 50 percent from deep through four games and looked much more comfortable with his touch and off-ball positioning on the floor.
“He’s spent a lot of time with our shooting coach this summer, and he’s just adding that dimension to his game,” Charles Lee, the Hawks’ Summer League head coach this year, said. “He’s been working really hard, so I’m excited.”
The hard work has seemingly paid off on both ends of the floor, as Bembry demonstrated improved defensive awareness throughout the Summer League.
“Nothing surprises me with Dre,” Lee added. “He’s got such a great feel for the game. Anything he does during the game that may seem surprising to others, I see him do it on a daily basis during workouts.”
Defensively, Bembry’s already proven himself to be versatile and useful piece in Atlanta’s perimeter rotation. Still, the now 23-year-old feels like he has a lot to improve, both mentally and physically, to develop into the lockdown defender he plans to become.
“I’m still just trying to learn the placement on the floor,” Bembry admits. “I’m still getting used to the spacing compared to how it was in college. There’s so much open floor on the NBA court, sometimes you just have to be aware of where your teammates are. The NBA is more about team defense rather than isolation defense.”
Additionally, Bembry knows that for him to maximize his defensive potential, he’ll need to put on weight to play against the NBA’s top wings. At 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he already has the size and length to play at this level. Now, he just needs to add some muscle to his frame to help him preserve his body.
“My coaches and teammates know I can hold my ground with a three,” Bembry said. “But who wouldn’t want to get stronger? I’m definitely in the weight room trying to get stronger so if I get to the league and get switched onto LeBron (James), I can hold my ground or something like that. I have a lot of heart, and that’s something you definitely need to have on the defensive side, and it’s something I pride myself on.”
Between the elite court vision, defensive versatility, and hard-working professionalism, Bembry projects to be a valuable playmaker on both ends for the Hawks going forward. But he is the first to acknowledge that his value and success in the NBA will ultimately be determined by how much he can develop as a shooter.
“I just need to make shots,” Bembry explained. “That was the biggest thing for me last year; when I got in I didn’t really make too many open three-pointers. So now I get a couple extra shots up. I’m definitely just being confident. If I get my jump shot going, I’ll be pretty hard to stop.”