Prince On Playoffs: "I'm Glad I Got To Experience That"

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Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

For a team eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, the end of a season can come quickly and without warning as it did for the Hawks in the final week of April.

As of Wednesday afternoon of that week, the Hawks were on a roll, having won consecutive games by double digits to tie their series with Washington. By Friday night, their season was over. 

On that final Saturday, the day when the players talked to the media one last time and cleared out their lockers, there was an odd sight on the asphalt of the near-empty media parking lot. Sitting there, beneath steel girders and a chain-link fence and a jungle of concrete, was an empty egg shell that had fallen from one of the beams above. It sat just 20 yards from a corner of Philips Arena. 

A bird had taken flight in Atlanta that week. If you believe in fortuitous metaphors, that bird may have stood for Taurean Prince.

The Hawks drafted the 6-foot-8 forward with the 12th overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft in June. In the first 55 games of the season, Prince only played 31 times, never playing more than 20 minutes or scoring more than 10 points. By mid-February, however, the Hawks had seen enough to take the plunge, committing a spot in the rotation to him. They put Prince out on the court to see if he could fly.

He flew.

On a list of reasons to be optimistic about the long-term future of the Hawks, Prince sits near the top. When the playoffs rolled around, Prince was soaring on a full-time basis. He started all six playoff games at small forward, averaging 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. 

"The playoffs were great," Prince said. "I'm glad I got to experience that."

Prince flashed potential in just about every facet of basketball in his rookie season. He made threes, hitting 32.4 percent from long-distance (and 34.8 percent after getting slotted into the playing rotation in mid-February).  When teams began to close out on his threes, he countered with a viciously-quick attack off the dribble to the basket, where he could finish with either hand. As a pick-and-roll ballhandler, he made far more plays than any rookie forward should.

"It just goes to show you what patience can bring, just trusting the process, not getting too low or too high," Prince said of his late-blooming season. "Just believe in your abilities as a player."

On the other end of the floor, Prince proficiently guarded wing players of all sizes and abilities, and when the Hawks opted to go small by sliding him over to the power forward spot (the position he played at Baylor University), he protected the rim as well as any player on the roster. 

Prince said that he will be honing his game in Atlanta for most of the summer.

"I'll definitely be in the gym a lot working out with (assistant coaches) Charles (Lee) and Ben (Sullivan)," he said. "I want to be an even better shooter. I want to be more consistent in that area. I want to work on my handle and get a little bit better, just to create, either for myself or for other people. I just plan to take my talents to a whole new level." 

Just a day after after his budding rookie season had ended, Prince turned his attention to 2017-18.

"I'm already thinking about Year 2," he said.