Cullen Davis is the Atlanta Hawks Sekou Smith Summer Intern for 2022. Each summer, a journalism or multi-media student from a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) school is selected to serve as the Hawks’ beat writer for NBA Summer League, and their work appears on the team’s digital team properties, providing valuable experience. Smith served as the AJC’s Hawks beat writer from 2005-09 before joining NBA Digital as a multimedia reporter and analyst. He also spent time at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS and the Indianapolis Star, where he covered the Indiana Pacers as the team’s beat writer.
The Atlanta Hawks enter the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas with a lot of excitement and a young and deep group, with some looking for their first competition as professionals. The young core of the summer Hawks is highlighted by Atlanta’s 2022 first round draft pick, A.J. Griffin from Duke, and second round draft pick Tyrese Martin from UConn. Veterans like Sharife Cooper, Chaundee Brown Jr., and Chris Clemons will also look to showcase their talents and contribute leadership and toughness.
A.J. Griffin: At first glance, one might confuse Griffin for a football star. Standing at 6’6 and 222 lbs with the shoulders of a linebacker, it’s Griffin’s perimeter shooting that impressed NBA scouts the most. With his knack for spot shooting, Griffin was a knockdown threat at Duke, hitting .493% from the field and .447% from three-point range. As a two-way player, Griffin stated he models his game around the style of Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler with the strong roots of toughness and physicality.
That toughness translates to the defensive end with his dominant stature and strong physical presence. As one of the youngest players in the NBA, Griffin credits Duke with teaching him “how to think the game and build on the mentality of enthusiasm, working hard, and competing.” Griffin emphasized those values from Duke and even his father, former NBA player Adrian Griffin, has helped along the way, and made him feel comfortable adjusting to the NBA.
Tyrese Martin: Martin is a lethal shooter as he knocked down .449% from the field and .430% from deep last season. He utilizes his 6’6 frame to be a strong-bodied swingman, adding explosion and athleticism to his game. Martin was able to average 7.5 rebounds last season for UConn and was a major hindrance to teams on the other end. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native is solid on both ends of the floor, with his ability to make plays in transition and finish coast-to-coast.
Off the court, his mentality of toughness and team basketball stand out as a culture builder for the team. When asked how he looks to incorporate that, he responded, “Bringing my toughness to the team and showing that I can lead and pull guys together.” He further added that he is “excited about how fast we can gel and connect and win the most games we can, and how fast we can put things together.” Look for him to contribute to those hustle plays and propel his team as a young leader for the Hawks.
Sharife Cooper: Sharife is considered to be the floor general and one of the veterans of the team for the upcoming Summer League. He commented that going into Summer League he is “taking on more of the leadership role. We want to pick up full-court with an emphasis on defense and picking up the pace and transition on offense.” An electric and shifty player, Cooper is slicker than oil and can finish above bigger defenders. Cooper spent much of his time last year with the Atlanta Hawks’ G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, appearing in a total of 34 games (31 starts) tallying 17.4 points, 6.4 assists and shot .436% from the field.
Cooper led the Hawks with 7.3 assists per game during the 2021 Summer League, third-most in the tournament, and all-time high for Hawks Summer League. Cooper also wears the crown for the Hawks’ team summer league record for most three-pointers made in a game with five. Cooper states that “experience is the best teacher” and will use that as an advantage of letting the game come to him.
Alpha Kaba: Since the conclusion of the ING Basketbol Super Ligi in Turkey season, there has certainly been buzz surrounding Kaba’s name for this year’s Summer League. The French native and former Hawks draft pick (60th overall in 2017) is coming off a phenomenal year where he was named the Turkish League MVP and was the Turkish League top rebounder, averaging 10.4 boards.
Kaba is a danger to anyone standing near the rim with his physicality and presence in the paint. When asked how Kaba felt about the upcoming two weeks and how his previous MVP season will help, he stated, “I’m just trying to bring what I did in Turkey and what helped me be MVP here and show why I was the MVP and play my game.”
Justin Tillman: Justin Tillman is a double-double machine, period. Tillman has a great touch around the basket and put his name on the scene last year, when averaged 23.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists for the College Park Skyhawks. He shot .600% from the field, and .417% from three-point range. Tillman was eighth in the G League in rebounds per game and in double-doubles with 17, while recording six 30-point games.
Tillman’s stat sheet continued with two games of 20+ rebounds, and 16 20-point & 10-rebound games. Tillman capped off last season by being named to the All-NBA G League First Team. Going into Summer League Tillman stated “I want to put on display my level of play against the top talent from the draft and all other prospects, and why I deserve to be in the NBA.”
Chaundee Brown Jr.: Brown is another familiar name for Hawks fans as he appeared in three games (two starts) last season, averaging 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Brown prides himself on the role of tenacious defense and spacing the floor with his outside shooting.
A natural “three-and-D” player, Brown is expected to be a key contributor to the summer Hawks. Brown stated, “I’m going to do anything to win, guard the best player and not let him score;that’s my job. Space the floor, run the floor, defend, and rebound.” During his time with the South Bay Lakers in 2021-22, Brown averaged 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists while shooting .447 from the field and .328 from three.