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NBA PM: DeAndre’ Bembry Living His Dream

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Years ago, Atlanta Hawks rookie DeAndre’ Bembry dreamed about guarding some of the best players in the NBA. It’s fairly common to hear of young players with aspirations of one day playing in the NBA — but not many get to turn those dreams into a reality.

Earlier this month, Bembry’s wish came true when the Hawks faced off against the Houston Rockets in a nationally-televised game on TNT. As fate would have it, Bembry drew the assignment against James Harden.

Matching up with one of the best players in the league is one thing, but holding a Most Valuable Player candidate in Harden to just six points in the fourth quarter is another thing. For a player that’s trying to make an impression, Bembry’s performance that night could go a long way.

Although Harden scored 41 total points in that game, limiting him to just six points in the final period proved to be instrumental in allowing the Hawks to erase a 20-point deficit and pull out the 113-108 win over the Rockets.

“It was a big game,” Bembry told Basketball Insiders. “[A] TNT game and I realized I was in the last two minutes and I was the one guarding him. When I see him come up the floor, I’m like, ‘This is what I dreamed about.’ That was definitely one of the moments [I realized I was in the NBA].”

In addition to limiting Harden down the stretch, Bembry would finish that game with a career-high 10 points, four rebounds and two assists. He shot 5-of-6 from the field and earned praise from his teammates for the way he was able to impact that game.

“I always knew that I could do something like that,” Bembry said. “It also felt good to actually go out there and actually do it in front of your [general manager] and your guys on your team, just so they know that, when they throw you out there, you’re ready.

“I was happy that I was out there in a big game like that and such a big comeback. It was a boost for not only myself but for the team as well, so it helped me and it also helped the team. I was happy for us.”

Being a member of a Hawks team built to compete for a playoff spot can be a bit tough for a rookie. There isn’t a whole lot of playing time available with players like Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kent Bazemore on the roster.

While his playing time has been sporadic this season, Bembry played at least 17 minutes in six straight outings prior to the All-Star break. In addition to scoring 10 points against the Rockets, he also scored 10 points against the Denver Nuggets on February 8.

Players in his situation are forced to stay ready at all times in case they receive an opportunity to play bigger minutes. Bembry has appeared in just 28 games this season and has even been sent down to the D-League for some time in order to stay sharp.

In three games with the Salt Lake City Stars, Bembry averaged 20.3 points, five rebounds and five assists. The D-League has proved to be pivotal for many players to have an opportunity to showcase their respective games. More teams are beginning to utilize the D-League and players are seeing increased benefits from it.

“One thing for you, you get better,” Bembry said. “In the D-League, there are a lot of good players out there trying to make it to the NBA, so there’s a lot of guys going hard and trying to earn their minutes. Also, it keeps certain guys’ confidence levels up. You go down there and get a lot more shots than you would be playing with your regular NBA team. It’s definitely a confidence booster and you also can get better. It helps both sides.”

Although playing time has been hard to come by, Bembry finds himself in a great situation with the Hawks. He was selected with the 21st pick in last year’s draft out of Saint Joseph’s and has the luxury of being part of one of the most respected organizations in the league. Players in the past have praised the organization for creating a winning culture.

Some of Bembry’s veteran teammates have already left an impression on him. When on the road, Bembry takes the locker next to Thabo Sefolosha’s. He credits Sefolosha with helping him on and off of the court throughout his rookie season. Given the impact Sefolosha has had on Bembry, it’s no surprise the two take neighboring lockers when they’re on the road.

“Thabo has been very, very welcoming for me,” Bembry said. “Helping me defensively, offensively. He’s helping me pick my points on offense. But, there [are] plenty of other vets in here. [Kent] Bazemore, Dwight [Howard], Dennis [Schroder] has been here, so many older guys that help out. It’s not just one person.”

The Hawks have been credited with creating a great atmosphere and establishing themselves as one of the most consistent teams in recent history. They have clinched a playoff berth in nine consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. As they enter play tonight against the Boston Celtics, they are fifth in the East and appear destined for a 10th consecutive playoff appearance.

The Hawks figure to give Bembry an opportunity to get a taste of the postseason. As a young player, he’ll get a chance to see how his veteran teammates approach games on the biggest stage and how to respond to hostile environments.

He knows that his playing time may be scarce. He also knows that many other rookies don’t get an opportunity to be in the playoffs, so he’ll continue to stay ready for his opportunity to contribute and guard the NBA’s best players — just like he dreamt it.

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About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer entering his fourth season with Basketball Insiders. He covers the league out of Orlando and Miami, focusing on the Southeast Division.