Taurean Prince
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Already making an early impact with the Brooklyn Nets, Taurean Prince could be the squad’s missing two-way piece.

Matt Brooks

BROOKLYN, NY—There’s a famous idiom from British author Andrew Grant that reads, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Taurean Prince clearly didn’t get that memo. Since landing in Brooklyn as monetary filler during June’s Allen Crabbe salary dump merciless exile, Prince has shown the world just how powerful a second opportunity can be. His teammates can’t stop glowing about his progress. Said Spencer Dinwiddie to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, “he’s going to be a pleasant surprise, somebody a lot of people are discounting… Can really, really, really shoot it.”

Weeks later, general manager Sean Marks heaped on the Taurean Prince praise, proclaiming the Texas native to be a breakout candidate this season based on offseason workouts.

What exactly has the Brooklyn Nets organization itching with Taurean Prince fever? The answer is simple.

“Just critiquing my shooting,” Prince told ESNY.

To Prince’s credit, it’s not like his mechanics needed an overhaul. Since entering the league just three years ago, Taurean Prince has made incremental progress on his jumper — most recently shooting it at a 39% clip on 5.7 threes per game.

Still, to Prince, the evolution for his skills are without a defined end-point. “I (critique shooting) every year and I feel like it’s helped me stay at around 38 to 40% as a three-point shooter.” Prince continued, telling ESNY, “that’s super big for me because that opens up the flood gates for a lot of other things I can do well that people may not know.”

Yeah, about that. Consider the flood gates to be fully open.

During Friday’s preseason game against the Brazilian professional club, SESI/Franca, Prince was the Nets’ team-leader in scoring, dropping 22 huge points on 8-of-10 shooting. More important was his showmanship from deep; Prince only missed 2 of his 8 total three-pointers. It was a starry demonstration that even the most devout Prince adversaries would find fault in critiquing.

Right away, Prince showed us just how much his nifty trigger could boost Brooklyn’s offense, igniting his white-hot-hand with two quick makes from the right corner. With his confidence rising, the 25-year-old sniper began to lay waste to the Brazilian professional club all across the hardwood.

This, of course, led to my favorite play of the night: a quick transition ghost screen into a left-wing three (found at 44 seconds). It was a stealthy, high-IQ read of the defense that, for some reason, reminded me of a Venus flytrap devouring an unsuspecting housefly; the helpless Brazilian defenders stood no chance. Somewhere, Klay Thompson — the king of fake screens — was assuredly clapping his hands with sheer astonishment at Prince’s trickery.

Now look, overreacting to preseason highlights against a non-NBA team is a cardinal sin that even I am above committing. However, there were some important takeaways. Namely: Brooklyn’s spacing, with Joe Harris and Taurean Prince at its epicenter, should be much improved this season.

Picture this: Kyrie Irving driving the lane, surrounded by Taurean Prince in the right corner, Garrett Temple in the left corner and Joe Harris sitting happily — and ready to strike — above the break. Folks, that’s 40% (at minimum) of spot-up three-point shooting from all areas of the floor. It’s also Kenny Atkinson‘s tangible future in a mere couple of weeks.

Of course, in order to stick in Brooklyn, Prince will need to do more than just hit open threes. Taurean Prince is a restricted free agent next summer, and while his shooting should earn him a decent raise, he could continue to boost his stock with an increased two-way impact.

Taurean certainly recognizes this. Given that he’s testing the market for his first time, Prince is willing to do whatever it takes to secure the bag… even if that means guarding a multitude of talented players.

“The thing about me is that I’m very competitive. Anybody who is an All-Star or is the best player on the team, that’s who I want to guard. Simple as that. Whether it’s the one, the two, the three or the four (positionally speaking). That’s something that me and the team will definitely work on. If I can prove that I can continue to do that, then I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t put me in that position.”

Prince concluded this thought, telling ESNY, “It’s all up to me and it’s in my control, so I think my competitiveness will get me where I need to be.”

Early in his career, Prince was looked at as a defensive stalworth of sorts. He broke upon the scene with his groundbreaking lockdown performance against the Washington Wizards during round one of the 2017 NBA playoffs. Since then, his defensive pedigree has waned while his career has progressed.

Look, defensive statistics should always be taken with a grain of salt. But Prince’s defensive box plus-minus has dropped a substantial 1.5 points during each of his last three seasons. Could this be a by-product of playing on losing teams for years on end? Certainly. But it’s something he must fine-tune.

The opportunity to prove himself on defense is in the cards for Taurean. With Kevin Durant sidelined, Prince is the only plausible power forward on the roster, meaning he’ll be forced to guard the talented fours in the East, such as Pascal Siakam, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Collins (just to name a few). That’s a ghastly mix of bruising, athletic talent, and it should test Prince’s mettle as a lockdown combo-forward.

Synergy statistics rate Prince as above-average in defending larger players; he’s an 87th percentile post-up defender who can easily handle bigs within the pick-and-roll (85th percentile). Where he struggled was with guarding off-ball screens (30th percentile) and handoffs (14th percentile), suggesting that a lack of focus is Prince’s Achillies heal on defense. Should he find a way to invest himself further as a defender, his off-ball metrics should effortlessly rise to match his otherwise sound defensive reputation.

Prince, being the competitive guy that is he, told ESNY that he’s looking forward to “being that option defensively that can come in the game and make something happen.” Prince continued, “I pride myself on that. Now I’m healthy, 100% healthy, so I feel like there’s nothing holding me back. I’m excited.”

Based upon the reactions to Friday’s performance, the fans eagerly awaiting the season appear to share his boundless buzz. Taurean could be in for a career-year offensively slotted next to the talents of Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and eventually, Kevin Durant. Call me crazy, but Kenny’s democratic system could easily boast yet another 40% three-point shooter.

Should Prince’s defensive progression catch up to his offensive prowess, the Nets — already over the cap for next season — could find themselves in a sticky situation. If Joe Tsai is committed to winning like he says he is, the time will soon come to pay the Prince. After all, 40% three-point caliber, 3-and-D talent doesn’t grow plentifully on trees.

An NBA fanatic who specializes in the advanced analytics of the game. I cover the Brooklyn Nets here in the city. Follow me on Twitter for semi-witty basketball tweets. @MattBrooksNBA