Atlanta Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin gets honest about pro debut

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images) /

It was not the prettiest outing for Atlanta Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin but there was a legitimate reason the No. 15 overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft looked like he was overthinking – he was tasked with handling on and off-ball duties right from the start.

Per Lauren L. Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hawks summer league coach Antonio Lang explained that Bufkin had been working as an off-guard in practice and now was defending opposing point guards, and expressed confidence the youngster would be fine next time out against the Denver Nuggets on July 9.

“The pace and decision-making,” Bufkin said via atlhawksfans’ YouTube channel on July 7. “The game just gotta slow down…I plan on it happening next game.

“I feel like we – myself especially included – had a lot of turnovers and careless mistakes.”

Bufkin finished the Hawks’ 80-76 loss with eight points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals plus the eight turnovers and eight fouls committed. He also noted that the Hawks could do a better job on the defensive glass.

The giveaways were more than double his next closest, teammate – rookie AJ Griffin – while Mfiondu Kabengele was next in line with five personal fouls. Bufkin was also inefficient, going 4-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc but his ability to put pressure on the rim and find the open man was evident and he did not seem to struggle to get to his spots.

There is a chance that this was neither first-game jitters nor a more foreboding sign of what’s to come, and rather just an aberration of a different kind: summer league.

Every year we see things in summer league play that never materialize during the season.

What should stand out is Bufkin’s aggression in trying to manage all of the tasks assigned to him by his coaches and that he took ownership of the areas he needs to improve and even set an expectation for himself to improve as soon as possible.

Confidence and maturity can be tricky things for young players and Bufkin does not lack for either. It is also extremely important to remember that his role in Las Vegas will not be his role in Atlanta or in any other NBA city the Hawks visit this season as he will be behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray in terms of handling the ball (controlling the pace) and decision-making.

He could also be behind point guard TyTy Washington who, despite being traded to the Hawks along with big man Usman Garuba in a cap-clearing move by the Houston Rockets, is not playing in Vegas.

That deal has yet to be made official yet and there could be various reasons why.

Rumors have surrounded the Hawks for weeks and, with Houston being left at the alter by Milwaukee Bucks big man Brook Lopez, there could be an opportunity to fold in subsequent trade for one or both sides.

For now, Bufkin gets to run the show and, with that, some turbulence should be expected as it often occurs with young guards. Just ask Young whose first summer league game did not suggest he would go on to lead the NBA in total points or lead the league in total assists in back-to-back seasons but here we are.

Mouhamed Gueye, Brady Manek stand out in Atlanta Hawks debut

Bufkin was not the only Hawks rookie to exude confidence in his debut outing with Mouhamed Gueye, the No. 39 overall pick, showing off his intriguingly versatile skill set often in this one. Gueye finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, one block, and one steal. He provided second-chance buckets and stretched the floor, though he only hit one of four triples.

“I never get nervous,” Gueye said, per Brad Rowland of ‘Locked on Hawks’. “But I was really excited to play.”

He added that everyone is encouraging him to keep shooting.

Speaking of stretching the floor, undrafted free agent Brady Manek had himself a night from downtown, sinking 5-of-10 threes in the game but going 4-for-5 in the fourth quarter alone to help the Hawks pull off the comeback victory.

For as exciting as both performances were, they are to be taken with the same grain of salt as Bufkin’s rough showing. Neither end of the spectrum likely tells us much about either player’s long-term outlook beyond seeing the skills that intrigued teams, enough so in Bufkin’s case that he was a top-20 pick.

Next. Hawks land pair of former 1st-round picks from Rockets. dark

No one looked completely overwhelmed which, when all is said and done, may be the best possible outcome.