Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young sends message on rookie Kobe Bufkin

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

There will be times when the Atlanta Hawks call on rookie Kobe Bufkin to run the show while the team’s stars – Dejounte Murray and Trae Young – and others when he will need to complement him.

That duality is a lot to place on the 19-year-old guard’s shoulders but the No. 15 overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft has at least one prominent voice propping him up.

“Young Fella Up Next,” Young said in the caption of a picture shared on Instagram.

Bufkin has averaged 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.0 steals during summer league play but it has not come easily. He is also averaging 5.3 turnovers – largely due to eight giveaways in his debut – and has shot just 28.3% from the floor and 19% from beyond the arc in Las Vegas.

It would be nice to see Bufkin’s efficiency improve just as he has cut down on the turnovers – nine total over the last two outings. But summer league stats are not typically indicative of regular-season impact with players out of the roles they will fill.

“Not that he’s employed by the Hawks any more, but Nate McMillan used to talk about being OK with mistakes of aggression,” tweeted Kevin Chouinard of on July 12. “Kobe Bufkin has some of those and I agree with Nate there. Perhaps more than any other player, Bufkin controlled the flow of the first half.”

Atlanta would need a late surge by Tyrese Martin to regain the lead and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves but Bufkin’s impact was undeniable.

The youngster has already shown the right approach to getting better.

“Kobe Bufkin called the team to ask for film following Friday’s game,” tweeted Lauren L. Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution citing head coach Antonio Lang on July 9. “Then after the team watched film on the Nuggets, Bufkin asked for film on the Nuggets’ previous game.”

That surely has to sit well with the newly-minted Murray, who has been in attendance during all of the Hawks’ summer league games and was the first player to reach out to the youngster after he was drafted. Murray, who has shown that kind of leadership dating back to his time with the San Antonio Spurs, told the youngster it was time to get to work and he is.

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Martin, 24, averaged just 1.3 points across 16 appearances during the regular season, his first in the NBA. But he scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Hawks regain the lead from Minnesota.

Again, it’s not the statistical output that matters.

It was Martin’s ability to get buckets in bunches from a variety of spots on the floor and do it off the catch or dribble – an ability that caught teammate Jalen Johnson’s attention.

The 6-foot-6 Martin is averaging 17.0 points on 51% shooting with 7.3 boards and 2.7 assists in Las Vegas. Martin averaged 18.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 23 games with the College Park Sky Hawks in the G League last season.

He is going into the second year of a two-year, $2.7 million contract and will see his $1.7 million salary become fully guaranteed on July 21.

Will his showing in Las Vegas lead to greater opportunity during the preseason? Atlanta’s roster is at least two-deep at every position but their logjam on the wings has led to some exploratory trade talks to free up minutes, primarily for second-year wing AJ Griffin, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

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It could take an injury or two for Martin to get his chance but he looks to be up to the task.