Kobe Bufkin is balling out for Atlanta Hawks’ G League team. When will he be called up to NBA?

Kobe Bufkin plays with the Atlanta Hawks' Summer League team in 2023.

LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 9: Kobe Bufkin #4 of the Atlanta Hawks handles the ball during the 2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League on July 9, 2023 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s not a long way from the G League to the bright lights of the NBA– 22 minutes from Gateway Center Arena to Dominique Wilkins Way via I-85, according to Google Maps.

But of course, it’s a much longer journey figuratively speaking.

Atlanta Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin probably didn’t picture his first pro year going like this– spent in mostly empty gymnasiums with pumped-in arena noise, playing against the likes of Luka Garza instead of Luka Doncic. But that’s where he’s found himself for the most of the three-plus months since the season began, suiting up for the College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G League affiliate.

The 20-year-old was the 15th overall pick in the NBA Draft last summer, but he’s seen exactly four minutes of game action so far in the NBA.

Most of his absence can be explained by a fractured thumb suffered while practicing with the Skyhawks in November. But Bufkin has now played 10 games in College Park, averaging 23.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 31 minutes per game. He’s shooting 43.6% from the floor and 32.1% from deep, and turning the ball over 3.8 times per game.

Hawks coach Quin Snyder is happy with Bufkin’s status quo for now.

“Kobe is in a good place. He is playing in College Park and doing a great job, and that experience for him, I think, is really important,” Snyder told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He has done a great job of embracing it, as well. Kobe will be back with the Hawks at some point, but right now, I think we’re in a good place with everything where we are. It is something that (general manager) Landry (Fields) and I talked about, as well. We’re prioritizing that for Kobe right now.”

NBA fans are used to seeing high first-round picks suit up immediately for their teams, but times are changing as the G League gains more steam. It’s now common for rookies to spend time there, and it makes sense for Bufkin to spend time there while working his way back from the thumb injury.

Still, there are questions about Bufkin’s fit in Atlanta, even when healthy. He’s a skilled 6-5 combo guard, with a build, athleticism and on-court strengths that are very similar to starting guard Dejounte Murray’s.

Murray has been the subject of constant trade rumors as the Hawks have stumbled to an 18-26 record, so is Bufkin insurance for him? Does he fit into a rotation that includes Murray?

As Bufkin racked up 31 points in College Park’s win over the Westchester Knicks on Wednesday night, it was hard to imagine him spending too much more time at that level. The kid is raw, but he’s talented, and– are you really going to spend the 15th pick in the draft on someone who can’t crack your rotation?

With the Murray-Trae Young experiment having failed and the Hawks vacillating between Play-In Tournament also-ran and lottery team, it’s time to make some decisions. Meanwhile, Bufkin is twisting in the wind, scoring 30 in empty arenas and still waiting to realize his NBA dream.

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