When the Hawks drafted De’Andre Hunter fourth overall last season, the thinking was that — due to being an older prospect — he would be a plug and play 3-and-D player.
He is a rookie, so this is not a knock on Hunter, but out of the gate, it’s been rocky. The 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year has not come as advertised on the defensive end, but in his “defense,” Hunter has been surrounded by minus defenders. Still, I’m not sure he will ever become the elite defender the Hawks were hoping to find in the draft, but he is starting to figure out things on the other end of the court. Recently, Hunter has been lights out with his stroke and is emerging as a legitimate NBA sharpshooter.
Despite nursing a sprained ankle in seven February games, Hunter has shot 15-for-33, good for 45.5% from beyond the arc. It is a small sample size, but he has risen his season average to 34.5% and is averaging a respectable 12.5 points per game. As a sophomore at Virginia, Hunter shot 43.8% from beyond the arc. Obviously, the NBA three-point line is further back, and it is a different level of competition, but we are finally starting to see the type of outside threat the Hawks envisioned when selecting Hunter.
The 22-year old has been overshadowed a bit due to the emergence of Cam Reddish after the New Year, but he has been impressive in his own right. Just last night he had a 16 point third quarter in his homecoming at the Wells Fargo Center. He is showing that — in the long-term — he can be a complete NBA player, and hopefully, his recent uptick in steals and the Hawks adding some team defense can help him tighten things up on the other end of the court.
While Hunter has not been the immediate star many expect at the top of the lottery, it seems the Hawks still made the right decision going with him and Reddish if you look at the players behind him. It will be interesting to see if the organization ultimately decides between the two, or opts to keep both long wings to mask the defensive liabilities scattered around the roster.
While many have criticized Trae Young’s defense during his young career, you may be surprised to find out that De’Andre Hunter has the worst defensive rating on the team with a 116.9 mark. It is odd to see a player go from being a lockdown defender in the ACC, what was the best conference in basketball last season, to a liability in the NBA. But it is worth noting that he was not a starter in his first year at Virginia, and it could just require a little extra time to get settled in at the next level. He is young, has the length, and has shown enough promise that in time, the defense will come. He is starting to put the “3” into the equation, now it is time to see the “D” that rose him up draft boards and helped the Virginia Cavaliers win a National Championship.