De’Andre Hunter is coming off the best month of his young career. Despite nursing a sprained ankle in February, Hunter shot 25-for-54, good for 46.3% from beyond the arc. It is a small sample size, but he has risen his season average to 35.3% and is averaging a respectable 12.4 points per game. As a sophomore at Virginia, Hunter shot 43.8% from beyond the arc. This is no fluke.
For Hunter, his recent shooting is the standard.
“I think so. I believe I’m a great shooter. A lot of repetitions every day in practice, I get a lot of shots up. My teammates have confidence in me. When I make a shot, I’m not surprised. Maybe when people are watching me, and I make a shot, they’re surprised, but I do this every day.”
The NBA three-point line is further back, and it is a different speed in the game, but we are starting to see the sharpshooter threat the Hawks envisioned when selecting Hunter. For him, the most significant adjustment has been, “The feel of the game, the physicality of it, knowing when to use your strength to cover guys and play defense.”
Hunter is coming off a performance two games ago where he shot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc against the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 22 in the effort. His three-point shooting last month is what is catching everyone’s eye, but it is not the only facet in which he has expanded his game as of late. Hunter tied the best scoring month of his career with 13.8 points per contest but has also made big-time strides on the boards. While he has averaged just 4.3 rebounds per game this season, in February, he grabbed 6.8, flashing some consistency on the glass.
“I talked to [Coach Lloyd Pierce], he told me I need to get five defensive rebounds a game. I just go into each game trying to get six or seven and once I get there I’m trying to get ten. I’m just kind of in the flow of the game, just trying to be down there and more active than I have in the past.”
Most people think of defense and three-point shooting when it comes to Hunter, but his length is a primary reason why the Hawks selected him fourth overall. As far as his development goes for the rest of the season, Hunter is not honing in on one single aspect of his game, but rather to finish the season strong overall.
“Just finishing strong. Just keep the way I’m playing. Keep scoring when the team needs me to score. Keep guarding the best player, keep rebounding, things like that.”
Hunter is on the right track. The defense has not graded out as elite this season, but as he mentions, he is often assigned the opponents’ best player. That is a tall task for a rookie. Hunter has shown considerable strides as a scorer, a three-point shooter, and a rebounder this season. His elite defense at the college level suggests that with time, it should come.
Hunter was lucky enough to inherit a fantastic situation for his development on a team that offered him starter minutes out of the gate. We are beginning to see some significant returns on investment, and he still has a quarter of his rookie season left.
“I knew coming into this year I was going to have a lot of growing pains. Playing so many minutes, you experience so many things. Me being in my first year, I didn’t know what to expect, so playing all those minutes, I definitely learned a lot.
Patience is vital with Hunter. He was not your flashy one and done prospect with the Virginia Cavaliers. While he was named an ACC All-Freshman in 2018, he was still a sixth man coming off the bench. He truly blossomed as a starter as a sophomore, developing into the best defender in the nation and helping UVA win a National Championship. We are starting to see those “growing pains” slowly disappear, and a bit more consistency. The Hawks chose a game with some upside, and if he can develop into the player they envisioned when drafting him, an elite 3-and-D threat to pair with Trae Young and John Collins, it will help tremendously in this team taking the next step towards contention.