Kevin Huerter is the most underappreciated member of the Hawks. Outside of Atlanta, most casual NBA fans probably don’t even know the name. He doesn’t have the intimidating figure of your typical NBA player; he’s not one to do much talking on or off the court, and frankly, he’s yet to take the jump that many inside the organization believe he is capable of… until now.
Huerter was taken in the first round of the same draft as Trae Young — 14 picks later — and immediately impressed with his lightning-quick smooth shooting stroke. He shot 38.5% from three as a rookie, a number that he was upset with, which is understandable, given Huerter was in the 90th percentile when it came to jumpers off the dribble. Many believed he, along with Young, were well on their way to becoming a dynamic backcourt in Atlanta with limitless range. That failed to come to fruition the following season, however.
Young flourished, transforming into a player who averaged nearly 30 points and 10 assists a game, resulting in an All-Star nomination. Huerter’s progression was a little less noticeable. He injured his shoulder early in the season, forcing him to miss games, and it took him a little while to get back into the groove of things. By the time it began to look like he was 100%, COVID struck. Huerter ended up averaging a couple more points per game, but his shooting percentages were nearly identical. The real improvements were more distinct in the playmaking department and on the defensive end.
This season has been another one full of adjustments for Huerter. The Hawks finally opened up their wallets to surround their young core with high-quality help, which has resulted in Huerter bouncing back between the starting lineup and the bench. And once again, he put together a nearly identical stat line to his first two seasons. There were noticeable improvements in the areas that don’t show up on the box score, but it was fair to begin to wonder if he’d ever become anything more than a role player.
The postseason has answered those concerns.
The playoffs separate the men from the boys, and Huerter has risen to the occasion. He’s not just knocking down open shots; he’s showing off the ability to score at every level and play-make while also being a menace defensively.
Against New York, Huerter was the best player off the bench for the Hawks. He averaged 9.4 points in just 23.4 minutes on nearly 50% from the field and 45.3% from behind the arc. Again, all while playing fantastic defense, and he’s been exponentially better against the 76ers.
In Game 1, Huerter had 15 points on 6/9 from the field and 3/6 from deep to go along with four assists. And yesterday, he was unquestionably the best player on the floor for the Hawks, making his first eight shots from the field for 20 points. He also added a couple of blocks, assists, and steals.
But as I’ve said, the box scores only tell so much. Huerter is blossoming into an exciting two-way player — one that is radiating confidence. He can shoot it from everywhere on the court, his athleticism on both ends of the floor is slept on, and he’s an underappreciated playmaker. There’s a very good chance De’Andre Hunter isn’t able to play this series. If that’s the case, Huerter needs to be in the starting lineup moving forward. He’s been one of the Hawks’ three best players on a nightly basis, and for Atlanta to advance, they’ll need every ingredient he brings to the table.