Next up in our player preview series is forward De’Andre Hunter. Hunter is coming off a rookie season that featured its fair share of ups and downs, but the 4th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft should be a steady, consistent producer of points, rebounds, and defensive versatility for a win-now Hawks team.
De’Andre Hunter is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended Friends Central High School. As you might imagine, he was a stud in high school. You’re not going to find an NBA player who wasn’t a monster in high school. (Joel Embiid might be the exception).
Anyway, Hunter played college ball at The University of Virginia under coach Tony Bennet. What’s most interesting about his career there is that he was redshirted his freshman season. Virginia had a very strong team returning and a great recruiting class, which gave Hunter extra time to prepare, and he made the most of it. During his redshirt season, he gained almost 30 pounds of muscle, resulting in him becoming a key contributor during his redshirt freshman season in 2017-18. However, he was knocked out of the end of the season with a broken wrist, and Virginia was upset by a #16 seed UMBC.
Hunter decided to return to Virginia, and along with Kyle Guy, they won the 2019 National Championship. Hunter had 27 points and 9 rebounds in the title game as well as the clutch three in the final seconds to tie the game. The NCAA tournament run skyrocketed his draft stock, and the Hawks grabbed him fourth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Hunter averaged a respectable 12ppg/5rpg/2apg with percentages of 41/36/76 in his rookie season. In the 63 games he played, he started in 62 of them — a role he looks to have again when the Hawks season begins on Wednesday. Hunter has room to grow, especially as an outside shooter, but his size and length on the wing is a tremendous asset to have on the court.
In this win-now situation, De’Andre Hunter could be the Hawks X-factor this season. Trae Young, Bogdanovic, Gallinari, Collins, Capela, and Rondo are established professionals with clearly defined roles and will receive consistent minutes. The best NBA rotations are the ones that utilize 8-10 guys on a nightly basis. For the Hawks to be a contender, Hunter must become another guy coach Lloyd Pierce can count on. The good thing about Hunter is that he doesn’t have to be a star on this team to flourish. He can be the 5th option on offense and still contribute to a winning team.
What Hunter should be focused on is establishing himself as a great perimeter defender, good rebounder on both ends, and the ability to hit open jump shots. Offensively, the Hawks could roll out a small ball lineup of Young, Bogdanovic, Gallo, Hunter, and Collins. If I am the opposing team, who am I going to leave open? Probably Hunter. This is why his development this year could be crucial to the Hawks success. If he can knock down open shots, defend the wing and even post players, Atlanta could be quite dangerous.