The most exciting part about a rebuild is watching all the draft picks in action. The first wave of them will be on the court this season, highlighted by fifth overall pick Trae Young. The hype around Young is well deserved, but in such a loaded draft class, the Hawks believe Kevin Huerter can be a significant part of their future as well.
There were not many analysts pegging Huerter as first-round pick going into last season. He was a lanky 6’7″ prospect with moderate athleticism that did not have the most remarkable freshman season at Maryland. However, his sophomore improvements changed his draft stock dramatically. Shooting 37.1% from three on 5.3 attempts as a freshman, everyone was aware of his shot. That number improved to an eye-popping 41.7% as a sophomore. His shooting motion is about as pure you will find at any level of basketball, but the reason he became the 19th overall pick was his advancements as a scorer and effectiveness defensively.
Huerter nearly doubled his number of shots from two-point range last season and shot over 60% on such shots compared to 51.7% as a freshman. Those makes can come from the mid-range, where he excels or cutting to the basket. His undervalued athleticism combined with his long frame make him tough to block. Those same attributes are what make him a valuable asset on defense. As a shooting guard, Huerter can be a more than capable defender at the NBA level.
With that being said, he is still a rookie with everything to prove. The Hawks will be looking to give him opportunities early and often, but there are a few guys ahead of him that are not anxious to give up playing time.
The most notable of them is Kent Bazemore, who is entering his third year of a four-year, $70 million deal. Atlanta has made it pretty clear they are attempting to move him. Finding a taker is the tougher test, meaning the Hawks will be adamant about using Bazemore as much as possible. His veteran presence among the younger players will also be key in their development.
Another potential minute stealer is the newly acquired Jeremy Lin. Lin has primarily been used as a point guard over his career. That will be his main position, but depending on Trae Young’s development, the Hawks might use Lin at the two-guard more than they anticipated, which has not been a problem over his career.
Huerter will be battling amongst a couple of other young guys for minutes. Third-year guard, DeAndre Bembry is nearing his final shot to make an impression in Atlanta. The former first-round pick battled nagging injuries last year, limiting him to only 26 games. Tyler Dorsey is another option. The 2017 second-round pick averaged 7.2 points per game on 37.7% shooting as a rookie, flashing some serious scoring potential.
In reality, Huerter holds an advantage over both of these players. Not only does he appear to have more potential than them, he was handpicked by Travis Schlenk himself. Schlenk has taken full control of this organization, trading away nearly every piece of the team that won 60 games and even firing the former Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer. A descendant of the Golden State Warriors, the selection of Young and Huerter have Schlenk’s fingerprints shining on them. They finished first and second in voting amongst their peers regarding the best shooter in the 2018 draft class. Sound familiar?
As far as Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin, neither of them are in the Hawks long-term plans. The organization hopes both of them perform well enough to be traded before season’s end. It’s also worth mentioning, Lin has only played in 37 games over the last two seasons due to injury. If either one of these players goes down, Huerter might be battling for a starting spot as a rookie.
The Hawks main concern will be getting their young players meaningful minutes and seeing what they have. Usually, it may take a player like Huerter a couple of years to get up to speed, but Atlanta wants to expedite that process by using him often during the season off the bench.