There are two players on the Hawks that aren’t worth arguing over – Trae Young and John Collins. If someone doesn’t want to acknowledge they are both well on their way to becoming All-Stars, your response should be a chuckle with a smooth, “Talk soon.” Shout out to basketball guru Rashad Phillips for that one. If you’re not following him on Twitter, do so here. Trust me; you will not regret it. But there’s a third guy on the Hawks that’s well on the way to joining his fellow rising stars – the lesser-known Kevin Huerter out of Maryland.
Far from an exuberant personality, Huerter doesn’t talk too much; his game resembles that of the annoying guy at the YMCA that drains jumpers from all over the court, puts his head down, and then plays tough team defense on the other side of the floor. The flashy athleticism isn’t there, nor are the highlight plays. But in an era of positionless basketball that emphasizes shooting more than ever, he’s the perfect fit next to Trae Young for the foreseeable future.
Call it the Splash Brothers 2.0 if you want. Young operates with the ball in his hand, controlling the offense as both a scorer and passer. Meanwhile, Huerter is best without the ball, working off of screens and in spot-up situations. He ranked in the 73rd percentile on spot-up jumpers last season and was even better on jumpers off the dribble in which he finished in the 90th percentile. Huerter shot a hair under 40% from three as a rookie – an impressive feat – but true snipers are never satisfied, and you could even say he was somewhat disgusted.
“I feel like that’s something that’s not easy, but it’s something I should be doing every year,” Huerter said while preparing to head to Rhode Island to train with Hawks assistant Nate Babcock, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reports. “It’s well within my range, but I feel like I can shoot above that and be up there with the top shooters in the league, percentage-wise. As I get to be in the league for a couple more years, my body should get stronger, too. But 40 percent is my low point of where I should be shooting it. I should be shooting over 40 percent, for sure.”
Besides the mental focus to improve daily, perhaps what suggests Huerter is in for a breakout sophomore season the most is the progression he made as a rookie. The former Terrapin didn’t compete in Summer League due to injury, and when Coach Pierce finally saw him in action, he admitted he thought Huerter would be a G-League player for the Hawks as a rookie. By November, he was a regular starter, and his confidence grew as the season went on. In his final fifty games, the sharpshooter averaged 11.5 points on 42.3% shooting and 38.5% from three, leading to an All-Rookie second-team selection. Once again, Schlenk found a diamond at the back end of the first round.
Shooting is Huerter’s forté, but to take the next step as an all-around player – like a Klay Thompson – he’s going to need to bulk up. That will help in every other facet of his game. He’s already deceptively athletic and has the length to be a player that can get a bucket around the rim and play outstanding defense on the other side of the floor. Strength will help in both of those areas as well as his pull up jump shots from inside the arc, which he struggled on a year ago. Huerter only managed to shoot 45.7% on two-pointers, that’s a number he should be vying to get well over 50% next season. If he can do that, along with shoot over 40% from three like he’s capable of, year two is going to be something magical for Huerter.