On Friday night, the Hawks hung on to win their third straight game, this one against the Miami Heat. It wasn’t pretty once again, as they allowed Jimmy Butler and company to climb back from a 14-point hole and give themselves a chance to almost win. But this is exactly the type of game the Hawks were losing a couple of weeks back, so getting over that hump could be another stepping stone that propels them back into the mix of Eastern Conference contenders.
As always, Trae Young did his thing, scoring 28 points and chipping in seven assists. Kevin Huerter also had one of his best games of the season, adding 21 points on 5-9 shooting from behind the arc, and John Collins efficiently went about scoring 15 points on just eight shots. But there’s a reason the Hawks have felt like a different team over the last week or so, and it’s not just because they’ve strung together three straight wins—it’s the return of De’Andre Hunter.
I can’t tell you how maddening it was trying to convince Cam Reddish‘s fan club that Hunter and Reddish are not on the same level. I thought this was a well-known fact, but apparently people forgot who De’Andre Hunter was before all of the injuries: a cool cat liable to erupt for 20-30 points on any given night. Sure, injuries have become a legitimate concern, but if Hunter ever stays healthy, there are All-Star games in his future.
Since returning, Hunter is averaging 16.3 points on 45.9% shooting from the field and 40.6% from three-point territory. He’s also collecting 4.7 boards and handling the opponent’s best player on the defensive end. There’s a reason Solomon Hill, who has been in this league for almost a decade, recognized Hunter as the critical piece for going on a title run last season, and not much has changed since then.
When Hunter is on the floor, this is a different Hawks basketball team, which is why I didn’t want Travis Schlenk to rush into a blockbuster trade, especially if it included Hunter. The former national champion at Virginia immediately boosts the Hawks’ perimeter defense, but he also gives them another viable offensive option when the play breaks down. When Young needs help, Hunter can create offense on his own, something few can do in the Hawks’ current starting lineup.
I’ll be the first to say, I’m beginning to believe again. The three straight wins are nice, but seeing Hunter return and make meaningful contributions so quickly is quite promising. This team currently has the pieces to make a playoff run, and with a few tweaks, they could potentially even challenge some of the top seeds.