The Hawks received some devastating news earlier this week when an MRI revealed that De’Andre Hunter had a torn meniscus, resulting in an announcement he would be out for the remainder of the postseason. It was the same knee that forced him to miss over three months of the regular season.
Before he went down with the injury in late August, Hunter was arguably the team’s most valuable player, including Trae Young. He averaged 17.2 points per game on 51.4% from the field and 36.6% from deep, but he was also Atlanta’s best defender. Hunter possesses the quickness and length to guard elite wings on the perimeter and has the strength to body bigger players down low if the Hawks need him to — as we saw against the Knicks.
Hunter finally returned for the final four games of the regular season and started every game of the Hawks’ first-round matchup against New York. He wasn’t as crisp offensively as he was at the beginning of the year, but that’s to be expected after such a long layoff. Defensively, however, he didn’t miss a beat, keeping Julius Randle out of rhythm the entire series. So much so that veteran Solomon Hill pointed towards him as to why the Hawks were able to advance while also saying Hunter is the reason he felt the Hawks had a real shot at making the NBA Finals.
Hawks' Solomon Hill on loss of De'Andre Hunter for the playoffs: "He’s huge for what we want to do around here. He didn’t go out and average 20 in the New York series but he’s the reason we won that series. It's my belief he was a huge reason why we would make it to the finals"
— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) June 11, 2021
I’m still hesitant to say the Hawks would have been able to beat the Nets in a seven-game series. Hell, even getting past Philadelphia with Hunter would have been challenging, but that doesn’t change the point. What Hunter brings on both ends of the court can’t be measured. He’s one of the best players on the team, and with him, the Hawks can beat anyone on any given night. It’s a gut-wrenching loss at this point in the season, but this is just the beginning for the second-year wing. Hunter has All-Star potential, and it’s just a matter of time before his name starts coming up in conversations about the best two-way players in the game.