For anyone that pays devoted attentiveness to the NBA, John Collins and Trae Young are two names that fans are probably familiar with. Young, a point guard from the University of Oklahoma, was unbelievably sensational in the second half of last season. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and was a playmaking highlight reel. Last year, Collins was a second-year big man that elevated his game to a whole new level, nearly doubling his rebound and scoring averages. Had the Hawks been on the more competitive side of things, Collins could have been a serious Most Improved Player candidate. Another young player from this talented young team, Kevin Huerter from the University of Maryland, also showed flashes of brilliance last year, but does not get mentioned often enough.
Last season, the 6-foot-7 shooting guard appeared to be a real building block for the Atlanta Hawks on their journey to be competent again. Huerter was never a player to regularly appear on a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reel for flashy dunks or brilliant passes, but he was capable of draining jumpers from anywhere on the court. In addition, he was the type of glue-guy that every contending team will eventually need by hustling, playing extremely hard on defense, and knocking down shot after shot.
Huerter was only sixth in scoring for Atlanta last season, but with Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince no longer in town, Huerter should be able to step up and play a larger role. He shot an impressive 38.5 percent from long-range and never forced shots, always opting to swing the ball around to the open man. His consistency and hustle are two reasons he earned a Second Team All-Rookie selection in his NBA freshman campaign. He also seems to be the perfect fit on the perimeter next to Trae Young who is aptly capable of always finding the right shooters at the right times.
Huerter has to be slightly more active off-ball using screens to get himself open, similar to the way Klay Thompson operates for the Warriors. The Basketball Index shows that Huerter has plenty of room to improve in off-ball movement and perimeter defense, ranking him in the 40th percentile in both. As he continues to adjust to the speed of the NBA and takes a step into a bigger scoring role with the Hawks, Huerter should improve dramatically from year one to year two.
A lot of fans outside of the Atlanta fanbase are likely unaware of Huerter’s potential in head coach Lloyd Pierce’s offense. Having a solid young core of scoring options in Collins, Young, DeAndre Hunter, and Cam Reddish- the floor spacing and opportunity should allow Huerter to prosper. In the 2019-2020 season, Atlanta was +6.6 in team efficiency with Huerter on the court versus without him, good enough for second on the team.
When speaking to Slam Magazine, Pierce had this to say about the second-year player:
“I think Kevin’s game speaks for itself,” head coach Lloyd Pierce said following a recent practice. “He’s probably one of the more skilled players we have… We just want to see more. We want to see him with the basketball in his hands a little bit more. We’ve got to find ways to get him more three-point opportunities. He’s got to find ways to get to the foul line… I think his game is already multi-dimensional. We just got to get him more threes and get the ball in his hands a little bit more.”
That being said, we should look for Huerter’s number to improve this season as he will be awarded more minutes and more opportunities. He is one of the main reasons the Hawks will be one of the most improved teams from last year. If the Maryland product can add some weight and be slightly more NBA-ready from a physical standpoint, he could develop into a great perimeter defender (something the Hawks could desperately use in their backcourt this year) and a solid piece for the Atlanta Hawks now and into the future.
2019-2020 Statline: 14.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 41% 3PT, 88% FT, 47% FG.