The Atlanta Hawks selected Kevin Huerter with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, using the first-round selection acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves as a result of the Adreian Payne trade. The pick was protected in case Minnesota did not make the playoffs, but on the last day of the 2017-18 NBA season, the Timberwolves beat the Denver Nuggets to secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, thus sending the pick to the Hawks.
Hawks fans probably hope the fortunes similarly fall that way as the 2018-19 season unfolds, as Atlanta owns protected first round picks of the Dallas Mavericks (top-5 protected) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (top-10 protected). With that said, the Huerter selection looks to be a strong one.
Huerter played two seasons at the University of Maryland under relative anonymity, but his names surfaced as a draft prospect whose favor was on the rise as the draft neared. He had converted on 39.6 percent of his three point attempts in his NCAA career. But it was his playmaking, athleticism and defensive IQ that reportedly opened the eyes of NBA evaluators during the draft combine and in private workouts.
Expectations for Huerter’s playing time and on-court value were marginal as the 20-year-old approached his first professional season. But nine games into the season, his two-way play is already turning heads as he makes the case with his play for increased playing time even at the position where the Hawks are deepest.
He has converted 11 of 24 attempts beyond the three-point line, an obviously small sample size, but it his how he is generating those quality perimeter looks that is noteworthy.
His 13 assists compared to six turnovers also has to be considered within the context that he has yet to play 150 professional minutes, but, similarly, it is the proficiency with which he is creating good shots for his teammates that draws notice.
And despite the relatively safe working assumption that all NBA rookies are bad on defense, his preparation and technique are driving better than expected results on that end of the court as well.
Huerter quickly recognizes the ability to collapse opposing defenses with dribble penetration as he does on this play against the Cavaliers. Trae Young benefits in the form of a wide-open three-point attempt, which he knocks down.
Here, he recognizes the opportunity to collapse the weak side of the defensive formation. Vince Carter knocks down the wide-open three-point look that is created by Huerter’s playmaking skills.
The dribble handoff (DHO) is one of the most common actions executed in the Hawks’ offensive scheme. Huerter demonstrates the ability to immediately locate the pocket as he gets the handoff from Alex Poythress and hits the perimeter jumper.
One of the primary points of emphasis of Hawks’ new head coach Lloyd Pierce is using the defense to create offense. On this play, Huerter sprints to create an open shot opportunity from the short corner.
The most important and impressive aspect of this play is that the Hawks’ rookie is starting to switch ends of the court as soon as the ball is deflected. He doesn’t wait until the ball is fully secured. His instincts and impressive decision making are evident on this play.
Elite shooters than can use the dribble and step back technique to create separation and generate a three point shot in the middle of the floor create significantly more stress on a defense than players that can simply hit catch-and-shoot opportunities on the weak side. Huerter is already demonstrating a lot of confidence in this action.
A unique aspect of his skill as a shooter is evident on this play as well. When a young shooter recognizes the opportunity to take a step and a half away from the three-point line as to increase the quality of a potential shot, it’s rare. On this play, he sets up near the logo and perfectly measures the help of his defender towards the strong side of play and steps into and knocks down the deep perimeter shot.
He demonstrates a similar proficiency on this play but he works into the strong side of the play. He has the confidence to measure his distance from the three-point line to get the space to step into the shot. This time, Tyler Johnson has a stronger close out but the lengthy Huerter has the shot well measured again.
On this play, the defender trails Huerter over the ball screen. He is able to dribble comfortably into a quality mid-range look. Again, the impressive part of this play is how he has it measured the entire way. He elevates over the contest and eventually squares his body for the bucket. He makes this play look very simple.
Huerter is already one of the better wings the Hawks have when it comes to the ability to stay attached to ball handlers over screens. On this play, he is defending Cavaliers’ veteran point guard George Hill.
He uses a simple hand technique to feel the screen through the entire engagement without committing a foul. His trail technique is solid as he keeps he feet under the weight of his body. He uses his length and vertical skills to block the shot attempt.
On this possession, Huerter picks up Cedi Osman at half court. He defends the point of attack all the way to the rim and offers a strong contest of the shot.
The discipline with which he moves his feet and keeps his hands away from the dribble penetration is impressive.
More of that can be seen on this play, as Huerter defends the dribble penetration of Jordan Clarkston. He again avoids the foul and offers a strong contest on the shot attempt.
On this defensive possession, the Hawks are doubling Kevin Love on the left baseline. Heurter has the responsibility of cutting off the passing lane to Larry Nance Jr. He is able to do so while also denying the passing lane to Osman, his primary mark on the play. He again is able to use his length and athleticism on the play and gets the steal.
A scheme the Hawks like to sometimes use when opposing teams are inbounding the ball with less than 24 seconds remaining on the shot clock is to trap the ball if it is entered near half court. They tend to use it more often when there is less than 14 seconds available to the opposing offense but they use it here as Cleveland has 17 seconds with which to work.
Huerter times the trap effectively, which creates the urgent ball movement from the Cavaliers the technique is intended to cause. He competently recovers to the weak side to restore defensive floor balance. The result is a turnover and a potential transition opportunity.
There is possibility for even more playing time than is normally available for Huerter as the Hawks head into action in Charlotte on Tuesday night. Taurean Prince may not be able to play and as such the rookie might slide up a slot in the wing rotation.
While rookie point guard Trae Young is understandably getting a lot of attention for his play thus far, Huerter is demonstrating that the Hawks’ front office may have found very good value in the middle of the first round of the draft in the form of a solid two-way wing prospect.