The NBA Summer League provides fans, writers, broadcasters and executives alike an opportunity to see their new rookies in action for the very first time since the NBA draft, donning their new colors.
For the Atlanta Hawks, fans got to see No. 5 overall pick Trae Young, as well as the No. 30 overall pick Omari Spellman, in action in Utah and Las Vegas — both seeing mixed receptions for their efforts, with Young obviously headlining for the Hawks in Utah and Vegas. But in between numbers 5 and 30 lies 19, and No. 19 overall was where the Hawks selected Kevin Huerter out of Maryland.
While Young and Spellman were a go for Summer League, Huerter was forced to watch from the sidelines as a wrist injury prevented him from participating with his fellow rookies, meaning that fans and analysts were robbed of the opportunity to watch Huerter in immediate action.
Now, those who watched Huerter in college already have a fair idea what he brings to the table but many people still do not fully know what Huerter brings (myself included, prior to this) and would’ve been possibly relying on Summer League to get their first look at Huerter. Which, of course, didn’t happen due to the injury.
So, that’s what we’re going to look at today. We’re going to look at the game of Huerter and break it down and what we can expect this season from the 20 year old former Terrapin.
Disclaimer: I am no Kevin Huerter/college expert, just sharing what I see. And, for reference when looking at film, Huerter wears number 4....
While Huerter didn’t lead his team in scoring, he provided a huge spark for the Terrapins as he averaged 14 points per game while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists in 34 minutes per game — his 41 percent shooting from three-point range drawing the most attention.
First and foremost, Huerter’s most known attribute is his shooting — it’s what everyone who has remotely heard of Huerter associates him with: his ability to shoot. In the recent rookie survey Huerter’s fellow rookies also recognized his shooting prowess as he tied for second highest percentage as the best shooter in the draft (behind Young) with 13 percent of the vote.
This, in addition to his optimal size, was part of the reason that enamored Hawks GM Travis Schlenk to Huerter at No. 19.
“Kevin has great size for a wing at 6’7,” said Schlenk of Huerter on draft night. “He has a really, really good shooting stroke. He shot 42 percent from three this season...”
From the games I watched of Huerter (which were randomly selected, for what it’s worth), he didn’t really light it up from outside but you don’t have to go too far on the internet to find games where Huerter did ignite, here for instance as he explodes for seven three-pointers against Syracuse.
We’ll look at a few three-pointers, talk about them and then move on — won’t spend too much time on shooting since this trait of Huerter’s is very well known and there’s a lot more to discuss with Huerter because, well, there’s more to him than just a shooter (though he is a good one).
Here against Michigan, a very simple action where Huerter changes direction and operates behind the screener (who you can see motion to Huerter to go behind him as to free him up) and Huerter pulls the trigger when he receives the ball, the space made available to him by the screener:
A very simple action but one that should prove quite effective should the Hawks run this correctly and with the right personnel. That said, actions like this are defended to a much higher degree at the NBA level...
Against Michigan State, Huerter is set up in the corner, makes his run, comes off of the down screen, receives the ball and rises into a three-pointer:
Again, a simple play to get Huerter some space where he can pull the trigger and get up a quick shot. For the Hawks when they run these sets for Huerter, I’d love to see Young handling/passing and perhaps Dedmon or Collins setting the screen — both are capable of rolling to the rim or fading behind the three-point line for a perimeter shot, which they can make. If the opposition commits an extra body to Huerter, and he’s able to make the extra pass, it could open up some interesting opportunities for whoever the big is in this situation.
Here’s a very interesting set that Maryland ran later in that first half...
Off-ball, Huerter makes a run across the lane originally heading for the wing and then, now heading toward the top of the key, sets a screen for his teammate with the idea of a potentially free basket underneath the rim. MSU negotiate that threat as the big Huerter set the screen for is marshaled under the rim but Huerter, after he sets that screen, then steps up himself behind the three-point line off of a screen, receives the ball and hits the three-pointer:
A bit more to this set than the previous examples but it really does get you thinking about the many ways the Hawks can integrate Huerter in their offensive sets. Given his size, his ability to shoot, and his playmaking skills (which we’ll get to) he’s able to be integrated into so many actions/options.
Again, a similar action... Huerter initially handles before giving the ball up to his teammate. After he does so, he heads towards the free throw line extended and sets a down-screen. He then pops back behind the three-point line, receives the ball on a hand-off, isn’t tracked and rises into an open three-pointer:
I think you’re getting the idea here. Huerter isn’t a shooter who pulls up off of the dribble a ton (at least from what I’ve seen) — in the cases where he does, it’s usually a dribble or two to set up after he receives the ball coming off of a screen rather than coming up the court and launching.
Huerter, in general, moves a lot off of the ball and you’ve seen how he has used that (and how Maryland have used screens) to find him opportunities. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce.
“There are guys who shoot stationary. There are guys who shoot off the dribble. And there are guys that shoot off of movement,” said Pierce of Huerter. “(Kevin) is definitely a stationary shooter, but he’s also a good off-the-move shooter. I haven’t seen as much off the dribble; he’s always off the basketball, but he can play with it.
“It gives you that other layer of shooting. A lot of the league is just catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, specifically in the corners, but if you get a guy who is moving the defense and allows guys to attack, and then when there is separation you are going to get free opportunities. He is an added weapon without the basketball.”
Let’s move on, and move on to a very underrated aspect of Huerter’s offense: his ability to drive.
Huerter possesses favorable size at 6’7 and was often able to use his long strides and length to deal damage inside.
Huerter makes an off-ball run, uses a screen, receives the ball and uses his long strides to bound into the paint and finishes at the rim:
Here, again on the catch, Huerter unleashes a quick burst and uses that in tandem with his long strides to get to the rim for the basket:
Operating at different speeds is something Huerter has available to him in his arsenal, as he displays here coming off of a screen before changing gears en-route to a score at the rim:
Here’s another impressive basket as Huerter, this time handling the ball in a late-clock situation, attacks on the switch (which he is certainly capable of punishing), switches hands on the drive and hits a tough shot:
Though Huerter sometimes has to rely on others to help create space/separation for him for his three-point shots, he is certainly able to create for himself on drives, something else that Lloyd Pierce, on his first day when Huerter was working out for the Hawks pre-draft, also noticed.
“...When you watch him you see his ability to put the ball on the floor and get his own shot .. In the NBA you’ve got to be more than just a one dimensional player,” Pierce said in an interview with ESPN radio. “Obviously he’s going to be labeled as a shooter when you shoot 42 percent from three ... I think there’s just a ton of upside for him.”
Huerter also possesses somewhat of a runner/floater, and as we’ve just seen his capability to hit one, let’s expand on that a bit.
In a number of late baskets against Wisconsin, Huerter displayed this soft touch.
Here, Huerter makes a run to the free throw line extended, receives the ball and drives hard into the paint and puts up the runner off glass and in, despite the presence of a contest:
Again, Huerter makes a run off of the ball, uses a down-screen, receives the ball and drives into the paint before hitting a floater:
Huerter is also capable of using his body to create space for himself as he did on this possession, as he single-handedly attempted to drag Maryland to victory against Wisconsin:
Huerter has a couple of other tricks up his sleeve — nifty on his spin moves.
Again Huerter receives the ball following the same pin-down action we’ve seen often so far but on the drive this time he stops in the paint, killing his dribble. With seemingly nowhere to go, Huerter explores an option on his left before spinning right and hits the hook:
Against Michigan, Huerter receives the ball on the move at the free throw line. Halted by the defense from progressing, Huerter explores his options before picking up his dribble to his left before spinning, shedding his defender and sweeping through for the finish:
As you might be able to gather from the clips we’ve seen so far, Huerter’s movement off of the ball is quite good, and he uses this to his advantage.
Here, Huerter makes a nice cut — a quick change of direction heading to the basket — receives the ball and converts the layup:
So, you can see that Huerter is more than a shooter on the offensive end. He moves well off of the ball to get in position to attack (be it for a cutting layup or to get into position to shoot), he has nice, long strides and a decent burst to quickly get inside. He has a solid frame that can create space for himself at times, he can punish switches on drives, he has touch on floaters/runners and can also whip out some nifty spin moves — which can work well in combination with good his footwork. All of these add up to a player who can work well inside as well as outside.
The only thing that you’d maybe like to see Huerter do a bit more of is operate in the post a bit more. From what I saw, Huerter didn’t do this very often at all, and at 6 foot 7 inches you’d like to see him add this tool to his already intriguing arsenal.
Let’s move on to Huerter’s playmaking abilities.
Huerter averaged over three assists per game with the Terrapins and these came in a few different variaties.
We’ve looked at how Huerter can score off of drives and he’s able to set up teammates in the same fashion.
On the drive, Huerter draws a crowd and finds a teammate in the corner (though, not exactly straight to hand) for a three-point attempt:
In transition, Huerter positions himself behind the three-point line. On the catch, he drives inside and uses his size to pass over the defense to a teammate for a shot that is blocked:
On this possession, Huerter shows good awareness of his surroundings as he drives knowing he has open teammate behind him, turns and gets the ball to him leading to a three-point attempt. After the miss, Huerter tracks the offensive rebound and fires the ball out behind the arc to a teammate for another three-point attempt:
Against Wisconsin again, Huerter drives deep inside, draws the defense and kicks the ball all the way behind to a teammate for a three-pointer:
Huerter is also able to create in pick-and-roll situations, albeit perhaps not as much as he creates off of the dribble.
Huerter, again, uses his size to his advantage as he is able to pass over the defense in the pick-and-roll but his teammate is unable to convert the basket:
In a slightly unorthodox play, Huerter comes off of the screen, fumbles the ball as he stumbles through traffic before wrapping the killer pass inside for the highlight play:
On this possession, Huerter handles the ball, comes off of the screen, is shown an extra body and is able to zip a pass inside to the big for the score and assist:
Huerter sometimes saw an extra body thrown at him (not entirely surprising since he was a very key contributor for Maryland) and, from what I saw, performed well in these instances.
Off of the screen, Huerter sees a second body but slips a very sleek pass in between the two defenders to a teammate but, ultimately, nothing comes of it:
On the wing, Huerter faces the double on the wing as the defense looks to trap him. Huerter leads the defenders on as he probes on the wing before firing a quick, snappy pass to the roller, who fires a pass toward the perimeter and the resulting three-pointer is missed:
Again, Wisconsin look to trap Huerter on the wing after the side pick-and-roll is set but, again Huerter is able to get the ball out with a nice, quick pass down-low and Maryland can set up again:
This ability to make plays for others, including being able to put the ball on the floor, was another reason that drew Schlenk to Huerter.
“He can put the ball on the floor and create for others,” Schlenk said via the Washington Post. “He can make shots, but also dribble and pass, which makes you harder to defend, and what we’re trying to build.”
Huerter also views himself as more than a shooter, and while he hasn’t moulded his game after one specific player, he models it after a number of players who can not only shoot but also make plays.
“I don’t think there’s one specific guy, but I think that for me, one of my strengths is shooting the ball,” said Huerter on who he tries to emulate on the floor. “I think my game goes past that and a little bit further. So guys I try to look up to (are) Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal -- just the way those guys can shoot the ball but also put the ball on the floor and make plays for others.”
Maryland needed Huerter be able to make some plays every now and then and he certainly did that. But with the Atlanta Hawks, he won’t necessarily need to make plays — there’ll be the likes of Trae Young, Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry (who the Hawks need a big season out of, and his playmaking is a very important aspect) and to maybe a lesser degree Taurean Prince, all of whom can create plays/handle the ball.
It’s good that Huerter can do some ball-handling and can make some plays, and I’m sure that will have its uses to the Hawks in a 82 game season, but there won’t be a giant need for him to do create off of drives and off of screens in his rookie season — the Hawks have the personnel to do that. That’s the bread and butter for others, not so much Huerter in his rookie season, though, I think it’ll be quite important later down the road and as Huerter emerges as a key piece for the Hawks.
Finally, let’s move onto Huerter’s defense.
Heading into this, I didn’t have many expectations for Huerter’s defense but was very pleasantly surprised with what I saw from Huerter defensively.
Let’s start with the fundamentals... Huerter has good size about him at 6 foot 7 inches and this helps him to switch defensively. Not only on-ball but off-ball too.
Here, Huerter showcases this ability as he motions for the switch onto the offensive player as he moves across the lane. The balls swings over to the man Huerter has now switched onto in the corner, who tries to take him off of the dribble. Huerter gets a hand on the ball before the offensive player loses his footing, and it eventually ends up with Maryland being awarded possession:
Against Michigan State, Huerter initially defends the man with the ball, who gives it off to a teammate and relocates. Huerter tracks the run until his man gets to the corner where Huerter’s teammate is in a position to cover the two Spartans on the wing. As this is happening, a pick-and-roll is taking place with an open path to the basket after Maryland show on the pick-and-roll. Huerter switches onto the roller as he heads towards the basket and takes the charge, winning possession back for the Terrapins:
Again, Huerter switches on the pick-and-roll and onto the ball-handler. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, they end up committing a foul on the possession:
Huerter moves pretty well on the defensive end too — that good footwork that we see on the offensive end put into good effect on the defensive end.
Again Huerter shows his ability to switch (originally beginning this defensive possession guarding Mo Wagner), flies around where he is needed, moves well on the penetration, prevents a shot at the rim, kills the dribble and uses his length to contest and block the shot:
Shortly after this possession, Huerter again demonstrates his ability to move his feet defensively as he switches and prevents the penetration from Abdur-Rahkman, who is forced to look elsewhere and commits a turnover:
Again, Huerter displays his length before showing good activity before helping on the double down-low, returning back to his man on the perimeter, sticks with him on the drive but can’t complete the defensive possession, committing the foul on the contest. But really good defensive effort prior to that:
Same game, and Huerter continues to show great activity defensively, moves well and provides multiple efforts as he recovers from a stumble to block a shot on the perimeter, fuelling a fastbreak opportunity that leads to a dunk:
Not everything is perfect from Huerter defensively, he does make a mistake every now and then, but overall I was hugely impressed with Huerter’s defense from what I saw.
Travis Schlenk didn’t give his new, defensive-minded head coach Lloyd Pierce a ton of defensive options on draft night with Trae Young and Omari Spellman but with Huerter, Pierce might have something defensively to work with from draft night.
It was a great shame that everyone was deprived of the opportunity to see Kevin Huerter in action in Utah and Las Vegas but, with a better idea now of who he is on the court, I think the excitement and anticipation for his debut with the Hawks should only increase as we get closer to tip-off in October.
Kevin Huerter...more than just a shooter.