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De’Andre Hunter’s playmaking was the highlight of preseason for the Hawks

Nice flashes from the rookie.

Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

De’Andre Hunter was billed by many, including by yours truly, as a high-level 3-and-D prospect who would bring the majority of his value on the defensive end and could hit a standstill jumper at a good enough rate to make defenses account for him. There was nothing flashy about his game at the University of Virginia — he played his role and he played it well.

As a result, it wasn’t clear that he was going to be a ball handler at the NBA level. Of course, given that we’ve seen him play just five preseason games, that’s still not clear, but he flashed more upside as a creator than most thought he had throughout the draft process. With Kevin Huerter and Evan Turner sidelined through injury for the first two games of preseason, it was Hunter who took over a lot of the backup creation load. The reserve unit is naturally going to spread the ball around to a lot of different creators when Trae Young is off the floor, but Hunter showed enough in preseason that he should be considered one of these secondary creators nearly immediately, which was not something a lot of people thought was going to happen from the jump.

His pick-and-roll prowess is still a work-in-progress. He doesn’t have a ton of athletic burst, which can hurt him against longer, quicker wings and against trapping defenses. He’s a little slow to pull up for a jumper when he’s open. However, for a rookie who is (probably) never going to be asked to be a primary creator, he put together an impressive preseason of playmaking in pick-and-roll.

Hunter recognized holes in the defense well and was able to make the correct read the majority of the time. His turnovers in pick-and-roll came when he was flustered by longer wings – Brandon Ingram picked his pocket clean in the game against New Orleans – but his passing was mostly on point when he was able to get the ball out of his hands. He’s a better passer than scorer in pick-and-roll right now, but a secondary playmaker isn’t going to be elite in all areas. If he was, then he’d a primary playmaker and we’d be having a very different discussion.

The key for a pick-and-roll playmaker is reading the tag man coming out of the weak-side corner while navigating the primary defenders. For most teams, a middle pick-and-roll is defended by bringing in a third defender from the opposite corner from where the ball handler is going. If the ball handler passes back across to the opposite corner, then the defense can recover, though a pinpoint pass can still catch defenses out. Hunter flashed a good understanding of this in preseason, as he did well to consistently read the defense in pick-and-roll and find the open man in the weak-side corner:

If the defense instead brought the help out of the strong-side corner or collapsed in another unconventional manner, Hunter was fine there too:

He had no trouble finding the big man on the roll, either using a pocket pass or waiting for the defense to rotate back out before patiently hitting the open man right under the rim:

Hunter’s individual scoring wasn’t anything special – he took advantage of the opportunities created, but he’s not someone who is likely to create something out of absolutely nothing. The lack of vertical athletic burst can hurt him around the rim, as can bouts of indecisiveness:

Hunter acquitted himself well in preseason overall, showing more than the standstill three-point shooting he was billed to have early in his career. The upside isn’t terribly high and he’s not going to be a primary playmaker at any point in his career, but merely being able to make something happen as a secondary playmaker is a massive added value for a player who also projects as a plus three-point shooter and defender.

Bringing positive value to all three of those phases of play would make Hunter one of the better all-around forwards in the league, though obviously it’s unwise to project that outright based solely on how things went through five preseason games.