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2018-19 Season Review: Kevin Huerter

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A positive debut.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks selected Kevin Huerter with the No. 19 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, a selection acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2015 Adreian Payne trade. Most of the draft day buzz and the hype going into Summer League revolved around Trae Young, as he was the highest draft selection by the club since 2007 when they selected Al Horford third overall. Huerter missed the Summer League due to surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right (shooting) hand, and perhaps that contributed the slow start he had to start the regular season, as well as the natural uncertainty of what he really is coming into the NBA only two years removed from high school.

Huerter’s minutes started at ~15 per game in October, and exponentially stretched all the way to over 34 per game for the month of January, which should effectively illustrate the increase in trust he developed with head coach Lloyd Pierce as the season unfolded. He battled some minor, nagging type injuries heading into the All-Star break, and saw a slight minute decrease (27.4 minutes per game following) when play resumed in late February, seemingly just to lighten his workload a little bit.

Huerter finished eighth among all rookies in minutes played, and tied for seventh in games played (75). He was fourth among rookies in three-pointers made (136) and shot 38.5% from three-point-range in his debut campaign. The efficiency from deep came as no surprise, as he was drafted as a shooter to pair with Young for years to come, but the degree of difficulty, and the comfortability Huerter displayed with taking and making shots with such difficulty, is what shined brightest for the former Maryland Terrapin.

The 6’7 wing was not simply profiled as just a shooter coming out of college, and that proved to be true as well. Huerter has outstanding leaping ability, and threw down his fair share of impressive dunks during his rookie campaign, catching a few folks off guard.

Trying to sum up an entire season with a few highlights is tough, but his season-best performance at Philadelphia on Jan. 11 showed off nearly every weapon in his arsenal. He was dynamic and consistent with the long-ball, hit a clutch three to tie the game with just under a minute remaining, and got some a lot of his offense off of the ball, cutting to the basket and running around on the perimeter.

He displayed above average vision for his position as a rookie, which resulted in Lloyd Pierce employing him (briefly) as the backup facilitator on multiple occasions later in the season, following the release of veteran point Jeremy Lin. Jaylen Adams was still the primary back up, with DeAndre’ Bembry probably technically being the third string point guard. Huerter was mostly still technically playing the “two” position on defense during these stretches while initiating the offense on the other end of the floor.

Huerter spent the vast majority of the time playing alongside Young in the backcourt, so the sample size of this arrangement is too small to really know how effective the team was while he was in the facilitating role, but it’s just good to know the staff thinks he has the potential to be a multi-dimensional weapon offensively, or at the very least they felt strongly enough about his passing/playmaking ability to experiment with it. With no definite backup point guard currently in place going into 2019-2020, it will be an interesting thing to track heading into the season barring a significant acquisition for the backup point guard role, which is extremely possible given Atlanta’s vast cap space and the fact that most reserves sign relatively short-term, low risk contacts.

The rookie wing did sometimes struggle on the defensive end with more physical matchups, and didn’t make much of an impact at all of the defensive glass. Huerter ranked in the bottom third of all rookie guards in rebound percentage. While he does have some capacity of defensive versatility, as his 6’7 frame matches up with most wings, he is not going to guard point guards very often playing next to Trae Young, so getting stronger and more physical is crucial for him over the offseason if he is going to improve as a wing defender as well as on the glass.

There may not be many certainties with a player of Huerter’s age, but if there’s one it’s that he fits well into Lloyd Pierce’s spaced out, fast-paced three-point happy system. He should receive every opportunity to retain his starting position on the wing heading into training camp late this summer barring significant roster overhaul. The wing struggled with personal consistency from a numbers standpoint as a rookie, which is not uncommon, especially for someone as young as Huerter (20). Despite the lack of consistent personal success, there has to be something said for his overall net rating of -2.3, which was 2nd on the entire roster among significant contributors behind only John Collins.

Assuming he comes back a stronger, more physical player, Huerter could become a positive net guy very soon if the team keeps trending in the upward direction like it did for the last month and change of this season. It’s possible to imagine that Huerter could experience a jump similar to the one Collins had this season in a best case scenario. It’s far from a lock, but Collins was also not even remotely a lock to be a 20-and-10 guy going in to his sophomore season, so it’s good to keep in mind that anything is possible, especially with rookie-to-sophomore jumps. It’s the most natural time for a player to make a huge jump, and with him essentially being injured to start his pro career, it’s fair to think he could definitely make a marginal leap across the board in his second season if he stays healthy.

A fair floor expectation for Huerter next season would be more consistent play on both ends, and improved chemistry with the starting lineup. He and Young will look to continue their ascent into one of the east’s up and coming backcourts. Depending how the offseason goes, it’s not unthinkable to envision Atlanta potentially getting back into the postseason as soon as 2020, and if that is going to happen, Huerter will definitely need to play a major role.