Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 75 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment examines Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter.
De’Andre Hunter is the safest prospect in the top ten, outside of Zion Williamson. A general manager will know exactly what he’s getting from Hunter from the beginning of his career: solid spot-up shooting, a splash of individual scoring, and high-level defense. That safety makes him somewhat boring, as he doesn’t come with the high upside teams for which teams usually look in their top picks. For a team looking for the player with the best median outcome or a player who can contribute to winning right away, it’s hard to find a non-Zion prospect who’s a better fit to play winning basketball right now than Hunter.
The place to start with Hunter is his prototypical size for a forward. Listed at 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan and weighing in at 225 pounds, he did not go through any official measurements at the Combine, apparently assured of his status as a top pick. As a result, those measurements aren’t as accurate as they could be, but he still has the size and length to be a problem for opposing teams on the defensive end throughout his career.
Hunter pairs his physical profile with pretty much everything between the ears a general manager could want from a wing stopper. He gives full effort on every possession, understands defensive schemes at a very high level already, and is smart with the rotations he makes and help he gives. If there’s one area of his defensive game that could improve, it’s that he doesn’t take as many risks as the absolute top defenders. He’s not necessarily a defensive playmaker, opting to play within the system and do his part to play solid, fundamental defense. As a result, he still has some upside to explore as a defender – if his NBA team can coax some risk-taking out of him, he could be a perennial All-Defensive Team candidate.
Should Hunter play up at the power forward spot, it’s going to be important for his team to focus on defensive rebounding, as he’s not quite as good a rebounder as a lot of power forwards throughout the league. He may be fine in this area if his NBA coaching staff gets on him to rebound the basketball, but it’s not something he showed to be a strong point in his game at Virginia.
Hunter’s offense is similar to his defense; he’s not going to play outside of himself and doesn’t go off script. He’ll play within the structure of the offense, take the right shots, keep the ball moving, and generally be a very good role player. He’s a good spot-up shooter who hit nearly half of his 105 three-point attempts this past collegiate season. His 78 percent free throw shooting isn’t elite, but shows that he has good touch on his jumper and should be able to translate well to the NBA three-point line. As a shooter, he even has some utility on the move, though his shots off screens were more often from two-point range at the collegiate level.
He has some slashing upside to explore, where his strength and size makes up for a lacking handle. He’s not a high-usage isolation or pick-and-roll scorer with his burst and handle being what it is, but he can take advantage of a seam his teammate creates and put more pressure on a defense with a drive to the rim. His finishing is a little lackluster given his size and perceived athleticism, but he’s more of a lateral athlete than vertical athlete. His decision making is somewhat suspect at this point as well, which can sometimes slow him down when he catches and needs to quickly move the ball to a teammate. Like he is defensively, he doesn’t like to take risks on offense, which helped him cut his turnover rate in his sophomore season despite a higher assist rate, but it can sometimes gum up the works when he’s holding the ball.
Hunter’s versatility offensively is rather limited at this point; he’s a shooter who needs to be relatively wide open to get his shot off, but there are positive signs for his game on that end of the floor. The versatility of his jump shot will go a long way toward defining his offensive value.
Can he get his shot off when defenders are right in front of him, or is he going to have to be wide open? Can he extend his on-the-move shooting range to beyond the three-point line, or is he going to be a standstill shooter? Can he tighten up his handle and become more of an isolation threat, particularly against advantage matchups? Will he be able to use his size in the post to score over smaller guards, or will teams be able to switch against him without worrying about him putting a point guard in the basket stanchion in a post-up? The answers to these questions will help formulate his offensive game.
Hunter’s not a sexy pick. He’ll hit shots and defend for a team, but it’s unlikely he’s anything more than a fourth option (maybe third on the top end) for a team offensively. That high-end 3-and-D role is incredibly useful to a contending team, but the lack of upside as a primary scoring or playmaking threat will push him down certain teams’ draft boards. For the Atlanta Hawks, who have their primary playmaker of the future in Trae Young and may come out of the draft with multiple secondary playmakers on the roster, Hunter makes a lot of sense. He’ll play his role on the wing and at the forward spot and give them the true forward-sized defender they haven’t had in a very long time.
It’s not very likely, but not impossible, that Hunter will fall to Atlanta at No. 8 on draft night, and given his lack of upside, it may not make a ton of sense for the Hawks to trade significant assets to move up and grab him. The conversation surrounding Hunter and Jarrett Culver is one of safety versus upside – Hunter’s the safe pick who will give you exactly what you expect, while Culver has a lot more fluctuation in the way his career may play out, as well as fluctuation in how he’s perceived by analysts and scouts.
Traditionally, teams like to draft for upside in the top several picks of the draft, which elevates Culver ahead of Hunter on most boards, but in terms of the sort of player the Hawks need to fit with Young and John Collins, they could do a lot worse than De’Andre Hunter.