The 2020-21 NBA season is nearly here and, after the longest break in recorded history, the Atlanta Hawks will return to action in the coming days. Before the regular season tips off on Dec. 23, the Peachtree Hoops is coming together for a ten-part roundtable series, setting the stage for what’s to come. In part four, our writers discuss expectations for Atlanta’s trio of returning young wings.
Brad Rowland: This is a tough one. Only one of these players projects to start this season, with Young, Bogdanovic, Collins and Capela widely seen as locks to begin the season on the floor. As such, it is safe to project a decline in total deployment from these three players (as a collective) when compared to last season, but where does that dip come from? Reddish is the best defender of the bunch right now, and that gives him a potential leg up, especially if he continues to find his legs as a secondary creator as he did late last season. Huerter will always have a role as a shooter on a team that needs spacing around Trae Young. Hunter might have a tough time finding minutes at the 4 with Gallinari on board, but the Hawks still like him at the 3 and, in theory, he gives them versatility. Overall, I’d encourage fans not to panic too much if one (or two) of these guys don’t play as much as they did before because, well, that is probably going to happen.
Wes Morton: I’d be very surprised if all three took big steps forward, just based upon the trio overlapping in position and battling each other for minutes. More than likely one or two will break away from the pack and show tangible improvement. With the Hawks trying to win now, the team can’t be as patient in their player development. For my money, I’m bullish on both Hunter and Reddish and bearish on Huerter given that with the offseason additions, the Hawks need wings and forwards who project to be plus defenders. Huerter is behind the curve in that regard and is a season closer to his restricted free agency than the other two.
Glen Willis: For Reddish, the focus is to continue his emergence as a disruptive defender on and off of the ball and a continued progress toward being more consistent on the offensive end of the court. For example, his ability to consistently make shots off of the dribble will depend up an ability to improve his ball handling. Hunter offers so much versatility as a young player that I think the key for him will be in finding ways to impact games consistently as his role might drastically change from game to game. He also needs to become a more aggressive defender as to maximize his impact on that end. Huerter just needs to get stronger which would presumably give him more confidence attacking the pain on offense (a real key for him) and being able to defend bigger wings on defense. For each of the three, I think these are reasonably realistic expectations for the season.
Daniel Comer: Reddish’s shot improved tremendously through last season, and he showed a great first step at times when heading toward the rim. The raw skills are all there... I’m just hoping he was able to find a gym to practice his handling in throughout quarantine. Hunter feels like a longer, slightly less skilled derivative of Reddish. If I’m Atlanta, I’m leaving Hunter in the second unit with the hope that he’s forced to develop some offensive moves in an offense that isn’t dominated by Young. Huerter is in a very strange spot entering year three. I’m thinking he improves his man-defense and continues to be a threat from 3, but I worry he won’t have the minutes to showcase his improvements and could be a trade candidate by midseason.
Josh Lane: Just looking on paper at the roster, Huerter might be in an odd spot as being the odd man out. For Huerter, I really hope he takes this time to study behind Bogdanovic since to me both seem to have a similar skill set. For Hunter, I am expecting him to continue to grow as a defender after having one season under his belt as the Hawks primary defender. If he can find a way to impact the game positively on offense as well as continue to grow his game as a versatile defender, then he would have to be on the floor in crunch time minutes. Finally for Cam Reddish, if he continues to improve his shooting and overall offensive game as well as being a defensive pest that we saw at the end of the year, then it will be very tough to determine who to play in crunch time between himself and Hunter. Overall, I fully expect all three of the players to improve this season due to previous experience as well as some of the pressure being taken off due to the free agency signings.
Rashad Milligan: My expectation for Reddish this season is to continue to take the next step of his career and solidify himself as a top three player in the 2019 draft class. For the past three years, he’s heard critics and coaches alike tell him he needs to be more aggressive. Finally, in the final two months before the NBA suspension, Reddish has been more aggressive, and his increased confidence paid tenfold. This season is the opportunity for him to show he can be that aggressive player all season. Huerter, my expectation for him is to step up as a leader. With DeAndre’ Bembry in Toronto, Young, Huerter and Collins are now Atlanta’s veterans. One thing that stood out to me in his media availability this past week was him mentioning how he understood sacrifices minutes-wise will have to be made in order to win. My expectation is for Huerter to benefit from competing with a guy like Bogdanovic. For Hunter, he’s probably been the most consistent out of the three wings, but his ceiling has been lower than the other two. The expectation for him is to continue to improve his team defense, and continue to improve his game in general being more comfortable after seeing a, nearly, full NBA season.
Graham Chapple: It’s a big season for all three of them because I think it’s fair to say that not all three of these players will necessarily remain with the Hawks long term. Reddish is arguably the safest bet to remain long term, I think there is significant pressure on Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter this season. Starting with Reddish, it remains to be seen whether he starts or not but he’s the one most fans would be most optimistic heading into this season. I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue on the trajectory he showed before the Hawks lost the last part of their season. He should still be a plus defender and his three-point shooting showed a strong improvement as the season went on. He’s going to play a lot of minutes but Hawks fans shouldn’t be disappointed if he doesn’t take an elite step forward this season, that is an unfair expectation and those are something Reddish might fall into this season. Hunter I expect will be a stable presence regardless of whether he plays off of the bench or starting at that small forward spot. Does he have a jump in him in terms of his development? I feel uneasy about that question… It wouldn’t surprise me if his sophomore season was similar to his rookie season in some aspects. Huerter probably has the most pressure on him, since the Hawks went out and signed Bogdan Bogdanovic, who will start ahead of Huerter with the year year guard more than likely moving to the bench. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Huerter’s game and I think he’s been unfairly criticized at times. I expect him to be a meaningful contributor who will light it up from beyond the arc and I hope the Hawks continue to tap into his playmaking because I believe in it and I believe in his creation more than Reddish’s right now. Defensively is where Huerter will have some questions to answer.
Ryan Kerley: I think Cam Reddish needs to get a lot of minutes and be in the starting lineup. His potential is far greater than that of Huerter and Hunter. He started to show flashes of how he can be a really good two-way player before COVID-19 ended the Hawks’ season. I think that Huerter and Hunter are great bench pieces. They can develop into really good role players. Huerter provides shooting, and Hunter will provide a good defender off the bench. I don’t know what the Hawks’ plans are, but this is what I foresee as the best option.
Joel Lorenzi: I’m on the Reddish wave. Him playing starter minutes but being the fourth or fifth option is conflicting, but I think he’ll continue to come into his own not only off the ball but as a secondary shot creator. The knack to score is still there, and anybody who watched him in high school knows he gets it in so many ways. His continued growth as a ball handler will help his case this year. I think Huerter gives that second unit a much needed boost in terms of shooting the basketball. He’ll probably still be able to showcase his talent similarly well. Not sure what the second unit back court will look like but that will obviously play a big part in Huerter’s role. Hunter isn’t the best team defender, but people seem to forget that his versatility and on-ball defense is what helped him get drafted so high, and it hasn’t left him. His ability to continue to prove that versatility and his room for growth with defense will make him this year. Bottom line is if he can play team defense, he is serviceable anywhere.
Zach Hood: Hopefully they can evolve into their new roles and become more efficient. Huerter should be one of the better rotation shooters around the league. Reddish will be key in taking away lead wing options as he’s still the best option for that task, being a plus shooter is a bonus. Hunter is a hybrid of each of those, hopefully he can be both a reliable shooter and a reliable rotation defender.