The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t “over” but, with the coronavirus pandemic placing the season in a suspended mode, there is a distinct chance that the Atlanta Hawks won’t be playing again this season. With that as the backdrop, the Peachtree Hoops crew will look back at the players still on the roster and how they performed in the team’s first 67 games.
The seventh installment focuses on second-year wing Kevin Huerter.
Kevin Huerter’s rookie season was one that left many with optimism for his future.
A sharpshooter with good size and playmaking ability, Huerter emerged as a potential backcourt partner of the future next to star point guard Trae Young during the 2018-19 campaign, and many were looking forward to what Huerter could do in his sophomore season.
However, Huerter’s season got off to a bit of a shaky start. He found himself, for the most part, coming off of the bench in the opening 10 games and on a minutes restriction as he rehabbed from a knee injury that caused him to miss training camp and preseason.
For some time — even as Huerter was given a 30-minute restriction — it made little sense as to why he was still coming off of the bench as Cam Reddish continued to start (and struggle) as a rookie. Eventually, sanity prevailed and Huerter was re-inserted into the starting lineup, where we always belonged.
Just as his season began to really get going, though, Huerter sustained a left rotator cuff strain in what was Atlanta’s best win of the season (at the time) on the road against the Denver Nuggets. From there, Huerter was ruled out for at least two weeks.
Kevin Huerter heads back to the locker room after this foul from Nikola Jokic. pic.twitter.com/i9xxKDmcFy— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) November 13, 2019
The real shame was not only was that the victory was marred by the injury, but that Huerter had just returned to the starting lineup the game before (against the Portland Trail Blazers in an overtime loss) and he had appeared to get into a groove. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 12 (when the injury happened), Huerter averaged 12 points on 49% from the field, 48% from three-point range.
Huerter returned to action on Dec. 4 — nearly a month later — but just as he started the season, Huerter was placed on another minutes restriction. Unlike the start of the season, it didn’t take as long for Huerter to be reinstated to the starting lineup.
The rest of December, however, was a struggle for Huerter as he worked his way back from that injury, shooting 37% from the field and 32% from three. Throughout this, there were some who called for Huerter to return to the bench, even though the only reason Huerter was on the bench to begin with was due to injury/rehab, not due to the fact the Hawks had already decided Reddish had taken his job. I thought people were extremely quick to forget what Huerter did last season and what he was doing prior to his injury, in addition to Atlanta’s desperate need for perimeter shooting.
People were also quick to put the label ‘injury prone’ on Huerter but ultimately, he ended up playing 56 of the Hawks’ 67 games (or, 83.5%), only four less than Young and two less than Reddish. In fact, from January 1st, no other Hawk played more games than Huerter, 33 games, with the next highest coming from John Collins and Vince Carter, both of whom played 32 games in 2020.
You could argue that Huerter’s averages from January 1st were a little more reflective of his season rather than with his stop-start beginning of season added to the equation (having to rehab twice from injury) — 13.9 points per game on 42% shooting from the field, 39.6% from three on 6.6 attempts, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 turnovers in 35 minutes a game.
The Hawks tapped further into Huerter’s playmaking abilities this season, which was a welcome boost seeing as the Hawks struggled for playmaking outside of Young. Huerter linked up on a number of occasions with Collins (61 to be exact, only 58 times less than Trae Young assisted Collins, which may be somewhat surprising) and the two formed a good partnership.
Both in the pick-and-roll:
But also from behind the arc, with Collins trailing the play on this possession where Huerter finds him for three:
Huerter averaged 3.8 assists for the season but proved himself as a reliable option for making plays as 2020 continued, with Huerter averaging five assists per game from February 1st. On March 6th against the Washington Wizards, Huerter hit double-digits in assists for the first time as he recorded his second (and last) double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 assists (with only one turnover).
For the season, Huerter’s stats weren’t all that different from his rookie season:
Still, a couple of key data points are present.
Huerter’s efficiency was largely unchanged (with the exception of Huerter’s free throws) but what did change was Huerter’s volume: attempting more shots in general and more three-pointers and in more minutes per game — so to keep up the same efficiency (which was already good in the first place from distance) on more attempts is an encouraging sign.
I’m quite high on Huerter and I think he is given a bit too much grief at times, but there were some issues with his season that will need addressing in the future.
One problem was that Huerter’s defense wasn’t exactly fantastic at times. I believe that Huerter’s defense is generally underrated, but even I was a little underwhelmed by his defense — he should be better than he sometimes is.
Another issue was one that extended from last year and will, once again, be an issue next season: free throw generation.
This was something that Lloyd Pierce addressed as a need to be improved, but it didn’t really take shape this season. While Huerter’s free throw attempts did increase from his first season to his second, they increased only from 0.7 per game to 1.1 per game.
In his rookie season, Huerter’s highest number of free throw attempts in a game was four — I’m going to say it’s a problem when the most free throws someone takes in a game is only one more than a three-point attempt foul. This didn’t really improve in 2019-20, as Huerter’s season-high in free throw attempts was six attempts.
This really is the next step to Huerter’s offensive game. In addition to simply getting to the line more often, an uptick in his rim attacking would boost his averages closer to the 16-17 point plateau and closer to the third scorer the Hawks need.
Given Huerter’s issues earlier in the season and having to basically start his season twice on minutes restrictions, I think his averages for the season, while similar to his rookie season, are relatively impressive (again, I lean toward his averages from January 1st as an outlier going forward). Naturally, people will look at the season averages and will be disappointed by the ‘lack of progression,’ but context is important.
It was, in some ways, an odd sophomore season for Huerter, but he still figures to be an important part of the Hawks’ future, providing much-needed floor spacing and an intriguing wing option moving forward alongside Young, Reddish, Hunter, Collins and Capela.