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One important reason Kevin Huerter is a key to building around Trae Young

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Continuing a series.

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

With the NBA Draft Lottery approaching and some discussion picking up regarding potential consolidation trade scenarios involving the Atlanta Hawks, I am taking a look at some of the specific ways that De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish fit on a roster with Trae Young as the centerpiece.

While Hunter has the size to punish cross matches when opposing teams defend Young with a bigger wing defender, Huerter brings different skills to the roster building formula.

Before we dig in to some of his core value to Atlanta’s roster construction, it should be pointed out that head coach Lloyd Pierce does use Huerter to attack really small point guards in a handful of cross match situations. It would be misleading to suggest it never happens, although its not his primary function when playing with Young.

For example, on the play above an ATO (after time-out) possession is designed to get Huerter a match-up with Jordan McLaughlin (5’11, 170 pounds). He shoots over the undersized defender for the bucket.

In terms of how Huerter specifically fits with Young in half-court offense, it all starts with how effective he is starting off the ball in the corner — typically, but not always, the left corner.

Young instinctively wants to play downhill and to his right. When opposing defenses can force him left he still has tools to put to use. At times, he will punish the overplay with a step back jumper from near the top of the key (or the logo). Other times, he will set up slower defenders and “snake” the pick and roll action, which often leads to a floater.

Huerter is uniquely effective lifting from the left corner into a variety of DHO (dribble handoff) actions.

Hunter is a much bigger combo forward and is unlikely to ever be as good as “bending” the play as is often needed. Reddish could very well develop the ability to do this, but as of now, he is just not a secure enough as a ball handler to counter the different ways teams might defend him in these situations.

The above is an example of him working from the right corner. Here, Young is operating on the left side of the floor by design. The intent here is to generate a three-point attempt from either corner with Huerter (right corner) being the first option and Hunter being the second (left corner).

It looks like “pistol” action — a modern version of it — as it appears Huerter will get successive screens from Hunter and John Collins. But Hunter slips his would-be screen and clears to the opposite corner to provide space for a Huerter-Collins pick and roll.

Huerter gets and knocks down an uncontested short jumper. Hunter was also free in the left corner because the Knicks completely botched their defensive communication.

Atlanta needs a complimentary guard to Young who can, very specifically, operate as a creator after lifting from the corner. That is a more specific skill set than it might appear to be on the surface.

Huerter is well suited to excel in this area of play because of his solid ball handling and his ability to create desirable shots off of the dribble when attacking the paint. He also has very good feel as a distributor in actions such as this.

This is the basic action they rely on Huerter to execute when Young needs a break from initiating the offense or when the defense is able to force the ball out if his hands.

He lifts from the left corner into a DHO from Jeff Teague and then gets a second screen from Collins. He dribbles toward “the nail” looking for his own shot.

On this possession, the Knicks see the set coming and deny Huerter the middle of the floor by switching defenders. They force him away from his desired path to the nail.

This is where we see a critical aspect of why Huerter works so well in his offensive role. He is able to reset the play, as it were, and run a traditional pick and roll with Collins which leads to a lob dunk.

This is the textbook definition of a “secondary creator.”

Huerter simply possesses the necessary skills to continue with productive action after being denied his first look on the play.

On this play, Huerter lifts from the left corner but into a tradition down screen from Bruno Fernando. Notice that he receives the ball from Young who is high on the right side of the offensive formation (where many defenses want to push him).

On this “away” set, the rookie, Fernando, doesn’t execute the most solid screen and Wayne Ellington is able to chase Huerter such that he is not able to get a good look from the three-point line. (Note: many shooting guards simply route the ball back to the point guard when the perimeter look is denied.)

But, here again, Huerter resets the possession for a pick-and-roll with Collins which leads to a mildly contested jump shot squarely in front of the rim.

The skill set of Huerter is not really such that to he can function as the second unit point guard. The same could be said of Reddish, but the second year guard from Maryland is a good enough shooter that his team can run traditional catch-and-shoot actions for him, and he has the secondary creation skills to continue attacking if the first option on a possession is denied.

Further, it is optimal that he is so proficient at this lifting from the left corner into these actions because of where Young prefers to operate.

By all appearances, Huerter has spent two years being developed to operate in this role. As a result of that and his long-range shooting proficiency, the idea of him being casually moved in a deal might not be, from a roster building perspective, as easy and straight forward as one might think.