Swingman Kevin Huerter heads into his fourth NBA season on the high of a strong playoff run as the Hawks advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. While he was in and out of the starting lineup during the playoffs, Huerter enjoyed a particularly strong series against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, including a Hawks-high 27 points in the Game 7 victory on the road.
In the regular season, Huerter produced a similar season production wise as he had done the season before, averaging 11.9 points per game on 43% shooting from the field on 10.6 attempts, 36.3% from three on just under six attempts per game to go along with 3.5 assists per game.
Some of his numbers were down slightly from the season prior but what Huerter offered that the other wings such as De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish could not was availability. Huerter played in 69 of the Hawks’ 72 regular season games as well as all 18 in the Hawks’ deep playoff run. In a season where the Hawks constantly dealt with injuries at almost every turn in the season, Huerter’s consistency in his availability was extremely valuable for the Hawks and also marks a turnaround in some of the labels attached to Huerter in the 2019-20 season.
Huerter dealt with a shoulder injury in the 2019-20 season and various other knocks early in the season led to some labelling Huerter as slightly injury prone. Huerter ended up playing 56 games in the shortened 2019-20 season and that as well as all but three games last season should put to bed the notion of Huerter being injury prone.
Huerter now heads into his fourth season and unlike fellow 2018 draft selection Trae Young, Huerter hasn’t been signed to an extension as of yet and whether he will be signed to one or allowed to hit restricted free agency remains to be seen.
The context of Huerter’s season obviously differs somewhat if he signs an extension or if he heads towards restricted free agency but there’s a number of things that Huerter will be looking to improve upon heading into his fourth season regardless.
Huerter’s three-point percentage regressed a bit from 38% in 2019-20 on six attempts to 36.3% in 2020-21 on 5.6 attempts. 36% is still a solid percentage but I believe Huerter is capable of more of achieving the 38% (and beyond) he averaged in his first two seasons in the league.
Inside the arc, Huerter could stand to improve his finishing around the rim, shooting below league average:
Add to that his ability to finish through contact and draw free throws, attempting 0.9 free throws last season — this is something that has been discussed regularly when it comes to Huerter so far in his career. If there isn’t a noticeable improvement in this area I think this might just be a part of Huerter’s game that just might not get to what the league would consider ideal.
Huerter has always been more than just a shooter, so even if his ability to draw more fouls or finish more efficiently at the rim doesn’t materialize, Huerter contributes in very meaningful ways with both his shooting and his playmaking ability and that will continue to be the case this season too.
Huerter was part of a 5-man lineup that the Hawks fared very well with (also their starting lineup for a duration of the playoffs), a lineup of Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Huerter, John Collins and Clint Capela. That lineup posted an offensive rating of 123 and a net rating of 21.8 but only in 112 minutes. In the playoffs, that lineup played 156 minutes and posted a net rating of minus three. In the Bucks series, that lineup actually posted a positive net rating.
Should the Hawks feel that inserting Hunter immediately into starting lineup to begin the season might be a little too quick — given the nature of the injury and the layoff — I would imagine that same lineup will be the starting lineup to start the season, at least until the Hawks are satisfied that Hunter can return to the starting lineup. When that eventually happens, Huerter’s role may change again when Hunter does return to the action and he’ll likely be coming off the bench again.
His production was down slightly when he was coming off of the bench compared to when he started but still averaged 25 minutes in his 20 games off of the bench last season, but no matter what role he finds himself in Huerter has a lot to offer to the Hawks and there’s a lot they need him to do too.
An important season lies ahead for Huerter as restricted free agency appears could loom if he and the Hawks fail to agree to an extension ahead of the season.