Peachtree Hoops is breaking down each player on the Atlanta Hawks roster ahead of the 2021-22 season with an eye on what they may contribute. Today, we set our sights on third-year wing De’Andre Hunter.
After De’Andre Hunter’s rookie season, many questioned the Atlanta Hawks’ decision to give up substantial capital to move up in the 2019 NBA Draft for the Virginia forward. When the dust settled, the Hawks had received Hunter (No. 4) from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Jaxson Hayes (8), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17), and Didi Louzada Silva (35). A hefty price, without question, and Hunter did not establish his will and identity in his rookie campaign, leaving some onlookers underwhelmed.
In his second year, Hunter showed just how valuable he can be when he featured as the Hawks “x-factor” in the first third of the season. The advanced stats, as well as the eye-test, supported the investment that the Hawks front office made in the 2019 Draft. Unfortunately for Hunter and the Hawks, he has struggled with health, and a procedure to remove damaged tissue from his meniscus kept Hunter out for the rest of the 2020-21 regular season. Hunter was able to return for five games in the first round series against the Knicks, but after difficulty with his knee again, MRIs revealed a fully torn meniscus. Hunter underwent another surgical procedure on his knee in June.
Considering the timeline, it’s possible that Hunter will return to basketball shape over the next month and possibly in time for the start of the season, but without the benefit of a full off-season it may be difficult for him to immediately build upon the potential he showed last year. In the 23 games Hunter played in 2020-21, he showed some very interesting shot creation and dribble penetration talent, along with demonstrating true switchability defensively. He averaged 15 points a game on 48% shooting from the field, including 3.2 made free throws a game. All of this, along with Hunter’s mid-range shot creation was key in helping take the offensive pressure off of Trae Young.
When Hunter returns, the most critical element will be if he still has the same first step quickness to get into the lane, and then the necessary explosiveness to get to the rim or rise above defenders in the mid-range. The knee stability will be even more important on defense, as the switching scheme Hunter normally plays requires lateral quickness to recover on perimeter picks and slips. Fans should expect his catch & shoot scoring not to be severely impacted by the injury, as well as his rotational and off-ball defense, he had established those skills as a rookie. However, if he’s going to take another step this year, it’s in the other areas of his game that he will need to continue to grow, despite his health.
The question of Hunter’s development, particularly in relation to whatever progress Cam Reddish (and possibly even Jalen Johnson) makes this season, will be central to the future of the Hawks. If Hunter can actually turn the flashes of brilliance he showed in his sophomore season into consistent creation and production, it will completely change the ceiling of this young roster and could vault the Hawks into championship contention. This question is probably one of the most interesting storylines for the upcoming Hawks season.