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2021-22 Atlanta Hawks player review: Kevin Huerter

Season number four in the books for Huerter

2022 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Having agreed to a 4 year, $65 million contract extension before the start of the regular season, swingman Kevin Huerter entered his fourth season in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks knowing that he no longer needed to worry about his contractual status in the near future and that he would remain with the team that drafted him back in 2018 as a key member of the roster.

“It was important to our group to secure Kevin as a part of our team moving forward,” said Hawks president and general manager Travis Schlenk in a statement at the time. “He’s developed into a versatile, two-way player who can fit any lineup and can play minutes all over the perimeter. We are excited his future is in Atlanta.”

Huerter’s role with the Hawks had changed slightly in the last season heading into the 2021-22 campaign as he moved to a bench role — when everyone was healthy — as Bogdan Bogdanovic entered the starting lineup after Nate McMillan was appointed as the Hawks’ interim head coach.

For the first 11 games of the 2021-22 season the Hawks ran with the starting lineup of Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela — basically the lineup the Hawks wanted to see after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals without De’Andre Hunter, feeling as though a healthy and firing Hunter may be the difference.

But the Hawks struggled to start the season, going 4-7 in those first 11 games and when Huerter was inserted into the starting lineup against the Utah Jazz as the Hawks were in the midst of a six game losing streak.

Huerter initially started the season a little slowly having not had the cleanest of preseasons, dealing with an ankle injury, and shot 20% from three in the first 10 games of the season.

Once Huerter went into the starting lineup he rarely went out of it so long as he was active, and Huerter was available for most of the season — barring health and safety protocols — and played in 74 games this season for Hawks in the regular season, 14 coming off the bench, 60 in the starting lineup.

Despite not having a clean summer injury-wise, Huerter has been a constant in his availability for the Hawks in his four seasons, playing a total of 274 regular season games out of a possible 303 — that’s over 90% of Atlanta games that Kevin Huerter has been available for. The old cliché of ‘The best ability is availability’ might not always be true but for Kevin Huerter — especially in a roster where wing players have either been traded/moved on or missed time through injury — it’s been an enormous asset for the Hawks.

But Huerter not only offers availability but ability as well, and while he averaged fewer minutes per game this season other than his rookie season (29.8) his percentages across the board are career-highs: 45.4% from the field on 10.3 attempts per game and 38.9% from three on 5.6 attempts.

Despite the Hawks’ up-and-down season, Huerter emerged from it with the second-highest total plus/minus of any Hawk this season, a total of plus-168 in his 74 games, only trailing Bogdan Bogdanovic who was a plus-192 but did play 11 games fewer than Huerter. Plus/minus is obviously a subjective stat but I think total plus/minus across an entire season does tell a bit more accurate story than single game plus/minus at times. Huerter’s tells the story that he was a general plus for the Hawks this season.

Huerter scored a season-high of 28 points on two occasions this season but December’s contest against the Charlotte Hornets also marked a career-best seven made three-pointers from Huerter. Sadly, the highest scoring games from Huerter went to waste slightly as his 26 point game against the Raptors in late January, his 28 points against the Utah Jazz on November 9th and his 28 points against the Hornets with those seven threes all came in losses, but when Huerter scored 17 or more points the Hawks were 11-6.

One of Huerter’s highlights of the season came in a December game against the Indiana Pacers, Huerter produced a ‘stop’ to help the Hawks come up with the victory (despite a very obvious pull of the shirt from Huerter) after a costly Trae Young turnover led to a Pacers fast-break:

“I never foul, I haven’t fouled anybody in my life,” said Huerter, deadpan, postgame. “I want to contest the shot, it was clean up-top and he came up short.”

This game came at a time where Huerter was still trying to find his way having dealt with a hamstring injury not long before this game and acting head coach Chris Jent discussed that as well as what Huerter offered in the starting lineup with Young.

“I think it’s been talked about a lot that he had a summer where he didn’t do anything,” said Chris Jent after that Pacers game when asked abut Huerter. “Kevin’s a rhythm guy. He’s finding his rhythm. He operates really well with Trae, him and Trae have really good synergy. He’s going to get better and better. It’s really tough, you can’t underestimate the fact that you come into an NBA season and haven’t done anything basketball-wise during the summer. But It’s good to see (Huerter succeed).”

Huerter found form from beyond the arc to end the season — shooting 41.8% from three over the final 20 games — but in the playoffs it was a struggle for Huerter as Miami’s defense shut the Hawks down, including Huerter’s outside shooting: 29% on 6.2 attempts.

A tough end to the season for Huerter but I thought he looked better in this season than he has in his previous three seasons in the league. I thought his movement this season looked so much more spry and active than any of his previous seasons. He looked sharp in 2022, his movement quicker, sharper especially inside the arc.

Look at Huerter’s shotchart from the (slightly shortened) 2020-21 season and take notice of the areas just inside the three-point line, more so the elbow/free throw line extended areas where Huerter shot 4-of-6, 2-of-12 and 4-of-9:

Now look at his shotchart from the 2021-22 season:

Huerter shot 9-of-19, 7-of-17 and 9-of-16 in those spots: more attempts and more makes. He just looked so much more spry in his footwork and comfortable getting to those spots and hitting those jumpers.

But look, as well, at the improvement at the rim a marked increase of 84-of-148 in 21-22 over 86-of-168, and the improvement from Huerter as a corner shooter was remarkably notable too.

From Huerter’s perspective on his season, while there were fewer ups and downs than previous seasons he still felt that those ups and downs were prevalent at times (perhaps reflected in shooting 26.7% from three through games 31-40) but his offseason focus is to work on his game inside the arc and become a 40% shooter outside of it for the season.

“I feel like it had lot of ups and downs again,” said Huerter of his season. “Less peaks and valleys but still some peaks and valleys. For me it’s kind of much the same going into next year, still working on my game inside the three-point line. A goal of mine is to shoot 40% from three and I came close to that. Got hot at the end of the year, almost got that benchmark so that’ll be a goal of mine going into next year.”

Ironically, the event that turned Huerter’s season around in his eyes was the layoff from his bout with COVID, which he said allowed him to properly recover after only having 10 weeks between the end of the season and training camp and struggling with injury heading into the season.

“It took a while,” said Huerter when asked how long it took to feel ‘physically right’. “I remember when I was out for COVID, at least for me — I was sick, I couldn’t test positive for about 10, 11 days — but I feel that was the first time I felt I was able to get time off and my body got right and I feel I was able to work on my game and get that back to a point, just showing up in the gym by myself. I feel when I came away from COVID that was when I felt better and it was almost like that a breath of fresh air.

“I went into training camp my ankle wasn’t right, I think I sat out most of training camp, sat out a couple of our preseason games just trying to get ready for Game 1 (of the regular season) that’s what Mac (Nate McMillan) told me going in, ‘I need you for Game 1, get your body ready, whatever you have to do.’ And then Game 1 comes around and you don’t always have your game-legs, your body is still adjusting. I wasn’t able to play over the summer so my first game action was Game 1. I wasn’t the only one, there were a lot of guys that had that. It’s no surprise we didn’t get off to a good start especially if our mindset wasn’t right on top of all that, on top of all the physical issues. It’s not a recipe for success. I think for me it took a while (to feel right).”

After a tough playoff series, Huerter is looking forward to the prospect of a healthy summer — something he did not enjoy last season.

“I’m sitting here today and I feel physically better today than I did at this point last year, at the end of our playoff run last year I was pretty banged up. I’m just excited to go into an offseason, for the most part, healthy and get ready to take a couple of weeks off but get back to work.”

Season four marked the best one yet for Kevin Huerter yet and heading into his fifth season — turning 24 during the offseason — there’s still a lot to look forward to when it comes to Huerter, regardless what changes the Hawks may make in the offseason, and regardless of whether those changes mean Huerter continues to start or come off the bench.

Kevin Huerter is, and will continue to be, more than a shooter.