The 2021-2022 NBA season has officially begun and it is time to take an in-depth look at the UVA basketball alums in the league this season.
Today, we take a look at Atlanta Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter, who was optioned for a contract extension by the Hawks this week.
Aside from some lingering injury troubles, De’Andre Hunter has been exactly what the Atlanta Hawks wanted him to be when they selected him with the 4th overall pick in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. The former Cavalier came out of college as perhaps the most ready-to-play prospect selected in the draft that year, given his measurements and ability to play defense. Hunter has proven that the defensive skill set that made him the national Defensive Player of the Year in his final season at Virginia translates very well to the professional ranks. For most of Hunter’s first two seasons in the NBA, the Hawks have tasked him with guarding the opposing team’s best player, regardless of position. At 6’8”, 221-pounds, Hunter has the unique combination of size and strength which allows him to defend opposing bigs down low, while also having the lateral quickness and agility to keep up with guards on the perimeter. His offensive game has developed nicely as well and Hunter has proven to be the ideal prototype for the NBA’s coveted “three-and-D” player.
In his rookie season, Hunter played in 63 games, starting in 62 of them and averaging 12.3 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. He shot 41.0% from the field and 34.8% from three in 32.0 minutes per game. Last year, Hunter Hunter missed 49 games with a knee injury suffered midway through the season. He played in just 23 games and made 19 starts, but averaged 15.0 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and shot 48.4% from the field. He increased his statistical averages in those categories despite playing less minutes at 29.5 minutes per game.
Hunter came back from his injury in an attempt to contribute to the Hawks’ playoff run. Hunter started five games in Atlanta’s first-round series against the Knicks, averaging 10 points and four rebounds in 30 minutes a game. Ultimately, however, it was determined that Hunter needed to have knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus and he missed the rest of the postseason.
Hunter has spent the entirety of the offseason rehabilitating his knee and it seems he will be ready to go when the season begins, but it is still uncertain how long it will take him to settle back in. On a stacked Hawks roster, Hunter may find himself competing for his starting position, especially in the early part of the season.
Atlanta this Season
After missing the playoffs in three straight seasons, the Hawks seemed well on their way to make it four in a row as they began last season with a 14-20 record. The organization parted ways with head coach Lloyd Pierce and interim head coach Nate McMillan took over. Under McMillan’s leadership, the Hawks won 27 of the remaining 38 games in the regular season and finished with a 41-31 record, good for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta defeated the fourth-seeded New York Knicks in five games in the first round and took down the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in seven games in the conference semifinals. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks lost in six games to the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.
This year, Nate McMillan begins his first full season as head coach and he does so with an extremely deep and talented Hawks roster.
Trae Young enters his fourth season as one the league’s top superstars and arguably a top-five point guard in the NBA. He is surrounded by an abundance of contributing pieces and many of them return from last year’s team that made the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks have known for multiple seasons that they have a solid core of young talent to build a team around, but now that young core has playoff experience and has matured into a dangerous team with championship aspirations.
The starting five figures to be Trae Young (point guard), Bogdan Bogdanovic (shooting guard), De’Andre Hunter (small forward), John Collins (power forward), and Clint Capela (center). The Hawks have several players on their bench who could easily start as well. Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish have both shown a lot of upside in their first few seasons in the NBA. Huerter and Reddish seem the most ready to take advantage if Hunter is a little slow returning to his former self early in the season. The Hawks also have reliable backup options at point guard in Lou Williams and Delon Wright, as well as depth in the front court with Danilo Gallinari, Jahlil Okafor, and Gorgui Dieng.
Atlanta sorely missed Hunter’s presence, especially on the defensive end, as the Hawks fell to the Bucks last year. As the Hawks look to make another deep run in the playoffs this year, they will look to Hunter to continue his progression as one of the top two-way players in the NBA this season.
The Hawks begin their season at home against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday at 7:30pm.