De'Andre Hunter has had an unusual three seasons in the NBA. His rookie campaign was cut short by the pandemic. His sophomore season was marred by knee injuries. Finally, his third year saw the most consistent progress (albeit incremental gains).
The Hawks officially wagered on Hunter when they traded his 2019 Draft classmate, Cam Reddish, to the New York Knicks in January. Hunter finished the season strong and is now eligible for a rookie contract extension. Let's dissect the 24-year-old's third season.
End of the Year Grades
Offense - B-
Both the Hawks and De'Andre Hunter got off to a slow start out of the gates. The situation went from bad to worse when Hunter suffered a tendon injury in his right wrist that required surgery which sidelined him for 26 consecutive games. The Hawks went 13-13 in Hunter's absence.
Hunter came off the bench in his return on January 12 before returning to the starting lineup for all but one game throughout the rest of the season. Hunter finished the regular season with 13.4 points per game on 54.7 TS%.
Hunter's shot diet was well-balanced. Thanks to his size, the 6'8" wing can score at all three levels. Hunter shot 47.4% inside the arc and 37.9% from three. Most notably, Hunter shot a blistering 47.8% from the left corner-three, which was nearly identical to Kevin Huerter.
While Hunter lit it up from outside, he still struggled in the paint. Even more perplexing is his aversion to rebounding. Nine Hawks players grabbed more rebounds than Hunter. That is unacceptable for a player with Hunter's size and athleticism.
Of course, Hunter helped his leverage for contract negotiations by excelling in the five-game playoff series against the Miami Heat. Hunter led the Hawks with 21.2 points per game and a 46.2 3PT%. With the Heat fully focused on Trae Young, Hunter was able to eat. So were Hunter's playoff performances signs of actual growth, or was it fool's gold?
Defense - B+
De'Andre Hunter's calling card is his defense. Whenever he's on the court, he picks up the opponent's best player. That likely explains his subpar advanced metrics. FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR model graded Hunter as a net-negative on defense.
Consider that with the fact that the Hawks starting lineup was objectively worse on defense than the second unit, and it's another example of why stats don't always tell the full story. Ask anyone in the league if the Hawks would be better on defense without De'Andre Hunter, and they will laugh at the notion.
Development - B
Like the movie Fight Club, we met De'Andre Hunter at a very strange time in life. The pandemic mixed with injuries, and we still don't truly know who he is as a player. He's prone to inexplicable off-nights and equally mystifying clutch performances.
Hunter played 53 games in the regular season, which was up from last year's 23, but still down from 63 in his rookie season. The good news is that his twice-surgically-repaired knee held up, and he only missed action due to a fluky wrist injury.
But is Hunter the 'Baby Kawhi' that Hawks had hoped for? No. But he is a solid two-way player with a relatively high floor. A player with his size and skill set will be in the NBA for a long time.
Overall Grade - B-
Most of the Hawks roster regressed this season. Yet, there are still some silver linings, and De'Andre Hunter's incremental progression is one of them. Like his teammates, Hunter gets a long offseason to repair physically and retool his game. He has spent most of the past two years rehabbing from injuries. This will be his first summer since 2020 where he can actually add to his game.
This is the most consequential offseason of Hunter's career. Atlanta's front office and Hunter's representation will begin negotiating his rookie-contract extension. Unless Hunter is willing to settle for less, I anticipate him heading towards restricted free agency as John Collins did in 2021.
To further heighten the stakes, no player except Trae Young is guaranteed to be back in Atlanta next season. Hawks owner Tony Ressler and general manager Travis Schlenk have already hinted at a looming roster turnover. The Hawks have already cut bait on one of their 2018 first round draft picks. Could Hunter be next?
Recommended For You