Kevin Huerter had an inconsistent sophomore season for the Hawks that included two nagging injuries, a slow personal start to the season, and a dismal 20-47 team record. It wasn't a lost season for Huerter, but it also wasn't one that allowed him to take meaningful strides forward.
This week, Atlanta's second-year guard discussed his frustrating season with The Athletic's Chris Kirschner, detailing his new diet, his workout routine during the NBA hiatus, and how the Hawks can elevate themselves into the playoff conversation in 2021.
"I just want to win. I am so sick of losing," he told The Athletic. “I want to prove to everybody that what we’re doing is working. We have to take that next step."
The Hawks have repeatedly addressed taking the next step, most notably when Lloyd Pierce called his group "a playoff team" in March. Accomplishing that goal will require a lot to go right for Atlanta, including growth from its young core of Huerter, Trae Young, John Collins, Cam Reddish, and De'Andre Hunter.
Save for Young, it's not currently clear how firmly any of that core is tied to the Hawks' foundation, and Huerter will likely find himself in a battle for playing time with Reddish, Hunter, and whatever perimeter players the team acquires in the offseason. While his defensive fit with Young is slightly anxiety-inducing, Huerter's versatility and shooting ability should be valuable parts of Atlanta's offense, regardless of whether or not he starts games.
Last month, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk told reporters that Huerter came into training camp out of shape to start his second year, which he believes exacerbated underlying knee soreness that eventually cost Huerter playing time early in the season. On Wednesday, Huerter told Kirschner that his poor conditioning was a result of trying to bulk up after his rookie season and putting on 10 pounds of bad weight.
He has since changed his diet, cutting out gluten and fried food, and been diligent about his workouts during both the season and the hiatus. "It’s a very clean diet now,” Huerter said. “I’m just more conscious of eating more vegetables more so than I ever have been, but the big thing was cutting gluten."
Huerter said he works out most days of the week at his parents' house in New York, where he has access to weights and a basketball hoop in the driveway. He talks with members of the Hawks' training staff over the phone, and told Kirschner his sisters work out with him on occasion.
With his team approaching a pivotal year, Huerter knows this is an important offseason and that he'll need to improve his game to help take Atlanta where it wants to to. The guard shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last season on six attempts per game and, despite knee and shoulder injuries limiting his availability, increased his raw per-game production across the board. His playmaking hasn't garnered as much attention -- in or outside of Atlanta -- as his shooting has, but the 21-year-old is already a savvy passer and playmaker, which works symbiotically with his above-average shooting ability.
Huerter cleverly finds passing windows in the pick-and-roll, shoots kickout passes to open teammates, and is a master at finding empty space in a defense. At 6-foot-7, he can see over defenses, which opens up passing angles, and makes quick decisions with and without the ball to keep the pressure on opponents. Huerter prides himself on his ability to impact the game in myriad ways, and says he likes the way the Hawks allowed him to do that in 2020.
"My role on this team changed three or four times over the course of the year," Huerter told Kirschner. "I like that because I feel like they trust me to do a lot of different things, and I’m not just cornered into one specific role."
The Hawks would like to see Huerter increase his 3-point volume -- even if it comes at the expense of a few percentage points -- and attack the rim with more ferocity in his third season. There were times last season when Huerter wasn't as involved in the offense as he could have been -- partly a necessary byproduct of running an offense through a star as talented and ball-dominant as Young -- and Huerter says he's still feeling out where he belongs in Atlanta's ecosystem.
"We’ve had a lot of change on offense. I am still trying to figure out how I fit into all of that,” Huerter said. "I learned a lot about myself [this season]."