Are the Atlanta Hawks Asking Too Much From De’Andre Hunter?

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images /

Looking into the Atlanta Hawks’ usage of rookie forward De’Andre Hunter.

The Atlanta Hawks took De’Andre Hunter fourth overall last summer during the draft, looking to fill one of the team’s biggest weaknesses: defense.

Hunter was tabbed by many to be the best perimeter defender in the class, and with his talented ball handling combined with a 7’2 wingspan, he seemed able to play as a 2, or either forward spots.

When added to the team, he instantly became among the best – if not the best – defenders on the team.

Thus far, Hunter has appeared in 37 games for Atlanta, starting 36, and has had some highlights, but mostly so-so play overall. He hasn’t been very good offensively, especially of late, but that’s not why he was brought here.

The Atlanta Hawks’ front office specifically targeted (trading up four spots) Hunter for his defense, and their use of him thus far confirms that.

Like a star corner back covering the opposing team’s best wide out, Hunter has consistently been matched up across from the opponent’s best player.

The thing is, De’Andre Hunter isn’t a star corner back, or NBA forward either. He’s a 22-year-old rookie being asked the cover the LeBron‘s, Giannis‘ and James Harden‘s of the world, and to his credit, has had some success.

Advanced stats like defensive rating and win shares would peg Hunter as one of the team’s worst defenders, but luckily we have the eye test to know that’s simply not the case.

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In fact, the case might actually be that Lloyd Pierce and the Hawks staff are wanting too much out of the Virginia product.

Even though his draft age of 21 would suggest he’s more “pro-ready” than most rookies, he’s still a rookie. He’s been thrown into the fire pretty recklessly for a fourth overall pick.

I’m not suggesting that Hunter should be delegated to a bench role or to the G-League, as like I said, he has had some good moments. There just needs to be some pressure lifted from the rookie.

Confidence can make a break a young player, regardless of their talent, and at some point it has to be tough to play good defense but still not have it show because you’re facing some of the best players in the league.

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Hunter has potential to be a fantastic 3-and-D wing in this league, and it’s unfair to thing he should be that player right away.

It’s cliche to say, but he needs time, and perhaps a slightly lighter load.