The Atlanta Hawks training camp has started and they play their first preseason game on Monday. They’ll be taking on the rival Miami Heat in a game that will probably see little of either team’s starters for various reasons. Many on the Hawks side will be nursing ailments that are expected to keep them limited in the preseason.
One such player is third-year forward De’Andre Hunter who is coming back from having two surgeries on his meniscus in the past year.
Despite that, Bleacher Report tabbed Hunter as the Hawks x-factor this coming season.
The Atlanta Hawks could be in for a big year from ‘x-factor’ De’Andre Hunter
Grant Hughes took a spin around the league and identified players “who’ve shown flashes but still bring considerable uncertainty into the year ahead”. Hunter’s season was cut extremely short thanks to his injury. He appeared in only 23 regular-season games, starting 19 of them.
He averaged 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 32.6 percent from deep.
That’s not quite what earns him the designation from Hughes, however.
As he points out, Hunter averaged 17.2 points, 5.4 boards, and 2.2 assists in the 18 games he started before going down initially. On top of that, the 6-foot-8 wing stopper put up 22.4/3.8/3.2 in the five games before he got hurt.
“…if Hunter is the defensively stellar, knockdown shooter with an expanding off-the-dribble game he appeared to be, the Hawks could have themselves an ideal running mate for Young.”
Opponents shot 5.6 percent worse when Hunter guarded them. That was good for 13th in the NBA among forwards to appear in at least 20 games. While that might not seem great, many of his most frequent assignments were point guards. That is a tall task for guards, let alone forwards like Hunter, who has drawn some comparisons to Kawhi Leonard in the past.
Unfortunately, the similarities between the two have gone beyond playing style with knee injuries joining the list. While the team has been consistently optimistic, there has to be at least some concern that he needed to have surgery twice.
Still, the most encouraging bit of information has been that Hunter has practiced in full thus far.
That takes some of the sting out of the likelihood he doesn’t play in the preseason. If that holds, it bodes well for Hunter — who could push for Most Improved Player — and the Hawks.