Analyst names Atlanta Hawks star ‘best bet’ for Most Improved Player

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Hawks have named De’Andre Hunter a member of their core going forward, making the fifth-year forward off-limits in trade talks this offseason. Further, they are interested in working out an extension. Negotiations are still far apart. But, if one analyst’s prediction comes true, the price will only rise.

Last we saw, Hunter dropped a 35-point, 11-rebound performance in the playoffs.

It came in a losing effort that saw the Hawks eliminated from the postseason in five games against the Miami Heat. That outing followed a 24-point showing in which Hunter went 4-for-6 from three-point range.

Now, he must put his immense talents on display consistently. If he does, everything will work out as planned.

Atlanta Hawks F De’Andre Hunter could make a strong case for Most Improved Player next season

Hunter was among a handful of candidates chosen by Sports Illustrated’s Michael Pina during the June 11 episode of the “Open Floor” podcast. He was not Pina’s top choice – that honor went to Anthony Edwards. But Hunter did earn Pina’s “Best Bet” designation for being “plus-8000” in some sports books to win the award.

“My best bet here – I’m just looking at the odds. This player…is plus-8000 in Vegas. So it’s 80-to-1. And it’s De’Andre Hunter with the Atlanta Hawks…I think he has All-Star potential. I’m waiting for his leap.”

Pina compares Hunter to forward Patrick Williams, whom the Bulls held onto instead of trading for center Rudy Gobert who went to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“In the playoffs this year, [he] had some moments that were very, very impressive. I think his ceiling as just a two-way, high-level impact player on a very good team is super high. I just love everything about his game. I think he can score at all three levels. I think he can be a lock-down defender.”

Then came the loftiest praise Pina offered in the form of a comparison.

“You don’t want to make Kawhi Leonard comparisons. But, that’s the type of player I think I can envision him becoming at some point. Next to Dejounte [Murray], next to Trae [Young]. Not too much offensive responsibility. But hopefully, they give him the keys a little bit more this year with Trae off the ball…I’m just a huge De’Andre Hunter fan.”

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Leonard is a two-time champion, a five-time All-NBA selection, and a five-time All-Star. The Hawks will be in good shape if Hunter can approach a fraction of that at his peak.

Also similar to Leonard, except in a negative sense, injuries have become a storyline for Hunter.

He dealt with a bad back during the postseason and has dealt with knee issues too. That will undoubtedly impact his final number if the two sides can agree on a deal this summer.

Pina’s co-host, Chris Herring, called Hunter a “great, great pick”.

“I think De’Andre Hunter is…someone that like, Atlanta may get more attention because of [the trade], people will take more notice of what Hunter is able to do and how important he is. So, I think that that’s a smart pick. And I think he’s a guy that has kind of looked like he was scratching the surface of low-level stardom anyway.”

But the Hawks need him to pay off their faith in him. Otherwise, they will be no better off than they have been the last two years.

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If what we saw to end the regular season – when he dropped 22 points while knocking down all four of his triples – and the playoffs are any indication, Hunter could be in for a monster year. And, quite possibly, some hardware.