Atlanta Hawks send strong message on rising star De’Andre Hunter

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Atlanta Hawks are going to reach their ceiling, the continued development of De’Andre Hunter is going to be a big reason why. The former fourth-overall pick has had an inconsistent season from a macro view. He is averaging a career-best 15.4 points per game but has seen his efficiency from beyond the arc fall considerably on a team that needs it.

Zoom in, however, and Hunter is taking slightly more threes with a higher percentage of those looks coming off the dribble as just one example.

But his calling card has always been his defense and, in the Hawks’ win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he showed why by going toe-to-toe with five-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard.

His performance drew rave reviews from head coach Nate McMillan and teammate Trae Young.

De’Andre Hunter draws rave reviews for defense on Kawhi Leonard in Atlanta Hawks’ win

“You could tell Dre was locked in on Kawhi,” Young told Bally Sports Hawks reporter Lauren Jbara. “Kawhi did a really good job getting to his spots but Dre did a good job making it tough on him. That’s all you can ask with a guy like that, competing. We just got to have that every night. And I know with Dre out there, it helps us a lot.”

Leonard finished with 29 points on 9-of-23 shooting. But he was 4-of-11 for 13 points when matched up against Hunter.

Hunter held his other matchups to 4-of-13 shooting for 10 points. On the season, Hunter’s defensive efficiency differential is third on the team behind John Collins and Dejounte Murray and ranks in the 83rd percentile, per Cleaning The Glass.

McMillan shared similar sentiments as Young saying Hunter’s defense was “really good”.

“Players like Kawhi, you’re not going to stop those guys,” McMillan said. “If you can make it tough on them and don’t allow them to get to the free throw line, that’s about as good as you can do and I thought De’Andre was solid all night long. I wanted to try and match his minutes with him. The thing was just try to stay in front of him. And I thought most of his shots, they were contested – good contests – without fouling.”

Hunter has averaged 18.8 points on 59.5% true shooting with 6.0 boards, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 assists over the last four games since returning from an ankle injury.

The Hawks signed the 6-foot-8 forward to a four-year, $90 million contract in the offseason.

He has also been mentioned as a member of their core and someone they would need a hefty return to part with. All of these things make his performance against Leonard even more encouraging.

Dejounte Murray sounds off on Nate McMillan’s critical decision. dark. Next

Next up for the Hawks as they return home is a tilt against the Milwaukee Bucks whom the Hawks have already beaten two times in three previous meetings this season.