Maryland product Kevin Huerter thriving in first season with Atlanta Hawks

by Matthew Paras via The Washington Times

Super Bowl Sunday was a reunion for Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter. In town for Mondays matchup against the Washington Wizards, the 20-year-old rookie spent his off day watching the game with Marylands basketball team in College Park.

Hawks guard Kevin Huerter drives to the basket past Knicks forward Kevin Knox during a game Dec. 21, 2018, in New York. (Adam Hunger / AP)

For Huerter, it was a chance to see close friends. Marylands roster and staff havent drastically changed since the former Terrapin declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore season.

Huerters life, on the other hand, is quite different from a year ago.

With the Hawks, Huerter has quickly found his place in the NBA. The lanky, 6-foot-7 red-haired sharpshooter now starts on a rebuilding Hawks team that offers a near-perfect showcase for Huerters skillset. The rookie went into Mondays game against the Wizards averaging 27.1 minutes, 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Its hard to find guys who can pass, attack off the dribble and are really good shooters, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. Hes capable of doing all three. … Everyone pegged him as a shooter, and hes way more than that.

Huerters decision to leave Maryland wasnt an easy one. He had the option of returning for his junior season, and possibly would have if he hadnt been evaluated as a first-round talent after a series of impressive workouts for scouts and executives.

Drafted 19th overall, Huerter fits into general manager Travis Schlenks blueprint for the Hawks. A former assistant GM for the Golden State Warriors, Schlenk has tried to find his own equivalent of a Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson backcourt.

For now, that means the Hawks have paired Huerter with fellow rookie Trae Young, the fifth overall pick acquired on draft night (along with a future first-rounder) from Dallas for Luka Doncic. Like Huerter, Young is known for his ability to shoot and even drew comparisons to Curry throughout the draft process.

Pierce said Huerter helps alleviate pressure off Young since the point guard draws most of the attention. Theyre outscored when on the court together, but thats more telling of the talent around them. Pierce said Huerter can create his own shot.

While Young has struggled with his 3-point shot this season, Huerter hasnt. Huerter is shooting 38 percent from deep third-best among rookies who have played at least 250 minutes.

Huerters success with the Hawks didnt come instantly. He missed all of Summer League while he recovered from hand surgery. And when he returned, Huerter said the speed of the game caught him off guard. At Maryland, Huerter was regularly used to shooting over smaller defenders but that rarely happens in the NBA.

Ive honestly tried to slow my game down a little bit, Huerter said. I really kind of came in the league and was trying to figure everything out. Preseason was moving pretty fast for me. … The last couple months or so, Ive really tried to slow down and make my reads and stay under control and play with a lot of pace.

Huerter said he was told he wouldnt earn playing time unless his defense is up to par. But Pierce is more than satisfied in that area, pointing out Huerters length allows him to get deflections and blocks at a good rate.

The Hawks, though, are still very much a work in progress. They have the fifth-worst record in the NBA at 17-35. The team knew this would be a rebuilding year.

But in that, Huerter has emerged as a quality prospect.

Any of us young guys that are playing, its obviously (were) grateful for the opportunity, Huerter said. Any time we can be on the court together and try to get better, its great for us.

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