Former Terrapin Huerter thriving as Atlanta Hawks rookie

Feb 04, 2019 | by Matthew Paras, The Washington Times

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

For Huerter, it was a chance to see close friends. Maryland’s roster and staff haven’t drastically changed since the former Terrapin declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore season.

Huerter’s 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 Huerter’s skillset. The rookie went into Monday’s game against the Wizards averaging 27.1 minutes, 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

“It’s hard to find guys who can pass, attack off the dribble and are really good shooters,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s capable of doing all three. … Everyone pegged him as a shooter, and he’s way more than that.”

Huerter’s decision to leave Maryland wasn’t an easy one. He had the option of returning for his junior season, and possibly would have if he hadn’t 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 Schlenk’s 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. They’re outscored when on the court together, but that’s 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 hasn’t. Huerter is shooting 38 percent from deep — third-best among rookies who have played at least 250 minutes.

Huerter’s success with the Hawks didn’t 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, Huerterwas regularly used to shooting over smaller defenders — but that rarely happens in the NBA.

“I’ve 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, I’ve 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 wouldn’t earn playing time unless his defense is up to par. But Pierce is more than satisfied in that area, pointing out Huerter’s 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, it’s obviously (we’re) grateful for the opportunity,” Huerter said. “Any time we can be on the court together and try to get better, it’s great for us.”

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