You had me at Red Velvet.
Nickname aside, Kevin Huerter was someone who I left just outside my top-30 for last year’s NBA Draft. How foolish of me to disregard one of my most basic basketball principles – 6’7″ players with above average athleticism who can shoot 3-pointers should be first rounders.
In college, Huerter nailed 41.7 percent of his triples, of which he took 5.5 a game. But how is he doing in the League?
Upon first glance, you may think that Huerter is doing fine as a rookie, just fine. Perhaps he is benefitting from extended playing time on a struggling Atlanta Hawk team. His last 11 games, however, tell a different story.
Over that span, Huerter has started to come into his own. The only thing that appears to have grown more than his confidence is the number of 3-pointers he is taking per game.
These last 11 games saw Huerter almost double his scoring average. During his first 25 games he put up 6.2 points per game. Over his last 11 games he has dropped 12.1 points per contest. What else has changed?
During this most recent stretch, Huerter saw his shooting percentages jump as well. He went from hitting 40.3 percent of his field goals to 42.4 percent. More impressively, his 3-point average jumped while he took more triples per game. Throughout his first 25 games Red Velvet attempted 3.1 3s per game and scored at a 38.5 percent clip. Compare this to his last 11 games where he canned 39.1 percent of his treys while upping the amount taken per game to 5.8.
Maintaining efficiency while increasing volume seems like a mathematical formula that would take me back to sophomore year algebra and give me anxiety. But it is easy to understand here. Huerter is chucking up more shots and it is probably because they are going in. See? Easy stuff.
Furthermore, the Hawks have a much-improved record over these last 11 when compared to their first 26 (Huerter played in 25 of those games and saw one “inactive”.) Over their first 26 games the Hawks went 6-20. Their last 11 saw them go 5-6. Much better.
Sure, Trae Young’s own 3-point percentage came alive during that streak as he averaged 40 percent on 3.6 attempts per game. They also simply seem to be gelling as a team and rallying around each other. But you cannot deny that Huerter’s emergence has played a big role too.
So what has the shooter been doing lately on the court? Huerter is finding little ways to create the marginal space he needs to get off a quality look, especially on catch and shoot chances, where he places in the 58th percentile by hitting 38.9 percent of his C&S chances.
All of this hinges on him trusting his jumper, and sometimes trusting that he can get it off in either tight spaces or from very deep. Case and point, check out Huerter simply backing far behind the 3-point line to give him a clean, step-into look from deep.
If this technique sounds simple, it is because it is. Too often do pundits, including myself (especially myself) overthink the game. We see more of this spacing strategy during what could be considered his “breakout” performance against Dallas on December 12th.
After a pass to Young, Huerter merely backs up to about 30 feet from the hoop. He receives the ball back from Young and calmly steps into a triple from about 30-feet away.
This next clip is the most revealing when regarding Huerter’s increasing confidence levels. DeAndre Bembry flings a dangerous, inaccurate crosscourt pass to Huerter. Still, Huerter takes one dribble to regain his balance and sinks a 3-pointer from very deep. He just looks like a seasoned sniper there, doesn’t he?
Huerter has a knack for finding the soft spots in the defense, which for him, has lately been the corners of the court. This is not without good reason. Take a look at his percentages from this specific area of the court.
Watch the next two offensive possessions for the Hawks in this video. On one, Huerter finds the corner on a transition opportunity. On the other, a half court set, he sprints with purpose to the corner and collects himself with just enough time to let one fly.
Huerter dropped a career-high 22 points against the Pacers that day. He did so while launching 9 triples, another high mark for his short career. This is a trend, though. Over his last 11, Huerter has taken 7 or more 3-pointers at least 5 times. For his first 25 games played he managed to reach 7 3-point attempts just once.
The University of Maryland product has been cruising lately and the Hawks are reaping the benefits. I have painted him as a 3-point specialist but, Huerter has also shown the ability to get to the lane and even run some pick and roll.
Next up for the kid, watch him take on the Milwaukee Bucks tonight. Let’s see if he can keep his hot streak going against one of the best defenses in the Association.