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Q&A: Myles Turner on Pacers, Centers, Playoffs, Texas Longhorns

Myles Turner talks to Michael Scotto about the Pacers, playoffs, his development and the Texas Longhorns.

Michael Scotto

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Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders podcast on January 24. Michael Scotto interviewed Turner and the Q&A transcription can be found below. To listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Michael Scotto: If you look at the way you’ve played individually in January, you’re shooting 51 percent from the field, you’re shooting 56 percent from three-point range, 80 percent from the foul line thus far. You’ve got about nine rebounds, two blocks a game and 16.6 points. What’s been the biggest factor for that, in terms of your individual play, to start off the new year here in 2017?

Myles Turner: I think the biggest thing is just getting comfortable. I’m more comfortable with the guys on the floor. I’m more comfortable with our system and just playing the right way. I’m really excited to be out here on the floor with these guys, we’re doing a good job.

Scotto: In terms of your own individual development, I know we’ve spoken previously about the level that you want to get to ultimately at some point in your career, where do you feel that you are on that road to becoming the player you ultimately want to be?

Turner: To be honest, I feel like I’m not even close. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface right now and, hopefully, I can get there soon but I’m working hard every day trying to get there.

Scotto: What is that, I don’t want to say ‘ceiling’ because I don’t think that’s the correct word, but where is that type of level that you think that you can be as a player?

Turner: I feel like, one of these days, I can be top five in the league, if not the best. That’s the sights I set for myself, those are the goals that I have and that’s where I’m trying to get to. But, I know I’m a long way from getting there, so I can’t view the long term. I’ve got to take everything day by day.

Scotto: Nothing wrong with striving to reach your full potential, certainly don’t mind that. I’m also curious, you’re one of the few big guys that’s a five, a center, that can shoot the three ball, we’ve seen that with Brook Lopez a little bit more. I’m just curious if you think that, with the way both you guys are transitioning, I don’t want to say a full stretch-five because you guys can both post-up on the block but adding that element to your game with the ability to be a stretch-five, do you think that we could see that as a bit of a trend in the league with the way the floor spacing has been so prevalent?

Turner: Undoubtedly. I think a lot of guys coming in are just working on all aspects of their game. I know that’s what I did and I know that’s what, I think, is being taught throughout a lot of the college programs and even in high school. Guys are just starting to be basketball players, not be just defined to one position. I know that’s what I did with my pops, he really worked hard with me every day after practice and even before practice some mornings just to work on all aspects: dribbling, shooting. He just made it possible for me to get here.

Scotto: Now, I’m going to take you away from yourself, individually, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the Indiana Pacers overall. In the month of January, you guys are six and three thus far. Just curious, what have you seen, so far, since the calendar has flipped to 2017 from the core group, collectively?

Turner: We had that stretch where we won five games in a row and we were just playing well together and the ball was just rolling the right way, but we’ve had a little bit of a downfall these past couple games. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get it back, it’s just, I think, coming back from this London trip and having to go to the West Coast right away messed with our bodies a little bit, but we’re starting to get back in rhythm.

Scotto: Now, I’ve joked with you about this before, but it seems like, with the team, you guys do a little bit of a cha-cha. You guys take a step forward, you guys take a step back. I’m just curious, why do you think it’s been, at least to this point in the season, a little bit inconsistent thus far, almost half-way through, or a little bit over, actually, half-way through the season?

Turner: I think it’s mostly because we’ve got new guys on this team so we’re all trying to figure each other out. We’re at the halfway mark of the season so we need to start figuring it out soon, but, like you said, we have stretches where we look like we’ve finally turned that corner and we just fall back a little bit and a lot of that fall back comes on the road. We really need to figure out what’s going on on the road and get these road wins back up to par and I know we’re at the bottom of the league in that aspect but I still have all the confidence in the world in this team. We have so many great players and so many great playmakers that the sky’s the limit for us once we figure it out.

Scotto: Now, I remember earlier in the season you had mentioned to me when we did an interview for a feature story that you thought the team could be, potentially, a top-four team. As it stands right now, when you look at the Eastern Conference, the number 6-11 seeds are only separated by about 3.5 games. What have you seen just from this conference overall and how clustered it’s been through the halfway mark in the east thus far?

Turner: Well to say it’s competitive is an understatement. Guys are just winning and dropping games but, once we play each other, it’s just like a dogfight. We’re all fighting for those three positions and it’s just interesting to see how it just volleys up and down throughout the season. You’ve got a team that has a bad loss or a really big win like Miami beat Golden State last night, the Pelicans beat Cleveland, stuff like that just happens. It really just messes with the entire thing. You can go from the No. 3 seed to the No. 6 seed just like that. It definitely makes it a lot more interesting and I feel like it makes things a lot more fun, knowing that you have to go out there and win some key games.

Scotto: What do you think is in store for you guys as a team overall and yourself individually for the second half of the season?

Turner: Well, like I said, I’m nowhere where I want to be. I feel like I still have more strides to make and I feel like I can make those strides throughout the rest of this season. I had a decent start to the season, not necessarily where I wanted to be, I wanted to be contributing a little bit more, but I think this team could really make the right steps. Jeff [Teague] is really starting to come into his own, PG [Paul George] has had a pretty good past couple of games and we’re all figuring each other out day by day and that’s just our biggest thing.

Scotto: Now, I’m going to take you off the court for a little bit and, for those who may not know, you’re a pretty active guy within the community and doing charity work. Do you have anything, in terms of that for Indiana specifically, coming up over the next few months?

Turner: Not anything coming up over the next few months here in Indianapolis that I know of right now. I’m still planning that stuff out. It’s hard to just get here, get in and get out, throughout the rest of the season. I know that around All-Star, I’m trying to get out to the community as much as I can. I think I might visit a high school and talk to the kids about giving back to the community, how important that is and how good it’s going to be for their futures. But, anytime I can help out the community, I try. It’s not even necessarily events that I plan, I just try to get out there on my own and make a difference.

Scotto: As a 20-year-old young man, did you ever foresee yourself having that type of impact not only just in the community for yourself individually and trying to help out others but just having that platform?

Turner: To be honest with you I did. I really thought that … with some kind of voice. I think I was that voice in my community growing up in high school. I tried to carry or transition it to Austin, Texas and, bringing it to Indianapolis, it’s just who I am, it’s a part of how I was raised and you’re never too young to have a voice. I encourage any younger guys that listen to this, to be that difference to their community. You’re never too young to start.

Scotto: Now you being a 20-year-old young man, for a lot of people they’re still in college at this point and you’re living a grown man’s life and having a lifestyle of your own off the court. What has that been like for yourself, adjusting into the real world, more or less?

Turner: It’s had its ups and downs. You still want to be that college kid you were, just hang out with your friends and just live the life, but it’s definitely work. Every day, day in and day out, you have something to do, you have certain responsibilities. It’s not college and that’s the biggest thing I had to learn last year. You can’t just do the same stuff you were doing, make the same decisions you were making. Everything you do is now looked at as a business. The organization that drafts you, you’re they’re multi-million dollar investment, that’s how you have to view it. You’ve just got to take care of your business and, obviously, you have fun while you’re doing it, but that’s the biggest thing that I learned.

Scotto: Certainly a good head on your shoulders from that regard and knowing you personally. Before I let you go, obviously, being a guy that went to Texas [the University of Texas at Austin], I’m curious what you think of them adding, I don’t know if you still follow them as much, but they did add a pretty good point guard in Matt Coleman and they’ve got some young pieces there at the program. What do you think of Texas’ future going forward as a program?

Turner: We’re just so young right now. I think we’re the seventh or eighth youngest team in the NCAA. They had such a great win over OU [University of Oklahoma] yesterday and I can see them growing real well. I’m actually really impressed by this Coleman kid. I watched a couple of highlights of him after he committed and I’m really glad that we got him. He’s the kind of guy that can come in and make a difference right away. We’re going to have a lot of sophomores next year, a couple juniors and that’s a young team. The sky’s the limit for them, for sure. I really think they can make a big difference and, hopefully, they play Kansas [the University of Kansas] in the Big 12. I’d love to see for that to happen.

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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NBA Daily: Russell Westbrook — Full Throttle

When Houston traded for Russell Westbrook last summer, they had to embrace him, warts and all. Matt John goes into what the Rockets have done to achieve just that and how their most recent deals could net them the most efficient Westbrook they could’ve hoped for.

Matt John

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Russell Westbrook doesn’t care what you call him, whether a high-usage, low-efficiency chucker, an anti-spacer that clogs the lane, or an empty stat-chaser. To Westbrook, it’s all the same: noise, especially if you are focused on Basketball Betting.

And, no matter what you may think of him, nothing is stopping Westbrook from playing at his own pace: fast (to say the least).

Westbrook’s style is so lively, so twitchy, that it’s hard not to it in just about everything he does on the court. While it’s certainly contributed to many of his flaws, the aggression he’s played with, the bounce in his step, has helped him rack up the accolades and eye-popping stats that he has throughout his career.

As a basketball player, Westbrook is the quintessential perfect storm; a tornado of fire, accolades and counting stats.

But because his warts — his sans-Kevin Durant postseason success, his paltry shooting numbers (particularly this season) — are as obvious as his talent, nobody seemed enthralled when it was announced that Westbrook was set to rejoin James Harden, this time with the Houston Rockets. Dating back to Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal in 2010, there has arguably never been as little fanfare concerning two former MVPs joining forces.

There was one silver lining, however: in his new home, Westbrook would be surrounded by shooters. Better yet, shooters that would prove consistently reliable on the defensive end. In Houston, Westbrook wouldn’t have to be Mr. Do It All. But would it be enough?

No was the early, and loud, return. Through the season’s first two months, the Rockets were 23-11, a strong record, no doubt. But fans couldn’t help but wonder if Westbrook had helped, or hurt, their cause. By New Year’s Eve, Houston was plus-3.9 with Westbrook on the floor, but were somehow better — plus9.5 — with him off.

The Rockets may have managed with Westbrook, but he wasn’t making them better. Of course, in that time, Westbrook had carried his weight as Houston’s no. 2 — 24.2 points and 7.1 assists — but his efficiency was as bad as it had ever been, if not worse. His 43/23/80 splits, while also coughing the ball up 4.4 times a game, had Rockets fans in shambles, the 23 percent from three-point range especially glaring as Westbrook was taking nearly five a game.

Making matters worse, Chris Paul, whom Daryl Morey traded for Westbrook, was not-so-quietly having his healthiest, most productive season since 2016 with the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. On top of Westbrook’s struggles, Paul’s resurgence made it seem as if Morey had made a terrible mistake.

But, Westbrook seemed to turn a corner in the new year. In January, he averaged 32.5 points on 52/25/76 splits, while the Rockets were plus-2.5 with him on the court and minus-0.9 with him off. While that was an improvement, Houston went 7-7, though Westbrook missed four of those games. Even if he was technically better, he still served as the scapegoat.

Something was holding both the Rockets and Westbrook back.

That something, in Westbook’s case, was the Rockets. Morey and Co. had asked Westbrook to play their style, which meant spot-up threes — not exactly Westbrook’s forte — and a slower pace. In essence, it was the complete antithesis of Westbrook. In time, it became clear that, if Morey’s experiment was ever going to work, Houston would have to adapt to Westbrook, not the other way around.

And, because Morey would do anything and everything in his power to win, the Rockets did just that. By trading Clint Capela, who, while a young, proven and still promising big, was a poor fit with Westbrook, for Robert Covington, Houston embraced small-ball and, in turn, embraced Westbrook’s ability and game to the fullest extent.

Relying on Covington, Danuel House Jr and PJ Tucker to hold their own against much bigger frontcourts will be an interesting sight come playoff time. And trading Capela — a young, high-upside and cost-controlled big — is certainly a gamble. But this version of the Rockets may arguably be the closest thing we ever see to the “perfect team” around Westbrook, and it may just be Houston’s best bet to win a title.

Now, the lane is completely free. Westbrook will be playing with shooters virtually non-stop. That means fewer threes on his part, driving to the basket with no one to get in his way, opening up more room for those shooters. And, while Westbrook’s perfect team does not equate to the perfect team period, it could equate to a deeper playoff run.

Since Houston’s shift, the returns have been promising. Post-Capela (his last appearance was Jan. 29), Houston has played six games and gone 4-2. And, minus their stinker against Phoenix, another game in which Westbrook did not play, each of those games has provided ample proof that an entire small-ball squad can be viable. Houston came out the victor against two of the best teams in the NBA this season, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, and another team with plenty of size, the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Rockets have also averaged 115.9 points per game, while Westbrook has led the team with 34 points per game and shot 51.5 percent from the field. So, in other words, he’s being efficient. Just don’t ask about his three-point shooting.

A “sample size” disclaimer will probably haunt the Rockets between now and the postseason, but the headline here is that thus far, it’s working. It’s not all because of Westbrook — through this stretch, Houston has been a plus-0.9 when Westbrook’s hit the bench — but he’s not hurting them as he did before.

In due time, we’ll see if Morey’s latest experimental maneuvering will pay off. But it’s clear that, if they go down, they’ll go down with Westbrook, rather than against him. They’ll be confident for sure, because, come the postseason, Westbrook will hit the court as he always has: full throttle.

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NBA Daily: Trade Deadline Gives Jerome Robinson Opportunity And Encouragement

After struggling to break into the Clippers’ stingy rotation, Jerome Robinson was part of a three-team trade last Thursday that landed him on the Washington Wizards. Drew Maresca explores the the new opportunity available to Robinson in Washington, D.C.

Drew Maresca

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Always one of the most entertaining times of the year, the trade deadline is an annual must-see event for basketball fans. But in addition to the excitement it brings, it can also introduce a headwind of confusion. Case in point: The three-team trade between the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers.

After lots of posturing and deliberation, the Knicks agreed to trade Marcus Morris to the Clippers for Moe Harkless, an unprotected 2020 first-round pick and more.

But even with that structure decided upon, that aforementioned more remained undefined for longer than fans on either side would have liked. Even after the Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell rumors were debunked, there was still a lot of excitement in New York about potentially acquiring one or more of the following young talents: Terrance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele or Jerome Robinson. All three had been rumored to be headed for the Big Apple at some point in the run-up to the deadline.

Just like the rest of us, Robinson watched as the trade continued to unfold.

“I knew that same day, that morning, that it could be the Knicks or the Wizards,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “At that point, I knew I was probably going to be out of [Los Angeles]. I didn’t know where to. But I eventually got a phone call and it was Washington.”

In short, Robinson is a 22-year-old former lottery pick — No. 13 overall back in 2018 — and a talented scorer that has struggled to acclimate and find consistent court time since he joined the league.

But it’s not entirely his fault.

At 6-foot-4, Robinson was chosen by a team with plenty of established shooting guards on the roster already. Immediately, Robinson was competing directly with established players like Avery Bradley and Lou Williams for the right to even step on the floor. And then there was Shamet too, another rookie that arrived in Los Angeles during the 2019 deadline and quickly gobbled up most of the remaining minutes.

As if the chances to develop weren’t hard enough to come by for Robinson, the Clippers’ successful offseason meant they would enter 2019-20 with legitimate championship aspirations. And with the team focused solely on reaching the NBA Finals, Robinson assumed he was in basketball purgatory — but the trade deadline brought along a new opportunity.

“I think [being traded] is a blessing in disguise,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase what I can do. I just have to go do it.”

Robinson received less than 10 minutes per game during his rookie season and only got a minuscule bump up to 11.3 this season. Given aspirations and additions, the team couldn’t give Robinson the playing time he needed to find some much-needed footing. Former head coach Doc Rivers’ main criticism of Robinson was that he didn’t look for his own shot enough.

These days, however, Scott Brooks — the Wizards’ head coach — and Robinson, unsurprisingly, have already spoken about this and the message is the same one that Rivers previously preached: Look for your shot.

“Me and Scott talked a couple of days ago,” Robinson said. “After practice, chopped it up for 10 or 15 minutes. He told me he wants me to just be me and not hesitate.

“Coach thinks that’s something I’ve always been able to do, but that I’ve been hesitant with at times in Los Angeles,” Robinson continued. “I told him that was due more to some kind of circumstances.”

But Robinson is obviously excited to play with more freedom and learn from in-game experiences.

“That’s something I can do here, whereas [with the Clippers], if you have a bad game, it’s kind of next man up.”

But there’s no rush in Washington.

The Wizards are still in the early stages of a rebuild and won’t likely be contenders soon, so Robinson will have the opportunity to become the first guard off the bench for the Wizards. And that newly-found chance will be invaluable as it’ll finally allow for him to prove that he belongs in the NBA.

Drew Gooden, the Wizards’ announcer and a 14-year NBA veteran, also spoke with Basketball Insiders about the good fortune Robinson will have at his new home.

“The situation that the Washington Wizards are in as an organization, you just don’t know what’s going to happen this summer at all,” Gooden said. “But he can definitely play himself into a better situation through your playing and willingness to be in the organization.”

So far, so good for Robinson and the Wizards. Since the move, Robinson’s minutes have already increased to 18.3 minutes per game — but other challenges lie ahead for the sophomore, like learning an entirely new playbook.

“That can be difficult,” Ish Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Especially for him because he’s playing right away. A lot of times when I’ve been moved, I wasn’t playing. The good thing about here with coach Brooks is that it’s free-flowing.

“We play so unselfishly that it makes it easier to adjust to and there’s not a lot to think about.”

Further, Gooden spoke about what Robinson must do to continue improving.

“I think there’s only so much on-the-court work you can, or I could, do with guys,” Gooden told Basketball Insiders. “Then it becomes mentoring and the mental aspect and adjustments. Lots of people forget that. It’s not just knocking down shots — it’s ‘how can I get that shot consistently?’ [and] ‘how can I knock it down more consistently?’ That’s the mental part.

“And then the preparation leading up to the game is another skill a player must have,” Gooden continued. “And it’s hard to have that as a younger player. So if there’s an opportunity to talk to him and steer him in the right direction on or off the court, I’m up for it.”

Despite a slow start in the league, Robinson still has loads of tools that are valuable in the modern NBA landscape. And that’s why the Wizards and those close to the team are excited for Robinson to ramp up.

“What I’ve seen so far is that [Robinson] has a lot of pop to his game,” Gooden said. “I know that term’s used in baseball more, but it translates to the NBA game in that when he’s on the court, something’s going to happen.

“He’s not just running back and forth,” Gooden added. “He’s either scoring the ball, creating a hard foul or turnover, something’s going to happen. I’ve seen him play really hard and with a lot of energy so far.”

Over his 10 years playing professional basketball, Smith has seen his fair share of new opportunities too — and he’s ready to see what Robinson does next.

“His talent is there,” Smith told Basketball Insiders. “He just needs to adjust to things – different coaching, teammates, areas of the country. But so far, so good. And it’s our job to make him comfortable so that he can succeed.”

If Smith and co. handle all that and Robinson flourishes with the Wizards, the young prospect might ultimately fulfill his potential. So even though Robinson’s career didn’t kick off as expected with a franchise with fast-moving aspirations, there’s always a chance to grow and get better.

And with the knowledgable encouragement of those around him like Brooks, Smith and Gooden, it’s officially Robinson’s turn to make a name for himself in Washington.

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NBA Daily: Hawks See Another Level In De’Andre Hunter’s Future

Spencer Davies has a chat with Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and forward De’Andre Hunter to discuss the rookie’s first half of the season, his progression as a player and where his game might end up.

Spencer Davies

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With NBA All-Star weekend on the horizon, the city of Chicago is preparing itself for three days of nonstop entertainment. Before the bevy of contests and competitions, as well as the game itself, we’ll have one of the most anticipated Rising Stars matchups based on star-power alone.

It’s a shame — and probably unfair — that De’Andre Hunter won’t be participating, or in attendance at all.

After all, the Atlanta Hawks’ rookie has played 31.5 minutes per game over 51 starts, leading the 2019 draft class in both categories. He’s also taken and converted on the highest amount of catch-and-shoot threes among his peers. Despite the team having its fair share of issues in limiting opponent production, his individual defensive prowess has come up huge in key moments.

It’s that kind of impact that allows Hawks’ head coach Lloyd Pierce to count on him with such a heavy workload, one that even some veterans in this league aren’t tasked with.

“Well, his game is all about… I just trust that he’s going to do the right things,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders at a morning shootaround in Cleveland. “I trust that he’s going to be in the right spots. I trust that he’s about the team.

“He doesn’t bring the flash and the pizzazz that a lot of other guys do, or what you’re expecting of a No. 4 pick or whatever you call it. That’s not important to me. What’s important to me is, is he a championship player? Is he a championship-caliber player? Can he grow into being a guy that you can’t afford to have off the court because of all the things he brings? And a lot of those things don’t show up on the stat sheets.”

With Pierce showing his confidence by giving him all that playing time, Hunter says it means a lot.

“He has a lot of trust in me,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “He obviously believes in me as a player and the things I can do on the court, so to be in the game as a rookie in those close games against good teams, it’s a good feeling. Just happy to be out there and compete.”

There is plenty of eye-popping young talent around the Association, even right at home in this draft class. From the athletic Zion Williamson, who has finally taken the league by storm after sitting out essentially the first half of the season, to Ja Morant, the human highlight reel that has put the Memphis Grizzlies in surefire playoff positioning in the Western Conference, it’s easy to feel good about the league’s future.

But Hunter goes to a beat of a different drum – his own drum, if you will. He doesn’t have the ball in his hands all that often and, for that matter, he doesn’t need it to be. Hunter, effective beyond his years, has consistently made his mark atop Atlanta’s plus-minus and net rating ranks. While his numbers seem modest from a distance, it really goes further than what the eyes see in a box score.

The 22-year-old believes he’s been able to produce in such a way since he started playing the game.

“I’ve played with good players most of my life, so I wasn’t always going to have the ball. But just being an all-around player, that’s something I pride myself on,” Hunter said. “Not needing the ball, being able to get stops defensively, being a catch-and-shoot guy, being able to get other guys involved and things like that. I just try to be as versatile as possible because I feel like in the NBA today, that’s definitely what you need on the team.”

In the lower half of rookies with a 17.6 usage percentage, Hunter is still averaging 12.2 points per game. The majority of those come from corner triples, a place where — if he can master it — he feels will help him elongate his career. Pierce knew that would be a strength of Hunter’s just by watching the talented swingman at the University of Virginia, specifically, in the NCAA Championship game last April.

Hunter told Basketball Insiders that two assistants — Matt Hill and Chris Jent, once LeBron James’ personal shooting coach with the Cavaliers — have been helping him improve his positioning and mechanics.

“Just keeping my balance, getting both of my feet down, not drifting to the side, then keeping my follow-through,” Hunter said. “I feel like when I do that and when I’m ready to shoot before the ball even gets there, I feel like most of the time it goes in.”

Pierce expanded further upon that element of Hunter’s maturation, going as far as likening the 6-foot-7 forward’s potential to a two-time NBA Finals MVP.

“He’s also learning how to shoot off the move, he’s also learning how to shoot off the dribble, he’s also learning how to play with the basketball in his hands,” Pierce said.

“Learning some nuances, you watch a guy like Kawhi [Leonard] – who you compare [Hunter] to naturally with his size – start learning how to use that shoulder to shield off defenders before you get to your shot as opposed to just… those little things that he’ll learn and pick up will take his game to another level.”

Foreseeing a gradual rise with Hunter’s offensive game, Pierce is giddy over the possibilities if the rookie continues on the path he is on.

“The thing you say about Kawhi all the time is he’s always on balance, and that’s what we’re going to keep working on with ‘Dre,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders. “Just always on balance and get the shot you want because of learning those nuances.”

When asked about how far he’s come since being drafted, Hunter mentioned his playmaking and getting to the basket. However, recently, he’s been most proud of his newfound confidence to create for himself.

Although he was known for it coming out of college, Hunter’s picked up on a lot on defense, too. Better, he’s being more aggressive in getting around screens. In facing guys multiple times and through film study, he’s starting to counter tendencies that opposing teams and their players try to use against him.

“We don’t have to double team when he’s defending because he’s solid, and when things break down and he’s off the basketball, he’s in position to help. You keep him on the floor because of those reasons alone and not the numbers,” Pierce said.

“And he’s going to grow into an even elite team player, both offensively and defensively, high percentage, effective field goal percentage, high defensive ranking when he’s on the floor. That’s who he is, that’s what we’re grooming him to be and that’s what he’s kind of been from start to finish.”

The Hawks welcomed Hunter with open arms when he arrived. He joked that they haven’t made life too hard on him despite his first-year status in the league. Playing with All-Star starter Trae Young has been “a blessing.” But recently acquired veterans such as Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon and a highly-regarded Jeff Teague have also been essential from an advising standpoint.

None more important to him than the retirement-bound Vince Carter.

“He has a lot of stories, on and off the court,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “He teaches me a lot of small things on the court while I’m working out, before and after practice. Just a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge and they can just pass it on to the guys like me and Cam [Reddish] and Trae and [Kevin Huerter].”

Atlanta has split its last four games down the middle, but the fact of the matter is that the young group has mustered up just 15 wins on the season. Point-blank, Basketball Insiders posed a question to Hunter: Would this team be in a better position had it not been for John Collins’ 25-game suspension?

“I mean, easy answer is yes but, I mean, who knows,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “John definitely helps our team a lot. Kevin missed a lot of games, as well, so I mean having both of those guys definitely would’ve helped us.”

It’s hard to disagree with his answer. By the same token, on a positive note, Hunter saw minutes here and there at the four as a result. Ultimately, that experience will only further his progression and versatility as a player.

Just two games ago, Hunter had his welcome-to-the-NBA moment – but it wasn’t a singular instance. Rather, a 47-minute double-overtime thriller against the New York Knicks. He scored 19 points, registered nine rebounds and recorded a career-high five steals during a wild win.

Another testament to the rookie’s will. Another example of his durability. Another reason why Pierce has been so high on the future of De’Andre Hunter from day one.

“When you look at production and numbers, there’s ups and downs. But that’s expected,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders.

“I think he’s been solid from start to finish and I think he’s been solid on both sides of the basketball, so I’m encouraged by where he is. I’m more encouraged by what I think he can become.”

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