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NBA Daily: What Can We Expect From LeBron In 2019-20?

Can LeBron James continue playing at the level we’ve come to expect from him? Drew Maresca draws comparisons to four all-time greats to determine his production in 2019-20.

Drew Maresca

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It was a foregone conclusion that LeBron James would be drafted first overall in 2003, even before the draft lottery rewarded his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick. James was already a national phenomenon before stepping foot on an NBA court.

James immediately bore a tremendous burden, with pressure to grow into potentially the best player of all time. And while that amount of pressure seems suffocating to virtually anyone else, to James it was probably expected.

Fast-forward 16 years and James has not disappointed. He has accomplished just about everything an NBA player can accomplish; he is a three-time NBA champion, a four-time NBA MVP, a fifteen-time NBA All-Star and so on. To say James’ career has been wildly successful is actually an understatement.

But looking back and looking ahead are dramatically different exercises. And while James has performed exceptionally well in all of his 16 professional seasons, every season from here on out represents new challenges – the likes of which he has yet to face, namely aging.

Last season, James suffered his first serious, documented injury – a groin strain sustained on Christmas Day. But groin strains are not terribly severe and typically don’t linger too long when treated correctly. The Lakers took precautions with James, playing him in only 21 of their final 48 games.  And while James career will probably come to an end by his own volition – and not as a result of an injury – he will inevitably begin to show cracks in his armor at some point.

But when might that be?

Sports media has already begun to wonder. And it is well within our rights as basketball fans, onlookers and commentators to debate. But doing so aimlessly is an exercise in futility.

With that being said, let’s try to predict James’ 2019-20 output by examining the drop-off of four quasi-similar players at similar points in their career relative to their career averages. Let us draw comparisons to players who are at least somewhat similar to James from a physique and/or stylistic standpoint, so the comparisons are as relevant as possible.

Of course there are independent variables that we can’t predict, like James’ willingness to accept less minutes or his desire to run the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense through Anthony Davis to mitigate strain on his body. And while they will ultimately affect James’ output in 2019-20, we’ll have to proceed as though he’ll approach this season like all of the ones he’s participated in prior to it – which might not come to fruition.

While it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint four players that share that much in common with James, we are fortunate enough to have the entire history of the NBA from which to draw. So let’s examine four of the best and most physically gifted players to ever don an NBA jersey, all of whom share at least one striking similarity to James – Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Dominique Wilkins and Kobe Bryant. And we’ll examine the first full season in which a player entered having already turned 34-years-old.

But first, let’s establish the baseline:

LeBron James averages 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists in 38.6 minutes per game through 16 seasons. He has logged a total of 46,235 regular season minutes and 10,038 minutes in postseason games.

Michael Jordan

Jordan entered the 1997-98 season having already turned 34 years old the previous winter. His 34-year-old season differs from James’ in that he’d played significantly fewer minutes up to that point. Jordan retired from basketball for nearly two seasons after the 1992-93 season when he was only 30-years-old, and he entered the league at 21 years of age – meaning he had the luxury of a 27-game NCAA regular season and a slimmed down postseason in place of playing 82 games with less rest between them.

Jordan entered 1997-98 having played a total of 32,706 regular season minutes and 7,474 playoff minutes – nearly 16,000 minutes less than James in total.

Jordan averaged 30.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 37.75 minutes per game in his 12 seasons prior to turning 34. In his 13th season and at 34 years old, Jordan averaged 28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 38.8 minutes per game.

Karl Malone

Malone is a 6-foot-10 wrecking ball who had above-average speed and mobility given his size and build. He was a powerful two-way player who also had elements of a finesse game well ahead of his time. He entered the league at 22-years-old. Thus, he preserved his body a bit, too. But Malone also played straight through 40 years of age, having played 80 or more games in all but two professional seasons.

Malone and Jordan were born in the same year and, therefore, their 34-year-old-season was the same (1997-98). Malone entered his having played a total of 36,799 regular season minutes and 4,924 playoff minutes – nearly 16,000 minutes less than James in total.

He averaged 26.11 points, 10.75 rebounds and 3.25 assists per game in 37.55 minutes per game prior to the season in which he turned 34. Malone lived up to his iron man reputation and posted even better averages in his 34-year-old season than he’d averaged across the first 12 seasons, averaging 27 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 37.4 minutes per game.

Dominique Wilkins

While Wilkins sported a slightly slimmer stature than James, his height, play at a wing position and explosiveness make him an extremely relevant comparison. Wilkins entered the league at 22 years old and he retired from the NBA when he was 39. His rookie season was 1982-83; he was 34 at the beginning of the 1994-95 season – his thirteenth season in the NBA.

Wilkins played 33,493 regular season minutes prior to 1994-95, and an additional 2,019 playoff minutes; he played approximately 20,000 total minutes less than James as a professional at the same age. Wilkins ruptured his right Achilles tendon in 1992, which added additional complications to Wilkins’ professional journey and residual, physical barriers to overcome.

Wilkins averaged 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.68 assists in 36.99 minutes per game across the 12 seasons before his 34-year-old season. Wilkins production dropped considerably in his next professional season, averaging 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 31.5 minutes per game.

Kobe Bryant

Bryant might be the most relevant comparison given the fact that both he and James entered the league as 18-year-old rookies. Bryant was a rookie in 1997. He was 34 years old in 2012-13 season as a 16-year veteran.

Bryant played in 42,377 regular season minutes and 8,641 playoff minutes prior to his 34-year-old season – which is far closer to James’ minute totals than any of the previously mentioned players.

Bryant averaged 25.16 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.65 assists in 36.53 minutes per game through 16 seasons prior to his 34-year-old season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 38.6 minutes per game as a 34-year-old.

And to provide some color to the aforementioned statistics: In 1997-98, Jordan led the league in scoring, won a NBA Finals MVP and received first-team All-NBA honors. In 1996-97, Malone was named league MVP and received first-team All-NBA honors. In 2012-13, Bryant received first-team All-NBA honors and he carried the Lakers to the playoffs despite a lack of coaching continuity and a hodge-podge of disappointing and injured role players in a competitive Western Conference. And Wilkins averaged 31.5 minutes per game and posted about the same effective field goal percentage in his 34-year-old season (.472) as he did for his entire career (.478).

Average Drop-Off

The average production of the four players mentioned above prior to their 34-year-old season is 27.17 points, 4 assists and 7.26 rebounds in 37.2 minutes per game, whereas the average production in the 34-year-old season was 25.2 points, 3.9 assists and 6.75 rebounds in 36.575 minutes per game. That means that if the average drop-off of the Jordan, Malone, Wilkins and Bryant careers can be expected of him, then James’ 2019-20 production will look something like the following: 25.2 points, 6.3 assists, 5.75 rebounds in 37.95 minutes per game.

One additional caveat: James injury history, or lack thereof, and the degree to which he attends to his body is unique, even for players who shared equally big burdens for their respective teams. After all, modern medicine and advancements in health and wellness should lengthen James’ career beyond all four of the aforementioned players in and of itself.

And to reiterate, so many factors will affect James’ 2019-20 production, and it is laughable to think that we can predict a player’s production for an entire 82-game season with a simple formula such as the one used above.

But one thing is for sure: If his 2019-20 season plays out at all like the circumstances that were dealt to Jordan, Malone, Wilkins and Bryant, we can expect another impressive year from James.

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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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