In the 2019 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks were able to strike gold when the New Orleans Pelicans traded down from their No. 4 slot after the club had acquired that pick from its blockbuster trade of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With that pick, the Hawks selected De’Andre Hunter out of Virginia. Later, they were able to select Cam Reddish with their other pick, No. 10 overall, which they acquired from the Dallas Mavericks the year prior.
Hunter and Reddish both had promising rookie seasons, but the leaps that each player has taken this season have been astronomical. Hunter is playing his way into a legitimate All-Star case, while Reddish has been one of the more underrated defenders in the league this season, fresh off of a performance in which he helped hold Washington Wizards’ star Bradley Beal to an 0-for-8 shooting night, the most consecutive attempts without a three in his career.
The only way Atlanta was ever going to make the jump from a mediocre team to a playoff squad was by surrounding Trae Young and John Collins with talented wings with a knack for scoring. Now, with Hunter and Reddish, alongside Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic, they have just that. But Hunter has taken on the scoring load for the Hawks at that position and has absolutely taken off.
Hunter has had the most notable statistical jump, improving in every single major statistic across the board while seeing a negligible increase in minutes from last season. Hunter is now averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor, 36.6 percent from three and 87.7 percent from the charity stripe.
In fact, Hunter has arguably had one of the best and most underappreciated seasons in the NBA thus far. He might not get voted into the All-Star game due to the sheer amount of talent that has emerged in the Eastern Conference, but he’s certainly in the mix and deservedly so.
“His game is similar to his personality, he’s just steady,” said head coach Lloyd Pierce after a Jan 18. 108-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. “He’s a consistent worker, he’s a consistent performer, he’s got the challenge of chasing guys around on the defensive end. And really not being a focal point offensively but finding his rhythm on the second side, we have opportunities to post him, we can space him, he’s in position to attack downhill, he’s consistently getting to the free-throw line. And so I think the steady part of his game is the balance. The balance at which he plays and the balance of which we can use him.”
Atlanta’s two most-used five-man lineups feature Hunter and both have net ratings of +10. Hunter and Reddish, meanwhile, partly compose Atlanta’s most consistent, high-octane offensive grouping, a lineup that posts a 113.9 offensive rating.
“I think that they’re doing a great job,” said forward Danilo Gallinari. “They are really focusing on getting better, even on practice days. They watch a lot of video and they spend a lot of time in the gym with the coaches trying to work on their game and get better.” I didn’t play with them last year but I see they’ve got a lot of confidence in themselves and they have a little bit more experience now so it’s a big step forward from them.”
For Reddish, his statistics haven’t popped off the page just yet and his shooting is still a work in progress. But it’s what he’s doing outside of the boxscore that’s impressing his teammates and coaching staff; his offense will come along, as suggested by his numerous 20-point explosions this season, but his defense is developing nicely. Being able to stand up to the NBA’s leading scorer in Beal and help subject him to his worst shooting performance of the season is no small task. In fact, it’s become a trend for opposing backcourts to have mediocre games against the Hawks, outside of the Brooklyn Nets of course, and Reddish is playing a hand in that.
“Cam [Reddish]’s been playing really well all year and especially on the defensive end,” Young said after the Hawks’ game against Wizards. “Kev [Huerter] started out on [Bradley Beal], did a really good job containing him, not really letting him get going. Cam did a really good job coming off the bench doing the same so it was good.”
This season, Reddish is averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, which are all improvements over his rookie season.
While Reddish has more to go in his development than Hunter does, it’s worth noting that Hunter is nearly two years older than Reddish and naturally has more game experience. Regardless, Atlanta has to be happy with getting two players in the same draft that have been able to contribute so much in such a short time. While neither made an All-Rookie team last season, the sky’s the limit for Atlanta’s young wings.
“I’ll continue to say it forever probably, that that first to second-year jump for them is tremendous,” Collins said. “You see that growth in pretty much all areas of their game. And as I said, for them it’s more mental than physical, I mean physically they’re gifted, can pretty much do anything on the court. It’s all about taking the next step mentally, slowing the game down and for them picking their spots and what they want to do.
“You’re gonna continue to see great growth from them.”
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