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With an NBA Draft decision ahead: Why De’Andre Hunter is the future of basketball

The deadline for early entry to the NBA Draft is rapidly approaching: April 22. On Monday, Wendell Carter, a projected top-10 pick, declared for the 2018 draft. Carter may be the last big domino to fall in terms of ACC players announcing for the draft who plan to sign an agent; however, there are still a few pieces left on the board. This other group of remaining prospects includes Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter.

In recent weeks, chatter has been at a low when it comes to the redshirt freshman. Hunter, of course, missed UVA’s NCAA Tournament nightmare as he awaited surgery on his wrist. Outside of a tweet the following Monday — “Surgery went well” — things are mostly mum.

As the draft picture starts to become marginally more clear — who’s in, who’s out, who will sign with an agent — a big decision awaits Hunter, a player that has mass appeal in the NBA game.

 

Offseason Timeline for De’Andre Hunter

It’s been four weeks now since Hunter went through surgery — a procedure that came with a 10-12 week recovery period. Hunter has another six weeks-to-two months of recovery left; this seems to perfectly overlap with the pre-draft process. In theory, Hunter could declare for the draft, workout, go through the entire exercise and then make an informed decision.

The wrist injury certainly clouds that picture some, although corners of draft Twitter/Internet are starting to predict more and more that Hunter will come out. (Take that with a grain of salt — for now.) If Hunter elected to go pro, he would almost certainly be drafted — whether or not he’d be selected in the first round of the draft is a bigger question.

Regardless, here’s a quick look at what makes Hunter — after only 33 college games — such an appealing player.

 

NBA Fit: What to like about Hunter

At this point, it’s not even clever to discuss how the NBA game has morphed to small-ball in recent years; turn on your television during the playoffs, and you will see 7-foot behemoths like Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic getting run off the floor by an army of shooters. It’s become common knowledge.

The age of pace-and-space is upon us; and in this current construct, De’Andre Hunter looks like the future of basketball.

What position does he play in the NBA? Who cares — that’s immaterial: Hunter is a basketball player. Put him on the floor, and let him do his thing. Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey has a saying that a basketball player’s position is defined by who he or she can defend. For Hunter, that means his positional definition is essentially limitless.

This is part of why the wildly versatile Hunter has such interest to the next level of hoops. The 6-foot-8 forward (with a 7-foot-2 wingspan) has the range and quicks to credibly guard four possessions. Hunter posted a block rate 2.7 percent and a steal rate of 1.9 percent, per KenPom, which is an impressive combination. In Tony Bennett’s Pack Line defense, Hunter has plenty of experience switching around the perimeter, too; when he does get to the pros, this won’t be a foreign concept to the Philadelphia native.

As the three-point revolution continues in the NBA, teams need players that can switch across multiple positions, contest shots and contain dribble penetration. Hunter checks those boxes.

 

Offensive Potential

Just about every evaluation of De’Andre Hunter will start with his defensive flexibility, which is understandable; that’s what jumps off the screen when you watch tape of Hunter. However, there’s a lot to like with his offense, too.

As we noted back in February, Hunter started to explore more offensively out beyond the three-point arc. Over the final 11 games of this season, Hunter connected on 62 percent of his threes: 13-of-21 3PA. Nothing too crazy, but it was nice to see him find some success out there; for the season, Hunter posted an effective shooting rate of 51.5 percent on catch-and-shoots, per Synergy Sports. All 21 of Hunter’s three-pointers this season were assisted on.

(It’s also worth noting he shot 75.5 percent from the free throw line — a valuable tool in projecting a prospect’s shooting acumen.)

Hunter, as Jackson Hoy points out in this piece at The Stepien (go visit this site, it’s great), is more comfortable in the midrange or at the basket, currently. According to Synergy, Hunter shot 60.9 percent (1.27 points per possession) on non-post-up attempts around the basket.

The midrange area of the floor is where Hunter prefers to get his work done. He can create space, and get physical with defenders when he wants to get to his spots. Hunter shot 60 percent and scored 1.1 points per possession on 30 isolation possessions this season, per Synergy — good for the 92nd percentile nationally.

Now, he could work to refine some of these offensive skills in Charlottesville; for now, and until instructed otherwise, that’s the line to follow for Hunter: he will be back for Virginia.

 

Mock Drafts

Here’s a look at where De’Andre Hunter has landed in a handful of recent mock drafts.

There’s obviously a lot of variance in this handful of random mock drafts in terms of how Hunter is viewed as a prospect. All that really matters for Hunter is what feedback from NBA teams, especially if he decides to go through the draft process. There’s no real in participating in this; workout, get evaluated make an informed decision. On the other side, there’s very real opportunity cost if he decided not to test the waters.

Hunter is 20-years-old and will turn 21 this December; that’s certainly not old, even for a draft prospect. However, with the influx of one-and-done and European players, it does put him the group of older players. If he decides to hold off until the 2019 draft, Hunter would be closing in on age 22 by the time the 2019-20 season starts. That could play into his decision, too.

This is a fascinating decision to monitor. It doesn’t matter when De’Andre Hunter decides to turn pro; he will inevitably play in the NBA. But his decision in the next week, and what he ultimately decides to do later this summer, will shape expectations for Virginia basketball next season.

 

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