Hawks’ De’Andre Hunter plays 5-on-5; takes another step toward return

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Hawks appear to be on the cusp of getting forward De’Andre Hunter back, which would give them a huge boost as they aim to finish the regular season strong and avoid the NBA’s play-in tournament.

Hunter, who has been out since March 24 with right knee soreness, went through a full practice Saturday and participated in live work, including scrimmaging and 5-on-5. Interim coach Nate McMillan said everything went smoothly with Hunter’s knee, to the best of his knowledge.

“As far as I know, (he) came out OK,” McMillan said. “Went through the entire practice, and we’ll see how he feels again tomorrow.”

With a game vs. the Wizards on Monday, the Hawks won’t do any live work in Sunday’s practice, but will be going through different sets and defensive situations. They will wait to see how his knee responds Sunday, and if he’s still feeling good, he’ll participate. If he’s still fine, Hunter will go through the team walk-through before Monday’s game, and potentially be a game-time decision — again, if all systems are go.

Hunter would no doubt be on a minute restriction and have to slowly get back up to speed, so being able to play a few regular-season games before the playoffs begin would be quite the plus, and would help with chemistry among the rotations. In his second NBA season, Hunter had become one of the more consistent players on the roster -- a key two-way guy who can defend, someone who had grown as a ballhandler and scorer and could get to his own shot.

“He was honestly our best player before the injury, most consistent player,” wing Bogdan Bogdanovic said of what it would mean for the Hawks to get Hunter back. “So we all know how much we miss him, and he knows as well. It’s good to see him hooping today, and he looks good.”

Hunter was averaging 16 points (good for the third-most on the roster), 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.

“I think Dre is a two-way player,” McMillan said. “He’s a guy that gives you something on both ends of the floor. Not only can he defend several different positions, he’s another big body. Offensively he gives you another ballhandler, a guy that you can run some sets through. Getting a two-way player is always good, and having him back whether that’s the first or second unit, it just allows us to do a few more things.”

Hunter’s recovery has been up-and-down this season. He missed 23 games after exiting with a knee injury in the Hawks’ win in Washington on Jan. 29, when he didn’t feel right after coming down from a dunk. Then, he underwent a lateral meniscus debridement procedure Feb. 8 and later returned to the lineup for two games in late March.

He hasn’t played since, missing the next 24 games, dealing with some swelling in his knee at times. It sounds as if Hunter has made significant progress lately, though.

Although this NBA season has been incredibly compressed, with games essentially every other day, this three-day break between games came at a good time for the Hawks, as they try to get healthy for their final four regular-season games.

Right now, the Hawks are the No. 5 seed and are a half-game behind the No. 4 Knicks. At the least, they’ll try to stay where they are and not slip in the standings, and at best, they’d like to overtake that No. 4 spot, if the Knicks lose enough of their remaining games for it to shake out that way.

“We definitely needed this break, and we’re going to try to take advantage of it, as well as get some work in,” McMillan said.