Hunter’s defense even more important for shorthanded Hawks in Play-In

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter (12) during the second half at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. The Chicago Bulls won 136 - 126. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter (12) during the second half at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. The Chicago Bulls won 136 - 126. (Jason Getz /

De’Andre Hunter doesn’t like when the opposition scores against him.


The regular season is over for the Hawks, and the postseason begins Wednesday in Chicago. Defense will be the key against the Bulls, and Hunter will have to play a key role in the team’s defensive effort in the loser-goes-home Play-In postseason matchup.

Hunter has often drawn the toughest assignments this season, usually defending against the opposing team’s most challenging wing - or the team’s best overall player. His defensive effort will have more importance against the Bulls as the Hawks play without Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu, Saddiq Bey and Vit Krejci.

This season, Hunter has played a pivotal role in connecting the Hawks on the defensive end. Hunter can frequently be seen communicating and signaling when opposing offenses have called for switches.

“That’s what we need,” he said. “We need that from everyone not just me. If I can lead that for everyone else that’d be great, but we’re gonna need everyone talking (against Chicago).”

But he has been a difference-maker on the ball and relishes the opportunity to play physically. Even when he gets an unfortunate whistle, it doesn’t change his mindset.

“I mean my mindset is to stay in front of the ball,” Hunter said recently. “That’s pretty much it. I don’t really like dudes scoring on me. So, I guess you can say that’s my mindset. But yeah, that’s my biggest thing. I don’t like when people score on me.”

In 1,675 minutes, Hunter allowed minus-4 points per 100 possessions and plus-0.9% of opponents’ possessions end in turnovers when he is on the court. His opponents knock down just 32.9% of their 3-pointers, though they hit 58.2% of their 2s. Of course, the Hawks will look to have a collective effort from everyone, and the defense won’t solely fall on Hunter. But he will play a key role in helping to try and slow Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan. This season in 59.4 partial possessions, Hunter held DeRozan to 44% field goal percentage and went 0-of-1 from 3. DeRozan shot 48% overall from the floor and knocked down 33.3% from 3.

“I mean, the past few games, I’ve seen him on DeRozan,” Hawks center Clint Capela said. “I feel like all the big matchups, he’s the one that’s been getting them. I’ve seen him from the background, and he’s been doing a great job of keeping his arms up. On DeRozan, he’s keeping his arms up, on Luka (Doncic), just always by them and stay in front of them and making those guys jobs harder.”

One of the things that makes Hunter so effective is his length and size and he uses his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame to make defenders uncomfortable. He’s not afraid to use his body as a wall to seal off opponents especially when they look to post him up. He moves his feet when they’re driving to the basket as he looks to make shots tougher.

“I think maybe my strength, I don’t know,” Hunter said. “Guys can’t really just bump me out of the way and how they probably do other guys. Yeah, my length, my size.”

Where Hunter can run into trouble sometimes is when he gets too set and opponents use his chest as a target to initiate the contact.

With the Hawks will needing every minute he can provide, he’ll look to find the balance between that aggression and discipline.

“He’s pretty good about not going for fakes,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “There’s a balance there between his ability to anticipate but also not to get off balance. And to understand that sometimes, you may play great defense, and someone makes a shot.

“The biggest thing for him is sometimes I feel like early he gets some fouls, but I think he’s aware of that (and) how important he is. And that’s hard, because you’re asked to be a stopper. And you’re gonna be in all those situations where those guys are trying to draw fouls.

“No one can do what he can do. And so, it’s just that important that we keep him on the floor. And him being able and then the other part of it is we still want him to shoot the ball. We really need that too.”

Hunter, who has shot 45.9% overall during the regular season and made 38.5% from deep, feels confident he’ll get open.

“I know I’m gonna get open shots against Chicago,” he said. “So the biggest thing is just making them. If I’m making them, we’ll be in good shape.”