Hawks’ Kevin Huerter has accepted challenge to become two-way player

Challenge accepted.

The Hawks asked a lot of Kevin Huerter this season – on both ends of the court. The third-year player responded. Now, his efforts are showing up well beyond the postseason box score.

ExploreMark Bradley: Soaring Hawks face a massive Game 4

With lengthy regular-season injuries to De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, the Hawks’ two best perimeter defenders, Huerter often was asked to guard the opposition’s top player at three positions – point guard, shooting guard and small forward. A 1-2-3 trifecta, so to speak.

He was asked to initiate the offense at times.

And, of course, he was asked to shoot.

“He has, I feel, from the start of the season until now, he has improved being a two-way player,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said.

The Hawks take a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series against the Knicks on Sunday at State Farm Arena. Often unnoticed or underappreciated, Huerter has become an important two-way player as a young Hawks core ventures deeper into the uncharted territory of the postseason.

“I changed my mindset up a little bit, accepting that challenge,” Huerter said Saturday of his improved defense this season. “I feel like I’ve been trusted this year in guarding the other team’s better players in first groups and how much we’ve changed lineups with guys being in and out, trying to lock in a little more on that end of the court and mentally taking the challenge.”

The Hawks have used a team defensive approach to slow Knicks star Julius Randle. Huerter has played a role in that assignment, but also has had to defend Derrick Rose at the point. Randle entered the series having averaged 37.3 points in three regular-season wins against the Hawks. In three playoff games, he has averaged 14.7 points, scoring 15, 15 and 14 points.

“I said at the beginning of the year, a lot of my mistakes at the beginning of my career, my rookie year and last year, a lot of it was positioning, my feet not being in the right spot,” Huerter said.

“Kind of looking around, learning the NBA schemes offensively, defensively, and learning to be in the right spot. A lot of it I could clean up just by watching film and get better with it. A big part of defense is effort and moving your feet and a will and wanting to play defense. You put it all together, and I think I’ve definitely grown a lot in that department.”

With the return of Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic, both in the starting lineup for the three playoff games, Huerter has settled into a role off the bench. He said he is just trying to impact the game when on the court.

Huerter is averaging 9.3 points while shooting 45.5% from 3-point range (5-of-11), including 3-of-4 in Friday’s win. As the Knicks try a myriad of ways to slow Hawks point guard Trae Young, who is averaging 27.2 points and 10.3 assists in the series, openings are there for players such as Huerter to hit big shots.

McMillan was asked Saturday whether he likes Huerter coming off the bench and providing a scoring option.

“I do,” he said succinctly.

McMillan then expanded on his answer.

“I like him out on the floor,” he added.