Huerter’s value, versatility showing for Hawks

John Collins coined the nickname “K’Von” in Kevin Huerter’s rookie season.

At an exceptionally tough practice, Huerter came out of nowhere to take over and dominate that day.

“I was like, ‘Where has this guy been?’” Collins remembered. “‘This is K’Von.’”

Meant as a joke, Collins was also trying to provide a little motivation and encouragement for Huerter as he adjusted to the league.

“For me, it was really just to give Kev an alter ego to say ‘Hey man, you’re playing well,’ to say it without having to say any other words,” said Collins, one year ahead of Huerter in terms of experience. “‘You’re K’Von, you’re looking good, stay aggressive, keep doing what you’re doing because it looks good.’ We don’t want to see regular Kevin, we want to see superhero K’Von come out in full form. It stuck. He liked it. That’s part of what makes us a team.”

Four years later, the nickname has stood the test of time for the Hawks, with Collins putting it in the spotlight, bragging on Huerter’s Game 7 heroics to knock off No. 1 seed Philly in the second round last year. Huerter has continued to develop and become a key cog for the Hawks, signing a four-year, $65 million deal in October — with injuries adding up for Atlanta and him providing stability, his value to the team has likely never been higher.

Huerter started the 2021-22 season slow, unable to get much work in during the offseason after undergoing a procedure to clean out his ankle after last season. But now, he’s taking on a vital role for the Hawks similar to how he did last year, bringing his shooting, playmaking, ball-handling and defense, filling in wherever the Hawks need him. However, it’s become less of Huerter “filling in” and more of simply what he has become as a player.

“It is something I take pride in,” Huerter said of his versatility. “I feel like my skill set works in a lot of different areas. I can fill in for a lot of different guys and defensively, when you need to, being a guy defensively, and offensively, being a secondary ball-handler and offensively the ability to make shots and be able to rebound.

“Really, kind of across the board, I think I can wear multiple different hats and I think that’s a big reason behind my value to this team, my importance to this team, is high. When we have guys going out and other guys filling in, I feel like I’m someone who can step in and fill those gaps and be a big part of our success.”

Coming off the bench at first, when De’Andre Hunter injured his wrist in early November, Huerter slid back into the starting lineup. He has thrived there, with the lineup of Huerter, Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins and Clint Capela amassing a 34.8 net rating in 144 minutes. It’s similar to what happened last season, with Bogdanovic taking Huerter’s spot as a starter only for Huerter to eventually get back to the starting lineup as Hunter struggled with a knee injury.

Now with Bogdanovic out due to a right ankle sprain, plus Cam Reddish out with a left wrist sprain and Solomon Hill out with a right hamstring injury, the Hawks are depleted on the wing, and Huerter’s versatility is that much more needed. He can essentially play positions 1-3 and his game rounded out last season when he took a big leap as a defender.

“It’s valuable,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “A guy that you can pretty much play three different spots, he’s had success, he’s been productive, coming off the bench as well as being a starter, so really that helps when you have a guy that has that versatility to be able to play three different positions, capable of coming off the bench or starting.”

Over the past four games, Huerter is averaging 17.3 points per game, shooting 53.2% from the field and 51.9% from 3-point range. What makes him the most valuable, per Collins, is his ability to be solid and unselfish, no matter what he’s asked to do.

“That’s what Kevin brings, and I feel like that’s why he’s able to play multiple positions, because he’s not looking to do any one thing specifically, he’s looking and playing for the best shot, because he’s so gifted offensively that whatever is open, he has the confidence and the ability to take it,” Collins said. “So I feel like that’s what makes him so versatile, is his ability to attack every situation with height, with length. His ability to defend now has extremely improved over the past couple years. The work ethic is there. We love having Kevin around, as well as the unselfishness. I could go on for days.”

Plus, Huerter brings familiarity and chemistry with the Hawks’ young core players the franchise has built around, namely Young, who likes the connection the two share.

“I just think we’re two very smart players, been overlooked for a long time but we’re both very cerebral and we know how to play the game,” Young said. “So I think that’s where we kind of click. He knows how to come up and make certain plays and we can read off just each other and that’s just a good type of teammate to have, that has type of IQ and his game speaks for itself.”