Hawks guard Kevin Huerter (3) drives against Nuggets guard Gary Harris during the first half of Monday's game at State Farm Arena. (AP Photo/John Amis)

After putting injuries behind him, Kevin Huerter is surging for the Hawks

In the first quarter of the Hawks’ loss to Houston on Wednesday, after a block by John Collins, Kevin Huerter started sprinting up the court with James Harden on his heels. 

Collins passed to Huerter, who wasn’t fully ready to receive the ball yet. But after a little acrobatics, Huerter evaded Harden and managed a behind-the-back pass to hit an open Collins in stride near the arc, who finished with an easy slam. 

Even in a quieter game for him (considering the pace he has been on lately), and even in a loss, it’s hard to ignore this surge from Huerter in his second season with the Hawks (8-30). With his performances over the past two weeks or so, this is the Huerter who Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce expected this season. 

“Hands down, without a doubt,” Pierce said. “We know the shooting. I think he’s going to end up at 40% by the time the year ends, I think he’s going to be right in that range, of where he should have been, where he was last year, or I think even better. I think the way he’s doing it, mostly. … That’s what I want to avoid, is limiting Kevin to just a spot-up shooter because I think that takes away a ton from his game.” 

On the season, he’s averaging 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists, shooting 41.6% from the field and 38% from 3-point range. Over the past five games, Huerter has been on a torrid pace, averaging 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. 

Huerter had a rough start to the season, missing all preseason with right knee issues that lingered in October and November -- it was a particularly frustrating injury, as there was nothing structurally wrong with the knee. Then, in the Hawks’ win in Denver on Nov. 12, Nikola Jokic bumped Huerter’s left arm as he was making a throwing motion across his body, and he missed 11 games with a left rotator cuff strain with an associated shoulder capsule strain, with the Hawks going 1-10 in his absence and sorely missing his talents as a shooter and playmaker. 

Finally, Huerter has been able to put those injuries behind him and take a leap in his second season in the NBA. 

For Huerter, having to play on playing restrictions while coming back from injury hampered what he was able to do on the court. 

“Just the way the first 25 games of the season went, a lot of different frustrations being out, and kind of being on minutes restrictions,” Huerter said. “Every player wants to play. … Hopefully I can keep that up and do all the right things to keep myself healthy.” 

In the offseason, Huerter practiced a more physical style of play, being able to draw fouls, get to the line and finish at the rim, through contact, more often. Even though he’s got an excellent 3-point and floater game, that would add another layer to what Huerter can do.

We’ve seen flashes of that here and there, but that’s what Pierce wants to see more of moving forward. 

As of Thursday, Huerter is making 1.3 of 1.5 free-throw attempts per game (which is up from 0.5-0.7 per game as a rookie, but still not where it could be).

“I’d like to see, at the end of the day, free-throw attempts,” Pierce said. “I don’t want him to be reckless and just going, crashing, seeking out free-throw attempts. But I would like to see, where are the opportunities where you can get more free-throw attempts. … It’s not always just go downhill, go reckless and attack a body. Use angles, use positioning and then find contact.”

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