Back from knee issues, Kevin Huerter available to play vs. Pistons

Second-year guard Kevin Huerter talks about being on an NBA team with two other Maryland players and he shares what he likes to do in his down time. (Video by Ryon Horne, Tyson Horne/AJC)

After last season ended, Kevin Huerter took about two and a half weeks off — when he started working out again in May, his right knee started to bother him.

It wasn’t necessarily painful, but he experienced some soreness and didn’t have that explosiveness when jumping off his right leg. The issue persisted during his workouts over the summer, and it got worse when more intense team workouts began in August.

So Huerter dialed things back and focused on rehabbing his knee, missing all five of the Hawks’ exhibition games.

The decision seems to have paid off, as Huerter said he’s “almost back to 100 percent” and is available to play in the season opener Thursday in Detroit, giving the Hawks a boost heading into the regular season. Huerter will come off the bench (with rookie Cam Reddish starting in his stead) and be capped at 15 minutes.

“We just kind of decided to shut it down for a little bit and really kind of dig into rehab and treatment, try to get ready for the season,” Huerter said. “My whole mindset from Day 1 was being ready for Game 1. As great as it would have been in the preseason, with how long our season is, for me, my mindset (was) I had to be ready for Game 1.”

It’s a peculiar injury, as an MRI revealed no structural damage to the right knee.

It felt like tendinitis, Huerter said, but that was ruled out. It was just discomfort, but that’s enough to cause problems, particularly at high speeds in a game.

Before any game activity, the key for Huerter was stringing together days of heavier practices without any setbacks, which he was able to accomplish this week.

“The last week has been pretty consistent which was what we’ve been seeking the whole preseason, was to get him in a steady rotation of days, and he finally got that this past week,” coach Lloyd Pierce said.

Before that, it was a lot of stop-and-start, per Huerter, as he could practice one day, feeling fine, then the next day it would start bothering him again.

“Even up until two, three weeks ago, there was days I felt really good, and I almost didn’t feel it, but you’d come in the next day, and I really couldn’t even practice,” Huerter said.

“So kind of a lot of times in the process it really felt like two steps forward, one step back, really kind of the whole way, and so for me, feeling this week, I was able to put multiple days together in a row.”

Huerter will have to get back into game shape, but the Hawks likely will ease him into that, beginning with the 15-minute restriction for Thursday’s game.

He’s not quite 100 percent yet, but the next step is evaluating how he handles game action, per Huerter.

“I’m not quite there yet, but part of the rehab process is getting in games and kind of feeling what it feels like at NBA game speed,” Huerter said. “So tonight’s another step toward that.”