For the first half of the offseason, if Kevin Huerter spent two hours at the Hawks’ practice facility, an hour and a half of that time was dedicated solely to the weight room.
Huerter’s goal was pretty simple — to get bigger and stronger. He went from weighing 194 pounds at the end of last season to 206 this preseason.
He worked in more on-court activity as the summer progressed and began to practice finishing through contact, an area he wants to improve on in Year 2 with the Hawks.
“Once I had the extra bulk, it was getting coaches out here with pads, and then doing a couple dribble moves and then finishing through the pads and things like that,” Huerter said. “And the extra weight and the extra strength kind of helped me do that.”
As a rookie, Huerter established himself as a shooting threat from outside. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range, taking 4.7 3’s a game, and averaged 9.7 points and 2.9 assists in 27.3 minutes per game, working his way into the starting rotation.
Huerter made 45.7 percent of his two-point attempts (taking 4.1 per game) and took an average of just 0.7 free throws per game.
Improving on finishing through some contact and around the rim would add another layer to Huerter’s game. It could also get him to the free-throw line more, something coach Lloyd Pierce is looking for.
“He’s probably one of the more skilled players we have,” Pierce said. “I don’t know if we build off (last year), I think we just want to see more of it. See him with the basketball in his hands a little bit more. We’ve got to find ways to get him more 3-point opportunities.
“He’s got to find ways to get to the foul line; that’s probably the biggest obstacle that we have yet to overcome is the ability to get downhill and create foul opportunities.”
Some of what he’s trying to achieve can be practiced, but some of it is also mental and a matter of confidence, per Huerter.
“Being able to go in the lane and having the confidence and having the game to go and to be able to go and finish through people and on people, so that’s what my mindset has to change to,” Huerter said.
Huerter looks to continue that progress, but he’s hit a snag leading to the season, experiencing pain in his left knee (an MRI revealed no structural damage). He was able to participate in Day 2 of Hawks training camp Wednesday, but was limited. He’ll be evaluated at the end of camp to determine his availability for preseason games.
“This would be a really good time to get that (confidence finishing through contact), unfortunately, I don’t have the same legs under me right now,” Huerter said. “So going out and trying to be explosive in the lane right now isn’t where I’m at in my rehab process. So I’m just trying to get healthy, and hopefully we’ll see more of that once I do get back on the court for good.”
Despite the knee issues, Huerter said he can tell he feels stronger out on the court.
He’s not alone, as teammate John Collins has watched Huerter’s game grow more physical.
“I’ve seen a little bit more aggression out of him, just going to the rim,” Collins said. “I feel like his game is so predicated on shooting the ball, because he’s a great shooter. But I feel like the next part for him, since he’s obviously a great playmaker, is to be able to finish at the rim. And that’s coming for him. Obviously he’s had a tough summer, tough training camp trying to get his body right. But I can see the little improvements. He’s been in the gym.”