Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.
Today, we are looking at De'Andre Hunter.
Previous draft profiles:
R.J. Barrett, Duke
What is the value of a draft pick?
When you are picking early in the lottery, what, exactly, are you looking for out of that pick?
How much are you willing to change the way that you answer those first two questions based on the crop of players available?
Those are the things that are going to determine where De’Andre Hunter ends up starting his professional basketball career.
Generally speaking, teams that are picking in the top five are bad basketball teams. That’s why they are given those early picks, to try and spread talent and superstars around the league. Competitive balance and all that. The entire philosophy behind tanking is that the only way for certain organizations to attract franchise-changing talents is to draft them, so you lose on purpose to pick earlier and end up with a better chance of landing a future Hall of Famer.
That is where the conundrum of drafting De’Andre Hunter lies.
There may not be a safer pick in this year’s draft outside of Zion Williamson. There may not be a player in the entire draft that is better prepared to immediately impact an NBA game or an NBA playoff series than Hunter. He turns 22 years old in December — remember, he’s a sophomore, but he spent his first year in Charlottesville redshirting — and, at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, is a ready-made, multi-positional defensive menace right now. He is the perfect blend of big-enough-to-guard-fours and quick-enough-to-switch-onto-guards while also shooting 43.8 percent from three this past season and just under 42 percent from three on 160 attempts in his two-year career with the Wahoos. He’s stiff, and he’s more or less limited to being a straight-line driver, but playing as a small-ball four in a league where the three-point line is pushed back and the space created offensively makes the college game look as muddled as a mojito, he should be able to attack close-outs just fine.
I don’t say this lightly — if you put Hunter on the Warriors last night, their chances of beating the Raptors in Game 3 of the Finals would have increased rather significantly. He’s big enough and dominant enough defensively to get thrown on Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam and do as well as anyone would in slowing them down, and he has good enough feet that can can be switched onto Toronto’s guards — either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet — and do a job on them, too, all while helping keep the floor spaced due to his shooting.
Simply put, I do not think there is a better defensive prospect in this draft, and I would not be surprised if Hunter ends up making NBA All-Defensive teams during his career.
The fact that he can do all of that while, in theory, being able to knockdown threes and attack closeouts makes him a valuable and in-demand player in the modern NBA.
The problem, however, is that Hunter’s ceiling isn’t all that much higher than his floor.
Which is where the question about the value of a draft pick and what a team is looking for when picking in the first half of the lottery comes into play.
Hunter, at this point, is something of a finished product. There are things that he can improve on — his handle can be loose, there are some folks that aren’t fully convinced that his stroke will translate to the NBA three-point line, being more aggressive offensively would make him more dangerous — but whoever ends up drafting him knows exactly what they are getting. He’s going to be an elite defender that has the upside of being one of the more useful 3-and-D role players in the NBA.
Is that enough to pick him in the top five?
If you are the Lakers, it might make some sense. LeBron is not getting any younger, meaning that their window to win now is closing. Hunter fits there, just like he would make some sense on New Orleans if the Pelicans end up getting the No. 4 pick as compensation for a trade involving Anthony Davis.
But how does drafting a guy whose career arc screams “role player for the next decade” help Cleveland? Would John Beilein rather draft a guy that needs good players around him to thrive when he doesn’t actually have those good players yet, or would it make more sense to take a swing on someone like Cam Reddish, a player with inherently more risk but whose ceiling is much, much higher than Hunter’s?
It seems unlikely that either Phoenix or Chicago would draft anything other than a point guard, which means that there is a real chance Hunter could end up dropping all the way to eighth, if not further.
Which is wild, when you think about it.
The top three in this draft is set. We all know that. But things get murky once you get to the fourth pick and murkier once you get to pick No. 8. There is no clear-cut fourth-best prospect in this draft, which puts these organizations into a tough spot.
Do you take Hunter, a guy that will spend the next decade helping you matchup with the very best teams in the NBA while you still need to find the stars that will allow you to compete with those teams, or do you draft Cam Reddish or Darius Garland, betting on the 10 percent chance that they eventually develop into, say, Joe Johnson or C.J. McCollum, respectively?
It’s not an easy question to answer.