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Peachtree Hoops: One important reason Hunter is a key to building around Young

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Indiana Pacers v Atlanta HawksPhoto by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

As the 2020 NBA Draft lottery now sits less than a month away, it should be expected that all sorts of chatter about what the Atlanta Hawks might do with their lottery pick will gain steam sooner rather than later. One narrative already getting traction in some corners relates to the possibility that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks should consider a consolidation trade of sorts in which the franchise could package its lottery pick with one (or more) of their young, valuable players not named Trae Young.

In short, the theory of such a deal would be an attempt to acquire an established player ready to help the team start moving on an upward trajectory, even while noting the Hawks already have the projected cap space to pursue this option.

As such, I am going to spend some time in the coming weeks looking at a few reasons that each of De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter are key to building around the team’s centerpiece in Young.

For now, I am going to leave John Collins out of this analysis. That decision is, at least in part, because he has a pay day looming that could impact his potential inclusion in such a scenario, differing from the younger players who aren’t battling the same conundrum.

From there, let’s take a look at one reason that Hunter has important value in terms of how lineups are constructed around Young.

Across his second season in the league, Young saw opposing teams opt to use bigger, more physical wing defenders on him. That is certainly not because opponents think this is a strategy to outright shut the young All-Star down. Rather, it is just as much a tactic to slow him down across a full NBA game. The goal is to have Young run out of gas by the middle of the fourth quarter or so, leaning on him with size and physicality.

As for Hunter, there has, understandably, been much discussion about his positional fit. It is not debatable that he offers specific value when he has an opportunity to play at power forward. However, having him at the small forward position, for example, gives Atlanta an opportunity to punish those cross matches that they wouldn’t as easily have when he’s play up at the four.

Hunter is a smart young player which excellent recognition and instincts. He also possesses a sneaky set of skills to put to use in the post or in face-up situations.

On the play above, the Philadelphia 76ers have Shake Milton (6’5, 207 pounds) picking up Young, while Hunter is matched up with Raul Neto (6’1, 179 pounds).

Hunter seals Neto. Vince Carter then adds value by forcing a switch in the form of Tobias Harris onto Young. The result is an easy score.

The idea is that, if teams are going to allocate bigger defenders onto Young, the Hawks will deploy Hunter at the small forward spot and let him post the smaller defenders especially early in offensive possessions.

This play offers a look at Hunter going to work on future Hall of Fame point guard and 9-time All-NBA defender Chris Paul with the same result.

It’s a very small sample size but, in 19 post possessions during his rookie season, Hunter generated excellent production, scoring 1.26 points per possession and committing no turnovers.

In the context of anticipating potential consolidation trade opportunities, it is important to consider that this skill area is one in which neither Reddish, nor Huerter have much, if anything to offer.

While he may play a decent share of his minutes at power forward in the future, Hunter also has unique value to offer when play at the small forward position alongside Young. In the end, that versatility is genuinely intriguing and potentially quite valuable for the Hawks in the present and future.

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