One of the players to most improve his draft stock this season was De'Andre Hunter, the leader of the Virginia Cavaliers who marched all the way to an NCAA National Championship this season.
In Hunter, NBA teams will see the prototypical player for the modern game. He's 6'7" with a 7'0" wingspan, which allows him to take on any defensive matchup and switch screens with ease. He's an elite catch and shoot threat and thrives when the ball moves side to side and he can either spot up or attack a closeout. On top of that, he's a willing and capable passer that loves to work within a structured scheme.
What makes Hunter different than a lot of his peers in the draft is that there isn't a bad fit for him in the league. Every team desires athletic swingmen to help round out a starting five or provide versatility off the bench, and Hunter could fill just about any role you want him too. His ability to move the ball and knock down jumpers will make him a perfect compliment to any offence and on the other end, you could slate him to guard a wing, a point guard or a post player.
Any team in the league could call his name on draft night and it would be a seamless transition.
Adding to Hunter's value is the fact that he might be the most polished of any player in the draft and I think he's the safest bet to be an immediate contributor in the NBA. While he may not provide the wow factor that will electrify a franchise, he could ensure production - probably right away - and that could be more valuable than one of the boom-or-bust options in the lottery.
From a physical standpoint, Hunter checks all the boxes for a first-class NBA forward. His 6'7" frame with a 7'0" wingspan is already filled out nicely at 225 pounds and you don't need to squint to see him looking like a regular on an NBA floor. More than adequate athletically, he won't have an issue keeping up to the physical specimens at the highest level and his coordination given his size is far superior to that of some of the forwards we've seen go in the lottery the past several seasons.
The primary way he displays his body control is on defence. Extremely balanced when darting laterally, he's able to fully utilize his strength and leverage it against offensive players trying to get past him with the dribble. Add that to the way he uses his long arms to dictate angles and turn ball handlers, and he's incredibly difficult to beat. We saw this in the NCAA National Championship game, where Hunter completely neutralized fellow lottery talent Jarrett Culver from Texas Tech, holding him to 5-of-22 shooting with 3 turnovers.
Hunter's 0.6 blocks per game may look concerning but when you take a deeper look he's actually a solid rim protector. Opponents only shot 32.6% at the rim when defended by Hunter and the influence he had in making opponents miss speaks much louder than the unimpressive blocked shots statistic.
Muscle is required to bang with bigger forwards and agility and length is required to contain smaller guards, and with all those attributes Hunter is going to be a dependable defender and a coach's dream.
While his defence rightfully deserves a lot of the attention, you can't sleep on Hunter's talent on the offensive end.
One of the best shooters off the catch available in the draft, Hunter shot the three-ball at a 43.8% clip last season. There are lots of good shooters in college but what makes me think Hunter's shooting will translate is how well he shot under pressure. While he was 40.8% when wide open, he was actually much better when closely guarded, hitting 48.3% of those attempts. Hunter's length and high release point on his jumper allow him to get off clean looks even with a defender in his face, and that stroke should translate to the NBA.
Hunter can also get it done on the inside and has really good footwork to create space for layups. At 62.8% around the rim, he was one of the best finishers in college basketball and his variety of finishes and strength to take contact will be necessary as he enters the pro game.
Knocking down jump shots and creating around the rim is a simple but effective game for Hunter. The fact he doesn't rely on difficult dribble combinations or tough pull up shots to create offence suggests he's a safe player to project and that adds to the mature nature of his game that defines him as a prospect.
The thing about Hunter is that I'm not sure he'll ever be the best player on his team and I'm not entirely sure he'll ever be the second best player, either. He doesn't have the individual creation ability to be the focal point of the offence and while he could be one of the league's premier 3-and-D options, a team might be looking for more star potential with a high pick. Could he best the best complimentary piece in the NBA one day? Potentially. But if you're a team picking in the top five then that might not be good enough.
Given Hunter's physical gifts, his inefficiency when it comes to rebounding the basketball is surprising. It's not like he's regularly missing block outs but he seems to lack the innate sense of where the ball is coming off the rim that some players have. Hunter is likely to be a 4-man in a lot of settings and if he can't control the glass that could be an issue.
Virginia played at the slowest pace in all of college basketball the last two seasons so we've never been able to see what Hunter can do at higher tempos. Everything about Hunter's game in the half court both offensively and defensively speaks to him translating well to the NBA but with little experience in transition, the speed of the game could present an entirely new challenge to him.
Projected NBA Draft Range: 3-6
Projected NBA Role: 3-and-D Forward
NBA Comparison: Luol Deng
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