The Atlanta Hawks are in the midst of a losing streak and, after a flurry of early attention, a bit of the national shine has worn off for the team. That comes with the territory with six losses in a row (and 12 of 14) but, while the biggest story in Atlanta is the excellent play of Trae Young, the No. 4 overall pick from the 2019 Draft is quietly taking a step forward in his own right.
Atlanta’s decision to cash in some of its stockpiled assets to trade up for De’Andre Hunter was controversial in some circles, but the former Virginia standout is already paying dividends for the Hawks. After a bit of a slow start, the 6’8 forward is averaging 16.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game over the last eight contests, and he is knocking down a robust 47.7 percent of his three-point attempts. Beyond that, Hunter is a staple in Atlanta’s rotation as a first-year player, appearing on the floor for 34 minutes per game in that eight-game sample.
Every small sample size caveat applies in late November, but the Hawks are also far better when Hunter is on the court than when he sits. Atlanta’s net rating is a preposterous 13.2 points per 100 possessions better when he’s playing and, in short, the early returns are strong. His play-making stats aren’t quite there defensively but, in general, Hunter is seemingly always in the right place at the right time, utilizing his physicality and acumen on that end of the floor.
The Hawks are still in a rebuilding mode and this rough start might keep the Hawks out of the playoff race. Still, there is plenty to be positive about in Atlanta and, while Young is the unquestioned centerpiece, Hunter has taken a much-needed step forward while the Hawks operate without Kevin Huerter and John Collins.
Where does Hunter stack up in this week’s rookie watch? Let’s explore.
- Darius Bazley – At 19, Bazley is a genuine part of the rotation in Oklahoma City. He isn’t lighting the world on fire, but his efficiency (56 percent true shooting) has been reasonable and he’s filling a role.
- Jarrett Culver – The Texas Tech product had a disastrous start to the season. If you remove the first four games, the numbers are a bit better, including 10.3 points per contest. Throw that in with his defensive tools and you have a useful rotation piece.
- Jaxson Hayes – Hayes continues to start and log real minutes for the Pelicans after the team’s myriad injury issues. He hasn’t been overly prolific, but the signs are there.
- Nassir Little – With Portland’s roster issues, Little was starting games until Carmelo Anthony arrived. He may not be starting anymore, but they really need his physicality.
10) Rui Hachimura
A player that is currently sixth in scoring and third in rebounding among rookies would normally rank higher than this. I get that. Hachimura is also shooting 50 percent from the floor, which is encouraging. His defense is lagging behind, though, and a lot of questions about his non-scoring impact persist.
9) De’Andre Hunter
There is a case to be made that Hunter has been Atlanta’s second-best overall player for about two weeks. That is a wild sentiment, even with high-profile absences hindering that roster.
8) PJ Washington
After a scalding hot start, Washington’s production has tailed off. He’s still lights-out from the standpoint of overall efficiency, but his per-game numbers don’t stand out in a big way. In the last four games, he is averaging just 5.0 points per contest on 32 percent shooting.
7) Coby White
White has now topped 25 points on four different occasions and he has shown a propensity for long-range shooting explosions. His overall efficiency on a game-to-game basis isn’t terribly impressive, but the talent is quite clear.
6) Tyler Herro
Herro is picking it up again, averaging 15.8 points per game in the last five contests and burying 41.4 percent of his threes over that sample. His production will wax and wane based on his jump shot but when it’s cooking, look out.
5) Eric Paschall
One of the big questions was Paschall was his three-point shooting and, despite a strong start to his NBA career, that question hasn’t been answered. The former Villanova forward is shooting just 23 percent from three and, if that doesn’t correct itself, there is a limit on his offensive efficiency. On the bright side, he’s been fantastic basically everywhere else.
4) RJ Barrett
The No. 3 overall pick was absent from New York’s last game due to illness but, quite honestly, his play has probably been underrated this season. That happens when the Knicks are genuinely terrible, but Barrett is third among rookies in scoring and second in rebounding. Some of that comes from a rookie-leading 33.4 minutes per game, but he’s played well.
3) Kendrick Nunn
Nunn didn’t have a great game on Saturday in a blowout loss to Philly but, in fairness, no one did for Miami. In the five previous games, though, the talented guard averaged 19.4 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three. It’s going to come in waves but, when Nunn is hot from an efficiency standpoint, his numbers pop.
2) Brandon Clarke
It’s an all-Memphis top two again this week, and Clarke’s numbers are frankly ridiculous. The former Gonzaga star is shooting 61.7 percent from the floor, leading the rookie class in rebounding, and producing off-the-charts advanced numbers for a rookie. He isn’t going to be a leading scorer on most nights in his role, but Clarke has been ludicrous on a per-possession basis.
1) Ja Morant
At this point, it will be a mild surprise if Morant ever leaves this spot… at least until Zion Williamson is playing basketball again. He leads all rookies in scoring (19.1 points) and assists (6.0) by a comfortable margin and it isn’t as if Morant is having efficiency issues. Many young point guards struggle to put the ball in the basket at a reasonable level in the early going but, for now, Morant is shooting 47 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three. When combined with his playmaking, he’s been pretty devastating.