2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: De’Andre Hunter is a near-certainty, which may hurt him on draft night

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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:

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.

In a worst-case scenario, you’re getting the healthy version of O.G. Anunoby. What’s more likely is that you end up with DeMarre Carroll.

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.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.