It’s a beautiful summer day in Midtown Manhattan and Kevin Huerter is posing for pictures on the roof of SLAM’s office building. He talks about his rookie season with the Hawks, having to get Krispy Kreme donuts before every shoot-around, playing in front of some of Atlanta’s top rappers and building backcourt chemistry with Trae Young.
Just over a year ago, Huerter didn’t even think he had a realistic shot at being drafted. So this—all of this—was completely inconceivable.
John Sterling, the famed Yankees announcer he listened to growing up, really said his name during a Hawks-Nets broadcast back in December. He got to exchange No. 3 jerseys with his childhood idol, Dwyane Wade, at AmericanAirlines Arena in March. He shared a locker room with another legend in Vince Carter. At the age of just 21, he established himself as a major piece of ATL’s bright future.
Not bad for a year.
Huerter’s journey began in Clifton Park, NY, a suburb roughly 12 miles north of Albany that doesn’t get the attention of many media outlets. There was little hype surrounding his game until he joined the EYBL circuit as a 17-year-old. He had great size for a guard, could handle the ball well, was a skilled playmaker and showed incredible range on his jump shot. Offers from big programs started to fly in, and Huerter eventually committed to the University of Maryland.
After two impressive seasons in College Park, he decided to enter the NBA Draft, but didn’t truly believe he was bound for the League.
“I honestly just came out to play pickup at the combine,” he tells SLAM. “It was like a measuring stick for me to go there and see how good I thought I was compared to guys who were about to get drafted.”
Yet Huerter stacked up much better than he anticipated. The feedback was so positive that he had no choice but to stay in the pool. “I fully expected going into it that I would be coming back for my junior year,” he admits.
Instead, Huerter was taken with the No. 19 overall pick and off to Atlanta to begin his pro career. And by the end of November, he found himself permanently in the Hawks’ starting lineup. He thrived in their fast-paced, run-and-gun system alongside Young, averaging 9.7 points on 39 percent shooting from deep. Despite his laid-back personality, Huerter is assertive on the floor, especially when he’s in rhythm offensively.
“I think my looks are deceiving for a lot of guys,” Huerter says. “You don’t step on the court and guys immediately respect your game and how you play. So for me, it’s amusing to keep proving that and keep waking people up. Proving to them that you deserve to be in the League and deserve to play. So every game, that’s just my mindset—go out there and realize that nobody respects your game and nobody expects you to do much.”
During a win over the Sixers in January, he dropped 29 on 11-17 from the field. He had 27 at home against the Pelicans, including 17 in the second quarter. He knocked down four or more threes 12 different times throughout the season.
Atlanta is building a new identity centered on a young group that includes Huerter, Trae, big man John Collins and 2019 lottery picks DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish—two versatile pieces who fit their brand of basketball perfectly.
“It’s fun—being a part of it from the ground level and being able to grow up and build with everybody,” Huerter says. “Right now we have no egos, we have no bad locker room guys. Everyone is just on the stage of trying to prove themselves.”
Expect the Hawks to maintain a similar style in 2019-20, and expect Huerter’s role to expand within it.
“Hopefully playing a little bit more point guard this year, we’ve been talking about that,” he explains. “Or at least having the mindset to do that—trying to get other guys involved, put the ball on the floor and make plays.”
“I think Kevin’s game speaks for itself,” head coach Lloyd Pierce said following a recent practice. “He’s probably one of the more skilled players we have… We just want to see more. We want to see him with the basketball in his hands a little bit more. We’ve got to find ways to get him more three-point opportunities. He’s got to find ways to get to the foul line… I think his game is already multi-dimensional. We just got to get him more threes and get the ball in his hands a little bit more.”
At some point, Huerter plans to get in the gym with Wade to develop his post game. He spent the summer building strength, working on his finishing ability at the rim, and, of course, making some media appearances. That part is something he’s going to have to get more used to.
He didn’t foresee being here this soon, so it’s hard to envision what’s in store for the future. As a kid, reaching the NBA was never something that was put in front of him. He dreamed of it, sure, but everyone does.
“For me, it was always just playing and getting to whatever the next level was,” Huerter explains. “When you’re in middle school, it’s playing in high school. When it’s high school, it’s playing AAU against the best. And from AAU it’s college and it keeps moving up from that.”
It’s unclear exactly what the next level is now, but based on Kevin Huerter’s past, one thing is certain:
He will get there. Probably faster than expected.
Alex Squadron is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Portraits by Johnnie Izquierdo.