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De’Andre Hunter’s absence is glaring for Hawks against Sixers - The Athletic


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by Chris Kirschner

 

The luxury of having someone like De’Andre Hunter on the Hawks’ roster is the versatility he offers. That versatility puts every player who shares the floor with him in a better position, and it makes coach Nate McMillan’s job a bit easier.

Hunter showed early in the season he has the lateral quickness to guard someone such as Kyrie Irving and the physicality to limit Julius Randle, which he did in the Hawks’ first-round series against the Knicks.

Without him through two games against Philadelphia, the Hawks are missing his presence. They do not have the defensive talent to guard someone such as Joel Embiid, who’s been otherworldly for the Sixers in both games while doing this on a slightly torn meniscus, and Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Ben Simmons.

Clint Capela was asked if he’s gotten any indication from guarding Embiid that he’s been slowed down by his injury. Capela simply said, “no.” Embiid has scored 79 points on 46 shots so far in the series against the Hawks and has played like one of the top five players in the NBA.

Outside of Embiid, Harris and Curry have both scored 42 points in the series. Simmons wasn’t a factor offensively in the second game but he’s always a threat to punish teams, particularly in transition.

What hurts about not having Hunter, who’s missed both games with right knee soreness, is he can guard any of those players one-on-one, save for Embiid. That potentially limits one of Philly’s scoring options while letting the four other Hawks focus more on their individual matchups. The Hawks haven’t played well defensively in both games. Part of that is because they’ve turned the ball over far too often, and against this Sixers team, those turnovers will haunt them. The Sixers led the NBA in the regular season in forcing turnovers. In Game 2 alone, Philly was plus-8.5 points per 100 possessions in transition.

Hunter would also be a massive upgrade over Solomon Hill, who’s started both games at small forward in place of him. Hill’s defense is spotty at best, and he doesn’t offer anything on the other end of the floor. If Hunter continues to miss time, it might behoove the Hawks to place Kevin Huerter in the starting lineup as he’s shown consistency all postseason and gives them a good defender and shooter on the floor. McMillan suggested after Game 2 that he prefers Huerter with the second unit, though.

In this series, the Hawks lack the individual defenders needed to slow down the Sixers. Bogdan Bogdanovic can’t effectively guard Harris or Curry. Hill hasn’t slowed down Harris. John Collins isn’t strong enough to offer Capela help on Embiid. It’s a tall ask for the Hawks to offer resistance on that end of the floor without Hunter, and it’s showed in both games, despite them winning Game 1.

“We miss him a lot,” Trae Young said of Hunter. “You definitely miss his presence, especially on the defensive end. He’s a great on-ball defender and a help-side defender. He’s really good at reading defenses. At the same time, he can score on the other end, too. We’re definitely missing a big piece of our offense and our defense with ‘Dre being out, but no one feels sorry for us. We still have to find a way to win.”

There’s a balancing act when it comes to Hunter’s availability for the Hawks, and I know it’s frustrating for fans to accept that after seeing Embiid dominate with a knee injury himself. Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk told 92.9 The Game during his weekly appearance that Hunter’s knee swelled up after Game 5 against the Knicks. This continues a troubling trend for Hunter since undergoing meniscus surgery earlier this year. When Hunter originally returned from rehabbing his knee, he played two games then was shut down after his knee swelled up. He ultimately returned at the end of the regular season but is now back to dealing with the swelling.

Dr. Deepak Chona, the founder of SportsMedAnalytics, told The Athletic back in March how he expected Hunter would deal with swelling for the rest of his season due to the re-emergence of the issue shortly after returning to play. Chona also said that, if the swelling continued to be an issue, an additional offseason procedure to fully address the root cause of the swelling would also seem likely.

Hunter is such a valuable player for the Hawks long term that it’s risky to play him without full confidence in his knee.

“We’re being cautious with him,” Schlenk told 92.9 The Game. “We don’t want to do anything with him that would jeopardize long-term effects on his knee. It’s walking that fine line between living in the moment and my job, which is projecting five or 10 years down the line to do what’s best for the franchise.”

That same thinking goes for Cam Reddish, too, who also would be valuable to have in this series as a lengthy wing defender. There’s a big difference, though, between Hunter and Reddish. Reddish hasn’t played in four months and asking him to step into the middle of a playoff series cold is much different than Hunter, who made a large defensive impact against Randle, Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett last week. Reddish also has mostly been a strong negative offensively whereas Hunter has shown the ability to be a featured option who can create for others.

Atlanta’s defensive issues, though, begin with slowing down Embiid, which hasn’t been done yet. Capela hasn’t shown the ability to be able to do it by himself and, as stated above, Collins isn’t helping much, either. There’s an obvious size difference with Embiid and everyone on the Hawks, including Capela, and it’s killing them. The Sixers are attacking the paint with relative ease because the point of attack pressure on the perimeter has been lacking from everyone not named Kevin Huerter. That’s a main area where Hunter’s absence is being felt. It’s one thing for Embiid to dominate, but it’s an even bigger problem when Harris and Curry are consistently getting to their spots.

“That’s something Philly has. They have a lot of big bodies,” Huerter said. “It would be another guy for us who’s a help defender. A lot of times he’d (be) a primary defender on Tobias or Ben. You saw that in the last series. He was able to guard Julius a little bit. It would be great to have him.”

The Hawks certainly could beat the Sixers and advance to the Eastern Conference finals. They have the shooters and a variety of perimeter playmakers to carry them past Philly. It’s just a harder task to complete when one of the most important players is watching from the bench.

“We absolutely miss him. … We’re a better ballclub when he’s out on the floor with us,” McMillan said.

 

 

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Very good read. Thank you for getting this article up for us lol.

We need Hunter back for real. Hunter (and Reddish) instantly make our defense much better. Let's hope we can get Hunter back at least. Reddish is likely done for the year if I had to guess

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, tl;dr said:

Very good read. Thank you for getting this article up for us lol.

We need Hunter back for real. Hunter (and Reddish) instantly make our defense much better. Let's hope we can get Hunter back at least. Reddish is likely done for the year if I had to guess

Hunter is out for the rest of the season.  New small meniscus tear. Surgery on Tuesday.

Edited by jayu70
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14 hours ago, GEORGIAfan said:

I knew we should have shut him down when the first one happened. I hope the repair goes well and the mistakes of the past don't harm him in the future. 

This is why I keep saying it depends on where the tear is on Embiid but my money is on it’s not in the best of places and his awkward fall all over everything style is eventually going to make it worse. 

That’s if it already hasn’t.

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5 hours ago, Ezekiel 25:17 said:

This is why I keep saying it depends on where the tear is on Embiid but my money is on it’s not in the best of places and his awkward fall all over everything style is eventually going to make it worse. 

That’s if it already hasn’t.

6ers and Embiid are basically sacrificing his long term career for hopes of getting a ring this year. I cannot say I blame them given how injury prone Embiid already is and how close they are this year.  I doubt their window with this current team is gonna be more than a few years.

 

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2 hours ago, GEORGIAfan said:

6ers and Embiid are basically sacrificing his long term career for hopes of getting a ring this year. I cannot say I blame them given how injury prone Embiid already is and how close they are this year.  I doubt their window with this current team is gonna be more than a few years.

 

I think that is very well the bet they are making. 

The only thing is, if the Hawks push them to game six or seven that knee won’t hold up much more. Win or lose this series.

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