The Atlanta Hawks proved last season that their young core is ready to make noise in the NBA. After all, head coach Nate McMillan led a roster that featured Trae Young, Clint Capela, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Once their playoff run came to an end, the Hawks made it their top priority to sign Collins and Young to long-term extensions. They’ve been such an integral part of the team for the past few years, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the front office hand out new deals to them.
That being said, the front office has not yet locked up Huerter for the long haul. The fourth-year swingman out of Maryland proved this past season that he’s a really important role player for Atlanta. In the playoffs, he averaged 11.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Despite having to share time with Bogdanovic on the wing, Huerter didn’t allow that to affect his mindset. He made 36.3 percent of his 3-points during the 2020-21 season, and some fans might argue that he saved his best stretch of basketball for the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Although he hasn’t publicly demanded a new contract, Huerter is bound to cash in at some point in the next 12 months. All he needs to do is continue to show that he can be a complete player for the Hawks.
We caught up with Kevin Huerter this offseason to discuss the Hawks’ magical playoff run last season, his thoughts on entering a contract year and much more.
The Spun: What was last season’s playoff run like for the team?
Kevin Huerter: It was honestly a lot of fun. That run, the way we came together, and the chemistry we showed on the court was great. We felt like we were good enough and playing at a high enough level to win the whole thing. Obviously, we ran into a good Milwaukee team that deserved to win it all. But it was a run that I’ll always remember.
The Spun: What was it like playing in Madison Square Garden during the playoffs?
KH: It lived up to all the hype. One of the first things people talk about when you play in college and in the NBA is the atmosphere at MSG. That place was rocking and it was a fun atmosphere to play in, even though everyone there was rooting against us. That was a great series – our confidence was high going into it. The Knicks had beat us three times during the regular season, but we felt like there were a lot of matchups we could exploit, and we did. Obviously, Trae [Young] being the enemy in that building made closing out the series at MSG pretty sweet.
The Spun: What’d you guys think about Trae Young being portrayed as a villain in New York?
KH: We definitely cracked jokes about it after the series was over. It was a little surprising, though. It wasn’t like the Knicks and Hawks had beef during the regular season. The fans just kind of targeted him from Game 1 and thought ‘We’re going to get on this guy.’ He had the last laugh. The bow that he did at the end of Game 5 was wild. We were all like ‘Dude, you really just bowed in front of the fans at MSG in the playoffs.’ It was a legendary move, and it was another element of that series that made it so memorable.
The Spun: Your rookie deal is almost up. How much does a new deal weigh on your mind, especially after having another strong year?
KH: It’s easy to sit here and say it won’t [weigh on his mind]. Obviously, this is a place where I’m really comfortable with and would love to get something done. If we can’t do a deal this summer, it moves on to the next one. I hope that it’s something I don’t think about every day and I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I think we have a really good group here that we want to keep together. I hope I can be a part of that group for the long haul. So, hopefully, this situation doesn’t affect my play.
The Spun: Who’s the toughest player you’ve guarded thus far? And who’s the toughest guy to score on?
KH: Kevin Durant is someone you truly hope just misses a shot. He’s someone who, defensively, you just try to force him into tough shots. Most of the time, though, he’s still making them. He’s as unguardable as they come. There’s a lot of good perimeter defenders, but I think some of the NBA rules take away the physicality that perimeter defenders can use. I think on the flip side, someone like a Rudy Gobert can really protect the rim. That’s something you feel when you play against the Jazz because your shots around the rim become a bit tougher due to his presence.
The Spun: Did you get to see the Rick Astley jokes that were being made about you?
KH: I did get a good laugh at it. That came out after the Philly series. There were so many hilarious videos that I had people send to me. It was just yet another example that proves the internet is undefeated.
The Spun: Can you tell me about your recent experience at the first annual HoopFest event in Clifton Park?
KH: I want to continue to find ways to connect with where I’m from and give back to the community. I got a lot of support and people following me from there. Because of the shortened offseason and how far we made it into the playoffs, I wasn’t able to do camps in my hometown. So, I tried to do a one-day event where I can see a lot of people and give back in a way that revolves around basketball. I had a lot of friends and family help me out with that event. We didn’t charge people for entry to get into the camp. We had over 500 people sign up for 120 spots, so we ended up doing a lottery system. The people who weren’t able to get in were able to get autographs and pictures, though. It was a great way to give back and something I’m looking forward to doing for years to come.
The Spun: Do you want to see Maryland and Duke renew their rivalry even though Coach K is retiring?
KH: 100 percent. It’s one of those things where I wish it would’ve happened with Coach K. I thought it’d be great to do a home-and-home. If he’s moving on, I hope the next coach at Duke wants to renew this rivalry. During my playing career at Maryland, I had countless people ask me ‘When are you guys going to play Duke?’ People miss the old ACC rivalry. I think it would be great for the sport and both fan bases if they can get a deal done.
The Spun: Can you just take fans through the 2020-21 season and the obstacles that players needed to overcome on a daily basis?
KH: It was the furthest thing from business as usual. Every day you walk into the practice facility, you’re wearing masks until every player clears their test in the facility. Our travel schedule wasn’t the same, our road trips became longer to reduce travel. There were certain cities where we couldn’t leave our hotel room, and the ones that allowed us to leave the hotel had curfews. It changed everything. Not playing in front of fans and showing up to arenas that had tarps over the seats and pumping in crowd noise was the weirdest part. It was like we were the only people who were a part of the journey last year. Obviously, the NBA fans are a huge part of every season. Maybe that’s why the energy in MSG this year felt so much different. Getting back in front of our home fans was great as well. I’m not sure what rules we’ll have in effect for next season, but I hope the fans will be there.
The Spun: What’s your favorite Hawks uniform?
KH: I think my favorite one has to be the ‘Peachtree’ jerseys from two seasons ago. They were black with beige coloring, they were really nice. For this past season, I’d say it has to be the MLK jerseys. We went on a crazy streak with those jerseys, so that’s why we wore them during the playoffs.
The Spun: What’s that next step for you in the NBA?
KH: I think being more consistent and finding a way to remain healthy. I have to play at a high level game in and game out for 82 games. I think there are a lot of games where I show out and look good, but there are others where my production isn’t where it should be. So I need to find that consistency for a full year.
The Hawks should be one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA next season, and Huerter’s range from downtown is a big reason why.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst believes Huerter could be in line for a four-year, $72 million extension. That would be a reasonable salary for a 23-year-old swingman who’s only going to get better.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.
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