De’Andre Hunter is a versatile combo forward, who possesses a great combination of athleticism, length and strength, and can play inside and out on both ends of the court. Not one to demand the ball, and playing for the slow-paced Cavaliers, he did not produce eye-popping numbers during his two years at Virginia, but he proved during this year’s National Championship game that he can carry a team if he has to. In the Cavs’ overtime win over Texas Tech for the title, he grabbed nine rebounds and scored 27 points, hitting multiple shots in the clutch.
Playing as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18, Hunter came off the bench in every game, and was named the ACC Sixth Man of the Year. Despite not starting, he was considered to be a potential first-round pick at the time, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the ACC Championship, which likely contributed to his returning to Virginia for another year.
This season, Hunter’s numbers improved nearly across the board, and he earned further recognition for his efforts. He averaged 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game, with very efficient shooting splits (52.0 – 43.8 – 78.3). He subsequently earned a first-team All-ACC selection, and was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
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- Great combination of size, strength, length, and athleticism
- One of the top defenders in the country, capable of guarding any position; allowed just .72 points per possession (PPP) this season, which ranked at the 88th percentile
- As a defender vs. pick-and-roll handlers, ranked at the 94th percentile for PPP allowed in each of his two seasons at UVA
- All-around scorer, who can drive, shoot, and post up; averaged 1.11 PPP this season, which ranked at the 95th percentile
- Shooting efficiency across the board (FG% of 52, 3P% of 44, and FT% of 78)
- Very good spot-up player; ranked at the 90th percentile for PPP on catch-and-shoot jumpers this season
- Efficient in the post; ranked at 88th percentile for PPP on post-up plays this season
- Efficient in the paint; including runners but not post-up plays, made 61.2 of his shots around the basket this season
- Capable of scoring in isolation; ranked at the 75th percentile for PPP on ISO plays this season
- Shows excellent potential as a pick-and-roll screener; on limited pick-and-pop attempts and rolls to the basket, averaged 1.92 PPP this season, which ranked at the 100th percentile
- Excellent ball security; had a turnover rate of just 9.8 percent this season, which ranked at the 92nd percentile among those with at least 100 possessions
- A willing screener and rebounder, and an all-around team-oriented player
- Can be a reluctant shooter, and not a consistent offensive threat
- Not dynamic or explosive as a ball handler
- Can struggle to create his own shot and score off the bounce; ranked at the 49th percentile for PPP on jump shots off the dribble this season
- Didn’t produce many steals and blocks (1.16 combined per game this season)
Hunter was highly efficient in Virginia’s slow-paced system that emphasized taking quality shots, and he proved that he is capable of scoring from all areas on the floor. Nearly 31 percent of his offense this season came from spot-up plays, with another 37 percent coming from a combination of isolation, cut-to-the-basket, and post-up plays. In terms of points per possession (PPP), his production ranged from the 75th percentile in isolation to the 88th percentile in the post. Most of the rest of his attempts came from shots off screens, put-backs, transition, and from both ends of the pick and roll, and his efficiency in those areas ranged from the 69th to the 100th percentile.
Despite the impressive numbers, it would be fair to say that Hunter is not yet a complete offensive player. There were many nights this past season when he was not a major factor on the offensive end; in fact, he scored 11 or fewer points in three of Virginia’s six NCAA Tournament wins.
The main concern is that Hunter does what he does really well, but what he can do is limited. He is not especially nifty off the bounce – he’s mainly a straight-line driver. He does have a quick first step, can effectively use spin moves in the lane, and has the ability to go right or left. At the same time, he is more efficient going right, mainly because he is not strong when finishing with his left hand. He is also not particularly vertically explosive with the ball in his hands, but he can finish above the rim, has good body control, and can power through contact. Additionally, he is not especially adept at shooting off the bounce, and he relies a lot on ball fakes and jab steps to buy space for his jump shots. In the post, he is mainly limited to face-up drives and jumpers, though he does have a smooth turnaround fade-away in his repertoire.
Jump shots accounted for 49 percent of Hunter’s half-court attempts this season. That is a relatively low percentage, but even so, more than anything, he was a catch-and-shoot jump shooter. He was deadly when catching and shooting, making 45 percent of his shots and averaging 1.28 PPP (90th percentile). He has good form on his standing jumpers – he goes straight up, on balance and square to the target, with good elevation and a high release – but he does tend to dip the ball at the start of his shot, slowing down the entire process. Off the bounce, he is not as effective on his jumpers, ranking at the 49th percentile for PPP. Part of the reason for that seems to be due to an inconsistent release point. He also is not overly effective creating space off the bounce, lacking an explosive step-back move, for example.
On this end of the court, Hunter’s quickness and length serve him well, but he also plays with great alertness and effort. He is capable of adequately defending any position on the floor. His most outstanding quality is his ability to quickly stop, start, and change direction – even when an opponent attacks him on a hard closeout, he can reverse direction and harass the driver.
Hunter is typically in the right place at the right time as a defender. Off the ball, he stays aware of where his man and the ball are, is timely on rotations, and is extremely quick to recover after helping. He excels at getting back to his man, whether it is fighting through a screen, or closing out on a 3-point shooter after helping in the post. On the ball, he applies solid pressure, and yet he is difficult to beat off the dribble. He does a great job of moving laterally and staying in front of his man, and with the help of his length, opponents are typically forced to attempt contested shots.
The main concerns on this end are Hunter’s modest numbers in terms of steals and blocks – he averaged just .58 per game in each category this season. However, we have to consider that Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense is sagging by nature and does not involve a lot of denying or gambling. If we look at Bennett’s last two players to be drafted and play in the NBA, Malcolm Brogdon (2016) and Justin Anderson (2015), both players’ steals and blocks combined per minute increased significantly (by an average of 150 percent) from their last year at Virginia to their first year in the NBA. If Hunter would make the same progression and play similar minutes as he did at UVA, he would average close to one steal and block per game, which would put him in the respectable range for the NBA.
Despite showing marked improvement and leading his team to a national title, Hunter still has plenty of doubters. The main knock on him is that he’s too old (soon to be 22) and doesn’t have enough upside to be a top-5 pick. I get that. However, this draft class isn’t particularly strong, and Hunter would appear to be one of the safer picks out there because he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses.
When combining offensive and defensive efficiency, few can match the numbers that Hunter produced this season, especially given Virginia’s tough schedule. In terms of points per possession, he averaged 1.11 PPP, which ranked at the 95th percentile, and as a defender, he allowed just .72 PPP, which ranked at the 88th percentile. He finished fourth in the ACC with a plus-minus of 10.9, and second in the conference with 7.3 win shares, ranking ahead of players such as R. J. Barrett and Coby White in both categories.
One argument that I won’t use to defend Hunter is that Virginia’s pace of play hurt his overall production. If UVA played at a faster pace, the chances are that Hunter (and the rest of his teammates) would not be as efficient on the offensive end, which is the primary positive that he has in his favor. Of course, one could argue that the Cavaliers’ defensive style also slows the pace of the game, thus reducing their own offensive possessions, but if we have to get that picky, perhaps we are over thinking the issue.
The team that drafts Hunter will know that it will be getting a proven winner and a highly efficient two-way player, minus any drama. He’ll likely never be a go-to scorer, but he will always provide defense, and consistently do the other things needed to win, such as set screens, dive for loose balls, and rebound. And he is not going to problem in terms of demanding more touches because he is already proven that he can thrive without being the primary scoring threat every night.
The worst case scenario seems to be that the team drafting Hunter would be getting an effective 3-and-D player, with the “3” part meaning a spot-up shooter. Can he become more than that? “Yes” is the short answer. To be a complete player, he would have to become a more dynamic ball handler and a better scorer off the bounce, but he also could potentially contribute as a pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, and/or post-up option. There are a lot of ways for him to move forward, and statistically, he made significant strides from his freshman to sophomore seasons, so he certainly appears to be trending in the right direction.
In the end, Hunter will be taken somewhere between the fourth and ninth selections, and the decision makers for the team that takes him will sleep well, knowing, if nothing else, they didn’t draft a complete bust.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology and RealGM.com, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com and Sports-Reference.com. The photo was courtesy of Virginia Athletics. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.