EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns could play it safe at No. 6 in NBA Draft with De’Andre Hunter

Jun 13, 2019, 6:57 AM
De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers in action in the game against the Louisville Cardinal...
De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers in action in the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 23, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

If the Phoenix Suns want to go low-risk with their No. 6 selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, there’s a decent chance the right prospect will be on the board for them.

Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter is arguably the best defensive player in his class, and after shooting 41.9% from three-point range in two years, he’s proven that he’s got a jumper that has a really good shot of translating.

The best part about Hunter’s season is that he got to show his defensive chops against some of the best in his class.

In the national championship, he played a big role in making life not so great for Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.

Hunter is awesome at using his chest in his defensive stance. Because of a strong frame, the defensive stance he employs and quick movement with his feet, he’s not going to allow guys to make up ground off a bump. And even better, he’s going to suffocate you after that bump.

In ACC play, he spent a lot of time on Duke’s R.J. Barrett. Barrett is similar to Culver but offers more of a guard dynamic in his scoring repertoire.

On this drive and the Culver one above, you’ll notice Hunter likes to initiate the contact with his chest. Because he can move well enough and is physical, he can get away with it, and then it’s his superior length.

Hunter is at least going to be a secondary defensive option in the NBA against scoring two-guards, perhaps even a primary guy depending on the specific matchup.

But with the traits he has, particularly again with his strength, he’s going to be the best on 3s and 4s.

That, in and of itself, is a real skill not a lot of guys in the NBA have.

Looking at the NBA Finals as an example, Hunter projects as the type of defender who could spend time on Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson if he were on the Raptors. On the other end, that’s Toronto’s two best scorers in Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.

With the way the league keeps bringing in 6-foot-7 and above guys that can do a LOT offensively — Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, etc. — Hunter would be a good player to have.

Offensively, you see Hunter on the right night and there’s top-5 appeal.

Too often, though, Hunter showed an inability to create his own shot. Even on that jumper above, that’s a tough mid-range fallaway.

Per hoop-math, Hunter took nearly 40% of his shots on two-point jumpers and shot a “fine” 42.8% on them. He took over 10% less of his overall attempts from three-point range at 26.6%.

Those numbers are going to have to change and should serve as a good reminder that prospects on higher volume from deep like Cam Reddish (61.8% of his shots) and Coby White (52.3%) should be differentiated as such.

Hunter will have to prove at the next level he can be a good shooter on high volume. Mikal Bridges, for example, took six attempts a game from deep in his last year at Villanova.

The good news is the jumper looks good and Hunter shot 68.6% at the rim when he got there, so there isn’t a huge reason to sound the alarm. But there are certainly questions to his offensive upside, even as a shooter for a year.

To soak in those concerns, Hunter’s still one of the best prospects in this draft thanks to his talents as a defender and projectable versatility.

My personal favorite possession by the Suns this season was this one in Boston where they wreaked havoc on defense.

Hunter seems like he would fit right in with that, no?

Not going to lie, though, Hunter would be a boring pick.

In the dreaded worst-case scenario of Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland and Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver going fourth and fifth, there are other picks that are more exciting.

White could be the long-term point guard. Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke has great potential as a role player big. Reddish has the highest ceiling of the four.

But what separates Hunter from those four players is that we know what he is right now in the NBA and he’s the best bet of the four to help the Suns win basketball games next season and beyond.

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