Exclusive: Hawks Huerter aims to build on promising rookie run

Hawks wing Kevin Huerter shot nearly 40 percent on 3-pointers as a rookie.

When NBA commissioner Adam Silver went to the podium and announced the 19th overall pick during the 2018 draft, Kevin Huerter found out he would be joining the Atlanta Hawks.

Spending his childhood in upstate New York, the 6-foot-7 wing had never been to the city of Atlanta, other than for his pre-draft workout with the Hawks at their practice facility. Little did he know after that workout on May 11, 2018, that the city might become his home for the next decade.

“The first time I had been to Atlanta was my workout with the Hawks,” Huerter told Amico Hoops.

Atlanta is nothing like where he’s from. He went to high school in a town that can get up to 60 inches of snow per year. Down south the entire metro Atlanta area might shut down due to a couple inches of snow. However, the culture change definitely wasn’t a bad thing.

“It’s a lot different from what I’m used to,” he said. “It’s a big city, it’s definitely one of the premier NBA cities.”

On the court he had just completed his sophomore season at Maryland. He helped lead the Terrapins to a 19-win season, while averaging 14.8 points per game and shooting over 40 percent on 3-pointers. He was viewed as a legitimate NBA prospect — just not a definite first-round pick. He loved Maryland and was totally comfortable returning to College Park for his junior year, but things changed after the 2018 NBA Combine.

“My stock became too high that I had to leave,” he said.

There might have been some interest from the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks with higher draft picks, but thankfully for the Hawks, he fell right into their lap at No. 19.

LEARNING THE ROPES

While he didn’t grow up with any financial adversities, and was well-taken care of by his family, Huerter was still about to come into more money than he had ever seen in his life. The starting salary for the 19th overall pick in the draft was slated at over $2 million for his rookie season.

A lot of teenagers would instantly go make a big purchase, perhaps something along the lines of an exotic car.

Not Huerter.

“I actually waited to get a car,” he said.

His parents leased him a Honda Pilot during his sophomore year of college. Since the lease was so new, he didn’t feel the need to go get a new car right off the bat. His first major payment would be toward his apartment instead. So during his first NBA season, when most teams’ parking lots are full of fancy cars, he instead drove to the games in his Honda Pilot.

Recently, he treated himself to a well-deserved Range Rover.

“Try to just stick to spending money on things you need and a couple other things,” he said.

He’s got a bright head on his shoulders on and off the floor. The now 20-year-old already has an accountant and a financial advisor, who Huerter found with help from his parents and his agency.

“You gotta surround yourself with great people,” he said.

He also grew up surrounding himself with great basketball people.

His dad played at the Division I level for Siena College. He also began training with Steve Dagostino, a former D-II player who is now a basketball trainer, in eighth grade.

Dagostino, who is still his trainer to this day, recalled a story of when Huerter was in 10th grade and the moment he knew he would be an NBA player.

“He threw like a full-court left-handed pass on the dime to somebody,” Dagostino said. “I turned to the person next to me and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, Kev’s gonna be in the NBA’.”

During Hurter’s rookie season, he helped form one of the best young cores in all of basketball. After a rough 6-20 start to the season, the Hawks would cement themselves as one of the most entertaining teams in the league.

Headlined by rookies Trae Young, Huerter, and second-year man John Collins, the Hawks became one of the league’s highest-scoring teams after the All-Star break. They even finished the season a respectable 10-13.

On the court they are ahead of schedule.

“There was a long period where we were playing really well, and it just felt better,” Huerter said. “Even the games we were losing we could look back and there was really like one or two plays that had gone differently that the outcome of the game would have been different.”

NEXT STEPS

Even though they were exciting, they did only win 29 games, and that leads to even more motivation for a potential playoff birth next season.

“The playoffs are now in our mindset,” Huerter said. “It stinks sitting home watching. Our season ended two months ago and there’s still teams playing.”

While the Hawks featured a bright young core, they also had a very unique mix of well-groomed veterans in the fold as well. Vince Carter at 42-years-old was there to help guide them. Being in his 21st season he had seen it all. Huerter was in diapers when Carter first began his NBA career.

“He would help us literally every single game,” he said. “He was an extension of the coaching staff.”

Huerter also became very close with his fellow rookies, Young and Omari Spellman. His girlfriend has now even become good friends with Young’s girlfriend, through all of them hanging out.

They also got to experience the infamous rookie duties together. Huerter recalled a story of being on a road trip, and receiving a call from veteran teammate, Dewayne Dedmon. 

“I was laying in my room, I think we were in Indiana,” Huerter said. “(Dedmon) was like, ‘Hey Kev I need deodorant, I need toothpaste.’ So I had to go Uber down to a CVS and get him deodorant and toothpaste. It’s literally anything they think off the top of their head and you gotta go run and get it for them.”

TOTAL PACKAGE

Through all the ups and down of the team on the floor, rookie life in the NBA, and everything else life can throw at a 20-year-old, Huerter had a fantastic rookie season. He averaged nearly 10 points per game, shot 39 percent from three, and was named to the All-Rookie second team.

An impressive accolade, especially for someone picked outside of the lottery. Now, there are expectations from himself and everyone else.

One of the most important things he sees himself needing to improve is his finishing at the rim, which would also lead to him to getting to the free-throw line more.

”I’ve been working a lot on my finishing,” he said. “Trying to make my ball-handling a little tighter.”

Because of Huerter’s incredible shooting ability, it’s easy to forget about his high basketball IQ  and impressive passing ability. Huerter said that Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce even joked he might be playing some backup point guard next season.

However, that might be no joke.

Dagostino sees his long-time client as a guard who can do a lot more than shoot.

“His vision and IQ is what really is the best part of his game,” Dagostino said.

A great illustration of his awareness was put on display recently. Dagostino told Huerter about a specific play where he got the ball stolen from him on a drive to the basket. Yet, Huerter could recall the exact game and exact player that stole the ball from him. Dagostino had the video of the play, and he himself couldn’t even remember the specific player that stole the ball.

“It was funny because I had the video,” Dagostino said. “I couldn’t remember if it was Derrick White or the other shooting guard, Bryn Forbes. He told me it was against the Spurs against Derrick White.”

WORK AHEAD

This summer Huerter’s gone home to New York, on some vacations with friends, and catching up on playing some golf, but ultimately he is in Atlanta during the week training at the team’s practice facility.

The ultimate definition of a successful second season in his mind will come down to consistency. Shooting 40 percent on threes is one goal.

He also feels he is at his best when he’s a playmaker.

“It doesn’t matter position-wise, whatever I am,” Huerter said. “I think I’m really at my best when I can find guys and I can make plays for others and obviously make plays for myself.

“Whether it’s at point guard, whether it’s at two guard, anything. I just want to have the chance to make plays for other people.”

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