Does De’Andre Hunter fit in with Lakers, LeBron?
Leading to the question: hmmm. Does De’Andre Hunter fit in as a possible pick at four for the Lakers?
We know what Hunter brings to an NBA team: defense, first, but it also seems to be underestimating what he can do on offense to highlight his defense.
I’ve seen people talk about Hunter projecting as a Kawhi Leonard type, which is a high, high compliment, probably too high.
I’m not saying Hunter can’t one day, in the right situation, be another Kawhi type. He can shoot the three, he can get into the lane from the perimeter, can post up, dribble-drive off face-ups in the post.
It’s just that: OK, Leonard is a top-five NBA player. It’s folly to project anybody from any draft as a top-five player until you see them play.
(And I mean that for Zion Williamson, too. I don’t see him as sure-fire as most people assume.)
Back to Hunter, and who I think is a better comparison: Draymond Green.
OK, smart guy, you’re thinking. You don’t want to call him another Kawhi Leonard, so you compare him to a guy who has been third-team All-NBA.
Yes, I am doing that.
Look at Green’s numbers. His best season, in terms of scoring, was 2015-2016, when he put in 14.5 points per game, shooting 53.7 percent on two-point shots, 38.8 percent on threes, and averaging 9.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.
Green can guard any of the five positions on the floor, and as such is Steve Kerr’s Swiss army knife, and the guy who really makes everything else that Golden State does possible.
His versatility on the defensive end, I would argue, has led to a revolution in the way the NBA game is played, and that change made its way down to the college game, and Tony Bennett adapted what he does, and won a national championship last month, largely because he had Hunter as the foundation of his defensive system.
What Hunter can do better than Green is what we will see from him on the offensive end of the floor. Much has been made by draft analysts that his three-point shot is slow and mechanical, but they’re missing the point by a wide margin in making that an issue.
Hunter isn’t going to get his threes running off screens and catching and shooting. He didn’t do that at Virginia. Think of the two threes in the national championship game: both were spot-up threes from the right corner created by dribble penetration.
Hunter won’t be asked to shoot a high volume of threes in the NBA; he just needs to be able to make open threes when they are there.
What does LeBron James do best?
We didn’t see much of it this year, because, for some reason, Magic Johnson, now, thankfully, gone from his role as the architect of the Lakers rebuild, saw to it to surround LBJ not with three-point shooters, as had been done for him in Cleveland and Miami, but rather, other guys who can penetrate, and otherwise can’t shoot open threes.
Hunter (43.8 percent from three at UVA in 2018-2019) represents an upgrade from Brandon Ingram (33.0 percent from three) and Kyle Kuzma (30.3 percent from three), the Lakers’ incumbent starting forwards.
Ingram, nominally the small forward, for some reason only put up 1.8 three-point attempts per game, which doesn’t seem possible, playing alongside James.
I can foresee a scenario where the Lakers draft Hunter, insert him at the three in their starting lineup, alongside James and Kuzma, and then make a play for Kyrie Irving, who everybody is assuming now will end up in New York, but …
I can see a Kyrie-LeBron reunion happening. I don’t see Anthony Davis-to-LA happening, based on the February trade-deadline fiasco; and I don’t see the Lakers going into draft without some idea as to how they will spend the money they have set aside for a max player to play alongside James.
I’m way on the outside looking in as far as being a Lakers beat writer or anything of the sort, but it seems to me that the two ways LA is going to go about Year 2 of its rebuild with LBJ is to use the draft to get a guy like Hunter and spend the money on a free-agent guard like Irving, or use the draft to get a point guard (maybe trading up to get Ja Morant) and using its free-agent money on a three-and-D forward.
To answer the question posed at the top of this column, then: yes, De’Andre Hunter fits in with the Lakers.
Column by Chris Graham