Kevin Huerter came to the University Maryland with every intention of playing for four seasons.
Then the NBA Combine happened.
It was in Chicago last month the 6-foot-7 Huerter—who completed his sophomore season in March—put on a shooting display that created an immediate buzz that swept through the camp. It began in an individual drill with a swished 3-pointer from the left corner.
It ended 14 3-point attempts later, all of them makes. NBA coaches, general managers and scouts who observed Huerter’s handiwork were slack jawed.
Huerter’s plans were to test his NBA Draft stock without hiring an agent. He was looking to make a clear-cut decision, armed with feedback that either advised him to go back to school or made it obvious he was ready for the next level. Those 15 3-pointers made his decision easy.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton was one of the witnesses to Huerter’s shooting drill, and several draft analysts have reported speculation that the Lakers, second-to-last in the NBA in 3-point shooting this season, have promised to pick him in the first round.
The fact Huerter had to pull out of the second day of Combine scrimmages and cut short his workout tour—appearing for only the Lakers, Hawks, Nets and Celtics—because a hand injury sustained during the season flared up and eventually required surgery isn’t expected to affect his draft stock.
Huerter suffered ligament damage to his right (shooting hand) pinkie in a game against Northwestern in February. He gutted out the rest of the season, hoping to avoid surgery. He finally relented to going under the knife, and is supposed to be sidelined the next two months.
Huerter made just two of the final nine 3-pointers he hoisted in his Maryland career, but the injury didn’t affect him during that life-altering shooting drill in Chicago. And besides, teams that scouted Maryland all season know he’s much more than a good shooter.
“He’s pretty special,” Turgeon told the Baltimore Sun during the season. “He really sees things. He’ll see mismatch things that a lot of kids don’t see, and he sees it quickly. He helps me. He sees a lot of things on the floor, and I trust him because he’s smart.”
As much as Turgeon hates to see Huerter go, he realizes the time has come.
“With the NBA, it takes just one team to like you, and then the other guys start to jump on board, and that’s kind of what happened with Kevin,” Turgeon said. “And the whole thing is whether they like him or not, is he ready? And he’s ready. He asked me, and I said, ‘Kevin, you’re mature, you’re ready for the jump.’ After we did our homework we just really felt confident for the jump, and that this was the best thing for Kevin to do.”
In an era of position-less basketball, Huerter’s size and skills will make him a perfect fit. It’s ironic, but Maryland assistant coach Matt Brady thinks Huerter’s old-school game perfectly suits him for new-age basketball.
“He’s an absolute throwback,” Brady says. “He plays the right way. He’s never trying to do one thing. Notably scoring. He can score, but he doesn’t really force the issue. In that regard, he’s a throwback. Young guys, they all feel like they have to score in order for validation. Kevin doesn’t feel that way. He’s got a really beautiful game.
“He passes, he cuts, he defends, he rebounds. You watch a lot of players now, they’re all trying to be something that’s not natural or normal. Most are trying to be great scorers. Kevin’s always had winning first. For that reason, he makes the right play all the time, and that why he’s a good player.”
Versatility aside, Brady, a noted shooting instructor, is nevertheless impressed with Huerter’s offensive game.
“He always shoots the same shot,” Brady said. “The same way, every time. Everything in sports is about eliminating [excess] movement and motion. Kevin eliminates all needless motion, with his arms, his hands, his body. He never fades. He has a straight-up-and-down, cookie-cutter shot. His head doesn’t tilt.
“In that regard, he reminds me of Klay Thompson. Klay shoots the same shot every time, no matter whether it’s on the move, or when somebody’s closing out on him. Wherever Kevin learned that from, it wasn’t me. He was taught well at a young age, and he’s never deviated. That’s the singular reason great shooters are great.”
The Lakers own the No. 25 pick in the draft. Will Huerter last that long? Brady thinks whatever team takes Huerter will be glad it did.
“I think he’s going to be a really, really good NBA player,” Brady said. “He’s got terrific size, terrific athletic ability. He doesn’t need the ball to impact the game. He’s a great student of the game, and he’s got great character. He’ll always try to outwork his competition, and he’s going to listen to his coaches. And then he’s got that skill that every team wants and needs. He can really shoot it.”
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