When the Bulls went on the clock a year ago during the 2019 NBA Draft, they had three options. The first, which they chose, was to draft a potential defensive foundation piece in Wendell Carter Jr. They could have rolled the dice on a point guard in Collin Sexton but opted to see what Kris Dunn could do for one more season. They also could have drafted for positional need and grabbed 3-and-D wing Mikal Bridges.
The Bulls are certainly happy with what they got out of Carter before he suffered a thumb injury that required surgery in January. But fast forwarding a year, the Bulls now have a chance to go back and draft at a position that still needs plenty of help. Though they have Otto Porter, the need for 3-and-D help on the wing is still glaring, and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter is the kind of player who could solve those problems.
The 21-year-old sophomore (yes, he’s old for his class) was named First Team All-ACC after averaging 15.2 points on 52 percent shooting and nearly 44 percent from beyond the arc, 5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Remember, too, when looking at Hunter’s raw numbers that the Cavaliers played the slowest pace in Division I this season, ranking 353rd out of 353 teams with a pace of 59.4 possessions.
Where Hunter made his impact felt most was on the defensive end. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year as the main cog in the Cavs’ No. 5 nationally ranked defense. The 6-foot-7 forward touted a 7-foot wingspan and he used a combination of quick footwork on the perimeter and strength inside to become one of the nation’s most versatile defenders. He’ll be joining an NBA that’s switching more than ever, and his ability to do so only improves his stock.
As a scorer, Hunter was a model of efficiency. He certainly benefited from playing in the country’s second most efficient offense, but Hunter also contributed plenty to that. He shot 55 percent inside the arc, including 68.6 percent at the rim (better than both Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett and Jarrett Culver). Remember, he didn’t have the luxury of many fast breaks with the way Tony Bennett wanted to slow down the offense.
Hunter shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc on a modest 2.8 attempts per game (again, Virginia’s pace and the Cavs’ embarrassment of riches on offense meant fewer triples). He’s got picture-perfect form (his release may be a little slow) and should have no problem continuing that at the next level. Past his 3-pointers, Hunter scored 1.099 points per possession on 182 jump shots this past season, which placed him in the 83rd percentile nationally. He’s a reliable shooter, and an efficient one at that.
He’s not going to create much on his own at the pro level but he might not have to. His value will come from his outside shooting and versatility as a defender. But that also caps his ceiling to some degree. The safe route may be the correct route for a Bulls team that has hit on its last two first round draft picks and could be looking to make immediate improvements rather than go through another rebuild. What makes Hunter an intriguing prospect are skills that will carry over beginning Day 1.
Ideally, he’d begin his career in a reserve role, acting as a complement on the wing to Chandler Hutchison and whoever the Bulls make their backup point guard (potentially Kris Dunn). Hunter could be used situationally when the Bulls needed shooting or a defensive stop. He could theoretically step in for Otto Porter in two years when the latter is off the books.
In a rather weak draft class after Zion Williamson, playing it safe isn’t the worst option. Role players are just as critical to a rebuild as the guys at the top. Hunter provides one of those pieces, improves a 28th ranked defense the last two seasons and gives the Bulls some much-needed shooting. The Bulls are able to have their cake and eat it, too, grabbing Carter last season and getting their own version of Mikal Bridges a year later.