Stage Three: His Prognosis for Reaching Those Objectives
Above I have outlined an expansive concept of Hunter's potential role and impact, for this year and beyond. This season, I see him as having the potential to be a sixth man and trouble stopper. It's a big role for a freshman, and his box score statistics in games against higher calibre opposition would seem to suggest that expecting him to be capable of delivering would be overly optimistic; however, I contend that an analysis beyond the box scores gives ample support for such an expectation. The prognosis, in fact, is quite strong.
We've already seen that despite not hitting his shots, Hunter is playing good defense, boxing out, rebounding, and making generally good decisions in the offense. Each of the 35 shots he has taken in his first eight games was at the least a defensible decision. The vast majority of his shots have been situationally intelligent and I cannot remember a single time thinking, "I hope he never takes that shot again." In fact, quite the opposite. On most of his misses, I recall thinking, "I hope he keeps taking those." I cannot speak for the coaches, of course, but I would be surprised if their view is materially different from my own.
A friend of mine made the observation that Dre appears uncomfortable on offense. He appears to me to be tentative with the ball, being an instant delayed in making his move, and not executing it with full commitment. He looks uncertain. All of this is to be expected given the stage of his career - and the size of the stage. He's never played in front of 14,000 people before. When a player is uncertain about his play and hesitant in committing to it, he's unlikely to have the flow needed to shoot well.
The solution is simple - if not exactly easy: experience and confidence. Fortunately, confidence tends to come with experience in a supportive environment. With his defensive performance, Dre will have every opportunity to gain the experience. From what he has said about the coaches ("the coaches tell me to stay confident") and the reactions of his teammates on the court, he has that supportive environment. Keep playing, keep grinding possession by possession, keep putting up shots, keep working in practice, and it will come.
De'Andre Hunter is going to blow up on a Power 5 opponent before the spring school semester starts. Book it.— Hoos Place (@HoosPlace) November 29, 2017
We've already seen how Dre's early career compares to those of a number of his predecessors. What those predecessors have shown is that the big performances will come. With Dre's tools, there is every reason to believe that he will start to find the range and the comfort zone. He won't go big every game, but he will have those "flashes," like Coach Bennett said.
Part II: What Is To Be Done?
I can never resist a good Lenin reference.
Dre's path to the glory I have laid out for him above is simple, but not easy. All he has to do is follow the examples of the players who have come before him, all of those predecessors and teammates who trusted The Process and worked it, and who saw their game constantly develop and diversify, until they were marketable professionals, going on to earn good paychecks playing basketball. Of all the Virginia players who are currently playing in NBA games, and those who have earned at least one NBA paycheck, not one was predicted to be an NBA player when he entered college. Not one was a McDonald's All-American or consensus 5* recruit. What they all had was a lot of good qualities, and a belief in themselves and what hard work under this staff could do.
First, Dre needs to keep playing defense at the level of focus and consistency at which he is playing it. His defense is his visa to the floor. As long as Tony is confident that the team defense will be solid with Dre on the floor, he will be willing to put him in games and let him play through offensive struggles. Dre shows an understanding of the team concepts and an ability to be continuous. In every game, he has made at least one exceptional defensive play.
Second, remain confident. This falls into the areas of "believe in yourself" and "listen to your coaches." Dre said in the Monmouth post-game interview that his shooting was about confidence, and the coaches have been telling him to stay confident. Good advice. When you are going out there and missing shots, it can be hard to do, but if you keep doing what you are doing and keep shooting, the shots will start to fall. It takes experience to adjust to the greater speed of reaction that high major defenders have, and their greater ability to physically contest and challenge shots. Successful adjustment requires a firm belief in self and constant study.
Third, be aggressive. Be aggressive defending, be aggressive putting up the shot on clean catches, and most of all be aggressive driving to the rim. Be willing to charge or get a shot blocked now and then. Aggressively going to the hoop is what got him all those free throws, and that's something this offense needs.
Fourth, be decisive. The imperfect decision made quickly is more effective than the right decision delayed a split second. When you delay, the opportunity is lost. Make decisions then critique them in film study. Again, if your defense is solid and the pack is stopping the opponent, offensive mistakes are tolerated.
Fifth, put in the work every day. Get up the shots. Be first to practice and do all the reps as if you are going to start. Lift. Study. Laugh. Remember that you love this game and all this work is part of enjoying the game. Look at the example of those who have come before - even those like Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome who were getting just a few minutes a half like you but who now routinely play 30 minutes a game. That's you.
Areas of skill that could be improved would be ballhandling and court vision. The handle is most readily addressed with off-season work, while the vision is greatly aided by film study. Oh, and get some more arc on that three-ball. It's gotten a little flat the last couple of games.
Sixth, shut out the noise.
Seventh, just be patient. Do one through six and it will happen.