[Editor's Note: Hoos Place is proud to welcome Alec to our team of writers. Alec is a new graduate of the University, and was a 2018 sports editor for The Cavalier Daily. He has chosen to continue his sports writing at Hoos Place, benefiting us with his passion, talent, and skills as a sports journalist and analyst. Please join us in welcoming Alec. This is his inaugural article.]
Two months of unprecedented boiling speculation from Virginia basketball fans during the summer months finally ended last night as the Big Three from the 2018-19 National Championship season learned their NBA Draft fates. The results were about as good as anyone imagined.
After a surprise trade up by the Atlanta Hawks, De’Andre Hunter was chosen 4th overall, the highest position by a player that wasn’t already virtually locked into a slot (Zion, Morant and Barrett were going 1-3 no matter what). Ty Jerome, projected to go late in the first round or early in the second, was nabbed by the Phoenix Suns 24th overall. And the decision we sweated the most about ended up being another win for the Hoos, with the Sacramento Kings taking Kyle Guy with the 55th pick.
The draft validated what the Virginia faithful have known for years – Tony Bennett can recruit and develop NBA level talent. This was shown in the confidence teams took on picking the Big Three – they were all chosen via trades – and will pay huge dividends for the program going forward.
But this night was about Dre, Ty and Kyle beginning the journey of making it on the world’s best basketball stage. There will be great excitement to see them in the NBA next season, so why not look at how we could see them used? I took a dive into how each player fits on their new squad for next season and beyond.
Hunter on the Hawks
Though their 29-53 record from last season may not show it, the Hawks had a lot to be excited about for next season even before the draft. A gutsy first-round draft trade in 2018 netted them former Oklahoma PG Trae Young, who, after struggling a bit in early months, blossomed into a top-three rookie player last season, showing shades of Steph Curry. Second-year player John Collins budded into a star alongside him, averaging a 19.1 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game.
The Hawks needed several more pieces to truly push for the playoffs next season, and many believe they received some last night. They traded with the Pelicans for the fourth pick that netted Hunter, and selected Duke’s Cam Reddish with the 10th pick.
Out of all the lottery teams, the Hawks were probably the best landing spot for Dre. The franchise’s mentality over their rebuild was to create a Warriors-esque arsenal of shooters and floor spacers. Already having Young in the fold as a playmaker and shot-creator, Hunter is a perfect complement with his spot-up shooting touch. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make a huge difference in the game, and will likely see his fair share of open perimeter looks distributed from Young.
Hunter’s defensive versatility will also add an immediate jolt to the wing. The Hawks struggled to having the 29th ranked defense in points per possession allowed last season (per Synergy Sports), especially having trouble with spot-up shot defense. Hunter’s advantageous length (6’8”) and wingspan (7’2”) will make him an immediately useful shot contester, and he has the athleticism to keep up with mostly anyone on the perimeter and inside.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hunter in the starting five early next season, since he’s seen as an NBA-ready talent. The Hawks recently traded Taurean Walker-Prince, who played most of his minutes at small forward last year, to the Nets, so minutes will be available for both him and Reddish from the get-go. Highly-touted shooting guard Kevin Huerter, another first-round pick from last season, will slot alongside them as a deadly shooter (38.5 percent) who will command a ton of attention on the perimeter.
A starting five of Young, Huerter, Reddish, Hunter and Collins will, at the least, be incredibly fun to watch. But Hunter could find himself sneaking into the playoffs as a rookie starter next season if the Hawks can assimilate their new wing talents.
Ty on the Suns
Many experts and fans went into the draft envisioning Jerome being selected by an established team looking to round out its backcourt with a versatile guard (after all, both the 76ers and Celtics owned the 24th pick at some point yesterday). Somewhat surprisingly, Jerome ended up with the perpetually rebuilding Suns, who were expected to finally find a backcourt mate for their star shooting guard Devin Booker. Most expected them to find that guy with their 6th overall pick, but here we are.
The good news is Jerome will immediately have a pretty big role in Phoenix from multiple facets. The Suns’ have lacked a true floor general for quite some time, so his highly-praised floor vision and knack for assists can become an indispensable fixture of the offense. Jerome can especially provide a steady hand to an erratic offense; he ranked 5th in the NCAA in assist to turnover ratio in his final season with the Hoos, while the Suns committed the third most turnovers in the NBA last season.
Three-point shooting was a paramount need for Phoenix heading into the draft, seeing as they ranked dead-last in the league with a 32.9 clip from beyond the arc. Jerome showed a potential for NBA range many times throughout his Virginia career, shooting nearly 40 percent over three years. He was elite at both creating space off the dribble and shooting off screens, making him an ideal combo-guard for a team needy of one. Furthermore, the Suns took deadeye shooting forward Cameron Johnson with the 11th pick in the first round, so the spacing outlook for the team as a whole looks better.
While the Suns seem headed for another subpar season as they rebuild, Jerome can help surprise some people by playing his brand off high-IQ, hustle basketball as their point guard. He’ll comprise a young core of Booker, Johnson, center De’Andre Ayton and forwards Kelly Oubre and Mikal Bridges, with high expectations of being a primary ballhandler throughout their rebuild. If he can make his teammates around him better while he adjusts to the professional game, Jerome will silence the doubters of his athleticism once again and become a valuable NBA floor general.
Kyle on the Kings
We all knew that Guy’s draft potential was going to go down to the wire, and that whether or not his name would be called, he would keep his unrelenting positivity and grind to make an NBA roster. But we also knew all it would take was one team to fall in love his work ethic, character and shooting expertise to take a chance on him. That team was the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings are at an intriguing inflection point in their rebuild, as they looked like a playoff team for a long stretch of last season before falling back to earth as a young team. Still, Sacramento has an promising roster, full of many players like Guy that excelled at the college level. Their core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley were all studs in the NCAA, proving themselves before they turned pro.
This bodes really well for Guy, because if there’s one team that can get the most out of undervalued college players, it’s the Kings. The franchise selected 2017 National Player of the Year Frank Mason III out of Kansas in the second round of 2017, overlooking his 5’11” frame and seeing solid role player potential. He averaged 7.9 points in a little less than 19 minutes per game as a rookie, and though she struggled in his sophomore campaign, he embodied that an undersized second-round talent can make a difference on the floor.
Mason shot 42 percent from three in college. Guy shot 42.5 percent. Spot the trend? The Kings like to test out guys who can flat out stroke it. If he can impress beyond the NBA arc during Summer League, Guy will get his chances to play his game with the pros next season, coming off screens like a madman and knocking down jumpers just like we’ve grown to know him since 2016.
Last night’s draft set into motion the next phase of three Virginia legends’ life after college. The pride they have brought to the Bennett’s program is immense, as is each of their potential to become a mainstay in the Association for years to come. As fun as it is to think about what they can do at the next level, it will be even more enjoyable to sit back and see it happen before our eyes.
Congrats to Dre, Ty and Kyle.