Prior to becoming general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, Travis Schlenk spent 13 years in the Golden State Warriors’ front office (including five seasons as their assistant GM). He was with the Warriors when they drafted Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and now he has built another sharpshooting duo with 2018 first-round picks Trae Young and Kevin Huerter.
Young’s success is well-documented, but Huerter played well as a rookie too. He averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.8 threes while shooting 38.5 percent from long range, which earned him a spot on the All-Rookie 2nd Team. HoopsHype caught up with the Huerter to discuss his development, the Splash Bros comparisons, Atlanta’s young core, the Hawks’ offseason moves and more.
What are some lessons that you learned from your rookie season?
Kevin Huerter: I learned a lot. Really, as a player, I’m pretty hard on myself. I get upset if I had a bad game or practice. There were a lot of [frustrating] games, especially as a rookie, and it was an up-and-down year. I would get frustrated about a practice or frustrated about a game, and I’d be thinking about it into the next day. Early in the season, I’d let my frustration from one game bleed into the next game. That’s something that I talked about with the Hawks’ coaching staff. With how often NBA games are played, you have to forget about each game quickly. That was something I really learned. Every game is different, and you have to treat each game as just one game. I think I got better at handling defeat. With the way our season went, I learned how to handle adversity better throughout the season.
Other than that, I think every rookie that comes into the league is surprised by how long the season is and how many games you play and how rigorous it is, physically and mentally. That was something I had to get used to. There were a lot of things that I learned throughout the year.
Did you have a “welcome to the NBA” moment that stands out?
KH: Yeah, we had a road trip early in the year where we played the Lakers and the Warriors on the road back-to-back. That was one of our early road trips and it was my first time playing against LeBron James in Staples Center and playing against Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the rest of the Warriors in Oracle Arena. I think getting to play against those two teams and getting a chance to see the level that those guys are at was kind of my “welcome to the NBA” moment. You go from watching these guys on TV and looking up to them to competing against them and trying to beat them. Both of those games were big for me, especially having them back-to-back like that.
When you and Trae Young were drafted, there was some talk that you guys could form a Splash-Bros-like duo since you and Trae are sharpshooters and Travis Schlenk helped assemble both duos. What do you make of the Splash Bros talk and people comparing you to Klay Thompson? I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot.
KH: Yeah, I have. They’re definitely big comparisons, but I really think Travis was just drafting with the way the NBA is kind of going right now. The Warriors laid out the blueprint: Floor spacing and three-point shooting is winning in the NBA right now. Trae and I were some of the better shot-makers from our draft class, so when Trae was available after they did the trade for Luka [Doncic] from No. 3 to No. 5 and I was there at No. 19, Travis took us because he’s trying to build something and get shot-makers. That’s what he did in Golden State when he helped build that team.
Now, in this year’s draft, he drafted two wings (De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish) and a big in Bruno [Fernando]. Again, these are guys who can do a lot of things, put the ball on the floor, play multiple positions, have length and make shots. I really think it’s a blueprint that a lot of the teams around the NBA are following, and we were just kind of the first pieces to that puzzle.
When you’re watching film, who are some players you study?
KH: As a player, I want to be more of a complete package rather than just being known as a three-point shooter. Coming out of college, I got the Kyle Korver and JJ Redick comparisons pretty quickly. Those guys are unbelievable, but, for me, I’m looking more toward guys like Bradley Beal and Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson since those guys do a little bit more off-the-dribble than Kyle and JJ and they have more of a complete game. I look at those guys and try to study their different moves, how they get shots off, where they get their shots and things like that. Those are the main guys I watched throughout the year.
What is your summer training regimen and which aspects of your game are you working on?
KH: Basically, after the season ended, I spent most of May and most of June working out in Atlanta with the team. I was with a couple of our younger guys and the coaching staff for those two months. I got about a week-long break where I went home to hang out a little bit. Then, we went out to Las Vegas for Summer League one week early and I was working out with those guys and jumping into their Summer League practices a bit. Once Summer League actually started, I went back home and I was working out with a guy who I’ve known since high school. We mainly go Monday through Friday, and I’ll take the weekends off to enjoy summer. For most of July, when I wasn’t in Vegas, I was working out with my own guy at home. This month, I’ve been going back and forth between home and Atlanta a bit more. I’ve kind of been mixing it up and working out with different people.
I’ve been working on a lot of finishing, just taking hits and bumps and still being able to finish through contact. I’ve been working on my footwork and different finishes around the rim. I’ve also worked on shooting off-the-dribble, catching-and-shooting, shooting after running off screens, shooting off of handoffs – a lot of different looks to get into my shot. I want to get better at every type of look that we might be using in our offense.
You guys played well toward the end of last season, beating teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers (twice) and Utah Jazz. What can you do to build upon that and pick up right where you left off at the start of this season? Did that stretch help this team’s confidence?
KH: It definitely did. The way that we started off last year was because it took us a while to get comfortable playing with one another. I know that happens a lot with new teams, but we definitely didn’t start off the season well. But then if you look at the second half of the year, there are a lot of positives we can take away from that. Even in the games we lost, it felt better – our offense felt better and we could feel that we were more together as a team. I think we still have five guys who are left from that team, which is crazy with all of the turnover, but I think those guys who are still here are hungrier to win. Hopefully, we can keep that same momentum. I think the keys to success are simple things like moving the ball better, communicating better and being better teammates. I think those are the reasons why we had more success down the stretch.
In addition to you and Trae, Atlanta added more young pieces like De’Andre Hunter (21), Cam Reddish (19) and Bruno Fernando (21) this summer. How excited are you about this young core?
KH: We’re definitely excited, but we know that we aren’t where we want to be right now and there’s still a lot of work to be done. I thought our draft was great. There are very few teams that can come out of the draft saying they got exactly who they wanted, but those three guys (Hunter, Reddish and Fernando) are literally the exact players we wanted going into the draft. Anytime that happens, it’s an extremely successful draft. I think those guys bring a different dynamic to our team that we didn’t have. De’Andre is a 3/4 and he’s a really good defender, so he was a great pick for us. Cam just has so much potential on the offensive end and what his ceiling could be makes him great for us as well. Bruno is NBA-ready. I think it can be tough for some bigs as they enter the NBA because of how physical it is, but Bruno is physically NBA-ready. Again, I thought it was a really good draft for us.
It’s hard not to fantasize about what we could become. But we’re still maybe one or two years from that, so we still have to grind and try not to listen to the outside stuff too much and just try to get better.
You guys also added veteran contributors like Evan Turner, Jabari Parker, Allen Crabbe and Chandler Parsons this offseason. What did you think of those moves and what they can bring to the table?
KH: I think they can add a lot, both on and off the court. I remember Coach [Lloyd] Pierce said that we weren’t going to bring in any guys who we thought could be detrimental to the locker room and the culture we’re trying to build. He said that entering the offseason and again during one of our summer meetings. I think every player we brought in has some sort of relationship with one of our coaches or [executives], so they know that we’re bringing in really good guys. I think that was really important, first and foremost, especially with a team that could still go through a lot of ups and downs. You don’t want someone in the locker room who is making everyone miserable. Last year, we didn’t have [anyone like] that, which was great.
As for on the court, we brought in a lot of guys who can make shots. Allen Crabbe and Chandler Parsons can make shots, Jabari Parker is an unbelievable scorer and Evan Turner can run the show. Turner showed a lot of what he could do last year in Portland, especially during that series against Denver when he played a lot more. Again, we brought in really good players, but they’re also guys who can contribute off the court as well.
I interviewed Trae Young toward the end of the season and he said that he believes Atlanta will become an attractive destination for free agents in the next few years. Do you think free agents will seriously consider the Hawks moving forward?
KH: Hopefully; any team that wins becomes pretty attractive to free agents. You see that happen a lot. But for me, our core group of guys could and should be enough for us. That’s the way that winning teams are built, at least in the old days. When you want to want to build something that lasts, it’s homegrown guys. But, again, hopefully if we win, [players will want to sign here] and we can figure out which positions we need moving forward. Adding free agents down the line won’t be a bad thing, but first you need to win and then everything else comes with it.
Some people are projecting that this team could make the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed. Is that something you guys have discussed as a team?
KH: Honestly, no. Playoffs, for us, isn’t really a word we talk about – all we talk about is winning more than 29 games. We know how honestly close we were last year – we weren’t too far off from that eighth seed – but we’re probably not going to talk about it for most of the year. It’s not something we talk about in the locker room, trying to sneak in [to the playoffs]. It’s literally just, “We’re going to win more than 29 games and continue to get better.” Then whatever happens, happens.
I really like your game and I think you’re just scratching the surface. How much untapped potential do you feel you have?
KH: I think I have a lot [of untapped potential]. There were definitely certain games last year where I showed that. I’m honestly just becoming more comfortable in the NBA, gaining more confidence in myself and working on different stuff. I think I should continue to show that. This has been a great summer for me. I feel like I’ve worked on a lot and changed my body a little bit. I’m ready to build upon last year and make a bit of a bigger jump, for sure.