Virginia may have entered the NCAA Tournament this year as the nation’s No. 1 team per Ken Pomeroy. The Cavaliers may have (and still do) boast both a top-5 offense and defense. However, Ton Bennett’s group still had doubters based on last year’s historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC.
As some have pointed out, arguably Virginia’s most talented player was missing in action for that game. Then-freshman De’Andre Hunter hurt his wrist just before tournament time, taking his nearly 10 points a game with him and significantly shortening the rotation.
With him back all throughout 2018-19, Virginia has stormed to a 32-3 record and a spot in the South Regional final Saturday against Purdue (8:49 p.m. EST, TBS).
The 6-foot-7, 225-pounder averages 15.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game. He is lighting teams up from the floor, connecting on 57 percent on twos and 46 percent on triples.
The top scorer on one of the nation’s best teams has led to a slew of first-round NBA Draft projections. Let’s take a look at these prognostications:
De’Andre Hunter NBA Draft Projections & Mock Draft
Ben Standig of NBC Sports pegs Hunter to go in the lottery to the Washington Wizards, saying that he would fill an important job as a role player.
There is nothing wrong with a steady building block to go with a two-time All-Star in Beal and Brown, last season’s first-round selection. If we do factor in the depth chart, the Wizards would have obvious holes at forward even if they bring back the majority of the current roster.
Hunter addresses all these areas. For a team trying to re-emerge after a trying campaign that included internal squabbles, don’t sleep on the impact of the right role player.
Our own Jon Adams has Hunter going No. 6 to the Atlanta Hawks in his most recent mock draft. Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype lists him as the No. 5 overall prospect on his aggregate mock draft. That includes NBA Draft Net, which has Hunter going No. 6 to the Hawks, as well.
SI.com’s Jeremy Woo in another in the Hawks camp, but this time at No. 7 overall.
If Dallas’s pick ends up in the top five, they’ll get to keep it, and that scenario is in play. Otherwise, it goes to Atlanta. With last year’s draft as a precedent, the Hawks could again consider trying to flip one of their firsts into a lower selection and a future first, maximizing their asset value. If they keep it, they could couch the risk of someone like Reddish at No. 5 with the safety of Hunter, who should provide defensive versatility and floor spacing from a forward spot. Like with Reddish, having Trae Young in place to handle primary shot-creation makes a guy like Hunter all the more valuable in filling in.
De’Andre Hunter NBA Draft Big Board Rankings
On Aran Smith’s NBA Draft Net’s list of 100 players, Hunter appears in lottery range as the No. 6 overall prospect.
ESPN’s Draft Board has him as the second-best power forward available behind Duke’s Zion Williamson, as well as fifth out of all prospects. The pre-draft analysis compares him to the likes of Rudy Gay and Danny Granger.
– Has prototypical physical tools for a modern-day NBA forward. Very similar measurements to the likes of OG Anunoby, Danny Granger and Rudy Gay.
– One of the most versatile defenders in the college game. Length, strength and terrific feet helped him switch seamlessly onto big men such as Marvin Bagley II or wings such as Josh Okogie as a key cog for Virginia, the best defensive team in the country last season.
– Was an efficient and prolific scorer coming off the bench last season. Hit 38 percent of his 3s and 76 percent of his free throws. Aggressive pushing the ball off the defensive glass and getting to the free throw line.
On the negative side, he’s criticized for his “unnatural” shooting stroke. Seeing as he canned 50 percent of his triples in ACC play, it works for him. However, taller athletes on Oklahoma and Oregon in this tournament contained him to just 21 combined points.
He should have more room to prove himself Saturday night versus Purdue. If he performs there, and then beyond in the Final Four, he should be able to absolutely cement a top-5 selection.