While Maryland men’s basketball had a disappointing season, Kevin Huerter surpassed pretty much everyone’s expectations. Despite getting pretty much no rest, the sophomore racked up 14.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
Could that production be enough for Huerter to take his game to the next level? ESPN’s Kevin Pelton thinks so.
On Thursday, Pelton dropped his NBA WARP projections for active college players, and Huerter came in at No. 26, with 0.8 projected WARP as a rookie.
That’s a very complicated way of phrasing it, but in layman’s terms, that means if every college player in the country went pro right now, Huerter would be the 26th-best of the bunch, according to this forecast.
Huerter isn’t ranked in Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz’s top 100 for the NBA draft, which is more scouting-focused. But in Pelton’s stats-only projection, Huerter is up at No. 18, sandwiched between Michigan State’s Nick Ward and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. The combination of the two puts the Terp at No. 26.
The hype around Huerter is based mostly on his shooting. The guard shot 50.3 percent from the field this year — 60.5 percent from two, 41.7 percent from three — and 75.8 percent from the line. He was really accurate all-around, and that gives him a leg up in Pelton’s eye.
As Pelton has explained in the past, his projections take into account 14 different statistics, which means they give credit for balanced production. College players who are phenomenal in one area and mediocre in others might have trouble in the NBA if their key skill doesn’t translate. Players who are really good in a bunch of areas have a better chance of sticking in the pros.
This is where Huerter has an edge. Making 60.5 percent of your twos isn’t all that impressive (Ivan Bender was at 60.0 percent this year). The same goes for making 41.7 percent of your threes (Jared Nickens was at 41.3 percent) and 75.8 percent of your free throws (Reese Mona was at 77.8 percent). But the three of them together — the ability to score in the paint, from downtown and at the stripe — make you a potential NBA player.
To really drive this home: This season, Huerter’s true shooting percentage — which takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws — was .640. That ranks 24th in the country, and first in the Big Ten. It’s about the same rate as Villanova’s Jalen Brunson (.642), whom USA Today and NCAA.com named the National Player of the Year. So, yeah, Huerter has game.
Pelton’s projections also give Huerter an edge for a couple of other things. The Clifton Park, New York, native won’t turn 20 until August, and he held his own as a freshman, with a .554 true shooting percentage. Sustaining his success at such a young age is a good sign for his future.
But there are still reasons to be pessimistic about Huerter. He struggled with turnovers this season, committing an average of 17.8 per 100 plays. And Pelton notes that he didn’t rack up many steals (1.1/100). While these shortcomings don’t hurt his play as much in college, they’d likely be exposed at a higher level of play.
And there’s also the matter of size. Huerter is 6-foot-7 and 190 pounds, which is bigger than many of his college opponents, but would be more pedestrian in the pros. At that height, Huerter might have trouble scoring against NBA-sized big men; at that weight, he’d probably find himself outmuscled in the paint.
Of course, we already knew about that downside — no one expects Huerter to be a first-round pick this year. Pelton’s projections show he’s come a long way in his time at Maryland, and that he still has some room for improvement.