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Kevin Huerter turns in career outing in return to the DMV

The former Terp had a spectacular showing, stepping up as a leader for the Atlanta Hawks in the absence of Trae Young.

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With under seven minutes left against the Washington Wizards, Kevin Huerter dribbled outside the top of the arc before bursting to his right.

After quickly being met by two defenders, the second-year pro fired a lob in the paint to Dewayne Dedmon, who threw down a two-handed dunk with ease to shorten the Atlanta Hawks’ deficit to 12 points.

The assist was one of 11 for the former Terp in the Hawks’ 118-112 loss to the Wizards, setting a new career-high in his return to the DMV. He also finished with 14 points, marking the third double-double of his career.

Though the night ended in a defeat, Huerter stepped up as a leader and gave his team a chance late in the absence of All-Star Trae Young, who was out with flu-like symptoms.

“Kevin really took on a leadership role tonight, just communicating all of our coverages, communicating to the other guys,” Atlanta head coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He had to play some point guard, we had to put the ball in his hands a little bit more than normal. And he’s always been a willing passer and we put him in some situations where not only is he looking for his shot, but he’s able to make plays for other guys.”

Young has been the catalyst for a young Hawks team all season, averaging 29.6 points, 9.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game — the first two stats rank fourth and second in the league, respectively.

The fifth overall draft pick in 2018, the point guard had a heavy burden on his shoulders from the start for a team trying to rebuild.

Huerter, who was the 19th overall pick that year, took more time to develop and adjust to the league. Though not as showy as his teammate, he still had an impressive rookie campaign in which he found a role in the starting lineup and produced 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists a night — doing so while shooting a remarkable 41.9 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from deep.

Despite battling injuries through the early part of the season, the former Terp is now averaging 12.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest with practically the same shooting numbers. He’s averaged 14.8 points and 5.8 assists over his last five games, and he’s scored at least 15 points in 19 outings this season.

But Friday night’s game showed that he has progressed far beyond what the stats show. Huerter was the most constant voice on the floor, directing his teammates on both the offensive and defensive ends.

He was unselfish, always looking for the right pass to help the Hawks find good looks that led to the team shooting 53.6 percent from the floor. Atlanta had assists (25) on 54.3 percent of its made field goals, and Huerter was responsible for 44 percent of those.

“Without the head of the snake, you want to have another guy who can create and make and still be able to score, and I feel like that’s exactly what Kevin can do,” forward John Collins said. “And he showed that tonight. Obviously, we didn’t come out with the victory, but I still feel like he was effective and led us the way he should have.”

The shooting guard found Collins for three of his 10 made shots from the floor of the evening.

One of those connections came after the Hawks produced a steal with a little over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Huerter took off on the fast break down the right sideline, dribbled into the edge of the paint and corralled a bounce past around the legs of his defender to Collins, who rose up for an emphatic slam.

“We have a lot of guys who can make plays and we’re at our best when the ball is moving,” Huerter said. “With Trae out, I was just trying to come in and be a facilitator and get us an offense and get different guys the ball and really let everyone touch it, because when we do that, we’re really tough to guard.”

And Huerter did so in front of a crowd filled with his Hawks jersey along with loads of Maryland apparel, as fans from his college days came out to see he and former Terp Bruno Fernando compete at the next level.

“We love coming back to DC, we get tremendous support in seeing a lot of people in their jerseys and a lot of familiar faces and Maryland jerseys,” Huerter said. “It’s a great ‘homecoming’ for us.”