You will likely see two common player archetypes used for Duke forward Matthew Hurt this season. But neither will be accurate, because the potential top-10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft should be so much more.
The first introduction to 2020 NBA Draft prospect Matthew Hurt was the following photo, photoshopped after Hurt’s commitment to the University of Duke.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Minnesota looked the part of everything you hate about Duke basketball. He looks indistinguishable from any number of Cameron Crazies in the stands. He likes to wear the ninja-style headbands that are so in vogue across the league right now, particularly among African-American players, which Hurt is definitely not. He has decent size for his position, but is a very middling athlete. And his most focused-on skill is his shooting.
Copy and paste that description, swap out the height, birthplace and accessory of choice, and I’ve just described the entire spectrum of White Duke Basketball Player from Grayson Allen to Mike Dunleavy to Christian Laettner. To imagine the guy in the photo above as an NBA lottery prospect is infuriating on principle. You hear the names of the players that created this archetype, and you won’t think basketball skills. You’ll think of maximum effort. You’ll think of playing far outside of the rules of the game, and mostly getting away with it. You’ll think of slapping the floor and hand checking and all of the other dumb high school basketball tropes that accompany being a white player in college basketball’s biggest arch-villain program.
You will definitely hear Hurt compared to others in Duke’s infamous club this season by college basketball media. It will be made particularly because of his defense, which will be lumped in with the rest of the “hard-nosed” and “glue guy” tropes used with Grayson Allen and Kyle Singler types.
But what separates Hurt is that he’s actually good, particularly in ways that could make him a strong NBA defender. He’s not just a 100 percent effort guy — his awareness and reaction time help him routinely be in the right place at the right time, and he has the short-area burst and footwork to stay in front of wings or step up and challenge at the rim.
He’s not laterally quick or a great leaper, but Hurt’s defensive profile is strong anyway thanks to his coordination and technique. Hurt mirrors well on the perimeter, and while he can get blown by against quick guards, he should be well equipped to hedge on pick-and-rolls or cut off drives as a rotating big.
There is real utility to Hurt as a defender at the NBA level, and definitely at the college level, where his athleticism shouldn’t be as big of a bugaboo, and he can have a huge potential impact in creating lineup versatility with Duke’s traditional bigs. Hurt will garner a reputation as a “fake good” defender like Allen and company this year, but his actual defensive value figures to be very real.
Hurt also will fall into a trope at the NBA level due to his appearance and a birds-eye overview of his skill set. Read any mock draft for 2020, and the Hurt section will mention his shooting range first and foremost. The role he’s going to be expected to fill as an undersized power forward is at stretch-4, and much of the discussion of his offensive fit at the next level is going to center around his shooting. Comparisons will be made to Ryan Anderson and Lauri Markkanen early and often.
But much like the Duke comparisons on defense, there’s a high likelihood that this paints Hurt as one-dimensional. His skill-set is so much more than just shooting, and there’s a good possibility that he is a much more versatile option on offense than an Anderson type, even if he’s not the same level of shooter. Hurt shows more potential versatility than your typical shooting-focused stretch-big, particularly thanks to his coordination. While he doesn’t have the best handle, he still figures to be a threatening driver from the elbow thanks to his ability to stay upright, absorb contact and contort the ball on his way to the rim.
Hurt also has established a minor post game, which is going to make him an intriguing fit against small lineups, where he can post mismatches against teams trying to defend him with other stretch-4s. His handling ability should combine with this to make him an interesting elbow creator, especially when combined with his excellent passing vision.
Of course, we probably won’t see much of this at Duke, given that Mike Krzyzewski has, for the most part, been extremely reluctant to give elbow creation opportunities to his shooting bigs, instead using them as floor-spacers and preferring them to attack out of isolations. While this will limit our ability to see Hurt in an optimal situation for his skill-set, it should give us a better idea of what his offensive ceiling actually is. If he excels in the creation opportunities that were given to Marvin Bagley and Zion Williamson in the past, there’s reason to believe that Hurt could eventually hit a Cavs-era Kevin Love level of impact on his team’s offense.
Hurt looks like a player we’ve seen before, and that, therefore, should be easy to figure out. The talking points of how Hurt will be discussed by both draft scouts and college basketball fans are probably already set. But those shouldn’t distract you from the player we actually see when we watch Duke this year — an incredibly fluid and coordinated cerebral 4 who has a good avenue to two-way NBA value, despite having mediocre raw athleticism. Hurt may not have the panache of the one-and-done players who came before him, but there’s a good chance that he becomes Duke’s best player next year — both in college basketball and NBA terms.