The trio of De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy were instrumental in Virginia men’s basketball’s unforgettable 2019 NCAA Tournament run, helping the Cavaliers win their first national championship in program history. Following the memorable season, all three players elected to leave Charlottesville early and enter the 2019 NBA Draft. Hunter and Jerome were selected in the first round of the draft with Guy following in the second round, marking the first time Virginia had three players drafted since 1987. With the 2019-20 NBA season coming to a close and all three players’ teams eliminated from contention, it’s a good time to review how Virginia’s “Big Three” fared during their rookie seasons.
Hunter was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the fourth overall pick last June, becoming the highest-selected player from Virginia since Olden Polynice in 1987. Hunter was thrust into action right away, starting 62 of 63 games at the forward positions and averaging 32 minutes per game — the highest total among all NBA rookies. Despite consistent playing time, his production was a little up and down at times, especially early on in the season. Hunter scored six points or less in five of his first eight career games and struggled early on with being passive and not being vocal enough on the court.
“I think he’s cautious of making mistakes and tries to avoid them,” Atlanta Coach Lloyd Pierce said in November. “He’s just a reserved, silent, quiet guy anyway, but it’s hard to be an elite player without having a voice.”
He broke out of this early-season slump with a stretch of eight consecutive games scoring double-digit points. Hunter had arguably his best performance of the season against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks Nov. 20, tallying 27 points and 11 rebounds in a loss.
Hunter finished his rookie season averaging 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He shot 41 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from the three-point range after shooting 55 percent and 43.8 percent, respectively, in his final season at Virginia. Hunter impressed on the defensive end despite playing on one of the league’s most porous defensive units, often guarding the other team’s best player due to his length and athleticism.
Hunter had a solid rookie campaign and is a key part of the Hawks’ plans moving forward. If he can improve his outside shooting and become more aggressive on the offensive end, Hunter has the potential to be an All-Star in a few years.
Jerome was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 24th overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. Initially, there were hopes that Jerome could compete for the team’s starting point guard role, which would have filled a void for Phoenix. However, the Suns opted to sign veteran point guard Ricky Rubio in free agency — a period of time during the offseason when players who are not under contract are free to join any team — just a few weeks later, forcing Jerome to fight for reserve minutes.
Despite missing the NBA Summer League due to transaction issues — the Suns’ trade for him did not process until after it already began — Jerome drew strong reviews from teammates and coaches at camp.
“[Jerome]’s picking up where he left off at Virginia,” Phoenix Coach Monty Williams said. “[His performance as a rookie is] a surprise to you guys, but not to me. That’s who he is as a leader.”
Unfortunately, Jerome sprained his ankle in a practice just a few days before the Suns’ season opener and he was inactive for the team’s first 18 games. He finally made his NBA debut Dec. 2 against the Charlotte Hornets, finishing with four points, four assists and three steals in 12 minutes. Jerome was in and out of the rotation following that game, but had his best performance of the season against the Houston Rockets Dec. 21, tallying 15 points, four rebounds and two assists. Despite the outburst, Jerome struggled to find playing time and appeared in just one of the team’s following 10 games. Jerome had a solid 12-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks in late January, but was unable to score in double-digits for the remainder of the season.
The NBA elected to create an enclosed environment at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. to protect its players from contracting COVID-19 while they finished the regular season and postseason. The Suns took part in the NBA’s bubble, but Jerome only appeared in three of their eight games. Phoenix went 8-0 in the bubble, but fell just short of making the playoffs. Jerome ended his rookie season appearing in 31 games off the bench with an average of 10.6 minutes. He averaged 3.3 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Despite the struggles, the Suns still have hopes for him to develop into a quality player.
"He’s got to see the floor better, and he’s gotta understand the athlete that he’s playing against," Williams said. “I’ve got to show him on film, show him where the open guy is or where the shot is. It’s on me to develop him."
It was a difficult season for Jerome, as the early injury setback cost him a spot in the rotation and he was unable to secure the backup point guard role in a crowded backcourt. However, with a healthy offseason ahead of him and some work with the Suns’ coaching staff, there are hopes that he can make a much larger impact for the team next season.
Guy waited much longer than his teammates on draft night, but was finally selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 55th overall pick. The Kings were pleased that Guy fell to them so late in the draft and had high praise for his shooting ability.
“If you asked me [about Guy’s] shooting, I could say a lot of stuff, but his shooting is just exceptional,” Sacramento General Manager Vlade Divac said. “I don’t know if I can say that, but I feel confident that he’s one of the best shooters in this class. He’s just unbelievable.”
Guy signed a two-way contract with the Kings, meaning he was only eligible to spend a maximum of 45 days with the team. As a result, he spent much of his rookie season playing with the Stockton Kings, Sacramento’s G-League affiliate.
Guy received plenty of playing time with Stockton, as the Kings wanted to make sure he still developed even though he wasn’t with the main team. Guy appeared in 37 games for Stockton, averaging 36.9 minutes per game. He averaged 21.5 points and 4.6 assists per game and shot the ball well, making 40.1 percent of his shots from three-point range.
Guy made his NBA debut Jan. 10 against the Milwaukee Bucks as he was given playing time for Sacramento at the end of a blowout loss. He scored his first points two weeks later against the Chicago Bulls.
Sacramento also made the NBA’s bubble and Guy played in the Kings’ final game of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers. He received the most playing time of his career, finishing with two points and an assist in six minutes. In total, Guy played three games for Sacramento last season and finished with an average of 1.3 points per game.
While Guy didn’t receive much playing time with Sacramento, he certainly made the most of his opportunity when he was assigned to Stockton. The Kings made some organizational changes following a disappointing year, so there’s a possibility that Guy could see an increased role next season. Given his shooting prowess, Guy could potentially carve out a similar role as fellow former Virginia sharpshooter Joe Harris, who has excelled with the Brooklyn Nets.
Frankly, Hunter had a decent first season, but a lack of opportunity hurt Jerome and Guy’s transitions to the professional level. However, there has been a good track record of Virginia stars — like Harris and Indiana guard Malcolm Brogdon — making an impact in the NBA despite slow starts, so there’s still plenty of reason to be excited about their futures.