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Hoos in the NBA Playoffs

With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, several former Cavaliers are taking the court in search of professional glory

<p>De'Andre Hunter is leading the Hawks into the NBA Playoffs in his fifth season as a pro.</p>

De'Andre Hunter is leading the Hawks into the NBA Playoffs in his fifth season as a pro.

While many Virginia men’s basketball fans have yet to get over this season’s disheartening debacle, it is time for Cavalier supporters to turn their collective attention to former members of the program who are in the professional ranks. The NBA Playoffs are imminent, and many of Virginia’s former heroes will be chasing the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. Here are a few Cavaliers that have a chance at hardware in 2024.

De’Andre Hunter

De’Andre Hunter scored 27 points in the 2019 NCAA Championship to lead the Cavaliers to national glory. That was not all too long ago, but times have changed. 

A smooth three-level scoring threat, Hunter played 71 games for the Cavaliers, including starting all 38 games in the storied 2018-19 season. For his monumental efforts he was awarded Third-Team All American, NABC National Defensive Player of the Year and All-ACC First Team honors. 

Five years on, the 6-foot-8 forward from Philadelphia, Pa. is an NBA stalwart. Averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting 44.7 percent from the field during his time with the Atlanta Hawks, Hunter has lived up to the lofty expectations — a true three-point shooting defensive machine. 

Despite his impressive regular season numbers, Hunter has a history of elevating his game to a new level come playoff time. That is no doubt a mentality of rising to the moment that was instilled at Virginia by Coach Tony Bennett. In his 16 professional playoff appearances with Atlanta, he has averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the field and a staggering 40 percent from three point range, including scorching the Miami Heat for 21.2 points per game in a 2022 series.

This year, Hunter’s Hawks find themselves dangling by a thread, languishing in the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference, and staring down the barrel of a play-in exit if they can not muster a more coherent performance Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. against the Chicago Bulls. Even if they can pull out a win there, that would only give them a lifeline, having to play the loser of the Miami Heat versus the Philadelphia 76ers for a chance at the eighth seed. Regardless of the outcome for Atlanta, Hunter is sure to play an integral role.

Sam Hauser

There’s no doubt about it — “Big Smooth” is having a breakout year after two quieter seasons to begin his NBA career. Nine points and 3.5 rebounds per game both represent career highs for the 6-foot-7 forward out of Green Bay, Wis. These statistics, coupled with the Boston Celtics’ methodical dismantling of the Eastern Conference, illustrates an immensely successful campaign.

None of this is new for Virginia’s former sniper — regular season success has been but a formality in his short career. In the 2020-21 season, Hauser started all 25 games for the Cavaliers, earning himself All-ACC First Team, USBWA All-District 3 Team, NABC All-District 2 Second-Team honors and a nod as a Julius Erving Award finalist. He also led the ACC in three-point field goal percentage at 41.7 percent. 

In his short career in the NBA, Hauser has had his minutes limited in the playoffs, averaging just under seven minutes and only two points per game last season. However, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will feature more prominently in Boston’s post -seaon campaign this season — a shooter of his caliber cannot be confined to the sidelines. The Celtics begin postseason play Sunday, with their opponent still to be determined.

Trey Murphy III 

Drafted 17th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies — but moved to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of an earlier trade —  in the 2021 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-8 forward from Durham, N.C. continues a proud tradition of Cavalier sharpshooters. 

Murphy played only during his junior year at Virginia but certainly made his mark, bursting onto the scene by scoring his season high of 21 points courtesy of six three-pointers in his debut versus the Towson Tigers. He recorded 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while making the seventh most three-pointers per game in the ACC. 

While Murphy missed the first 19 games of the 2023-24 NBA season due to meniscus surgery, Murphy picked up right where he left off when he returned, averaging 14.8 points per game. His recent season high of 34 points against the Toronto Raptors March 5 — which came thanks to an eye-popping 10 three-pointers — demonstrated his ignitability.

Murphy’s Pelicans fell to Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in their first game of the play-in tournament Tuesday, and will now host the Sacramento Kings Friday at 9:30 p.m. for a chance at the eighth seed. The former Virginia forward’s talents will be essential in achieving this threshold.

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