Standing at 6’6 with a wingspan over 6’10, R.J. Hunter hopes to capitalize on his college success and make a name for himself as a shooting guard in the NBA. Projected to go late in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft, it’s wise to get familiar with Hunter if your favorite team has a late first-round pick. At the shallowest position in the NBA, Hunter is in a good position to find his niche and make an impact as a role player on a contending team.
Hunter’s ability to shoot is the biggest allure for NBA scouts — Hunter has a compact, efficient shot with a quick release and has a smooth and consistent form, unrattled by defenses flying in his face. Hunter has deep range, even by NBA standards, which is important in today’s focus on the pace-and-space offense. Having the ability to consistently make 25-foot threes and being able to stretch out defenses is a key skill for an aspiring 2-guard in the NBA.
Hunter’s release is a bit low, but much like Stephen Curry, he’s able to get it off very quickly and doesn’t spend much time in the air on his jump shots. This is actually a good sign for his NBA career, as his average athleticism has forced Hunter into learning how to create space for himself and use deception to get his shots off. Needing only the slightest window of space, Hunter uses shot fakes well and was great in college in the proper reads of a defense running him off the three-point line — he could pump and draw the foul, blow past the oncoming defender and drive to the basket (looking to dish on the collapsing defense or finish at the rim given the opportunity) or take a strong dribble past the sprinting defender and knock down the open mid-range jumper.
Hunter’s shooting numbers (under 40 percent overall and under 30 percent from three) weren’t stellar this past year — especially by college standards — and it doesn’t help that he played in the Sun Belt Conference, a weak conference at the Division 1 level. The biggest vouch for Hunter’s shooting ability is his touch at the charity stripe; a career 85 percent free throw shooter, Hunter shows finesse on his free throws and has an aesthetically pleasing looking shot. Hunter needs to work on his consistency, as he was a very streaky shooter, but his mechanics and fundamentals are developed and he’ll benefit at the next level when he’s not the focus of the defense every night.
Hunter isn’t an overly explosive athlete but is able to create some offense for himself, many times by utilizing step-backs and using his length to get quick shots up over defenders momentarily on their heels. While able to create for himself, Hunter got many looks off loop and curl actions, running off multiple screens to get himself open. Hunter showed great footwork coming off screens and was able to set a quick base for himself to get the ball into his shooting pocket before the defense could recover to contest.
One of the Georgia State Panthers’ favorite sets to run for Hunter was a double loop on the baseline into an on-ball screen. Hunter would run off two screens on the baseline and meet the point guard near the wing, who would pass him the ball and immediately come set an on-ball screen for him. This allowed for many different looks — Hunter could use the ball screen for a jumper, the guard could slip the screen for an easy layup or Hunter could attack the gap on the ball screen and play a 2-on-1 with the rolling big. The Panthers frequently ran that look for Hunter, giving him many opportunities to learn and play the pick-and-roll in game situations. From those looks, Hunter has a well developed pick-and-roll game, but is more projected to run off screens than use on-ball screens at the next level.
Hunter showed an impressive ability to make passes and create for his teammates along with his shooting ability. Hunter has always shown good court vision throughout his career, able to make passes in tight windows to his teammates and find open men on the drive. Hunter also showed the advanced ability to predict where and when teammates would be open, and how he could bend the defense to open up easy looks for his teammates.
Defensively, Hunter benefited from playing a lot of zone for Georgia State, which allowed him to roam and come up with a ton of steals. The takeaway from his defense is his understanding of team defense. Hunter was more often than not in the right position, able to help and able to read passing lanes, a useful ability to any NBA defense. Hunter was great at ‘digs’ (when a perimeter player slides down for a split second and swipes at the ball on a post-up, hoping to produce a steal) because his length allowed him to still be able to contest his man on the kick-out while helping down on the defense. Hunter’s wingspan was measured over 6’10 at the NBA Draft Combine, and that length proved especially bothersome near the rim. Harboring average (by NBA standards) athleticism, Hunter’s length will help him contest on both on the perimeter and on help side in the paint.
Hunter shows good lateral movement, able to keep his chest in front of his man, and that along with his overall defensive IQ will help his transition into a man-to-man oriented team defense in the NBA. He has some of the physical tools needed to be a solid two-way player in the NBA, although there’s some work to be done to become a plus defender at the next level.
Hunter’s biggest weakness is, ironically, his lack of strength. Weighing just over 180 pounds, he leaves much to be desired with his thin frame. Hunter could get to the rim at a fine rate in college (taking almost seven free throw attempts a game), but it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to produce those kind of numbers at the next level. Hunter wasn’t a strong finisher at the rim and would shy away from contact, instead trying to use a variety of floaters over the defense or draw the foul. His thin frame will prove to be a problem on the defensive end too, as bigger guards will have no problem pushing Hunter into the low block, and opposing bigs will be able create lots of space for their guards by setting punishing screens on Hunter.
The other issues with Hunter are consistency and ball handling. What gives NBA scouts hope is Hunter’s work ethic: Hunter has already addressed the above issues and is already hard at work, locking himself in the gym and trying to develop as much as possible. He has dedicated the time between now and the draft to focus solely on basketball, and that work ethic will stay with him in the future.
The right situation is often the biggest factor in if a player makes it big in the NBA, but for players like Hunter, the combination of their size, shooting ability and work ethic will increase their chance of longevity in the league. Hunter has the size to see over the defense, the ability to make passes through the tight windows and most importantly, the ability to score the basketball. Every team needs a two-way player who can shoot and defend their position, and R.J. Hunter is getting himself prepared to be a contributor on a contending team.