It's not always easy to judge how valuable a mid-major NBA draft prospect is, as it's tough to translate small-school success to the pro ranks.
But sometimes you just know a flat-out baller when you see one.
That's the case for 6'5" Georgia State junior R.J. Hunter, the sweet-shooting 2-guard who earned 2013-14 Sun Belt Player of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he scored 18.3 points per game, poured in 100 three-pointers and led the Panthers to the conference title game.
The 20-year-old from Indianapolis brought his elite skills to Georgia State because his father, Ron Hunter, is the squad's head coach. Coming out of Pike High School, he received offers from programs such as Iowa, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Oregon State.
It's safe to say he's far more than mid-major material. And in the near future, he'll be NBA material.
Hunter's draft appeal is driven largely by his combination of shooting prowess and size.
He's got an ultra-fluid and incredibly quick delivery, and he's long enough to release over wings at the next level. In addition to his 6'5" stature, he owns a 6'9.5" wingspan.
After drilling 73 triples as a freshman, he upped his volume and hit 100 during 2013-14. Despite hoisting more threes as a sophomore, he actually increased his efficiency beyond the arc from 37 percent to 40 percent.
|Statistics at Georgia State|
Deep threes are no sweat for Hunter. He relishes scoring from NBA range (or farther), and he's not afraid to attempt 10 or more three-pointers in a given game. Check out his range and overall instincts as he drops 31 points on UT Arlington to fuel Georgia State's comeback:
He followed up his Sun Belt exploits with a head-turning display at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. Hunter shot the ball exceptionally well against college peers and caught the attention of media and scouts.
Hunter told Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was pleased with his performance, and he knows onlookers took heed.
"I thought I shot it pretty well," Hunter said. "I'm usually pretty streaky but I was consistent all throughout the week. I wasn't doing anything outside my game. If there was a pass to be made I’d pass; if there was a shot, I’d shoot. I think people noticed."
Terrific off-ball movement sets the table for his prolific shooting. Whether it's a flare screen, a curl screen or a ball screen, he knows how to lose his defender expertly and catch the ball ready to score.
And once he gets the rock, he's often more than just a catch-and-shoot player. No one will label him a dynamic dribbler or a great athlete, but he can attack with either hand and is quick and creative off the bounce. He's wafer-thin, yet he scores quite proficiently through contact.
Kyle Nelson of DraftExpress broke down Hunter's repertoire:
While his ball-handling ability is far from elite, he has a few moves, particularly a crossover and step back, which are particularly helpful for him to create shots off the dribble...Furthermore, he is a very adept shot creator out of the pick-and-roll, both for himself and his teammates. As a shooter, he does a very good job of using his size and savvy to see over screens, either hoisting up a long jumper or attacking the lane off of the dribble.
In 2013-14, Hunter asserted himself and got to the charity stripe frequently. He took 5.8 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, and he coolly sank 88 percent of them. Perhaps more impressively, he committed just 1.4 turnovers per 40 minutes despite a hefty usage percentage of 26.1.
Looking forward to his offensive role in the NBA, he'll be able to help his club in several ways. He can attack closeouts and drive using his length and dexterity. He can also score from mid-range and collaborate brilliantly with teammates.
Ultimately, outside shooting is his greatest asset. He'll be more than a spot-up specialist, but finding and making triples will make up the majority of his role. His collegiate stat comparisons put him in good company with some smart, savvy shooters:
Will he actually perform like any of these studs in the NBA?
The Reggie Miller comparisons are a bit premature; however, you can tell he shares the same traits as some top-tier perimeter players. He could become a poor man's Kevin Martin (key phrase there is "poor man's"), doing damage with and without the rock.
Projecting his defensive capabilities beyond the Sun Belt conference is a little tricky. Georgia State primarily plays zone defense, so there's not much recent footage of his man-to-man skills.
According to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, one of the biggest questions scouts have about Hunter is whether he can defend NBA shooting guards.
As we touched on earlier, he's not a top-shelf athlete. He'll struggle to keep explosive guards in front of him, and he'll have to rely on length and footwork.
Hunter's freshman year was shaky defensively, but, fortunately, he and the rest of Georgia State were more effective in 2013-14. His defensive rating in conference play went from 103.5 to 97.8, as he exhibited better footwork and alertness.
When you weigh his underwhelming tools against his respectable progress in 2013-14, Hunter looks like he'll be somewhere around an average NBA defender. Not horrible, but certainly not a standout.
As he embarks on his pivotal junior campaign, look for him to post similar or better numbers from three-point land along with increased assist production. His point totals may not increase dramatically, but his overall offensive impact will grow.
Hunter won't shine defensively, but don't be surprised if his foul rate goes down while he maintains the same amount of steals.
If he makes those anticipated improvements, he'll be well worth a first-round selection. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) reminds us that "shooters always rise in the draft, and Hunter has a ton of potential."
His basement as a pro is a benchwarmer in the NBA, which would soon be followed by a trip overseas. His ceiling, however, is a key role player, someone providing an offensive boost in the rotation. Hunter will stretch opposing defenses as a sharpshooter and also find some buckets inside the arc.
Don't sleep on him as he enters his junior year, because he'll be the best mid-major product in the 2015 class.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.