Remember when the draft mattered for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
These last few weeks have been rough for me. The NBA Draft is one of my favorite events of the year, and over the last two years, I spent most of March gearing up for the Draft: Running lottery odds, breaking down prospects' games, and getting a feel for what directions the Cavs might consider in the draft. Once April hit, the draft was my full focus, with the occasional playoff game watched and award argued over. It helped, of course, that the Cavs weren't really close to making any sort of playoff noise, so I could put full attention towards the draft.
This year has been a transition. The Cavs are very much in the championship hunt, and will be for quite awhile. They currently own the 24th pick in June, not exactly anything to write home about or get hyped for right now. So while I'm getting the draft itch, I can't fully plunge into it. The curse of LeBron James and ravaging the rest of the NBA, I guess.
But since it is drifting into time to talk draft, I'll be reviewing one possible Cavs prospect per week, through the playoffs. We'll be looking at every possibility the Cavs could have with the 24th pick - bigs, guards, wings, Euro-stash options, everything. And today, we start with one of the NCAA Tournament's most memorable scorers - Georgia State's R.J. Hunter.
Who is R.J. Hunter?
Hunter is a 6'5" shooting guard from Georgia State, out of the Sun Belt Conference. He's a 21-year old junior, who was well-recruited out of high school, but opted to play for his dad, NCAA Tournament Media MVP Ron Hunter. He was Georgia State's primary offensive creator this year alongside former Louisville Cardinal Kevin Ware, and averaged 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists this past season. He also melted our faces against Baylor with that three. Hunter's currently ranked 27th by Draft Express, 29th by CBS Sports, and Upside and Motor had him 23rd in their March mock draft.
Hunter has a good frame for a shooting guard, at nearly 6'6" and sporting a 6"10" wingspan. He is incredibly lean, though, at 180 lbs, and his strength is a major issue for him to work on as he transitions to the NBA. As we'll discuss in a little bit, Hunter can get muscled around a fair amount on both ends, and his wispy frame could present issues, particularly offensively, at the next level. Filling out his long frame will be paramount to Hunter becoming a useful NBA player. He also looks to be a fairly average athlete, though his length does compensate for that a little bit, and he is good in the open floor on both ends. He's the guy I think could end up like Nik Stauskas last year - a pretty mediocre looking athlete that ends up boosting his draft stock by excelling at the Combine.
Hunter, on the surface, may seem like an inefficient shooter. He's only shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from three, after all. However, even with the addition of Ware, everyone in the Sun Belt knew that Hunter was the best offensive weapon in the conference, and stopping him gave them a chance to stop the Panthers. That's how, after Hunter shot 44.4 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three as a sophomore, his shooting regressed that badly on more attempts this season. Much like Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and all of the other small-college scoring guards we've seen recently, he was getting a defensive gameplan tailored to stopping him and forcing the ball out of his hands, and still dropping 20 points on 15 shots a night. That's not bad.
What makes Hunter such an intriguing offensive prospect, especially in the later part of the first round, is his comfort shooting off the catch. Georgia State liked to spring Hunter off of screens off the ball, and let him get spot-up threes from that area, like this one against Iowa State:
(h/t Upside and Motor)
Great set-up here, as Hunter cuts off the screen close enough to disrupt the defender, catches with his feet set, and launches before the recovery. Hunter's catch-and-shoot game translates very well to the next level, and he even has flashed some solid ability to attack closeouts from these looks as well; something that makes him more than a one-dimensional shooter.
Hunter's also a very heady offensive player. He didn't dominate the ball completely for the Panthers, but they ran a good amount of Pick-n-roll with him, and he's a good passer off penetration. He improved as an isolation scorer this season, as defenses forced him into these types of looks, and he has great range. That Baylor game-winner wasn't just a prayer; that's a shot Hunter hits with regularity. He can pull-up or spot up from out to 27-28 feet, and he has had some success with emulating the patented Steph Curry pull-up three in transition from 25 feet. He's a dangerous shooter and can get looks in multiple ways from outside.
The major problem for Hunter offensively is when he gets into the paint. Hunter got to the line a healthy amount in college (6.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes for his career), but at the rim, he's suspect at best. Hunter can get into the lane pretty well, using a variety of hesitation moves and crossover attacks that he's developed over the past year to beat opponents off the dribble. However, he struggles with contact inside, and while he's got the length to at least get a shot off against the trees, he only finished at 55 percent shooting inside in 2013-2014, per Draft Express. This is why, when Hunter attacks off the dribble, a lot of these looks end up as jumpers, which he can hit, but aren't efficient. Hunter attacking the basket is a lot like Dion Waiters, only with more hesitation moves instead of just powering into the lane. However, Hunter can shoot, and it's probably reasonable to think he'll be more effective when he's not the primary scoring option in an offense.
Hunter's length and smarts make him an interesting prospect on the defensive end. If he can put some weight, he's got the length to potentially handle twos and threes, and he looks like he should be decent as an off-ball defender. However, there's a huge issue with evaluating Hunter's defensive ability - the dreaded 2-3 zone.
Georgia State played almost exclusively 2-3 zone this past season. Hunter played mostly on the right side at the top of the zone, and while he flashed some potential, it's hard to really evaluate his abilities on this side. However, there are some areas he is strong in that translate to the next level. Hunter's good at closing out on shooters, using his length to bother spot-up shots, and he's a smart player when forced to rotate off the ball. He's also really good as the guy sent to double in the post, as he's sneaky at digging down into the post and can use his length to bother shots and force turnovers. Georgia State had him do this a lot, and it's something not many college defenders can say is a strength. Hunter's length also makes him a dangerous transition defender.
But one-on-one, Hunter's going to struggle. He's not really that quick laterally, and he can get beat easily by quicker opponents. Hunter also really never mastered steering his opponents into help, a crucial part of a successful zone and something that can save him as an isolation defender. He's prone to being lulled to sleep on the ball, and he dies on high screens from bigger forwards because of his lack of strength. Hunter's probably going to need to be hidden defensively on a less threatening opponent, but he's pretty solid off the ball, he's smart, and he should be able to handle guarding spot-up shooters at the next level, and hopefully a couple of years in an NBA system will help him become a good defender.
Hunter's success comes down to whether or not he can transition from being the focal point of a mid-major offense to being a role player at the next level. He's got the tools to be an effective spot-up shooter as a wing, and can probably handle the ball for short spurts on a second unit. Defensively he's going to have some issues initially, but I have a feeling that he'll be able to figure out how to be at least useful defensively at the next level. He's a coach's son, he's smart, and his game seems like it could translate to the modern NBA. It's just a matter of if he can become at least acceptable at the rim and figure out how to get in a defensive stance consistently.
I see Eric Gordon when I watch Hunter. Gordon, when he came into the league, was a quality all-around scorer who struggled to finish at the rim, but developed competence inside to go along with his strong three-point shot. Now, Gordon's shrunk away from his defensive ability and attacking the rim since his recent rash of injuries, but Gordon now is an ideal best-case scenario for Hunter. Gordon gets flak for not being a very effective player, but he's a strong spot-up shooter, can defend off the ball, and people would think of him better if he wasn't making $12 million a year (Pelicans!). Hunter looks like he'll be a mash-up of Clippers Eric Gordon and Pelicans Eric Gordon at his peak, and that's a player who can help your team.
How Would he Fit on the Cavs?
Hunter is an interesting fit for the Cavs because if he develops well, his game translates to a similar role that Matthew Dellavedova tries to perform for this Cavs team. Hunter's potential as a floor spacer who can defend well off the ball, but unlike Delly, he can actually do both of those things! He could probably handle the ball for short stretches when Kyrie Irving is sitting, and can at the very least handle the second-best wing shooter defensively. He would probably need to spend some time in Canton to develop his defensive ability and strength, but the end game of picking Hunter for the Cavs would probably be for him to replace Delly and/or J.R. Smith in the rotation. Hunter's a player who would be an investment for the Cavs, but from his performance at Georgia State, he could be a player who would fit right in to what the Cavs want to do offensively.