This is one of a series of posts that will give you insight as to how to watch the NCAA Tournament as a Spurs fan. We will skip potential lottery picks and look purely at the players with potential to be taken when San Antonio's pick comes up late in the first round.
R.J. Hunter, Georgia State — SG — 6'6" — 180 lbs
Chad Ford Rank: 18th
Draft Express Rank: 24th
If you've paid attention to college basketball over the past five years, or so, you've noticed a trend of one or two players a year playing in mid-major conferences grabbing the attention of the NBA by lighting up defenses. Think Steph Curry at Davidson or Doug McDermott at Creighton last year.
This season's mid-major "golden boy" is R.J. Hunter. He's a two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and conference leading scorer. Hunter was at the top of every opposing team's scouting report, and if they had any chance to beat the Georgia St. Panthers, they were going to need to stop R.J. Some critics say he gained favoritism from scouts because his father is the Georgia State head coach, but those people are clearly choosing to ignore Hunter's gifts on the basketball court.
His stat line from this season didn't look as pretty as it had in his previous two seasons, though, — his field goal percentage dropped below 40% and his three point shooting fell almost 10% from last season — and it has forced scouts to look past his silky smooth jump shot and dig a little deeper into who R.J. Hunter really is as a basketball player. This is a big reason why R.J. has fallen from a potential lottery pick to possibly the end of the first round.
The main reason R.J. Hunter is in the spotlight is because of his beautiful shooting stroke. He can pull up from anywhere on the court and has full confidence in himself that he will will hit every shot. Over the past three seasons, the majority of the Georgia State offense revolved around getting R.J. the ball, much like Davidson's worked when Curry was there.
This season, defenses have made sure to make his life a little harder by preventing him from rolling off screens, catching, and shooting. Defenders have been fighting through picks and speeding up their closeouts to do whatever they can get his shooting motion off. This only lead to R.J. working on creating space off of the dribble, which has been pretty effective. It's been impressive how quickly he was able to adapt to defenses in order to continue his scoring ways.
Some pro scouts are worried about Hunter's ability to improve his strength, specifically in his lower body. His 6'6" frame gives him good length for a shooting guard, but NBA squads are always somewhat hesitant whenever they question whether a prospective player can put on muscle. It's difficult for 2-guards to finesse themselves open in the Association — they're going to have to battle for space.
This leads into an even bigger worry scouts have for him, which is whether or not he can play defense. Georgia State primarily plays a zone, meaning Hunter hasn't played much one-on-one defense in games. NBA teams almost never play zones because pros are able to beat them regularly, so it doesn't bode well if a team is unsure if a prospect can put on weight and D-up a opposing perimeter player. With his frame he could be a prime target for a franchise to turn into a "three and D" type of guy if he was able improve his toughness, but that's a big "if".
How he fits the Spurs
Both Danny Green and Marco Belinelli are unrestricted free agents this off season, meaning the Spurs could very well be losing a marksman before long. Danny is going to get his money, and while it's up in the air whether that money is going to come from San Antonio or another team, I think it'll be a long shot that both him and Marco return to the Silver and Black next season.
That opens the door for a player like R.J. Hunter who already has a pure stroke, is used to working and coming off screens, and is cheap enough to not murder the Spurs' pocketbooks. He's a few years from ever earning a starting role on a great team like San Antonio, but this may be the perfect time for the Spurs to take a flyer on a player whose mechanics are more than enough to work with for a rookie and indoctrinate him from the get-go.
I mean, look at that release...