When you've got a team as deep as the Celtics, you don't expect rookies to get a lot of playing time. However, if anyone looks like he's earning rotation minutes thus far in preseason, it would be R.J. Hunter. He has impressed everyone with his shooting, basketball IQ, and even his defense.
"I think it’s pretty obvious, just watching him, he really has a feel," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Brooklyn. "It just comes pretty natural -- little passes, simple plays, being able to put the ball on the money to other people, understanding spacing, understanding where his opportunities are going to come. And he’s got a pretty good feel for the game."
The fear with Hunter was that he wouldn't be able to play defense on this level. So far, he's ahead of the curve.
In addition to displaying a more all-around game offensively, Hunter hasn’t been as big a liability defensively as many feared. After three preseason games, Hunter’s defensive rating is 91.1 which is fourth among Celtics players averaging 20 or more minutes per game. “Defensively, he’s way ahead of where I thought he would be,” Stevens admitted. “He’s just long and active.”
Hunter's dad was his college coach, so he's not short on people to help him outside of the training staff. But he also got some advice from another pretty smart basketball mind recently.
R.J. Hunter started his NBA career with a ready-to-go mantra, and the wisdom comes from one of his more famous friends, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. “You have to be crafty when you’re skinny, and you have to be smarter when you’re skinny,” Hunter said of the great shooter, one of the Celtics rookie’s heroes growing up in Indianapolis. “It’s being craftier and smarter with every movement, and every movement has to be precise.”
I think it is important to remember that the guy is just a rookie, so he's going to have good nights and bad nights. It might not work out for him to find consistent minutes in the rotation once the games start to count. But Stevens seems to really trust him and I could certainly see Hunter finding a role on this team sooner or later this year.