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RJ Hunter and James Young are in an epic duel of average basketball

With one preseason game left, the battle for the 15th and final roster spot between James Young and RJ Hunter is clearly...not over.

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – “Man, who is this guy?”

Those were RJ Hunter’s last words as he walked out of the Celtics locker room late Monday night, confirming that another RJ Hunter twitter account that popped up a few weeks ago was, indeed, a fake. Considering it has only 19 followers as of publish -- after an unfollow from @JaredWeissNBA -- this was no surprise.

Hunter quit Twitter a year ago. His father signs off of Twitter at the beginning of every season. He doesn’t want and need distractions. He was a first-round pick for a deep Celtics team that left him with hardly any playing time. So he had to get his work in off the court. With a stroke reminiscent of a tall and lanky Steph Curry, he had to put it in every day to be ready for his rare opportunities.

Yet Hunter finds himself in the midst of one of the most competitive battles for a final roster spot in the NBA this week. Over 100 players will be cut in the next week across the league, and the likelihood is that one of them will be Hunter or Young. They will be toward the top of the waivers wish list for any team with a chance to make a move.

It’s an enormous pressure that both players did not envision facing this early into their careers.

“We really take that [pressure] into consideration,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I mean, and that’s one of the reasons why you don’t jump to conclusions after one game or one practice of one performance. Because that’s a lot of weight on people’s shoulders.”

Viewers have tuned into these Celtics games to catch a whiff of the fresh air as the ball whizzes through the recharged first unit offense. But the real competition has come in the second half, as coach Brad Stevens has been running offenses featuring Terry Rozier or Demetrius Jackson at the point with either one or both of Young and Hunter.

Nearly every set run in the second half has factored into Young or Hunter making a claim for the 15th spot. The results have ranged from dribbling into double teams to brilliant deep threes. Both players have shown capability from the three-point line and some ability make a move to the paint. While Young has shown the 3-and-D (and run) skill set that a Stevens roster needs plenty of, Hunter flashes the incredible scoring skills of a crucial rotation player.

At Madison Square Garden, he sack-checked the Knicks’ fourth unit en route to a 17-point explosion that ranged from brilliant floaters and contact finishes in the lane to deep daggers reminiscent of his Georgia State heroics. Yet James Young continues to peck away at every little scrap he gets.

Young has proven capable as a defender, although he is more capable than reliable. He affects the glass, 50-50 balls, transition and everywhere in between. When Stevens talks about affecting winning, this is its embodiment in a fetal stage.

“I’m plenty more confident in my game,” Young said. “A lot of people are backing me up to just go on and be aggressive. So that’s been helping me and I’m not thinking about much.”

Young pulls up from three comfortably and is hitting enough shots to consider it a part of his skill set. He comes off curls to grab dribble-hand-offs and pulls up in rhythm. While Hunter can pull off the quick-fire threes unlike anyone else at the back of the roster, Young has shown he can function as an off-ball shooter in sets just as well.

Notwithstanding Hunter’s dazzling fourth quarter at MSG, their scoring performances have been essentially the same. But it is Hunter’s potential that can give him the final edge.

The unfortunate reality for Young is that adding Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green stonewalls his path to the rotation. While he may be more ready to play than Hunter, the potential for a lethal sniper in the rotation is too tempting to pass. The final decision may very well come down to the front office’s projection for Hunter’s development.

While waiving Gerald Green, Jordan Mickey or Demetrius Jackson is technically possible, it is unlikely. Green is still significantly more capable as a scorer and rebounder this season than Young and especially Hunter. Mickey still has positive growth potential at a need position while Jackson has clearly earned himself year in Maine, locked into his desirable long-term deal. A trade could quickly fix the roster surplus, but you would have a better chance predicting this week’s lottery numbers

To their credit, they have played well together and have been supportive on and off the court. This competition is a testament to the environment Stevens has carefully structured, where life and death competition can be facilitated by mutual support. Hunter and Young’s fruitless yet impressive give and go in New York was evidence that Stevens’ players recognize that the greatest skill is finding the open man.

The question now is: Who will be the last guy open?

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