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Can RJ Hunter become a real shooting threat for the Celtics?

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Despite shooting just 30% from three, there's reason to be optimistic about RJ Hunter's potential.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Most people's first glimpse of RJ Hunter came in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. Georgia State trailed the heavy favorite Baylor by two points, with time running out in the game. As the announcers called for a drive to the basket, RJ Hunter buried an absurdly deep three for the win. It's the perfect example of what people see in Hunter. The quick release and utter disregard for how far away he is from the basket fit the profile of a NBA marksman.

Unfortunately, Hunter's rookie season left a lot to be desired shooting-wise. He only made 30% of his three-pointers in both the NBA and D-League. This is troubling for someone expected to be a sharpshooter. But there's reason to hope.

First off, he showed an ability to contribute more than just shooting. He's a good passer, and he even gives you some playmaking off the dribble. His defense was also a pleasant surprise, especially considering he was a rookie coming from a zone-heavy system in college. Apart from a few glaring mistakes, like losing track of Kyle Korver in the playoffs, he was solid enough this year. His 6'11" wingspan comes in certainly helpful. He could still add a few pounds to his frame to help him defend against some of the bigger wings in the NBA.

But Hunter's shooting ability is the real focus. Thirty percent from three looks awfully bad at the outset. But you can break it down to get to some interesting revelations. This shot chart shows Hunter's three-point attempts that were 20-24 feet from the basket.

rj shot chart 1

It's pretty ugly to say the least. He only hits close to league average in the left corner. But his shot chart for 25 feet + tells another story.

rj hunter 2

He's making a respectable 36.4% from that distance. It's a testament to his range that his 3P% actually increases when the shots are further away.

The player-tracking data on NBA.com is also pretty interesting for Hunter as well. At 17.9%, his 3P% was literally the lowest on the team for "open" 3-pointers (closest defender 4-6 feet away). But for "wide-open" 3 pointers (closest defender 6 feet away), only Jonas Jerebko shot better than Hunter's 45.8%. That's slightly higher what than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot in that category. Obviously RJ isn't in the same stratosphere as those two, but it's a cool comparison nonetheless.

All the samples are here small, so it's risky to draw too much from them. But they add some context to an otherwise disappointing shooting season. It shows that if you give Hunter some space, he can knock down threes. His limitless range can provide some flexibility with drawing plays too, because an extra step or two of distance doesn't matter as much for him. I might look like an idiot if Hunter washes out, but I believe he can contribute more next year. If he works on his corner threes and starts making a few more "open" shots, he could be a real weapon off the bench for a shooting-starved team like the Celtics.